July 23, 2024



Hapkido’s Principle of Non-Resistance

Hapkido’s Principle of Non-Resistance

I once asked my Hapkido grand master why he preferred Hapkido for self-defense.  He explained that he had long ago learned that as much as you try to turn your body into a hard strong mass there will always be someone born genetically bigger, stronger, or faster.  He also explained that when two hard objects like shin bones or forearm bones collide, they both get bruised.  That was where the principle of non-resistance came into play to make a believer out of him.

The idea of nonresistance is to utilize your opponent's force by turning it against himself for your benefit.  When I visualize nonresistance, I am always reminded of the comedy movies where someone takes a running leap at a door to break in and just as they are about to make impact someone on the inside opens the door and they go flying though, only to land on their face.

Hapkido is a circular art, so instead of using the linear defense of hard blocking a straight punch the practitioner can avoid and then redirect the attack by pulling or pushing the arm into the same direction the punch was aimed at.  This amplifies the force vector and off balances the attacker with minimum effort on the part of the defender.

The principle of nonresistance makes this art ideal for people of lesser physical strength.  Teaching the concept requires merely a basic understanding of directional force.  It should be stressed however that to apply the concept of nonresistance doesn't necessarily mean one has to even grip or pull or even apply a lock.  If for example someone pushes against your chest instead of trying to push forward you can merely rotate your shoulders parallel to the attacker's push and the opponent will be suddenly off balanced, much.

The founders of Judo and Hapkido both studied under the same mentor, Sakaku Takeda and therefore it is not surprising that both their arts reflect this principle, although it is expressed in different language.  Jigaro Kano 's Judo, (the gentle way) stresses maximum efficiency with minimum effort and relies on contact focused pulls and turns to off balance the opponent rather than wrestling them directly with muscular strength.   

Hapkido, founded by Choi Young Sul refers directly to the principle of Nonresistance and to the circle principle and the water or flow principle to explain that it is better to fight in a circular pattern rather than meeting the opponent's force head on and to be soft like water on defense and hard like a storm on offence. This is not to say you are prohibited from a linear technique, it merely means that it must be utilized in accordance with the philosophy of the art.  In fact, one of Hapkido's thirty-six principles states that the circle defeats the line while the line defeats the circle.   In other words, you can counter a circular attack by a straight-in counter such as a spear hand thrust or a front kick and likewise the straight in attack can be countered by circling away.   What is important to note however is that if you see a Hapkido practitioner struggling to overcome an opponent with muscular strength or staining with effort to perform a technique they are probably performing it incorrectly. The application of the principle of nonresistance and the water (flow) principle teach that when done correctly the results should be dramatic but effortless.

It is also important to remember that the circular principle doesn't mean that the circle must always be horizontal but rather is intended to imply circular force in all planes, much like tracing a globe.  It also means that he philosophy of battle must always consider all directions.  In Hapkido one never assumes that there is one single attacker but rather that there may be unseen attacks from the sides or behind.  The principle of nonresistance allows the defender to move or redirect the attacker in other directions to block other possible threats with the attacker’s own body. 

When Dojunim Choi started teaching his arty in Korea his first student was a Judo expert and was interested in learning how to counter and protect against certain Judo techniques which is why some of Hapkido's techniques seem abbreviated and smaller in their rotations.  The point was not to be as powerful in gaining a point or to win a tournament but rather to defend oneself from harm.  Again, the small circle nonresistance principle become a mainstay of Korean self-defense.

It should be emphasized here that the principle of nonresistance does not mean there are no hard impacts in the art of Hapkido. Quite to the contrary the concept of a quick neural stun to cause pain compliance is a hallmark of Hapkido defense.  A stunning scoop kick to the opponent’s shin will cause such pain as to temporarily mentally off balance them and 

allow for a technique to be applied without much resistance on the part of the attacker. Just imagine getting up in the dark and banging your shin hard on the metal bed frame. The last thing your mind wants to do is tighten up and prepare for a counter. It is too busy dealing with the pain to think or react to anything else. In other words, they will have very little resistance left in them.

To illustrate this the author once watched a very strong student resist constant attempts to trap him in an arm bar.  His strength against the technique he knew as coming was too great to overcome and his training partners were turning blue with muscular effort trying to rotate his arm.  I merely demonstrated the concept by preparing the classic armbar.  This student again flinched happily against what he thought would be the same movement.  Instead, I merely smiled, and thumb spiked him to the solar plexus.  With his wind suddenly and unexpectedly taken away it required almost no effort whatsoever to rotate him into the arm bar.  In other words, I didn't try to struggle or fight to resist his defense, I simply redirected his mind and body into a weaker stake which allowed for a technique application requiring almost no strength to perform. 

For those who have grown accustomed to relying on their size or muscle power to succeed in life it may at first be difficult to learn to relax and flow in a dangerous situation but once they comprehend the advantages, they readily embrace the concept and enthusiastically pursue the art.  By the way, once I released the arm bar on that particularly powerful student the expression on his face was priceless.  It was one of not only understanding and surprise but pure joy in understanding what I meant. Once he regained his breath he began to laugh.

Dr. Ronald Stone, 7th dan HaeMuKwan Hapkido
American Dragon Korean Martial Arts

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