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With the rise of worldwide interest in Eastern martial arts, ones that have not been in the spotlight in recent times are also starting to emerge from the ranks of the thousands of different styles and arts available. One of the more prominent ones is hapkido. Though still relatively rare, more and more dojos are opening in the Western hemisphere, resulting in more practitioners and an increase in popularity. However, if it really wants to become a big name in martial arts, it cannot survive for long before being compared to other arts, since it has to be able to stand its ground. In this article, we are going to do just that, and the art we are comparing it to is probably the most well-known art in the world: karate. So, what are the differences between hapkido nad karate?
Hapkido is a self-defense oriented martial art designed to take down an opponent in a street fight or a realistic fighting situation. On the other hand, karate is a martial art that consists of the strikes and blocks in a very rigid, blocky format instead of hapkido’s natural “flowing and redirecting” style.
There is a lot more to it than that, though. Martial arts are complex systems, almost like religions, and are made up of countless different factors, all of which play a different role in the value of the martial art. If you want to know more about karate before diving into this article, we have other articles on different karate styles, clothing, and equipment as well, which can all help you compare the most famous art on the planet to hapkido. Read on to find out more about the differences and the possible similarities between these two martial arts!
What Are the Differences Between Hapkido and Karate?
In order to try and determine which martial art is better, we have to discuss the arts themselves first. Even more so than for example Goju Ryu and Shotokan, or some other similar arts, these two have a very different history, different movements, and different techniques. First, we will look into the history of both hapkido and karate, and then compare the style of fighting they use.
Starting with karate, the most popular martial art on the planet, there are some famous names and locations we can talk about. Arguably, the most important name in karate history is Gichin Funakoshi, an Okinawan master who introduced karate to the public and also to the Ministry of Education in Tokyo. This presentation, which was held in 1922, is the reason Shotokan karate (Funakoshi’s style) is the most popular karate style, seeing as the founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano, together with the ministry and the public all were delighted by this new Okinawan style of fighting, which they also viewed as somewhat of an answer to Western boxing.
Karate has much of its roots in Chinese martial arts, but these are really hard to historically locate since the Okinawan masters who traveled the Chinese schools to learn their arts haven’t precisely documented their journey’s. According to most online sources, the kung-fu style which has influenced the development of Okinawan karate the most is the White Crane style from Fujian province in China. Karate masters like Miyagi Chojun, the founder of the Goju Ryu style, were hugely influenced by these forms of fighting and have also personally spent time in these areas of China, learning and perfecting their skill. For this reason, Goju Ryu, Shito Ryu, and many others still have techniques that are visibly kung-fu based.
Hapkido has a very different history, which doesn’t come as a surprise, seeing as the art is actually Korean, not Japanese or Chinese as most people would intuitively guess. Choi Yong-Sool, who is generally thought of as the main figure in the popularizing and development of hapkido, was a Korean national who, together with a bunch of other people (Chinil Chang, Seo Bok-Seob, Ji Han-Jae, Kim Moo-Hong…) can be seen as the Gichin Funakoshi of hapkido. The art of hapkido is mostly thought of as a response to Japanese Aikido or Aiki-Jutsu, which seems reasonable since most of the masters were well-trained in Daito Ryu Aiki-Jutsu, a precursor to the well-known Aikido of our times.
Hapkido was also developed with a somewhat more practical philosophy in mind. Karate was also made for self-defense purposes, however, it contains much more self-development aspects, and a lot more philosophy and room for interpretation, whereas Hapkido, though having some philosophy in it, is more of a self-defense system primarily. In some sense, it can also be looked at as a sort of Korean traditional MMA, combining different techniques and movements from various grappling and striking arts of the East.
One of the major differences between karate and hapkido is apparent as soon as you visit their dojos, and that is the style and the sort of movements they perform. Karate’s philosophy (even though there is variety and divergence), especially Shotokan style, can be viewed as a brute force vs brute force combat style. Even Goju Ryu (which translates to “hard and soft”), a more Chinese influenced style is mostly forceful and brutish. On the other hand, hapkido is more about the redirection of power and using it against the opponent, which doesn’t come as a surprise since the same concept is at the heart of Aikido. Hapkido, even though less confrontational, can not be said to be less brutal or less dangerous, it just tries to achieve it in a more fluid way.
Is Hapkido or Karate Better for Self-defense?
The reason all of these arts were invented and are practiced is for one to become a fierce warrior in a controlled environment. Most people would expect either of these classes to help them defend themselves should any street altercation occur. So, in this very important domain of analysis, which one of these arts fares better?
First of all, we have to make it clear that karate is made up of dozens of styles, while hapkido is somewhat more of a singular entity (though it also has its own variants). For this reason, when talking about karate, we will mainly talk about Shotokan, since it is the most dominant karate style, if not the most dominant martial art, on the planet.
Most people agree that hapkido has an advantage over karate for one main reason: it involves grappling and joint-lock techniques much more often than karate does. The fact is, Shotokan, however dangerous it can also be, is pretty one-dimensional (especially its modern and Western variants). It focuses a lot more on straight punching, kicking, and blocking, whereas hapkido deals with both soft and hard fighting styles (grappling, wrestling, takedowns, punches, kicks, joint-locks, etc.). If there was a hand striking competition, Shotokan would obliterate hapkido most of the time, but in a full-blown, all-out street fight, the hapkido person will quite simply have more tools at their disposal.
Another major reason hapkido would have a better percentage of effectiveness is SHotokan’s generally very long range. It isn’t as long-range as Taekwondo with its fancy kicks, but even the simplest of punches are delivered from the waist to an extended straight arm, with the stances and kicks generally being very wide and long. Hapkido is more fluid in these terms too, since it can accommodate long- and short-range fighting due to its previously mentioned “MMA-like” buildup.
Should You Choose Hapkido or Karate?
The most important question is the one we left for last: which one should you choose? Well, the answer actually points in somewhat of the opposite direction of the rest of this article. In theory, one can compare martial arts and even come to general conclusions, but in real life, there are many more important factors to be taken into consideration. First of all, the availability of the arts near you, which is probably the most important factor for the majority of the Earth’s population. On the other hand, your personal choice also matters much more than the theoretical advantages of either art.
Regardless of your personal opinion and taste, however, there is a really important thing to take note of, which we have also mentioned at the beginning of this article, and that is the rarity of hapkido dojos. Shotokan is one of the most commonly practiced arts worldwide, and it is hard to find a city above a couple of thousand people that don’t have at least one dojo, whereas hapkido is rare, and dojos are few and far in between. Unfortunately, hapkido dojos also tend to have heavy elements of “bullshido”, since many scammers try to reel in people with the exotic-sounding, new martial art.
At the end of the day, your specific situation is what matters the most, and we advise you to take a couple of classes in both your local karate dojo and the hapkido dojo as well if you happen to be near them. This way you can get a feel for the authenticity of these dojos and make a correct judgment. However, if you ask us, you will have better chances of finding a good karate dojo than a hapkido dojo, so when making that judgment, make sure you aren’t being scammed into something that isn’t genuinely what you want for your money.