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Combat-Hapkido Self-Defense Moves by John Pellegrini: Neutralize Any Threat!

Combat-Hapkido Self-Defense Moves by John Pellegrini: Neutralize Any Threat!

“Forget the fancy high kicks, lose the forms and stop wasting time with healing, meditation and breathing exercises or outdated traditional weapons training. It’s time for people to get down to business so they can learn to protect themselves. They must forgo the stuff that is not connected to self-defense.”

So says the Black Belt Hall of Fame’s 2004 Instructor of the Year John Pellegrini, creator of an eclectic art called combat hapkido. The Asheville, North Carolina-based instructor — and author of Combat Hapkido: The Martial Art for the Modern Warrior — has stirred up quite a commotion by issuing blunt statements like those, but he offers a good argument for his point of view.

“The average American goes to class for only one hour twice a week,” John Pellegrini says. “A martial artist with limited training time should use what time he has to learn and perfect the self-defense material. He should do the fitness and health stuff at the gym or on his own.”

John Pellegrinni’s combat-hapkido brainchild is a hybridized version of traditional hapkido, the Korean martial art that is claimed to have descended from Japanese aikijujutsu. “While synthesizing it, I retained many of the strong aikijujutsu self-defense basics that are inherent in hapkido, and by adding new techniques, I created a comprehensive self-defense system that is up-to-date for today’s society,” John Pellegrini says. The new self-defense moves found in combat hapkido include defenses against empty-hand assaults, modern knife attacks, gun threats and impact weapons.

In addition, John Pellegrini’s combat hapkido contains elements of kuntao silat, jeet kune do and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. John Pellegrini selected those arts to shore up hapkido’s empty-hand and ground-fighting arsenal.

All that augmentation was necessary in creating combat hapkido, John Pellegrini says, because the self-defense component of the Korean martial arts in general needed to be revived. John Pellegrini says he agrees with those who claim the Western interpretation of them has overemphasized sport and turned them into little more than a day-care activity for children.


See how another Korean martial art was altered in the name of sport in this FREE Guide — Taekwondo Forms: Uncovering the Self-Defense Moves Within Traditional Taekwondo Patterns.


That attitude earned combat-hapkido founder John Pellegrini the respect of many martial arts professionals, including those in the military and law-enforcement communities. In this article, John Pellegrini takes Black Belt readers through four sequences highlighting self-defense moves drawn from combat hapkido.

John Pellegrini’s Combat-Hapkido Self-Defense Moves
Technique Category 1: Empty Hands

Elbow Entry, Takedown and Reverse Armbar: Use your elbow to shield yourself against incoming strikes as you enter your attacker’s infighting range, take him down and lock his limb.


Start by facing your attacker in the combat-hapkido awareness position, which is a ready stance similar to the one a boxer uses in the ring. Your shoulders are squared to him, and your open hands are held just below eye level.

This combat-hapkido position enables you to tap into an immediate transitional flow and execute a dynamic entry into the close-quarters fighting range, John Pellegrini says. It also helps you avoid settling into a stance that is immobile or overly rooted.

As the attacker approaches and prepares to strike with his right hand, step forward and to the outside with your lead (left) leg. While advancing, lift your right elbow directly in front of your centerline. That will keep him from making contact as you close the gap.

Next, drop your right elbow and trap his deflected right arm under your right arm, then hit the side of his face with a left palm heel. Maintain contact with your palm and drive him backward until he falls. Adjust the hold you have on his limb to make it more secure, after which you can effect a reverse armbar.

Complete the immobilization by dropping your left knee onto the right side of his neck and jamming your left thumb into the pressure point located on the side of his neck just below his ear, John Pellegrini says.

Brachial Stun and Neck Crank: Stun a lunging attacker with a quick strike to the area near the windpipe, then apply debilitating pressure to his neck.


Begin this set of self-defense moves in a right-foot-forward awareness position. When the assailant lunges toward you with his arms outstretched, pivot counterclockwise — ensuring that you remain on the inside of him — and strike the right side of his neck with your right forearm.

Simultaneously grab his right wrist with your left arm and wrap your right arm around his neck until his head is held firmly against your torso. Lock your hands and lift to crank his neck.

John Pellegrini’s Combat-Hapkido Self-Defense Moves
Technique Category 2: Blade Combat

Brush, Trap and Body Drop: Avoid the attack, then control the knife arm and take him to the ground.

To thwart an attack in which an adversary comes at you with a blade, evade the thrust by shifting your body to the outside while you brush the attacking arm away with your lead hand. Then use both hands to trap his weapon hand.

Plan on a vigorous all-out effort to ensure success in executing these self-defense moves. In the best-case scenario, you will end up with your hands firmly wrapped around his wrist and hand with the knife pointing away from you.

Maintain your two-handed grip and twist his arm so you can hyperextend the elbow with your armpit and rib acting as the fulcrum. At this point, you are upright and he is being forced down.


Before he begins to effect his escape, reposition yourself so your armpit is over his upper arm; you now have him in a shoulder seizure. Finish by executing a body drop, which leverages him down using your weight. He will be unconscious or feeling so much pain that he’ll give up the knife. Either way, as a result of these self-defense moves, the weapon will end up in your possession.

When it comes to self-defense moves against a knife, combat hapkido teaches students to avoid the more problematic methodologies used in numerous other arts. In particular, they are told never to simply deflect the blade and pound their attacker into submission as though he was unarmed. As long as he is conscious and holding the weapon, John Pellegrini says, he should be considered a threat.

John Pellegrini’s Combat-Hapkido Self-Defense Moves
Technique Category 3: Impact Weapons

Wrist-Twist Joint Lock With Distraction Strike: Intercept the assailant’s club attack, then strike his eyes and disarm him by torquing his wrist.

As the adversary approaches with an impact weapon, move forward and execute the combat-hapkido brush-trap-strike tactic: Parry the weapon to the outside with your left hand and trap the wrist while you use your right hand to batter him with a linear distraction strike to the eyes.


Those moves set up the joint lock: Maintain your grip on his right wrist as you turn your body and use both hands to crank it three-quarters of the way around a small circle. (The motion is like starting an old Model T automobile with a hand crank.)

As you wrench his limb as far upward as it will go, readjust your hands and bend it backward until his wrist, elbow and shoulder are all locked up and in pain. At that point, John Pellegrini says, he will be forced to drop the weapon and, in all likelihood, beg for mercy.


About the Author:
Floyd Burk is a San Diego, California-based freelance writer and martial arts instructor with more than 30 years of experience. To contact him, send e-mail to floydburk@yahoo.com. To contact John Pellegrini, write to Defensive Services International, Inc., 4960 S. Gilbert Rd., Suite 1-485, Chandler, AZ 85249. Or call (480) 895-9700 or visit the Defensive Services International, Inc., website at dsihq.com.

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