What To Expect in Hapkido | A Martial Arts Overview

I’ve always found traditional grappling martial arts to be fascinating but couldn’t really figure out what to expect in them, and Hapkido was no different. So I set out to figure out exactly what I should expect in Hapkido as a martial art.

Hapkido is a traditional martial art so you can expect an experience that emphasizes respect and discipline alongside learning all the throws, joint-locks, and self-defense techniques that Hapkido teaches. Hapkido is a martial art is focused on using circular motions to redirect your opponents.

Let’s take a dive into some other topics that will help flesh out what to expect when training Hapkido and take a look into some factors that might determine whether or not Hapkido is the right martial art for you.

A Brief History of Hapkido

Hapkido was formed in the 1950s by Korean martial artist Choi Yong-Sool. He was born in Korea but was sent to Japan as a child, where he learned Aikido before returning to Korea later in life. Thus, Hapkido is derived, at least in part, from Aikido so they share common traits and techniques. 

However, they differ from each other in the manner of executing techniques, philosophy, and the range of responses. There are differing opinions as to where the origins of Hapkido come from. Some argue it can be traced back to Japanese Aikido, while others claim its roots are in ancient Korean martial arts. The truth is likely somewhere in between, but it is a murky subject at best.

What Do You Wear for Hapkido? 

Beginners should wear loose-fitting clothes such as a t-shirt and jogging pants or athletic shorts and then move on to a dobok (a hapkido gi) after committing to training. The dobok is white, and the color of the belt depends on the student’s level.

Some of the throws are taught using the cloth as a grip, so you will need to get the correct uniform for Hapkido. However, the same dobok is usually worn for other Korean martial arts and it is similar enough to the gis used in Karate, Aikido, and Hapkido that finding an appropriate gi should not be an issue.

Proper care of your Hapkido uniform and equipment is important to ensure that your skin stays healthy and your uniform remains odor-free and clean. Check out my post How To Care for Your Hapkido Uniform for a guide on how to properly care for your Hapkido uniform.

Do You Wear Shoes in Hapkido? 

You don’t wear shoes in Hapkido, similar to most martial arts. This is due to the Asian tradition of taking off shoes when entering a building, and this cultural custom carries over into martial arts training. Training barefoot also allows you to grip the mat and improves posture and awareness.

It is important, however, to ensure that you have slippers or shoes for use off of the mats to help to control the germs that make it into the training area.

For details on the benefits of barefoot training in martial arts check out my post 7 Benefits of Training Martial Arts Barefoot.

What Equipment Is Required for Hapkido?

Apart from the Hapkido uniform, you’ll use some other equipment while training, including:

  1. Groin protectors (for men) 
  2. Sports bras (for women)
  3. Mouthguards
  4. Rubber knives
  5. Dan Boo sticks
  6. Nunchaku (sang Juhl bong)
  7. Cane (Ji pang ee)

I recommend a simple white Hapkido uniform like this one (available on Amazon.com). Talk to your school to determine specific standards in terms of equipment and uniform expectations.

Some of this equipment may be provided by the school for public use, but this just depends on the individual school. Some of this equipment will only be used once you’ve mastered basic techniques. 

Do I Need To Be Fit To Start Hapkido?

You don’t need to be fit to start Hapkido. One of the main attractions of Hapkido is that it can be done by anyone regardless of age, gender, or weight. This is mostly due to the lack of competition and live sparring that would make fitness a dominant factor.

People of all weight categories compete in Hapkido, as the main aim of this martial art is to overcome a greater force by redirecting an opponent’s power. It’s not necessary to fight strength with strength in Hapkido, which is why you’ll find so many masters of all types. 

In fact, training in Hapkido is an excellent way of getting fit, no matter your current fitness level. The training can be scaled to the individual and can be great for losing weight and building basic strength and fitness. 

Do I Need To Be Strong for Hapkido?

Hapkido is all about defeating a stronger opponent by redirecting their force and then countering with good technique. Thus, you don’t need to be physically strong to be good at Hapkido techniques. Strength can help make techniques easier to execute but that isn’t the point of Hapkido.

The more you train, the more your strength will develop and improve. It’s similar to how going to the gym will improve your strength, but it caps out eventually without specific strength-building workouts like lifting weights or additional calisthenics work.

For information on how to choose a good supplementary strength-training program that makes sense for you check out my post Should You Choose Calisthenics or Lifting for Combat Sports?

Do I Need To Be Flexible for Hapkido? 

Hapkido does require some flexibility in order to perform select techniques. If you don’t have the right flexibility, some techniques and stances might be uncomfortable until you learn how to adapt the techniques or build your basic flexibility through training.

However, that being said, you don’t need to be exceedingly flexible as a beginner. In fact, you don’t even have to be able to kick above your head. Once you decide to become a student, your instructor’s job includes training you to become more flexible and strong enough to execute techniques. Flexibility can be improved over time, and it is a good idea to build this attribute for health reasons anyway. 

Is Hapkido Good for Getting in Shape?

Hapkido can be a fun way to get in shape. The training is approachable but can be scaled to be physically intense for students. Simply showing up to class and doing the warm-up routine and the lessons of the day will result in weight loss with some focus on eating a healthier diet.

You will also be using most of your muscle groups when training, some muscle building is possible. The biggest reason Hapkido is good at getting people into shape is that it can be fun and not just viewed as exercise.

Is Hapkido Good for Self-Defense?

Hapkido can be an effective self-defense style since it was the original intention of this martial art. Hapkido is a relatively complete martial art that incorporates kicking, grappling, joint locks, and punches. With some added live training, it can help students become proficient in self-defense.

Ultimately Hapkido has been displaced by the prevalence of BJJ, Muay Thai, and MMA as training options which tend to do a better job teaching fighting skills that are usable in most self-defense situations. However, somebody who knows Hapkido and has some live sparring training has a distinct advantage over anybody who is untrained.

Also, the use of traditional weapons is also taught, including knives, long sticks, and nunchaku. So picking up a stick and knowing how to use it in an altercation is a pretty big self-defense advantage that those martial arts don’t really cover.

What Style of Fighting Is Hapkido?

Hapkido is a complete fighting style that incorporates many different fighting situations. Hapkido is mainly focused on self-defense and deflecting or diverting your opponents’ force to enable you to overcome larger opponents. 

When doing Hapkido, you’ll be learning many different techniques, including:

  • Hand-locks
  • Short kicks
  • Long kicks
  • Weapons
  • Grappling 

This style is designed to allow you to overcome your attacker and put them in positions where they cannot cause any harm. 

Does Hapkido Include Live Sparring?

Some Hapkido schools include limited live sparring for experienced students. Most students don’t get access to sparring against resisting opponents. A good Hapkido instructor will allow sparring sessions with another student as part of your training, but this depends upon the school. 

Are There Hapkido Competitions or Tournaments?

Hapkido is mainly about self-defense, which is why most dojos don’t have many competitions. However, there are Hapkido tournaments and competitions worldwide for competitive trainees who would like to test themselves on a higher level. 

Hapkido is a martial art, not a sport, which is why it’s seen by most senior-level Hapkido masters around the world. Thus, they urge trainees not to treat it as a sport but rather as a journey and something to master. 

Is Hapkido Dangerous To Practice?

Hapkido is not dangerous to practice when learned in a controlled environment. Most dojos will make Hapkido safe to learn by ensuring that students are given appropriate training partners to minimize the risk of injury based on pairing students up by weight and skill level. 

However, Hapkido is not without injury risk. Sprains and strains are common in any sport that involves strikes, joint-locks, and throws. If students are properly instructed and react appropriately to each situation, the injury risk is really minor.

Is Hapkido Hard To Learn?

Hapkido isn’t that hard to learn the basics, but reaching mastery depends on the student’s level of dedication. It can take up to 3 years to reach basic mastery of Hapkido and earn your black belt, but this can vary based upon the school you attend.

How Long To Learn Fundamentals in Hapkido?

The fundamentals are the building blocks to mastering Hapkido, so it’s important to take the time to ensure these are adequately learned and not rushed. Depending on the student’s dedication and learning curve it could take up to 6 months to learn the fundamentals of Hapkido. 

How Long To Reach Black Belt Level Mastery in Hapkido

If you’re dedicated and committed to learning, it can take around 3 to 4 years of consistent training to reach black belt level. Once you reach black belt, there are 6 different levels of black belt before you reach the top ranking of Hapkido.

Can You Learn Hapkido at Home?

You can’t truly learn Hapkido at home since you won’t know when you’re doing something wrong. It’s always best to find a dojo near you and spend time with a master to learn it correctly. Besides, you’ll never be able to test and learn skills without a training partner. 

It is possible to make progress and learn through instructional videos from Hapkido masters at home, but this should be a supplement to in-person training.

What To Expect at Your First Hapkido Class?

Your instructor will likely have you follow along with the class as best you can, but if the material is more advanced you may be given alternate training like basic stances and strikes to work on instead. Many schools will also point out cultural expectations that you can observe throughout the class.

Generally speaking, the first classes are very introductory for students and you will be expected mostly to observe and participate the best that you can. Eventually, after you get into the swing of things you will be just another student going along with the exercises and techniques of the lesson.

What Does Hapkido Cost?

Hapkido classes generally cost upwards of $100 a month and could be higher depending on the region, facility, number of classes, and instructor accolades. This cost is in line with most other martial arts disciplines and schools.

Finding a Hapkido school with a good culture is very important, and is a close second to finding a high-quality instructor that maximizes your training efficiency. If you’re learning valuable self-defense and discipline, then you’ll get more benefits per dollar from your classes. Many dojos also offer family, siblings, and other discounts.

If cost is a major concern check out my post Practicing Martial Arts on a Budget | A No-Nonsense Guide for a guide on how to fit martial arts into your budget.

Is Hapkido Good for Kids? 

Hapkido is good for kids and makes an excellent extracurricular activity. Hapkido kids classes usually emphasize building life skills, discipline, and self-defense capabilities. It also helps keep kids active and interacting socially instead of spending time in front of screens.

The environment good Hapkido kids programs will give kids more confidence and a good socialization outlet, anecdotally very important for my extroverted son. Most kids love the experience of learning a martial art, and it really helps build skills for life challenges. 

Is Hapkido for Physically Smaller People?

Hapkido is suitable for smaller people since all types of people can practice this martial art. Height and weight won’t prevent you from learning the art and its self-defense-oriented skills. You will be paired up by weight and skill level anyway, and techniques emphasize weight redirection anyway.

Due to the emphasis on redirection of your opponents and weight manipulation, size is somewhat downplayed in importance, although size matters a lot in all fighting disciplines, despite popular belief in martial arts as some magical nullifier of the physics of fighting. Training will make a difference, but it isn’t some magic bullet.

Is Hapkido Good for Women? 

Hapkido is good for women since it teaches them how to deal with stronger opponents. Many of the techniques teach women to make up for their strength disadvantages. Finding a good Hapkido school with good training partners is doable for a woman wanting to learn self-defense principles.

It’s also one of the more practical self-defense traditional martial arts for women due to the emphasis placed on redirection. It can also give women more confidence knowing they have some ability to defend themselves.

Final Thoughts

Hapkido is a fun martial art to learn and is appropriate for a wide variety of people. While it might not be the most effective martial art to learn for self-defense and fighting, it has all of the right components to give a student a big leg up over somebody who is untrained in any fighting discipline. Adding live training to the mix really can increase self-defense effectiveness for Hapkido.

Ultimately, Hapkido is a good martial art to get into if you are interested in training it, and there are many physical, social, and mental benefits that you can get from consistently showing up to Hapkido classes.

For more check out What To Expect in Aikido | A Martial Arts Overview


Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but supplement with other grappling martial arts as well as help to coach my kid's blended grappling program.

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