Interview with Master Sung Su Kim

Master Sung Su Kim’s background The journey of a Martial Artist is very challenging. Master Kim, with his vast experience as both a student and teacher, has travelled further than most.He discovered Hapkido after many years of training in several different styles. He was initiated into the Martial Arts by a freind of the family who introduced him to Taekwondo at age seven.

By the time he was 13, he had reached the level of second degree. Although the young Master Kim loved Taekwondo, he was aware of it’s limitations . “Taekwondo has very dynamic kicks, but when it came to close range situations, I felt restricted.”

Master Kim explains that these restrictions happen because tournament-style martial Arts place a strong emphasis on “…point winning techniques and rules”. Students become accustomed to fighting within boundaries, and then apply these rules to non-tournament situations. This restricts the students range of techniques. After Taekwondo, Master Kim tried Judo, attracted to its focus on throwing and close contact techniques. However, he was still looking for something more. It was at this stage that he became interested in Hapkido (which loosely translated means way of co-ordinated power). It offered the appeal of free-flowing kicks and hand techniques, plus many elements of Judo and Jujitsu.

The 270 major techniques (3864 to be exact) along with many minor techniques provide up to 10,000 variables. All of these techniques are supported by three basic principles:

  • The water principle.
  • The circular principle.
  • The principle of non-resistance.

Even though they are a politically diverse and fragmented group, Hapkidoists from all around the world know these three principles. These principles, along with meditation and specialised breathing techniques (danjun), result in a unique and beautiful Martial Art called Hapkido.

Hapkido history has always been the subject of some controversy. The modern day founder of Hapkido was Yong Sul Choi. Ji Han Jae began studying under Choi and eventually started his own school where he taught Hapkido. Along the way, Hapkido adopted various techniques from Tang Soo Do, Tae Kyon and other Korean Kwans. Master Kim began training with the Korean Hapkido Association headed, at that time, by Ji Han Jae.

The Path of the Art Hapkido is not a tournament based Martial Art, and so is not restricted by tournament rules. It is flexible and realistic , enabling the Hapkidoist to adapt and respond effectively to any situation. While many Martial Arts provide a specific techniques for specific situations, Hapkido encourages fluidity and spontaneity. But for Master Sung Su Kim the differences in Martial Arts are not important, as long as your Martial Art makes you think about life and it’s meaning. “If you have that kind of mind, and your heart is fully into what you are doing then that is what is important”, he explains

At higher levels of Hapkido, he adds, you must also have a mature spirit and a practical understanding of the philosophy of the Martial Arts. So a Hapkidoist with a high rank on their belt, but a poor understanding of the philosophy of the Martial Arts is really just a beginner In outlining the essence of each level of Hapkido training, Master Kim emphasised that a teacher can only guide the student and cannot directly implant this knowledge and experience.Inevitably, as with every living art, there are those who loose their way.

 When students “defect”… “When students leave the teacher’s heart hurts,” he says. When the path is lost by a student the master is often disappointed.” Master Kim states his disappointment is in two ways: On one level he questions himself, and on the other he feels emotional pain at the student choosing a different path. Of course, he recognises that each individual experiences their own journey along their own unique path.

However, if the ego is not conquered, their is little room left for integrity, humility and truth to the self – an essential element in any Martial Art. When these students continue on the path of the ego, the natural evolution of an art often looses it’s way. We have seen it time and time again in the Martial Arts. Students defect from the teacher rather than carry on the gifts so generously handed them by their teacher. The journey then has a different meaning, loosing it’s initial purpose. The main purpose becomes money,ego,rank, rather than to increase their knowledge and understanding.

The danger in this is that the heart and soul of the art is lost in the transition and ethics are often left by the wayside. Master Kim referred to the water principle at this point: “When a river is divided it looses it’s strength”. Master Kim emphasised the importance of being true to yourself. It can mean the difference between complete rejection of a teacher’s interpretation of a Martial Art, and the healthy and valuable questioning of the Martial Art and it’s place in your life. Consequently, every student travels along their own unique path on their journey.

Flexibility an Universality Master Kim realises the importance of knowing who you are, where you are coming from and where you are going, much like those before him did in rekindling the art of Hapkido earlier in the century. Currently, Hapkido in Australia is very fragmented. Master Kim realises this, but wishes that Australian Hapkido could come together and unite.He believes that we would be an enormous force in the Martial Arts community.

He beleives that all Hapkido Masters in Australia could unite for both the benefit of both teachers and students alike.he invites any other Australian Hapkidoists who share this vision to talk to him about their views and help him to build an Australian Hapkido. Hapkido is also a living and constantly evolving art. In bringing it to Australia, Master Kim has added a distinct Aussie flavour to traditional Hapkido.

For example, have you ever seen a Korean Hapkidoist use a Rugby tackle? Also his freindly approach to students is a contrast to the rigid heirachy you will find in Korea. More subtle changes have been necessary , such as breathing variations (linked to language differences). Different teaching methods have also been required to translate Hapkido for the western mind. Of course there are far more similarities between Korean and Australian Hapkido than there are differences, proof of Hapkido’s flexibility and universality.

The Korean Flag is the only flag in the world that has a universal symbol – an Um-Yang symbol (commonly called a Yin Yang symbol) . Like this symbol, Hapkido can be universally applied. The growth and success of the Australian Hapkido Association among people of all walks of life is evidence of this. Your Martial Art must allow you to train all parts of you – “your body, your mind, your spirit”, Master Kim stresses “You must train your body to ward off disease and remain healthy.

You must train your mind to remain calm and cool in times of stress. you must train your spirit to be at peace with yourself and the universe. If either mind, body or spirit become neglected, you could easily stray from your true path as a Martial Artist, disrupting your flow of learning, interrupting your journey…”. And where are all these paths leading? Well for Master Sung Su Kim, to him it is most important to, “…live a balanced life, to see and feel life and to love. If in my life I can achieve true humility, I will be very happy”.

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