CHOI, Yong Sul
CHOI-Yong-Sool was born in July 21,18991 (according to the Lunar calendar ) and was registered by his family in 1904 as having been born in Hwang-gan, Choong-bok province, South Korea, the son of a poor farmer. CHOI resided in a village named Yong Dong in Choong Chung Province2. Life, at that time, was heavily influenced by the expansionist and nationalist elements of the Japanese administration which were working to exert ever greater influence over Korea and its government. Part of this expansionist effort included working to push out of Korea the other two major governments, Romanoff Russia and Qing China which were attempting to work their own designs on the Manchurian and Korean areas. The results of these tensions were the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. Both wars were Japanese victories and left the Japanese unchallenged in the region.
According to CHOI, about the age of 83 he became aware of a person he knew as a Japanese Businessman and candy store owner named Mr. Morimoto who reportedly had no son and was intersted in taking CHOI back to Japan with him. While this may seem like an odd dynamic, there are two factors to consider in this report. Agents of the Japanese intelligence community were administered by the Black Ocean Society (“Genyosha”), an ultra-nationalist organization, through its subsidiary the Amur River or “Black Dragon” Society ( “Kokuryukai”)4. The lowest level of espionage for these agents was that of itinerant breathmint (“jintan”) salesmen who could move quietly among the population gathering intelligence. These "candy salesmen" may well have been the sort of individual about whom CHOI was referring. A second matter to consider is that, under the best of circumstances, life in a rural Korean family of any size could only be characterized as competitive and more often desperate. It is not altogether unlikely that CHOI’s parents may have accepted the invitation of the Japanese couple that CHOI mentions in his interview to take CHOI to Japan in the hopes of CHOI having a better life there. Regardless, when "Mr. Morimoto" returned to Japan, he took CHOI Yong Sul with him. CHOI reports that he resisted the “adoption” and characterized it as a “kidnapping”.5
In the period that followed, CHOI made himself so difficult to deal with that the salesman abandoned CHOI in the village of Moji, Japan6. In this way, reportedly at the age of 8 years old, CHOI found himself making his way, alone, to Osaka, and earning his living by begging. This would make sense since both Osaka and Hiroshima had large Korean ex-pat populations. After being picked up by the police, they arranged for CHOI to be cared for at a Buddhist temple in Kyoto where he lived for about two years under the care of the monk Kintaro Watanabi.7 Using simply addition, were one to use a birth-year of 1899, CHOI’s age at this point would be 10 years and the year would be 1909. If one were to use the year of registration, CHOI would be 10 years old, but the year would be 1914.
Kintaro Watanabi, as the abbot of the temple, was a friend of TAKEDA Sokaku (1859-1943), a well-known martial art personality, and arranged an introduction for CHOI to him. CHOI reports that “TAKEDA Sokaku liked me and, feeling great sympathy for my situation, decided to adopt me. Upon my adoption he gave me the Japanese name Asao YOSHIDA. I was about 11 years old at this time”.10 Curiously, an alternate name, “Yoshida, Tatujutu” is also reported by Suh, Bok Sub as having been used by CHOI at this time. 11
The home and school to which CHOI was taken was located on Shin Su Mountain in the area of Akeda and CHOI reports that “I lived in his home and learned under his (Takeda) personal direction for over 30 years. I was his constant student, and for twenty years of my training, I was secluded in his mountain home."12 Though CHOI Yong Sul was adamant about the 30 years he reports having lived in the TAKEDA Sokaku’s household, there are different variations of which social status CHOI had during this period. In an interview, CHOI, declared that he had been adopted by TAKEDA Sokaku. According to other sources, he began as a “house boy” and later became TAKEDA Sokaku’s personal servant. Last but not least, some say that he just attended some seminars at TAKEDA Sokaku. Whatever the status, there is general agreement that any relationship with TAKEDA Sokaku would have entailed considerable travel as Takeda employed a teaching model that required constantly moving from location to location and teaching at a variety of sites. This experience is said to have included at least one trip to Hawaii when CHOI was about 28 years old --—“… along with TAKEDA Sokaku, myself (Asao, Yoshida), Jintaro, Abida and two other individuals.” Using the 1899 date, this trip would have then occurred in 1927. However, using the 1904 registration date, this trip would have occurred in 1932.
World War II brought changes. CHOI reports that, “My teacher and I worked for the government by capturing military deserters that would hide in the mountains near our home. We would return these men, unharmed, to the authorities.” CHOI goes on to report that “The most significant changes happened toward the end of the war. Japan was losing the war and in a last desperation effort the government instituted a special military draft that called up most of the prominent martial artists of the time. These highly trained people were conscripted into special guerrilla-type units that were dispersed throughout the war zone. All of the inner circle of Daito Ryu Aiki-Jutsu were drafted except Master Takeda and CHOI. CHOI goes on to report that "most were killed in the final fighting of the war. I was going to be drafted but TAKEDA Sokaku intervened. Through his status and influence, he had me hospitalized for minor surgery. This stopped the process of my conscription and prevented me from being drafted. He prevented me from being put into the war because he felt that if I was killed Daito Ryu Aiki-Jutsu would be lost in its completed form upon his death.”
Though such a history might, at first telling, sound plausible there are a number of problems with these reports.
Since there is no documentation to support the idea of CHOI and his teacher capturing deserters, we must rely on the matter that Takeda was absent from his family and household for many months at a time, making the matter of policing his own estate consistently unlikely. Further, since Takeda Sokaku is documented as having died in April, 1943, it is unlikely that he could know that Japan was, in fact, losing the war or that in knowing this he would have intervened on CHOI’s behalf. Lastly, there is no record of the foremost of Takedas’ students including Horikawa, Hisa, Sato, Sagawa, Ueshiba, and Yoshida being pressed into military service, much less killed during the war.
Regarding the actual nature of what he learned, CHOI reported that he learned 3,808 techniques from Takeda and that he was informed by Takeda that only he, CHOI, had been schooled in all of Takeda’s secrets. CHOI reported in his interview that Takeda told him that CHOI was the only one to have learned all 3808 Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu techniques. Once again, while plausible at first telling, this report does not stand-up to closer scrutiny.
As of this writing, there is nothing to document that Takeda taught a cohesive and well-defined curriculum. Rather, his manner of teaching as reported by his students suggests a rather random and varied group of techniques. To date, despite the best efforts of TAKEDA Tokimune and KONDO Katsuyuki, a structured curriculum of Daito-ryu Aiki-ju-jutsu techniques does not exceed 1,000 techniques.
A second consideration is that despite many efforts to identify a lineal inheritance of a cohesive art over several generations, there is little to support much beyond the report that Takeda taught a nameless art until 1917, choosing to conduct seminars for individuals of standing in the Law Enforcement and Judicial branches of local government as he toured through Japan. In 1917, with the encouragement of Kotaro, Yoshida, TAKEDA Sokaku named the compilation of material he had gathered “Daito-ryu Aiki-Ju-Jutsu” reflecting the pan-Japanese national fervor of the times and specific to the Aizu clan of with the Takeda family is a branch..
CHOI reports that TAKEDA Sokaku committed suicide by starving himself to death and that before Takeda died he ordered CHOI to return to Korea. Whatever the circumstances, TAKEDA is documented as having died of illness as he sought to return home in the Spring of 1943. CHOI apparently remained in Japan until his repatriation to Korea in 1946. This much is affirmed by the testimony of CHOI's daughter regarding his life in Japan.
On his return to Korea , CHOI reports that his luggage was stolen at the Station of Yongson, including all his money and the certificates he had obtained from TAKEDA Sokaku. CHOI settled in Korea in the village of Taegu , situated in Kyung Buk province, and changed his name back to CHOI Yong Sul. Here, he and his family survived by selling rice cookies. When CHOI had saved a small amount of money he bought some pigs. To fatten them he needed grain, which he earned in a Korean brewery producing Korean wine (Mak ju). In this brewery the employees were paid with grain for helping to pump water from a subterranean source. On February 21st 1948, some people tried to take up CHOI’s position in the queue in front of the grain counter. CHOI not only defended himself successfully against the attackers, but he did it with the greatest of ease.
Suh, Bok Sup, manager and 24 year old son of the brewery’s owner watched the fight from his office. He was impressed by the techniques with which CHOI could defend himself. At the time SUH Bok-Sup was a First Dan in Judo and recognized that CHOI was a master in a very effective material art. He called CHOI in his office and asked him to teach him this art. CHOI agreed and Suh made an area for them to train in and paid for his training lessons with money and grain.21 The fact, that CHOI’s first student held a first Dan in Judo had an effect on the development of Hapkido. All Defense techniques against holds at the wrist, sleeve, collar and against Judo throws go back to these roots. Of course, in the beginning SUH Bok-Sup was mainly interested in how to defend himself against judo attacks.
To Suh, CHOI identified the material he knew as “Yawara”, and over the years the name would change a number of times depending on the various influences of students and circumstances. Among others the art was called, Yu Sool (Soft Art), Yu Kwon Sul (Soft Hand Art), and Hapki Yu Kwon Sul (In Unity with Ki Soft Hand Art). In time, CHOI became a bodyguard and head of the security department of Suh's congressman father. On February, 12th 1951, CHOI and SUH Bok-Sup together opened up a Dojang named Korean Yu Kwan Sool Hap Ki Dojang. In 1958, CHOI, Suh and Bok-Sup decided to change the name of the material art taught by them into HapKiDo as reported by SUH Bok Sub in a later interview.
There are different statements on who used the name HapKiDo first. Another variation is that JI Han-Jae created the name and then passed it to CHOI, in order to honor him. Sometime after 1958, CHOI opened up his own Dojang, and from this point in time that are a variety of divisions and re-combinations among various students of CHOI. In SUH Bok-Sup's Dojang Kim, Moo-Hyun, who, according to SUH Bok-Sup, created the HapKiDo kicks having learned them various Korean temples. Kim, Moo-Hyun had a very close contact to JI, Han-Jae and stayed some time in Ji, Han-Jae‘s Dojang in Seoul. It is very likely, that during this time a number of HapKiDo kicks were developed. Sometimes SUH Bok-Sup went to Seoul and taught there at the university.
In 1963 CHOI became chairman of the newly founded Korean Kido Association, an umbrella organization of all Korean material arts, acknowledged by the Korean government. For the next 20 years CHOI would continue to shift from organization to organization as politics and demographics influenced his role in the Hapkido community. Though he was protective of his material it rapidly became clear that he was not able to keep his art from being exploited by various factions. In 1982, CHOI traveled to the USA , trying to combine HapKiDo. He had appointed Chang, Chin-Il his representative for those Hapkido arts practiced outside of Korea and apparently hoped that Chang would be able to unite the Hapkido masters living in the USA . Unfortunately this was not to be and CHOI’s wish was not fulfilled. CHOI later designated his son as his successor to the CHOI tradition. In 1984 he closed his teaching career and for the last two years was content to be a kind of figurehead for the art.
CHOI died in 1986 at the age of 82 and was buried in Taegu.
1. http://www.angelfire.com/ks/wmal/page60.html; World Independent Hap-Ki Do Federation (W.I.H.K.D.F.); Klaus Schuhmacher
2. “Historical Interview”; Conducted June, 1982; Copyright © 1982/1998 Joseph K. Sheya
4. “Kempei Tai- A History of the Japanese Secret Service”; Richard Deacon; Beaufort Books, 1983. pp 42.
5. “Historical Interview”; Conducted June, 1982; Copyright © 1982/1998 Joseph K. Sheya
6. “Hapkido History”; www.hapkido-info.net/html/history.html; Publ 2004
7. “Historical Interview”; Conducted June, 1982; Copyright © 1982/1998 Joseph K. Sheya
8. “Historical Interview”; Conducted June, 1982; Copyright © 1982/1998 Joseph K. Sheya
9. The True Origin of Hapkido: An Interview with Master Suh, Bok Sub; Michael Wollmerhauser; August 1994.
10. “Historical Interview”; Conducted June, 1982; Copyright © 1982/1998 Joseph K. Sheya