Hapkido vs Aikido – Key Differences Explained For Beginners


Photo by Wikimedia(left) & Christelle Fillonneau(right)

Hapkido and Aikido may sound the same leading people to think that the two martial arts are similar. The reality is that they are two completely different arts originating from different countries. What differentiates these two martial arts styles from each other?

Hapkido and Aikido are founded on roots in the Japanese martial art Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu. Hapkido is Korean, and Aikido is Japanese. Hapkido includes grappling and kicks, while Aikido does not and employs a more philosophical approach to self-defense.

Hapkido and Aikido are considered fairly young martial arts styles since they were founded in the early 1900s compared to other ancient styles with centuries of history. Hapkido and Aikido share similar roots, but important differences set the two apart from each other.

What Is Hapkido?

Hapkido is a martial art originating from Korea. The form is a hybrid of several fighting styles from the region and from some Japanese styles. Hapkido is considered a self-defense martial art rather than an attacking style. 

The philosophy is to be able to defend yourself adequately against an attacker rather than being an aggressor, but some offensive techniques are taught as part of the system.

The founder of Hapkido was Choi Yongsool, who created the form when he returned to Korea after World War II. He had spent 30 years in Japan, where he studied Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu, a Japanese martial art.

Hapkido is heavily influenced by Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu and is adapted from this style. Moves from Taekkyon and Tang Soo Do were incorporated into the style, as were various Judo throws and ground fighting techniques.

The name of the martial art Hapkido has the following meaning.

Hap – harmony

Ki – Power

Do – Path or way of

This means that Hapkido can be translated as “the way of power and harmony.”

Hapkido incorporates the following.

  • Joint locks
  • Throwing techniques
  • Grappling
  • Jumping kicks 
  • Punches and other hand strikes
  • Pressure points
  • Traditional weapons

The traditional weapons taught in Hapkido include the use of the following.

  • Knife 
  • Sword
  • Nunchaku – ssang-chul-bong in Korean
  • Short-stick – dan-bong
  • Cane – ji pang ee
  • Medium length staff – joong-bong
  • Gun – similar to the Japanese
  • Long staff, or bo – bong in Korean

Hapkido teaches both close and long-range fighting moves and focuses on circular movement, redirecting an opponent’s strikes and controlling the attacker. Footwork and body position are key tactics to gain an advantage over a potential attacker. The intention in Hapkido is to keep the opponent off balance and use leverage rather than matching the opponent’s strength with your own strength.

What Is Aikido?

Aikido, like Hapkido, is also considered a modern martial art since it was developed in the late 1920s. Aikido is a Japanese martial art based on the foundational principles of Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu, which is a traditional Japanese martial art revived in the early 20th century by Takeda Sokaku.

The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, studied Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu as a student directly under Takeda Sokaku. The Aikido founder also studied Tenjin and Shin yo Ryu, which also influenced the style. 

Morihei Ueshiba developed Aikido in the 1920s and 1930s, and in those early days, it was known as Aiki Budo.

Ueshiba was a spiritual man, and his religion influenced the philosophy of Aikido which incorporates the concepts of peace, reconciliation, and to do no harm, even to your attacker. The premise of Aikido is to disable your attacker so you can diffuse the situation but not to incapacitate or destroy your opponent.

The meaning of Aikido is as follows.

Ai – Harmony or balance

Ki – Energy or life

Do – The way or path of

Aikido can be translated as “the way of harmony with universal energy,” indicating harmony with life-energy and everyone around us. Aikido promotes personal growth and development through learning the art and does not promote competition.

Although Aikido has no belt gradings, it has levels from 6th kyu as a beginner to 1st kyu and black belt. Consequently, you remain a white belt until you earn your black belt.

Aikido includes the following.

  • Empty-hand throwing techniques based on Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu forms.
  • Joint locking techniques based on Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu forms.
  • Punches and other hand strikes only as part of defensive movements.
  • No grappling.
  • No kicks.
  • Traditional Japanese weapons.

The traditional weapons taught as part of Aikido include the following.

  • Training with the spear or yari
  • Offensive and defensive techniques with the short staff, or jo.
  • Swordsmanship intended for use with a Katana or Japanese sword. These techniques are based on Kenjutsu.
  • Defense against a knife attack.

Aikido also uses circular movement and body and stance positioning to take advantage of your opponent’s energy and use it against them. The art does not require strength pitted against strength, which is why it is a particularly good martial art for women to learn for self-defense.

While the techniques learned in Aikido can be used to apply deadly force to the opponent or cause serious injury, the philosophy of the martial art calls for restraint. Aikido students are taught to only apply enough force to incapacitate the opponent sufficiently to end the confrontation.

What Is the Key Difference between Hapkido and Aikido?

Even though Hapkido and Aikido have similar roots, some fundamental differences exist between the two forms.

Aikido does not include grappling or kicks of any form, while Hapkido includes these techniques. Both martial arts include swordsmanship, but Aikido adheres to the forms of Kenjutsu as the core foundational techniques.

Aikido only teaches defensive techniques, while Hapkido teaches some offensive techniques as part of its curriculum.

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What Are the Similarities Between Hapkido and Aikido?

Aikido and Hapkido have similar roots in that they both have Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu as the foundation for their style of martial art. 

Martial arts are often classified as hard or soft martial arts, where “hard” martial arts match force with force and strength against strength, while “soft” arts use timing, leverage, and redirection of the opponent’s force against himself. From this perspective, both Hapkido and Aikido are considered “soft” martial arts.

The throws and empty hand techniques derived from Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu result in similar techniques between Hapkido and Aikido.

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Which Style Is Better For Self-Defense?

From the point of view of a holistic martial art that focuses on mind, body, and spiritual development, Aikido is the better martial art.

Both Hapkido and Aikido will teach students good self-defense techniques, especially when you are unarmed and are facing an armed attacker.

Considering the same roots in the two martial arts, they are both equivalent in terms of self-defense techniques.

Hapkido teaches additional techniques such as grappling and kicks, which may be useful aspects to have in your repertoire in the event of a street fight, but in Aikido, the focus is to diffuse the situation quickly.

Which One Is Harder To Learn?

Aikido is the more difficult martial art to learn due to the heavy reliance on the redirection of the opponent’s energy. If you do not execute the moves properly and precisely, they may be ineffectual against an attacker.

This precision requires more time to master the techniques so they become second nature, and you can execute them without thinking about them.

Hapkido takes about three years to attain a black belt, training two to three times a week, while Aikido will take about five years with the same commitment to achieve a black belt.

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Why Is Hapkido Not Popular?

Hapkido is often taught to law enforcement officers in Korea as a means to subdue people quickly without inflicting too much damage on the person. However, among the general public, Hapkido has lost some popularity.

The loss in popularity is mostly due to the wide range of techniques that a student is required to learn. It is a complicated martial art that requires dedication and constant practice to master.

In our “instant society,” many people do not have the patience or level of commitment required to master the art.

Which One Is Safer To Learn?

Aikido is safer to learn than Hapkido because of the philosophy in Aikido to limit the harm or injury inflicted on the opponent.

Even though Aikido has this philosophy, the techniques taught can inflict serious injury or even death if the practitioner so wishes. The teaching of the art is to control your own techniques to exert only the necessary damage to stop the attack, not severely incapacitate the opponent.

Hapkido has more aggressive techniques than Aikido and does not follow the “do no harm” philosophy to the same extent.

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Which One Should I Choose?

Both Aikido and Hapkido are good choices for self-defense martial arts, but Hapkido offers a wider range of techniques that may be useful to defend yourself in a street fight.

For women or teenagers, Aikido may be the better choice since the focus is on using the strength and force of your opponent to your advantage without the need to be strong yourself. 

Final Thoughts

It is difficult to choose which is better between Hapkido and Aikido due to their similar roots. Each has its application in teaching effective self-defense techniques.

The choice between the two would be a personal one based on your stature, strength, and personal philosophies.

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