In the Dojang - photo by Daniel Lynch

Hapkido Update (Or, “How I learned to stop worrying and love being rag-dolled around the Dojang”)

For the last 16 months I’ve been disappearing two or three times a week to either a church or a gym, depending on the day, and been taking part in martial arts training. Specifically, the Korean art of Hapkido.

This largely came about by realising one day whilst paying the bills I had the ruminations that “(sigh) I am now truly an adult.” That’s when it struck me.

“Wait. I AM an adult. I CAN DO.. WHATEVER.. I WANT”.

When younger I had very much admired what can only be described as the western romanticising of the quintessential Black Belt; a virtually undefeatable being of immense strength and skill. Alas, my parents had forbade any activity that they perceived as even remotely violent. At that young an age, the only argument I could put forward was “..but it’s sooooooo cool!”. I have absolutely no doubt that had I offered something much more constructive, that I would have won my parents over.

“Ahh, but, surely you and Father dearest are aware that endeavours in the ways of pugilistic arts are not only recommended by child psychologists as confidence-building activities, but also an excellent method of instilling discipline into my chaotic yet typical pre-teen experiences, thus preventing juvenile actions in the rapidly approaching adolescent period to come??”

Yeah, I absolutely could have convinced them. Back to last year, however.

Upon realising that my disposable income (if there can ever truly be such a thing) came from my own responsibility, and not that of the Student Loans Company, I started looking into what I could study. I confess, I wanted something a little less well known. I wanted to be pretentious and study something vaguely esoteric.

“Dude, you should do Krav Maga!..” a couple of friends urged. “ISRAELI SPECIAL FORCES do it! You’d mess people up!”

..they may not have said “mess”.

How I ended up choosing Hapkido of all things actually came down to a variety of factors; what style I wanted to learn (pressure point manipulation & locks), the primary principles behind it (circular motion, water-like flow & non-resistance or harmony), and “Oh cool. Hapkido is what Scorpion uses in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. Well I’ll be.”.

It’s worth noting I spend more time kihop-ing (“eyah!”) than shouting “GET OVER HERE!”

Since then, I’ve constantly been surprising myself at what my body is capable of. My Saboumnim (not unlike the Japanese, ‘Sensei’), Master Tammy Parlour, has a lot of faith and encouragement for her students, and it really shows when she demonstrates a feat of acrobatic prowess and expects you to follow suit. “With respect Ma’am, with my body, *that* is something I am incapable of.” is a phrase I have uttered many times (or variations thereof), and every single time Master Parlour repositions me like a puppet and gently tells me to try again. I do, the technique works as it should. If you told me 12 months ago to kick something at the same height of my face, I would tell you to go take a running jump, because that’s literally what I’d have needed to do in order to fulfil such a request.

Now (admittedly with a little stretching) my feet can meet the same 6,7" air that my head has been enjoying this last decade. That is pretty damned amazing for a guy of my height and general heft.

I’d be lying if I said this new-found pastime had put me completely at peace; far from it. With every new technique I learn that effortlessly sends someone spiralling to the ground with just the flick of the wrist or a repositioning of my feet, I end up half wishing that some aggressive irk decides to kick off, allowing me to use such fun knowledge. I know that’s wrong, but I have to enjoy the reverie before I become completely responsible and respectable, right??