Grandmaster Joe Sheya

April 23, 1949 - September 12, 2014

Joe Sheya Background

Joe Sheya was born in San Franciso in 1949. His family lived in several different parts of the country as he grew up. He did some boxing as a kid, and he was involved in a few street fights later on, but he had no contact with the martial arts until college. In the early 70's Joe attended the University of Maryland at College Park, where he received a degree in education. Joe is a former Anne Arundel County public school teacher.

In college Joe started taking Tae Kwon Do, the average person's perception of what martial arts was. It was fun for a couple of months, but once the newness wore off he realized it wasn't much different than his fighting as a teenager. Tae Kwon Do amounted to using force to damage your attacker. He wanted something else.


Joe was talking about his personal disappointment with Tae Kwon Do in a restaurant when a total stranger introduced himself and started talking about a different kind of martial art, Hapkido. He had seen a demonstration given by a local man, Mr. Rim, who was a Hapkido Master. After a couple of weeks Joe went to the address the man had given him, Mr. Rim's home, and he asked about Hapkido. Communication was a problem because Mr. Rim hadn't been in the country long and didn't speak English. For the next 45 minutes Mr. Rim demonstrated Hapkido to Joe by throwing him around his living room.

Joe left realizing that even though he had been completely man-handled, his attacks had been handled but he was not hurt. To Mr. Rim's surprise he returned the next day, and the day after that. After about three weeks, Mr. Rim told Joe he was coming too often and handed him a calendar. They worked out a schedule and began regular lessons. Initially the lessons were fairly rough. If Joe had been less robust he wouldn't have been able to continue. Eventually Mr. Rim started teaching Joe differently, showing him the details behind the basic motions. Joe invested in video taping equipment and started taping all of their sessions. After about four years, Mr. Rim gave Joe a black belt.

Rim's Hapkido

After a session with Mr. Rim, Joe would come home and show his neighbor, Chris Heistand, what he learned that day. Eventually Chris started coming to Mr. Rim's house with Joe. Soon others joined the group, and Joe continued learning and teaching. Mr. Rim encouraged Joe to begin scheduling his own classes. Following Mr. Rim's example, there was no fee for the classes. Sometimes there were many students at these free classes, but many times there were none. A discouraging situation.

One of Joe's senior students (Ken Cross) hit on the idea that "Americans don't value something that they don't pay for". They got a space of their own, made up some signs, charged by the month, and Rim's Hapkido was born. After renting space in several locations, Joe ended up sharing space with Barlow's Gymnastics, a relationship that continued for many years. In 2001, Joe and his students decided to build a traditional Hapkido Dojang behind Joe's residence on Kent Island. This school remains as the main school of our association.

There are many motions in Hapkido, and initially there were only a few ranks; white, green, red, brown, and black. Testing for a new rank was as much a test of memory and endurance as it was a test of Hapkido skill. First, Joe wrote all the motions down so he had English language documentation of the techniques. Then Joe worked with Mr. Rim to break the motions down into groups of approximately fifty to one hundred techniques per rank, producing our current belt ranking system up to first degree black belt. This restructuring is the only difference between our current system and the art taught by Mr. Choi.

Mr. Choi's visit

In 1982, Mr. Rim, Joe and Ken Cross took a train to New York City to attend an international meeting with Mr. Choi. They met at the Korean restaurant, Yong Bin Kwon. It was important to Joe to meet Mr. Choi, but the meeting was important in another way. Joe learned that all Hapkidoists were not as open and selfless as Mr. Rim. Most of the people in attendence were only interested in self-promotion. At times they were even disrespectful of Mr. Choi.

After hours of bickering, Mr. Rim spoke. Joe doesn't speak Korean, so at that time he didn't know what was being said. He did know that you could hear a pin drop in the room. He now knows that Mr. Rim spoke of the importance of the traditional relationship between master and student. That this relationship was more important than money or belt rank, which apparently were the main interests of the others attending. Mr. Rim declared Joe his brother and his inheritor. Later, Mr. Choi declared Joe "Kwang Jang" and Master Instructor for the United States. (In 1984 Grandmaster Choi promoted Joe to the rank of sixth degree Black Belt.)

Mr. Choi seated Joe next to him as the others left the meeting. Mr. Choi held Joe's left hand with his right. On their way out, everyone bowed to Mr. Choi, and bowed to Joe last. Joe was confused, but he knew this was a good thing. Or at least he thought so until it was time for him to leave. When he walked out on to the street, everyone who left the meeting was standing there waiting for him. Joe thought this was it, but one by one everyone gave him their business card. Over the next couple of years Joe spent his free time visiting these other Hapkido schools. He hoped to find another school that was teaching the Hapkido he was taught. He never did.

Hapkido Today

On September 18,1998, Rim, Jong Bae announced to his students that he was forming an organization in order to preserve the purity of the art that was personally taught to him by Choi, Yong Sul. This organization will be called "Rim's Hapkido Association." Grandmaster Rim and the members of Rim's Hapkido Association will dedicate themselves to perpetuating Choi, Yong Sul's Hapkido motion and his spirit. On 23 March, 2002 Grandmaster Rim promoted Joe Sheya to ninth degree black belt.

In the summer of 2007, after a trip to Korea, Master Rim decided that he wanted to come out of retirement and open a commercial Hapkido school with some of the black belts from his Baltimore Dojang. When Master Rim requested that his new school be admitted into "Rim's Hapkido Association" (the association formed around Joe's schools), Joe had to refuse. Master Rim's students had not followed the standards that he (Rim), Choi, Yong Sul, and Joe had established in the 1980's. In just a few years, Rim's senior black belts had been promoted to very high ranks and his lower ranked students were participating in a curriculum that was completely unfamiliar to Joe. Joe had senior students who had been with him for up to thirty years, who had not reached the rank of these newer black belts. Affiliating Rim's black belts and his new school into our association would have been an insult to Joe's dedicated and loyal senior students and a betrayal of the promise that Joe made to Choi, Yong Sul in the early 80's to "keep his art form traditional". The Master Instructors that Joe had trained decided that they would split from Rim, give him his name back, and continue with Joe as Grand Master. "Sheya's Hapkido Association" was named and will continue to dedicate itself to the preservation and continuance of Doju, Choi, Yong Sul and his art form of Hapkido.