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Grandmaster? Chief Master?

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What is or should be the title of the head of a martial arts federation?

Does almost 50 years of mixed martial arts with 20 plus years in Hapkido entitle one to be the founder of a style and therefore 'Grand Masterr" of that style? In my opinion it should.

All the rest of it depends on your point of view. Here are some thoughts and reflections on the question of titles for higher ranks.

What is a grand master? There are different answers:

  • The founder of a style might be the grand master of that style by definition.
  • That style may be effective and grow and prosper or it may fail, the founder is still a grand master.
  • Any martial artist who has other Masters under his/her direction might be called a grand master.
  • A martial artist with many years of experience might be deemed at that level of skill.
  • The title may be applied as an indicator of organizational skill rather than technical skill as well.

There has been discussion on some newsgroups and lists about both the questions 

(1) "What makes a style Hapkido?"  

(2)  What is the basis of accepting anyone as a GM, by the way I prefer gm, small initials.

There should be room enough to allow for different varieties of Hapkido just as individual Sushi Chefs practice their art and yet present things differently. 

First it may be useful to recognize that Hapkido itself (as yet still undefined in regard question (1) above)..... has always been an eclectic art in that it has combined, modified, adapted (you pick a word that agrees with your world view) from various sources including Judo, Jujitsu, various Chinese elements such as Chin Na (use the Korean terms, if the Japanese offends anyone's sensibilities) and has a set of kicking techniques that range from simple kicks to complex variations and combinations.

If one accepted a very broad definition of Hapkido as containing three elements, it might be easier to move the discussion forward:

(A) A martial art with Korean roots which adapts techniques from a variety of martial arts to devise a system of fighting and self defense that includes strikes, kicks, chokes, joint locks, throws, takedowns, sweeps, pins and weapons appropriate to self defense that focuses energy by the use of proper execution of its techniques. physical positioning, and control of breathing.

(B) Styles that have a lineage that goes back to recognized GMs in Hapkido, but that does not eliminate the modification of sets of techniques to meet the circumstances of the society in which the art is practiced. A clear example of this would be the practice of handgun disarms. As we travel back in time, it would become clear that at some point Hapkido practitioners must have elected to add techniques as that type of weapon became more prevalent. Thus the need to now look at defenses for example versus folding tactical knives, an implement that didn't virtually exist in 1945

(C) Practitioners that want to be identified as Hapkido.  There are major systems that flowed from Hapkido roots or at least from common sets of techniques that want their own identity and thus we have Kuk Sool Won and Hwa Rang Do.

Various Hapkidoists grew into grand masters and have developed their own styles by either adding techniques or modifying them to fit their view of the types of offense or defense required. Then those grand masters either were promoted by their teachers or left and proclaimed either loudly or quietly that they were the founders of a new style and therefore its grand master.

We need to concentrate on understanding Hapkido as a fighting system and not wander off into debates that border on the religious. The parallels with religion becomes important, because when the argument becomes more heated it is clear that what is at issue for many is a personal belief system or bragging rights, rather than just a martial art or style.

There is a branch of Hapkido that adheres to the notion that Hapkido exists only when all techniques, and training is exactly the same as the way they were taught. The hallmark of this orthodoxy is a long list of techniques directly or indirectly accompanied by statements to the effect that nothing is Hapkido that doesn't have all of those specific techniques. One of the principal arguments put forward is that unless one learns everything, that understanding will become diluted and the art will decline.

The potential problem with the orthodox view of Hapkido is that it limits by definition all students in their ability to learn a complete self defense system.  The out for the orthodox is to simply say, "One should train in other arts, but not call what one does Hapkido."   This then means that all innovation and change will by that definition come from outside of Hapkido.

The orthodox may want to lay claim to a monopoly on the definition of Hapkido. After all how can one run an organization, charge high fees for rank and retain power, if just anyone can make a modification to the system and still be allowed to call what is taught Hapkido. 

Another approach is to stress concepts such as non-resistance, water principle, and circular motion with the specific techniques just being the practical example of applying those concept to an attack situation. Using this approach one says to his/her students after spending years training in one style "There are others who know may know some better ways to deal with certain kinds of attacks", and still claim to be the best source for training. 

Please recognize that the best teachers always allow for the possibility that they don't know everything.  It is only those who have a personal need to be right all the time, who find new ideas threatening.

Major organizations have been founded by GM's who trained under other GM’s and just left to found their own organizations. Each of them may teach a majority of techniques exactly as they were taught technique by technique.  It is also evident that many did develop variations that are their own, and yet their art still is Hapkido.  Given that they changed some things, as every talented teacher adds his own flavor to the art, then the issue seems to be how much change is a good thing. 

An answer might be "whatever it takes to match the self defense needs of a certain society or group of people."

Just as this art has evolved from the 1950's to the 1980's and beyond, it will continue to do so, and attempts to hold a status quo will eventually fail as will any variations that do not meet the twin tests of usefulness and market appeal.  The weak mutations will become dead-ends during this evolution.

Modern Hapkido has selected a set of Hapkido techniques aimed primarily at self defense use by civilians, military personnel, and law enforcement. It is, what it is.  A system designed to meet the needs of a certain groups of people for self defense applications.  The evolution of this federation from the first sets of basic Hapkido principles has added elements of ground fighting, trapping, incorporated stick and knife fighting drills, as well as the addition of more techniques in a system that is evolving to meet the self defense needs of the marketplace that we envision. 

This is a system sensitive to both self defense needs and the marketplace.  While some may find this disturbing, it seems to be a successful and realistic way to grow our art.


What is our attitude?

Just be ready yourself, and if given a choice, leave the area.

That is 0% effort.

If attacked or under immediate threat of attack, finish it now.

That is 100% effort

That is the way, I was taught; Either 0% or 100%. 

Talking, arguing, bragging are just wasting  breath, unless you are calming down a disturbed person or buying yourself time to either escape or launch a first strike.   All of these options require that you actually be in the presence to the person you are talking to.

A quick recap: 

Does being the Founder of a style make one a “real”  grand master? perhaps 

AIso anyone named a grand master by a legitimate certifying body is a grand master. perhaps, but some may not have the skills others would expect aqccompany that title.

Is anyone who has other Masters reporting to him is a grand master.  perhaps

If even one school owner held a Master's rank in another organization and joined a new federation on that day did the founder of the new federation become a grand master.  perhaps

Some Other Comments:

In the past growing a federation was accomplished only by training individuals one at a time who later went off and started their own schools this process might take 20-30 years. 

There certainly are highly skilled teachers who seem to sometimes be too humble.  If simply training for years is the goal and being good at what you do is self fulfilling, with teaching as its own reward, why take any rank?  Or why stay at a rank lower than what you actually are in skill and time in grade. That is in some ways as self involved as making claims that you a 22nd Dan as some have.

There are some terrific teachers who out of respect for their own Grandmasters will not take take that title.  That is an honorable personal choice.  Others feel that rising to thart level is actually showing more respect.

Once your children have children you are a grand father.  Once your students become masters you are a grand master perhaps by definition whether you choose to use the title or not. Certainly if you have a living teacher you still train with in your style out of respect you would not take that title. It you have left that Grandmaster and grown, it is alright.

You will have to take your own stand on these positions.

If we want this art of Hapkido to evolve and prosper we will need to seek a balance between any highly orthodox approach and these attempts (successful or otherwise) to modify it.

We also need to have some new "grand masters" that intend to teach and promote Hapkido in general instead of only their own business interests.

Does almost 50 years of mixed martial arts with 20 plus years in Hapkido entitle one to be the founder of a style and therefore  'grand master" of that style?  perhaps, it depends on your point of view.

We all strive to grow and learn in our own ways.  I have made mistakes in my relationships with teachers and partners, and would hope that there is room enough for us all to concentrate on improving our art.   Perhaps a bit less time spent on being the thought police or the final judges of the abilities of others and more time discussing how to effectively deal with real life self defense needs might be beneficial.

I have attended and continue to go to seminars held by various experts. 

I am not claiming in any way to be one of their students, just someone who learns what he can from their seminars.

I have had the opportunity to attend seminars given by such as Grandmaster Jae, Han Ji, Grandmaster K. S. Myung, Grandmaster In Sun Seo, Professor Remy Presas, Dr. Gyi, George Dillman, Guro Dan Inosanto,  Chai Sirisute, Master Harold Whalen, Master Sang H. Kim, Master J.R. West, Master Geoff Booth, and others. Some of these fine teachers demonstrate Hapkido and others just know how to kick ass regardless of rank or style.

Vic Cushing