Martial Arts, Wrestling, Basingstoke, Karate, Self Defence, Protection, CombatREPORT 1 – SOFT AND HARD MARTIAL ARTS by Katherine White

Hapkido and Bajiquan



Before any Martial Art, hard or soft, can be looked at, it needs to be understood what is meant by these terms.

There is no one, definite, definition of what is a “Martial Art”, and some people will have quite rigorous boundaries as to what styles come under the umbrella. A quick hop around the web comes up with a variety of answers – ranging from:

Martial Art n ( Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged)

Any of various philosophies of self-defence and techniques of single combat, such as judo or karate, originating in the Far East.


Martial Art noun (Concise Encyclopedia)

Any of several Arts of combat and self-defense that are widely practiced as sport. There are armed and unarmed varieties, most based on traditional fighting methods used in East Asia.

But from Martial Arts-based sites the definition goes back to the Latin and means “Arts of Mars,” where Mars is the Roman god of war.  Martial Arts is another way saying the “Art of combat” or “Art of waging of war.” Martial Arts can be a set of movements used for offensive or defensive purposes.  This does not depend on the country or religion of origin but uses the term to encompass all fighting skills. Indeed, in 1639, the term was used in reference to English Fencing. It also means that more modern systems can be included as the term does not refer solely to old Oriental styles. It is this idea that I am using, not the narrow one that the dictionaries above define.



Unfortunately for you ladies out there, hard or soft does not refer to the consistency of a chocolate’s centre but rather the principle of use of force that applies to a certain Martial Art. The two terms are simply meant to describe the intent and mentality of the practitioner.

Soft does not in any way mean “weedy”, non-combative or light but, rather, is the principle of controlling your attacker and turning their force and momentum against them. This can be achieved by leading and moving the attacker into a position where they are more off balance and at a disadvantage by the use of tai sabaki (body evasion) and circular blocks and movements.  Often this is then countered by a throw or lock – using minimal direct force, but punches and kicks can be incorporated, particularly with a view to distracting the opponent to allow you to set up a throw or use a lock or hold. Soft Martial Arts rely on redirection of energy rather than strength on strength but they are no less painful than hard styles.

Similarly, a hard technique or style does not mean painful, or difficult but is more defined as “force meets force” – where the defender meets the attacker more head on. The idea is to block the attacker’s strike in order to hurt them, and thus discourage further attacks or disable the attacker from striking again.  In hard styles it can be useful to learn specific points to attack to achieve the maximum incapacitation. Typically this will involve direct punches or kicks.

There is no “right or wrong” style, just different and I believe that the most effective Martial Arts will combine elements of both styles. Most branches of fighting will not exclusively exhibit only hard or soft traits, but for the sake of labelling I will look at their predominant aim.  The definition can be looked at in terms of “opposing and yielding” – and most styles incorporate both and each hard or soft style uses timing and body position.  At first glance, the results in hard Martial Arts can be more immediate and obvious whereas the softer Arts can take longer to learn as the subtleties can be less apparent but ultimately can allow someone to defend against much larger attackers rather than trying to meet strength with strength which will not always be favourable for smaller people.

In the East Asian Martial Arts, the corresponding hard technique and soft technique terms are “pinyin yìng”, (Japanese ) and “pinyin róu”, (Japanese ), hence Jujitsu -“Art of softness”, “way of yielding” and Judo -“gentle way”. (Wikipedia)



I chose Hapkido as one of my soft martial arts because I had not heard about it until I started this research.  It is turning into an interesting (and time consuming journey) finding out about different branches of martial arts as there is so much information out there!




Hapkido is a Korean martial Art, by origin, and is primarily taught as a method of self defence rather than as a primary attack. Its repertoire includes joint locks, pressure points, throws, kicks and strikes.  Traditionally, the weapons associated with Hapkido are the sword, rope, short stick, cane and staff.


The discipline was created by Choi Yong-Sul, a Korean, who spent 30 years in Japan, returning to Korea after WWII. He had knowledge of jujitsu and eventually this changed into his own style, known as Hapkido.  It was designed to work against other martial arts, and specific attacks used by other styles and over the years it has adapted to new techniques used by other Martial Arts. Initially many of Hapkido’s moves were as a defence against judo attacks – hence the use of grabs and throws, but over time responses to sword attacks from Kendo and knife defences were added when Koreans banned guns so knife attacks increased. The kicks from TaeKwonDo were a reason for Hapkido to add defences against kicks.  Because of this application against other combat techniques, Hapkido is often used by the military and police for close range combat.




Hapkido is classified as a sort martial art although has elements of hard styles within it, and on a scale would be more towards the “hard-soft” end rather than out and out soft.  Fundamentally it is a circular style of martial art seeking to redirect and off-balance attackers rather than meeting them head on with force against force.  Non-resisting, circular movements and control of the opponent are stressed. It uses the principle of using minimal force, not strength and, indeed, a larger opponent can present a greater energy mass to be redirected resulting in more effective techniques for the Hapkido student.  As mentioned before, it is taught as a self defence programme, only to be used in the case of an attack.  Even when using “harder” techniques such as kicks and strikes, Hapkido prefers circular rather than linear movements.



As with most Martial Arts, Hapkido has spread and different schools will focus on and teach different techniques, but underpinning all the teaching are 3 main principles:

1)      HWA – which relates to non-resistance or harmony

2)      WON – the circle principle

3)      YU – the water principle, or flow and flexibility.

1)      HWA

This is simply the act of remaining relaxed and not directly opposing an opponent’s strength. For example, if an opponent were to push against a Hapkido student’s chest, rather than resist and push back, the Hapkido student would avoid a direct confrontation by moving in the same direction as the push and utilizing the opponent’s forward momentum to throw him.  It is the fundamental idea of softness – meeting forces with minimum force to deflect and not clash with the opponent’s power.

Physical and mental harmony linked to techniques and environment are crucial. If a skill is only learned in your mind but not carried out effectively by your body then that skill is useless. Hapkido emphasises repetition in training so that mind and body work as one effective unit, and so will respond to a challenge more effectively.

Harmony and unity with the attacker is also vital in order to control and manipulate their energy and motion in order to turn the attack against you into a defence.  The attack has to be first intercepted and “blended with” or “harmonised with” in order to use a circular movement to redirect the energy.

2)      WON

A circle is a perfect shape, and can be seem to be always flowing and difficult to take hold of. There is also the idea of a circular “personal space” around everyone, which is the area we are trying to protect from invasion.

Won is the circular principle, used to carry out the techniques in a natural and free-flowing way. It is effectively used against linear attacks such as a punch or knife strike and teaches the Hapkido student to redirect the force away in a circular motion, so adding the attacker’s power and strength to the counter movement, and also destroying the balance and body position of the attacker.  Once the advantage has been gained, Hapkido offers many different options to overcome the attacker and gain the upper hand. An attacker is seen as an Energy entity rather than a physical entity. The bigger the person is, the more energy a person has, and the better it is for the Hapkido student.


Another benefit of using circular movements is that the risk of injury to the defender is less – in two ways: firstly, they are less likely to be caught by the initial attack and secondly, as the attack is not met head-on there is less chance for strength on strength clashes. How many of us have ended up with bruised arm and legs when performing a straight-on block?

With practise, the Hapkido student can use circles to apply locks and holds and also can learn how to lead the attacker into performing moves that will get them in a perfect place for circular counter attack.

3)      YU

Water demonstrates many traits and behaviours that are sought by the Hapkido student: water is soft, adaptable, free-flowing, patient and can be destructive if concentrated and directed well.

Softness equates to the much seen idea here that Hapkido does not rely on physical strength alone.  Water does not “fight” with anything in its path – it merely flows around it, adapting its path only to rejoin on the other side and completely surround the obstacle. This is the idea behind deflecting an opponent’s strike.  Water will blend in with whatever it meets, it changes shape to whatever it is contained within, rather than seeking to stand out and remain immovable.

So, water will adapt and change course when meeting an obstacle, rather than clashing. Water will collect until there is enough to go around or over larger rocks or even engulf it and water is not stiff or unbending and has the reliance to be flexible whatever may come its way.

Having said this, water can be a powerful force when concentrated as seen in a waterfall or a fireman’s hose, but behind this power are the same soft, gentle drops that make up a stream.

A Hapkido practitioner will seek to copy these principles – adapting to an attacker, pulling and pushing rather than working with head-on resistance, but being able to direct all their energy in one direction to achieve maximum results.


Power generation in Hapkido comes from the ground up and from utilising the whole body in a technique, not just from the arm. Footwork and body position are essential in assisting the circular movements that are fundamental to the style – they will get you into the correct position to use leverage rather than strength.  Controlling the balance of the attacker is also key so Hapkido students are taught to use especially the head and neck to gain maximum leverage.

A key to the belief of effective technique in Hapkido can be found in the translation of the name itself. HAP = harmony, flowing motion; KI = body and mind co-ordination and DO = the way to bring on power so, put together, this can be read as “The way to harmony through body and mind co-ordination.” Breathing is important to this – and it is known as DANJEON or abdominal breathing and can also be called DANTIAN which means “energy centre” or “sea of KI”. A lot of time and importance is placed on this breathing to effectively control your body and the energy within.

The awareness of KI – life energy – is also important and correct breathing is used to promote fluid motion, help balance and channel KI. Unlike some Martial Arts, Hapkido does not have forms or kata but rather focuses on meaningful basic techniques designed for real life situations allowing the student to have a balanced mind and well honed response so they can make natural and appropriate responses to any attack.


These above information includes links to 2 Youtube videos of Hapkido in action!  They are both “demonstration” videos rather than out and out fighting but it gives you a chance to see the techniques in action.






For very similar reason to Hapkido, I chose to investigate Bajiquan as I only heard about it during my research on Hard and Soft Martial Arts for this project.



Bajiquan is a Chinese Martial Art that originates in the north of the country, which focuses on fast, short range explosive power movements and is especially noted for its elbow strikes.

In full, its name is kai men baji quan which translates as “open gate with extremities fist”, and this can give a hint at the principles of the style. Another name was bazi quan which means “rake fist” to describe how the hands are held in loose fists and used to strike downwards in a raking motion.

Another translation of its name is “Eight Extremes” and refers to the usage of power that is administered through eight major body parts: the head, the shoulders, the elbows, the hands, the buttocks, the waist, the knees and the feet. It is also known as the “Bodyguard Style,” since many of its followers served to protect the Chinese Emperors and other members of the Imperial Family.




As with most styles, Bajiquan is not exclusively “hard” but it is classed as such because its principle movements and techniques are.  It is mostly a powerful style, relying on sudden use of explosive force, known as “fa jin”, to break through the opponent’s attack, destroy his body position and attain a quick and final victory.




It was harder to find an out and out Manifesto of Baji’s underlying principles. It seems that one of its early founders was Wu Zhueng (also recorded as Wu Zhong) who integrated other Chinese Martial Arts he had been taught. He developed a style that had roots in Taoist chi gung and also in hard and fast military fighting. The traditions and roots were handed down orally so much has been lost  – there are stories of Wu Zhueng being taught Bajiquan by wandering monks, or alternatively that it has roots in remote Shaolin temples.

The objective of Bajiquan is to get close to the opponent and strike, and defensively to use small, close movements to protect the central body. A simple principle is then followed: “The hands protect the head, the elbows protect the body, the knees protect the crotch, the feet protect the legs”.




The most distinctive feature of Bajiquan is its short power techniques – elbow strikes, hip checks, shoulder strikes etc , all executed  with violent, fast movements. There are six different methods of issuing power, known as “jin” – and especially fa jin – the explosive power.  There is no swinging to generate power – Bajiquan uses a one-hit push-strike from close range. Acceleration of the movement is what gives it the power, and this is created from the waist and then travels to the limb. Further power is added by using a stomping/charging step known as “zhen jiao.”  This “jin” is developed through extensive lower body training, with a special emphasis on horse stance, as well as controlled breathing. Baji’s power relies on using the waist, hip and step to deliver full body weight into a small area.


The use of Chi or Ki is also studied, and breathing is used to help the release of energy. Abdominal breathing is important but also an explosive technique of circulating Ki, called “Xing Qi” which uses the HENG and HA sounds to aid power release.


There are 6 “big openings”, or basic forces, which are (in a nutshell): Thrusting (pushing the elbow or fist forward and up), Gathering (a hugging action), Raising (the knee or foot to thigh level), Whipping (using a single motion), Hip Rotation and Twining (entanglement with rotation around the wrist, elbow or shoulder).

It is only when these openings, footwork and breathing are combined in the shortest time scale that an effective Baji strike can be achieved.

As it is an explosive style, most attacks look to cause the most instant damage – hence the focus on striking an opponent’s most vulnerable areas – the chest, legs and neck.


I shall finish with a great anecdote about one of the early practitioners of Bajiquan:

“In his old age, LiShuWen always confided in grandmaster Liu that he doesn’t know what the power of his second punch is like, because he had always managed to kill his opponents with only one punch, and never had the chance to use a second one. From this we can see the emphasis of faJing in BaJiQuan.”


There are two Links to YouTube clips: The first is a solo demonstration of some moves, interspersed with him using then against n opponent. The second is more of a training style clip.