INTERVIEW WITH GRANDMASTER SUNG SOO LEE
The first time you meet him you notice a brightness in his eyes. You sense a deep awareness in him that is rarely seen in other men. Master Sung Soo Lee, president of the International Hapkido Moo Hak Kwan, which has its headquarters in Sydney, Australia, has dedicated his life to the perfection of Hapkido and traditional Korean martial arts.
A ninth Degree in Hapkido, Grandmaster Lee wears many hats: President and founder of International Hapkido Moo Hak Kwan; a senior representative for the Korea Hapkido Federation; world traveller and goodwill ambassador; world demonstrator; instructor to many internationally known black belts and 9th Dan Grandmaster in Taekwondo.
This interview was originally published in "Taekwondo & Korean Combat Arts" magazine:-
TKCA MAGAZINE: Master Lee, can you tell us how you came to take up Hapkido?
Sung Soo Lee: I started Taekwondo in 1953 but I was always interested in Hapkido. Hapkido was not well known before 1960 in Seoul. I was in the army in 1960 and I met a soldier who was studying an art called Yawara (Yawara was the first name that Hapkido was known by). I asked him, what is Yawara? He placed a wrist lock on me which was very painful. The wrist locks interested me greatly so he taught me Yawara and I taught him some Taekwondo.
After I was discharged from the army in 1962, I looked for a Hapkido school. When I attended Seoul National University in 1962, I met Mr. Yang Seung Woo who studied Hapkido. He showed me Hapkido and again I taught him Taekwondo. I trained in his system of Hapkido which was Chung Moo Wan. Yang trained under Park Nam Sun who was Ji Han Jae's student. Mr. Yang died some years ago in Germany where he was a Hapkido instructor.
Did you ever meet the founder of Hapkido, Yong Sul Choi?
Lee: No, I went to his place in Daegeu in 1987 but he had already passed away; but I met his son Choi Bong Yul. He was very angry - he wanted to be the successor to his father's system but no-one would recognize him. I sympathised with him.
How popular is Hapkido in Australia?
Lee: Hapkido has become very popular. I teach Hapkido and Taekwondo separately. For every four enquiries I receive about Taekwondo, I receive six for Hapkido.
What does Moo Hak Kwan mean?
Lee: Moo means martial art, Hak means studying or learning, and Kwan means school.
How has Hapkido evolved and developed since its inception?
Lee: When Yong Sul Choi was teaching in Daegue city, he taught many students; Ji Han Jae, Kim Moo Woong and In Hyuk Suh to name a few. Many of these original students have now developed their own systems of Hapkido. The most important of these are Ji Han Jae and Kim Moo Woong. They travelled to Seoul and Ji Han Jae set Sin Moo Kwan. My own instructor learned from ji Han Jae.
The word Hapkido is very similar to the word Aikido, and many people are confused by this. What can you tell us about the differences between the two arts?
Lee: Definitely Hapkido uses a very short-cut performace compared to Aikido. Hapkido has developed a lot of kicking techniques which do not exist in Aikido. However, the principles are similar.
Thankyou very much Master Lee for the interview.
Lee: It has been my pleasure.
Master Sam Plumb has spent more than three decades practising one of the finest martial arts in the world. He has trained extensively in Korea and his instructor, Grandmaster Sung Soo Lee, is one of the most respected Hapkido Masters in the world.
Q: How would you describe the basic theories and principles of Hapkido?
Sam Plumb: I am very often asked this question, particularly from practitioners of other martial arts who want to know the difference between Hapkido and their own style. Superficially, Hapkido looks like a combination of Ju-Jitsu, Taekwondo, Aikido and Kung Fu because it contains joint locks, pressure point techniques, throws kicks, strikes and weapons techniques. However, looking deeper than these surface impressions we find the theory of non-resistance to force. When the attacker's energy is coming directly towards you it shouldn't be met with a forceful counter. The Hapkido student will harmonise with this attacking force by evading and softly deflecting and then guide the force where he needs it. For example an on coming punch may be evaded and deflected, then followed up by a joint lock and throw. In a case where a joint lock or throw is not practical, an evasion would be used followed by a kick or hand strike. That is just a brief explanation of a typical Hapkido defence
Q: Is this similar to the non-resistance and circular theories used in Aikido and Tai Chi?
SP: Very similar - all three arts are based on the principle of circular motion. There are distinct similarities but Hapkido uses minimal movement to quickly end the attack. We teach a variety of effective responses, some using a small circular motion, some using a large circle and then it is up to the individual to decide what is the most suitable defence in a given situation.
Q: When did you begin martial arts training?
SP: I started training in Karate in 1968 at the age of 16. In those days the only martial arts that were available in England were Karate and Judo. Around 1970 the martial arts of Korea began to be introduced into Great Britain and I began to study Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do. I was introduced to Hapkido in 1980 and I have been training in it ever since. I am a Master grade registered with the Korea Hapkido Federation.
Q: I understand there are no Patterns or Forms in the original form of Hapkido?
SP: No, there were no forms in Yong Sul Choi's original system. The patterns used in many Hapkido schools today are a modern addition. Hapkido is a modern name anyway, it doesn't date back to ancient times. In ancient Korea there was no such name as Hapkido.
Q: Have you introduced patterns into your schools?
SP: Yes, these are patterns that were taught to me by my original Korean Master, the late Mok Yang Kim and other Korean Masters. They are training forms which use a series of combinations and counter-attacks. These are strictly a training aid so that the student can train at home without a partner. They are now part of our grading syllabus.
Q: What do you think about Hapkido students participating in tournaments.
SP: I am not really interested in tournaments as I believe that Hapkido exists solely for self protection. I do have students who like to compete in tournaments and I think its good that this type of event brings different martial artists together to meet and promote friendship. However, I believe that martial arts should be character building but all too often I see that winning a big trophy in a tournament just builds a large ego. The sign of a true champion is not winning a tournament but winning over yourself.
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