Interview with GM Seo – Part 1

Part 1: Unifying Hapkido will grow it to an International Martial Art

Q. In this cold weather, how are you doing?
A. I’m still very confident about my health. Every year, I travel the world to visit member schools and I conduct 7 hours a day seminars and I personally demonstrate the techniques.

Even now, because I stretch and train 2 hours a day, I’m healthy. When I’m abroad, the foreigners are first surprised at my age and then they surprised a second time when I perform the techniques.

Q. No one will object to the statement that you are a founding father of Hapkido. When did you start?
A. I first met my teacher (Grandmaster) Choi Young Sul in 1957 and received my 1st dan in 1958. Since 1945, GM Choi Young Sul spread Hapkido but when he met Mr. Suh Bok Sup in 1953 in Daegu, he opend a dojang in the second floor of Mr. Suh’s Brewery. That was the beginning of Hapkido Dojangs in Korea. After that, the second dojang was opened and that’s where I practiced.

Q. When did you first open your school?
A. In 1961. I opened the Korea Kuk Sool Won Hapkido Dojang. During that era, Grandmaster Ji Han Jae first opened Sung Moo Kwan Hapkido in Andong prior to my school and in 1959, he opened Sung Moo Kwan Dojang in Seoul. Master Kim Moo Hong, an instructor under GM Ji, went independent in 1961 and opened a Sin Moo Kwan Hapkido Dojang. That was the start of the three branches of Hapkido that live today.

Q. Hapkido from the start had phases of division?
A. Yes, but shortly afterwards, there as an effort for unification. With GM Choi Young Sul at the center, we all agreed that “it shouldn’t be this way” formed Dae Han Kido Hae. At the time, we received permission from the Ministry of Education and GM Choi Yong Sul was elected the first chairman and Mr. Kim Kyung Dong was elected president. However, this still did not achieve unification. I think the main reason that we didn’t reach unification was due to the stubbornness of the 1st generation martial artists in Korea at that time. If all of us took a step back and worked together, it would have been possible. Instead, many of the individuals involved were young and hot blooded. In retrospect, it was very regrettable and a big opportunity we missed.

Q. There was another brief period when it appeared unification was possible. It seemed significant when Mr. Kim Woo Joong (Found of Dae Woo) appeared on the scene?
A. At the time in Seoul, Sung Moo Hapkido called itself “Dae Han Hapkido” and Sin Moo Hapkido called itself “Han Kuk Hapkido.” They united and called it “Dae Han Min Kuk Hapkido” with Mr. Kim taking part in this unification. However, at that time they couldn’t embrace Dae Han Kidohae and failed to achieve complete unification. At that time, Kim Woo Joong declared that he was going to make the combined Hapkido Organization bigger than Kukkiwon. Of course that didn’t happen.

Q. You were president of Dae Han Kidohae for a very long time. You must have a lot of memories?
A. I became president of Dae Han Kidohae in 1983. In the beginning of my tenure, one of my goals was to introduce the idea that the term “Dae Han Kuk Sool Won” would be a more appropriate term than “Hapkido” to represent the breadth of Martial Arts practiced under the Kidohae. We use the term Hapkido and Japan uses the same term (Aikido and Hapkido have the same Chinese character root) and I thought that it would be a better name for our martial arts and tried to make the change. However the government would not give permission to us for two reasons. First, the Hapkido name and branding around the name in the Korean consciousness was very strong. Second, the meaning of the words Kuk Sool Won (national Korean martial arts association) was deemed to be too generic. Therefore, I decided to support the name Hapkido instead. After that, I continued to meet with Dae Han Hapkido’s president Oh Sae Lim and Kuk Jae Hapkido’s president Myong Jae Nam to discuss unification. In the 80’s, over 80% of all Hapkido schools in Korea belonged to our three organizations. Even with these frequent meetings however, we were not able to unify Hapkido throughout my tenure as president of the Kidohae.

Q. If the 1st generation could not achiever unification, do you think it is possible now?
A. I believe it is possible. There are many Hapkido Organizations but in reality, only a few of them have significance in terms of number of schools and influence. I intend to form a kind of network/alliance with the 1st generation heads of different Hapkido organizations and styles so we can socialize and interact. Doing this will naturally help lead towards unification. Also, with the registration of Hapkido with the Korea Sports Association, we should see more of a spotlight on Hapkido in Korea and see more changes.

Q. From your long history in the Martial Arts, share some memorable episodes?
A. When I was young and just opened a dojang in Busan, there was a famous hoodlum in my area renown for his fighting ability. He was going around announcing that he could beat me in a fight. So I was training and waiting for the right opportunity to face him. Then one early morning, I saw him face to face and we met to fight. I executed a decisive technique on him and defeated him easily. Since I took control of him so easily and effectively, he said to me “I will treat you as my elder brother for life!” There were many such incidents such as this and many of the students that ended up joining my school had originally approached me in that fashion. There were a lot of difficulties and dangers involved for Hapkido in its infancy but it is great to see how far it has come.

Q. I’m curious about the current situation of the Hanminjok Hapkdio Association?
A. At this time, we have about 350 schools in Korea and many more outside of Korea. Because of the support of many Masters in our organization, both in Korea and Overseas, in the last 3 years we have grown at an incredibly rapid pace. Going forward, I’m going to work harder to continue to give back positively to Hapkido. Keep your eyes open as Hanmijok Hapkido Association becomes the best Hapkido organization!

Q. Any plans for your organization soon?
A. This coming April 15-16, we will be hosting an International Hapkido Compeition with over 20 nations participating. Not just with talk but with action, we are striving to be a positive example for other organizations through the various events and programs we are a part of.

Q. Can Hapkido achieve the international success that Tae Kwon Do has?
A. Of course! Many people say that Hapkido self defense techniques are superior to and more complete than modern “sport oriented” Tae Kwon Do. This is very apparent by how many martial artists of other styles seek to learn Hapkido and earn Hapkido Dans. The reason why such a great art like Hapkido doesn’t grow more is because it is not united. It is important to achieve unification soon, preserve the techniques, and improve on them and announce to the world “this is Hapkido.” If that is done, we can grow as big as Tae Kwon Do. I would also like to take this opportunity to once again express that it is very important that Hapkido unfies soon and that all Hapkido practitioners should take this to heart.

Q. The new year, 2006, is here. Anything you want to say to the Martial Artists out there?
A. Martial Artists should always be ready to serve others and should always keep in mind that we need to be good examples to others. We need to know that it is more important to have etiquette and respect than trying to learn one more technique. It is especially important to respect your seniors and love you juniors. I hope that you all have plenty of these positive thoughts and strive to apply them to your everyday lives. I wish all of you good fortune and good health in the new year!