I’m 4 years into this Hapkido trip and despite a recent leg break I’m still moving forward. Sometimes small steps forward, but forward nonetheless.

For a recent grading I had to write an essay on how Hapkido has helped me, which I found an interesting exercise. Thought I’d post it here to offset the paucity of posts recently.

How has Hapkido helped me?

Studying Hapkido has helped me in all the obvious ways: made me stronger, fitter, more flexible, but to be honest I don’t think that’s very interesting. I came into Hapkido expecting it would do those things, and it has. What was more unexpected were the other ways it has made me a better person.

For example, it has taught me more humility. Almost everybody here is younger, faster, more flexible or stronger than I am. Some of them are all of those things. There is no way my jumping kicks are going to be as high as someone half my age and 20 kilos lighter. I can be upset about that but it won’t make me jump higher. I can and do still push myself to improve, but now I measure my progress not against other people, but by whether I am better than I was last time.

I’ve also come to understand that I can learn from anybody: from Master all the way down to somebody doing a trial lesson. Some of the biggest realisations I’ve had about Hapkido have been when helping junior belts practice their techniques. There’s an old saying that you really don’t understand something until you can explain it to someone else, and that applies here as much as in the classroom.

When I first started, I remember seeing some students doing jumping flat falls. “I’ll never be able to do that” I said to myself. Later, when I was doing jumping flat falls, I saw people doing jumping spinning kicks. “I’ll never be able to do that”, I thought. Now that I can do jumping spinning kicks, I don’t say that anymore. Now when I see people doing amazing things in class, my only thought is “I wonder how long it will take me to learn to do that?”

The flipside of this is I’ve had to learn more patience. Yes I can do spinning kicks now, but I’ve gone back to the beginning and re-learned how to do them twice already. Each time better, sure, but each time taking weeks of repetition, of deceptively simple tweaks and adjustments, until I didn’t have to think about it. Then a brief period of smug self-satisfaction until the moment in class when Master looks at me doing it, shakes his head and says “No kick, just pivot!” or “Twist your waist!” or “Body down!” and I realise I’m not there yet. Now, after my injury, I’m learning to do it again, but that’s ok. I plan to be doing Hapkido for a long time, so a few months don’t matter.

Sparring especially has taught me to control my emotions. Getting punched in the face because I dropped my guard is my fault, not my opponent’s. Getting upset and losing control usually just leads to getting punched in the face a second time, so you quickly learn to swallow the anger, stay calm and keep your guard up.

Hapkido has also become a great escape from stress. From the moment we bow in until the end of class, I don’t think about work, customer problems, or what I have on tomorrow. Two hours where my phone doesn’t ring, I don’t read emails, and nobody is asking me to solve their problem, and I get to focus on one thing only. It’s a luxury. Some people get that through meditation, but for me that’s just a Tuesday night at Hapkido.

A little while ago, one of my friends asked me “Why do you do this to yourself?”. He’d probably heard me groaning from muscle soreness or stiffness. Before I really thought about it, I said “Because it’s hard”. Later, I was thinking about my answer and I realised that’s really at the centre of all of this. I’m fortunate that much of my life is relatively easy. It would be very easy to become lazy, but it’s the challenges in life that make us grow and Hapkido has no shortage of them to throw at me.