Historical Interview

Choi, Yong Sul Hapkido Grandmaster
Choi, Yong Sul
(1904-1986)

Mr. Choi, the founder and Grandmaster of Korean Hapkido, discussed his personal history in an interview given during his visit to the United States in June of 1982.


Mr. Choi, under what circumstances did you come to live in Japan?

When I was a child I lived in the village of Yong Dong in Choong Chung Province, Korea. At this time there were many Japanese people in my region because of the Japanese occupation of Korea. I became acquainted with a Mr. Morimoto, who was a Japanese businessman and candy store owner. Morimoto had no sons. When the time came for him to return to Japan he abducted me and took me with him to Japan, intending that I would become his son. I did not like this man and because of my constant protest and crying he abandoned me in the town of Moji soon after we came to Japan. From Moji, I traveled alone to Osaka. I soon gave myself up to despair and while crying and wandering aimlessly, I was picked up by the police. When the authorities found out that I had no family in Japan, they arranged for me to be cared for at a Buddhist temple. I lived there for about two years under the care of the monk Kintaro, Wadanabi.

How old were you when you were abducted?

I think about 8 years old.

What circumstances placed you in the home of Takeda, Sokaku?

While living in the temple, I was fascinated by murals of battles and paintings of famous martial arts scenes displayed throughout the temple. When the time came, Wadanabi asked me what direction I wanted my life to take. I immediately pointed to a scene on the wall depicting the martial arts and said this is what I want to be. Kintaro, Wadanabi was a close friend of Takeda, Sokaku and arranged my introduction to him. Takeda, Sokaku liked me and feeling great sympathy for my situation, decided to adopt me. Upon my adoption he gave me the Japanese name Asao, Yoshida. I was about 11 years old at this time.

In what city was the Buddhist temple that was your home?

Kyoto.

In what area was Takeda, Sokaku’s home and dojang (school) located?

His home and school were located on Shin Su Mountain in the area of Akeda.

What was the nature of your training under Takeda, Sokaku?

Takeda, Sokaku was the head of Daito Ryu Aiki-Jutsu. I lived in his home and learned under his personal direction for over 30 years. I was his constant student, and for twenty years of my training, I was secluded in his mountain home.

Takeda was the teacher of the Japanese royal family. Were you personally involved in teaching the royal family?

Yes, at that time I was my teachers’s assistant in all of his instruction. While in Tokyo, we also taught high ranking government officials within the palace circle. Also, we traveled to various parts of Japan and taught select groups of people.

Did you ever leave Japan with Master Takeda for any exhibitions or teaching outside of Japan?

Yes, when I was about 28 years old it was arranged by politicians for my teacher and his most outstanding students to travel to Hawaii in order to give an exhibition tour.

What was your personal status on this tour?

I was the leader of the exhibition team under the direction of my teacher.

How many people were on the exhibition team and can you recall the names of any of the participants?

At the time of the Hawaiian tour there were five of us; Takeda, Sokaku, myself (Asao, Yoshida), Jintaro, Abida and two others whose names I cannot at this time recall.

When you returned from Hawaii were there any significant changes in your life?

No, we continued to tour and teach and at the same time I continued to learn through Master Takeda’s instruction.

How was your life affected by the outbreak of World War II?

World War II changed things in many ways. My teacher and I worked for the government by capturing military deserters that would hide in the mountains near our home. We would return these men, unharmed, to the authorities. The most significant changes happened toward the end of the war. Japan was losing the war and in a last desperation effort the government instituted a special military draft that called up most of the prominent martial artists of the time. These highly trained people were conscripted into special guerrilla-type units that were dispersed throughout the war zone. All of the inner circle of Daito Ryu Aiki-Jutsu were drafted except Master Takeda and myself. Most were killed in the final fighting of the war.

Why were you not drafted along with the others?

I was going to be drafted but Takeda, Sokaku intervened. Through his status and influence, he had me hospitalized for minor surgery. This stopped the process of my conscription and prevented me from being drafted. He prevented me from being put into the war because he felt that if I was killed Daito Ryu Aiki-Jutsu would be lost in its completed form upon his death.

How many separate techniques had Takeda, Sokaku developed and mastered in his system?

3808.

How many of these techniques have you personally mastered?

Shortly before he died, my teacher informed me that I was the only student that he had schooled in all of his secrets and techniques.

Do you know the circumstances of Takeda, Sokaku's death?

Yes, he ended his life by refusing to eat.

Why did he do that?

Japan had never before been defeated in war. Takeda, Sokaku felt that a great shame and loss of face had been perpetrated on his ancestors by Japan's defeat at the hands of the Allies. Being a man of leadership, he felt a strong personal responsibility in this defeat. Becase of this strong feeling, he decided that his only honorable path was to end his life.

Did Master Takeda make any final statements to you before his death?

He said goodbye to me and spoke of my long time desire to return to Korea. He bid me to do so. He was concerned that because of my position in his household and because of my Korean heritage, that I would be assassinated if I remained in Japan. Had I remained after his death to succeed him, it would have been dangerous.

When did you return to Korea?

I returned, with my household, shortly after Takeda, Sokaku’s death.

Where in Korea did you settle?

We settled in Taegu Kyung Buk Province. Here I established my first Korean dojang, and have made my home here ever since. After returning I changed my name back to Choi, Yong Sul and the name of my art to Hapkido.


Copyright © 1982/1998 Joseph K. Sheya