Choi Yong-sool (Hangul: 최용술; November 9, 1904 – June 15, 1986), alternative spelling Choi Yong-sul, was the founder of the martial art hapkido. He was born in today's Chungcheongbuk-do, South Korea, and was taken to Japan during the Japanese occupation of Korea when he was eight years old. Choi later claimed that he became a student of Takeda Sōkaku, and studied a form of jujutsu known as Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu (大東流合気柔術) while in Japan this is disputed due to the historically tense relationship between the two sides and lack of clear documentary evidence.
Choi returned to Korea after the end of the World War II and in 1948 began teaching his art at a brewery owned by the father of his first student Seo Bok-Seob (Hangul: 서복섭; Suh Bok-Sub). He first called his art "Yu Sul (Hangul: 유술)" or "Yawara (Hangul: 야와라; 柔術)" later changing it to "Yu Kwon Sool (Hangul: 유권술; 柔拳術)" and "Hap Ki Yu Kwon Sool (Hangul: 합기 유권술; 合氣柔拳術)" and eventually Hapkido.
Choi Yong-Sool was honored with the titles doju (Hangul: 도주; 道主), which can be translated as "Keeper of the way", and changsija (Hangul: 창시자; 創始者), which simply means "founder".The arts of Hapkido, modern Hwa Rang Do, Kuk Sool Won, as well as lesser known arts such as Han Pul all show influence of the teachings of Master Choi.
According to Choi he was abducted from his home village of Yong Dong in Chungcheongbuk-do in 1912 by a Japanese sweet merchant named Morimoto who had lost his own sons and wished to adopt Choi. Choi resisted and proved so troublesome to the candymaker that he abandoned him in the streets of Moji, Japan. Choi made his way to Osaka as a beggar and, after having been picked up by police, was placed in a Buddhist temple which cared for orphans in Kyoto. The abbot of the temple was a monk named Wantanabe Kintaro.
Choi spent 2 years at the temple and had a difficult life there, not only in school but with the other children due to his poor Japanese language skills and his Korean ethnicity which made him stand out in Japan. Apparently due to the boy's tendency of getting into fights and his intense interest in the temples murals depicting war scenes, when asked by Watanabe what direction that he wished for his life to take he expressed interest in the martial arts.
The temple monk (Wantanabe Kintaro) was reputedly a friend of Takeda Sōkaku, the founder of the Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu system, which is a Japanese martial arts system emphasizing empty handed methods based upon the sword styles and jujutsu tactics in which Takeda was an expert. Takeda Sōkaku is also famous for having taught Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido.
The next portion of the story is quite controversial in Daito-ryu circles, but is claimed by many contemporary hapkidoists, and is attributed to Choi in a posthumously released interview reputed to have taken place during a visit Choi made to the United states in 1980.
In the interview, Choi claims to have been adopted by Takeda Sokaku when he was 11 years old and was given the Japanese name, Yoshida Asao (吉田朝男).He claims to have been taken to Takeda's home and dojo in Akita on Shin Shu mountain where he lived and trained with the master for 30 years. The interview also asserts that he traveled with him as a teaching assistant, that he was employed to catch war deserters and that he was the only student to have a complete understanding of the system taught by Takeda.
Other sources place Choi as a servant in the Takeda household,while still others assert that he merely attended some of Takeda's seminars. Kisshomaru Ueshiba, son of Morihei Ueshiba, stated that his father had told him that Choi had attended seminars held by Takeda with his father in Hokkaidō and that his father had been Choi's senior.Choi apparently contacted Kisshomaru upon hearing the news of Morihei's death.
Regardless of the circumstances of Choi's martial arts training, he returned to Korea after World War II and settled in Daegu, first selling sweets and later raising hogs. In 1948 after becoming involved in an altercation with several men in a dispute over grain at the Seo Brewing Company, son of the chairman of the brewery, Seo Bok-seob, was so impressed by his self-defense skills that he invited him to teach at a makeshift dojang that he created on the premises for that purpose. In this way, Seo Bok-seob became Choi Yong-sool's the first student. Later Choi became a bodyguard to Seo's father who was an important congressman in Daegu.
Spreading the art
In 1951, Choi and Seo opened up the Daehan Hapki Yu Kwon Sool Dojang (Hangul: 대한 합기 유권술 도장), the first formal school to teach the art. In 1958 Choi Yong-sool opened up his own school using the shortened name Hapkido for the first time. Both schools were located in Daegu. Some of the more important students from this period of time were Kim Moo-Hong (Hangul: 김무홍), Moon Jong-Won (Hangul: 문종원).Apparently Choi also taught people on his farm during the early years of the art and it was in this way that Ji Han-Jae (Hangul: 지한재), one of the great popularizers of the art, came to learn from Choi.
There is some disagreement about this but it also suggested that the founders of two arts, Lee Joo-Bang (Hangul: 이주방) of modern Hwa Rang Do and Seo In-Hyuk (Hangul: 서인혁; Suh In-Hyuk) of Kuk Sool Won, are thought to have trained with Choi Yong-Sool. However some others assert that their training came from Kim Moo-Hong's hapkido school in Seoul with which they were known to have been associated.
Choi's student Kim Jeong-Yoon (Hangul: 김정윤; also rendered Kim Jung-Yun) was one of his senior most students and in 1963 when Choi became the first Chairman on the Korea Kido Association (Daehan Ki Do Hwe; Hangul: 대한 기도회) and appointed Kim as Secretary General.Later Kim separated from the hapkido organizations to form his own Han Pul organization, although his art remains firmly based in the teachings of Choi Yong-sool.
Students of importance who trained by Choi during the later periods of his teaching were Kim Jeong-yoon, Kim Yoon-Sang (Hangul: 김윤상) who later went on to form his Hapki yusul organization.Lim Hyun-Soo (Hangul: 임현수) who claims to teach only the core skills taught to him by Choi Yong-Sool without the additional techniques which were appended to the art by Choi's students such as Ji Han-Jae and Kim Moo-Hong.Park Jeong-Hwan (Hangul: 박정환), who trained under Choi for three years, is one of the first of Choi's students to be authorized to open a Hapkido school in America, several of which still function today.
Choi's claims of being a student of Daito-ryu under Takeda Sokaku are contested and unsupported by the fee and attendance records of Takeda Sokaku which still exist today. However, since Choi was Takeda's house servant, others claim it is logical to assume he was trained by him or at least in his dojo. While staying in Japan, Choi is said to have taken on a Japanese name and was known as Asao Yoshida (吉田朝男) according to a posthumously released interview, or Yoshida Tatujutsu according Seo Bok-Seob. The claim by some that the lack of documentation was due to his Korean ancestry is difficult to uphold since other Korean students are mentioned in the records. Still there is a strong similarity to the techniques taught in Daito-ryu and the techniques of hapkido.
Argued also is the source of the name hapkido for the art which Choi Yong-Sool's student, Ji Han-Jae, claims to have coined the name for the art. Seo Bok-Seob however states in a 1980 interview that it was Jung Moo Kwan who first used the term to refer to the art as well as the symbol of the eagle to represent the art.