Interview with Grandmaster Ji Han Jae by David Middleton

The following interview with Grandmaster Ji Han Jae was kindly provided David Middleton 4th Degree from Alstonville. It was conducted in 1996 and is a great read for any who wants to understand Hapkido’s roots from one of the originators of modern Hapkido. 

Recently Grand master Ji Han Jae, 10th Dan and founder of Sin Moo hapkido was in Australia at the invitation of the Australian Hapkido Association. Grandmaster Ji conducted seminars in Sydney, the central coast, Byron Bay and Port Macquarie that were well attended by students of hapkido and tae kwon do.

Whilst on the Far North Coast we had the privilege to conduct an interview with Grandmaster Ji where we asked him about the early years of hapkido and the martial arts journey that resulted in his development of Sin Moo hapkido.

 There are a number of different histories of hapkido from those early turbulent times with little documentation for historians the use. This is Grandmaster Ji’s story in his own words.


I began training under Yong Sul Choi in Taegu when I was a freshman of Taegu Technical High School. He called his art that he had learnt in Japan yawara (aikijujitsu). In 1956 I moved back to my home city of An Dong where I received training from old man Lee who was a Taoist dosanim (wise man). Among his teachings I received instruction in breathing and weapons. In 1957 I moved to the capital city Seoul and began teaching calling the style hapkido. At that time nobody knew what was hapkido, what was yawara, nobody knew. 

I started teaching hapkido then everybody knew hapkido. In 1962, Korea had a coup detat. Before this time Korea and Japan had no import-export between them because they were enemies. Then the gates were opened and Japanese imports began to come into the country.

At that time I saw a Japanese aikido book and noticed that the chinese characters for hapkido and aikido were the same. so I took out the hap from hapkido and I formed the Kido association. Still until now they have the Kido association – Huh Il Wong (8th dan and professor at Myong Ji University) from Kuk Sool Won is associated with it. He is my student. When he was a brown belt he and Kim Byung Chun (8th dan and president of the Korean Hapkido Association) – they formed a school. Later proffessor Huh went to another school – that of In-hyuk Suh. At that time they had Kuk Sool Won hapkido , not Kuk Sool. Right now In-hyuk Suh is a grandmaster of Kuk Sool Won. He learnt yawara from Yong Sul Choi. He is one of my juniors – yawara side he is my junior. At the same time as learning yawara he learnt a style of chinese Kung fu..

When he came to America he only called it Kuk Sool Won and dropped the hapkido from it. As well professor Huh learnt under Kim Moo-woong and Jang In Mok (Taegu). Professor Huh is now at Myong Ji University and is a martial arts research historian. Each story I hear from these people is slightly different to my story but I do not wish to comment on those. I do not know who Jang In Mok learnt from (some say it was under Takeda- DM)

 When I learnt yawara from Yong Sul Choi I only learnt physical hand technique. When I went to the capital city I totally changed what I taught. Yong Sul Choi never said anything about Tan Jun breathing exactly. I began teaching people what is Tan Jun breathing because I learnt under a Korean Taoist. So in this respect hapkido was begun by me. The meaning of Yawara is totally different.

 In America Kwang Sik Myong and Bong So Han -they were my students. In Korea The International Hapkido association I think it is called, their president Myung Jae Nam – he is my student. They learnt under me then they changed the titles of their associations, but their root is me.

Wollmershauser from the American Hapkido Federation said that one of my students, a monk named Lee who lives in New Jersey, and myself practiced together and formed Sin Moo hapkido. This is totally wrong and I am very upset about this. The real Lee was a Taoist in Korea, a do sa nim or wise man who I learnt from when I was young . From him I learnt Tae Kyon kicking techniques, weapons and meditation. He was not a monk.- Monk Lee is a student of mine – a Buddhist monk.. Do sa nim Lee died a long time ago.

My age now is 60 years old. I met him when I was sixteen years and he was my fathers age at the time. I do not know exactly his age because Korean etiquette is that a young person can never ask an elder their age. My father is eighty nine years old and is a confucian scholar.

 In 1957 when I went to the capital city there were gangsters everywhere. After the war there was much confusion and these gangs controlled certain areas.. If they did not like your face they would beat you up. When my students went to fight I taught them only to win, not lose. If they came back to my dojang after losing I was very hard on them. Lion makes lions, robin make robins. So I taught a really strong Spartan style. I was a young man then and concentrated on the physical aspects of Hapkido.

Now that I am old I teach a mental martial art Sin Moo hapkido. So first I learnt yawara, then I studied under Taoist Lee and formed hapkido and then formed the Kido association with Yong Sul Choi. Yong Sul Choi’s assistant’s name was Kim Jung-yoon. Right now he is the head of the Han Pul association. When I proposed the structure of the Kido association with Yong Sul Choi I wrote it down but he could not read and he left it to Kim Jung-yun.

When the association was formed officially Kim Jung-yoon made his position higher than me – I was only given the position of capital city instructor. I was upset and angry so I pulled out of the Kido association and went back to calling my art Hapkido. The Kido association was then only in Taegu city and ninety five percent of my students followed me back to hapkido. Then me and my students had a lot of success. We opened lot of schools. My techniques were known in Korea to be fighting techniques.

 Right now many people are making hapkido books but in the next few years I will make a book with the true history and explanation of the techniques. I will explain the reason for doing a technique a particular way, why you kick in a particular way and why you use the different sounds for different situations. One by one I will explain all of the techniques. For example why do you use kiap in a technique? This is to call the Ki power.

Many people do not know what they are teaching with regard to Ki power. Some people say Ki comes from the universe, energy whatever. This is stupid. Where does it come from? Some people say from the Dan Jun. Dan Jun is only press work. Dan Jun never makes Ki power. Dan Jun is press work then adrenal hormone is released into the blood circulation to give Ki power. There are three types of Ki power. Physical power where you can utilise for super physical power. When it goes to the brain the Ki can be used to distort time and control minds.

In 1967 in America they designed a 10 ton dump truck which is very heavy. A farm woman’s little son was trapped under the wheel of such a truck. Nobody was there to help her. At this time she only focused her mind to save her son and she lifted the wheel off. Some people say this was a miracle, some scientists said this was the adrenal hormone. That was Ki power – focusing the mind and only thinking of one thing – life or death. At this time the adrenal hormone was called into to produce super power.

 When I came to America in 1984 I saw that many people eat bad food that will ultimately poison them. The practice of Sin Moo hapkido starts with good food. No pork, no chicken, no scaless fish, not too much spicy food and not too much salt and no alcohol. If you do not eat the right food you cannot produce super hormones for Ki power. You must have breath control to deeply oxygenate your organs.

You must use the correct sound to awaken the Ki, to call the adrenaline. The molars are very important for the production of this sound. For peaceful meditation you use the front teeth for sound such as “Om mane padme hum” but for martial arts the molars vibration comes into play during the kiap. You must be careful not to drink too hot or cold liquids as this disrupts the function of the molars in this vibration.

Good vibrations pass from the molars to the middle ear and then to the middle brain that then calls the adrenaline. When this adrenaline goes up to the brain we then see time. Past lives, future lives and time distortion. One hundredth of a second can be perceived as one second enabling more time for reaction and also in the opposite way. Ki control can be used for self healing in ninety percent of the time. The amount of Ki power you develop is up to you. You are responsible for your own development, no one else. If you want the highest Ki power you must have very hard training and meditation. Laziness is your enemy. If you cannot control your spirit within you there will be a lot of trouble but if you have your spirit under control you will have a very happy life. You must make your spirit your slave. Mind and spirit always fight.

 So Sin Moo hapkido is a way in which you can conquer yourself to become a better person and follow the wise man’s way. If you want to just fight you can have a gun, knife or stick to defend yourself, you do not need hapkido technique. If you can control your spirit then you will become like a wise man or dosa nim. So Sin Moo hapkido is the combining of the mind, body and spirit to make Ki power. Sin is mind, Moo is martial art, Hap means mind and body together to make Ki and Do is the way. So Sin Moo hapkido is really a big meaning. Three make one, one makes three, regulate mind, regulate body, regulate spirit. All together makes a wise man.

I have made eight hundred and four basic techniques besides weapons technique. If you learn these then you can build many techniques. This is my way. Hapkido never had forms or hyungs just techniques. I want to spread this way to the world. In my life I have had many opportunities to make a lot of money and success but I chose to follow the hapkido way. I worked for eighteen years as the Korean President’s bodyguard and was in a position to exploit it to my advantage and make a lot of money but I never looked to focus my mind on business only teaching hapkido. This is the true martial arts way .

   I believe that the 1990’s is the time for hapkido and the future appears very bright. 1940-1960 was Judo time, 1960-70 was karate time, 1970-80 was kung fu time and 1980-90 was tae kwon do and ninjitsu time.

 Grandmaster Ji thank you for sharing your valuable time and I wish you and Sin Moo hapkido well in the future


David Middleton. 

Click here for another great interview with founder of Sin Moo Hapkido.

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