Exploring Korean Martial Arts Styles: A Guide

Finn Mitoma
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korean martial arts styles

Korean martial arts have a rich heritage that is often overshadowed by other martial arts styles. Traditional Korean martial arts were heavily influenced by Chinese styles, and historical references to Korean martial arts are all in Chinese. However, one form that stands out as a pure Korean martial tradition is taekyon. Taekyon is known for its dance-like qualities and combative style, particularly its leg techniques. It is the most thoroughly documented Korean martial art, with over 150 years of history. While traditional Korean martial arts are now mostly a vague memory, taekyon is considered the sole survivor.

Key Takeaways:

  • Korean martial arts have a rich heritage influenced by Chinese styles.
  • Taekyon is a pure Korean martial art known for its dance-like qualities and combative style.
  • Taekyon is the most thoroughly documented Korean martial art with over 150 years of history.
  • Traditional Korean martial arts mostly exist as a vague memory.
  • Taekyon is considered the sole survivor of traditional Korean martial arts.

The Origins of Korean Martial Arts

Korean martial arts have a long and storied history that traces its roots back to the Koguryo Kingdom in northeast China. The practice of martial arts can be seen as an integral part of Korean culture, with its earliest evidence depicted in wall murals depicting wrestling and possibly boxing. These murals provide a glimpse into the ancient martial arts practices that were prevalent in Korea.

Chinese martial arts played a significant role in shaping Korean martial arts styles, particularly from the Former Han period onwards. The exchange of martial arts knowledge and techniques between China and Korea resulted in the fusion of different styles and the development of unique Korean martial arts forms.

During the Unified Silla period, the presence of stone guardian figures at the Sokkuram Buddhist site suggests the practice of boxing-style subak. These stone figures serve as a testament to the rich history of martial arts in Korea, showcasing the influence of Chinese martial arts on Korean fighting techniques.

Another significant contributor to the development of Korean martial arts was the hwarang, a patriotic fraternity of youth during the Silla period. The hwarang’s martial arts practices focused on cultivating physical and mental discipline, contributing to the growth and refinement of Korean martial arts.

With these various influences, Korean martial arts have evolved and adapted throughout history, resulting in a diverse range of styles that embody the spirit and culture of Korea. From traditional Korean martial arts like taekwondo and hapkido to the more recent emergence of Korean karate, these disciplines reflect the unique heritage and values of the Korean people.

Traditional Korean Martial Arts Styles

traditional korean martial arts

Traditional Korean martial arts encompass a variety of styles that have evolved over the centuries. Influenced by both Japanese karate systems and Chinese boxing, these martial arts reflect Korea’s cultural exchange with its neighboring countries.

The practice of karate in Korea, known as Korean karate, combines elements of traditional Okinawan karate with Korean martial arts techniques. It emphasizes striking techniques, such as punches, kicks, and knee strikes, while also incorporating grappling and self-defense techniques.

Korean Taekwondo, on the other hand, is a discipline that focuses primarily on powerful kicks. It is known for its high, fast kicks and jumping and spinning kicks, making it a dynamic and visually stunning martial art. Taekwondo has gained international recognition and is an official Olympic sport.

Traditional Korean Martial Art Style Main Focus
Korean Karate Striking techniques, grappling, self-defense
Korean Taekwondo Powerful kicks

Another prominent Korean martial art style is Hapkido. It is known for its comprehensive self-defense techniques, blending strikes, joint locks, throws, and pressure points into a seamless system. Hapkido focuses on redirecting an opponent’s energy and using their own force against them. It is considered an effective and practical martial art for self-defense.

“Hapkido combines power, precision, and adaptability to create a unique martial art form.” – Korean Martial Arts Master

While Korean martial arts have been influenced by Japanese and Chinese styles, they have also developed their own distinct characteristics. The techniques and forms practiced in Korea may exhibit similarities to their counterparts, but there are subtle differences that make Korean martial arts unique.

From powerful strikes to intricate grappling techniques, traditional Korean martial arts styles offer a diverse range of training methods and philosophies. Whether practitioners choose Korean karate, taekwondo, or hapkido, they are sure to gain valuable self-defense skills while immersing themselves in Korea’s rich martial arts heritage.

The Unique Aspects of Hapkido

Hapkido is a dynamic and versatile Korean martial art that is renowned for its unique characteristics and practical self-defense techniques. It seamlessly blends power, precision, and technique to create a comprehensive system of combat. At the core of Hapkido are the principles of harmony, circular motion, and adaptability, which form the foundation of its philosophy.

Hapkido practitioners emphasize fluid movements that allow them to seamlessly flow between offensive and defensive techniques, enabling them to adapt to different situations. One of the defining features of Hapkido is its focus on joint locks and throws, which are integral to neutralizing opponents with minimal effort. These techniques leverage an opponent’s energy and momentum, redirecting it to their disadvantage.

Whether it’s evading an opponent’s attack or executing a powerful strike, Hapkido practitioners rely on precise footwork, body positioning, and efficient use of energy. The art’s circular and flowing movements not only allow for effective defense but also facilitate the application of powerful counterattacks that leverage an opponent’s aggression against them.

Within the world of Korean martial arts, Hapkido holds a prominent place and is widely practiced in martial arts schools. Its practical self-defense techniques and emphasis on adaptability and efficiency make it a highly sought-after martial art for those interested in real-world applications. Hapkido training not only equips practitioners with the skills they need to defend themselves but also instills discipline, mental fortitude, and a deep understanding of the art’s underlying philosophy.

Hapkido Techniques: A Fusion of Power and Precision

Technique Description
Joint Locks Hapkido incorporates a wide range of joint locks, such as wrist locks, arm locks, and leg locks. These techniques utilize leverage and pressure on the joints to immobilize or manipulate an opponent.
Throws Throws are a crucial aspect of Hapkido, involving the controlled use of an opponent’s momentum and balance to execute powerful throws and takedowns.
Strikes Hapkido employs a variety of strikes, including punches, kicks, elbows, and knees. These strikes are delivered with precision and power, targeting vulnerable areas of an opponent’s body.
Pressure Points Understanding and targeting pressure points is an essential part of Hapkido training. By applying pressure to specific points, practitioners can incapacitate or control an opponent.
Weapon Techniques Hapkido practitioners also learn to use various weapons, such as knives, sticks, and ropes, to further enhance their self-defense capabilities.

These techniques, coupled with the art’s emphasis on adaptability and fluid motion, make Hapkido a formidable martial art that has gained recognition worldwide. Whether for self-defense, physical fitness, or personal growth, studying Hapkido provides students with a comprehensive skill set and a deeper understanding of self-discipline and harmony.


Korean martial arts are a testament to the rich and diverse martial traditions of Korea. Influenced by both Chinese and Japanese martial arts styles, traditional Korean martial arts have evolved over centuries, showcasing a blend of techniques and forms. Taekyon, with its unique dance-like qualities and emphasis on leg techniques, stands out as a true Korean martial art that has been thoroughly documented throughout history.

Another noteworthy Korean martial art is Hapkido, renowned for its practical self-defense techniques. Hapkido combines power, precision, and adaptability, with fluid movements, joint locks, and throws as its key elements. This martial art provides practitioners with a dynamic and versatile approach to self-defense, emphasizing the principles of harmony and circular motion.

As practitioners and enthusiasts of Korean martial arts, it is important to recognize and appreciate the unique aspects and contributions of these styles. Traditional Korean martial arts serve as a bridge between the martial arts cultures of China and Japan, showcasing the historical and cultural connections between these nations.

With Korean martial arts schools teaching a wide range of styles, including taekwondo, hapkido, and karate, individuals have the opportunity to learn and master these forms, honing their skills in a traditional and disciplined environment. Whether you are interested in the graceful kicks of taekwondo or the dynamic self-defense techniques of hapkido, Korean martial arts offer a variety of paths to explore.

Finn Mitoma

Founder @ The Combative

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