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Hapkido: Can One Martial Art Function in All Four Ranges of Self-Defense? (Part 2)

Hapkido: Can One Martial Art Function in All Four Ranges of Self-Defense? (Part 2)

Once they’re inside kicking range, where hand techniques usually take over, hapkido practitioners are quite capable of continuing to defend themselves. “Most of the punching we do is straight, karate-style punching; beyond that is open-hand strikes,” says Stephen Petermann of Jang Mu Won Hapkido, the self-defense system founded by Black Belt Hall of Fame member Chong S. Kim.

“A jab is something that is difficult to deal with, but because a boxer isn’t trying to put you away with his jab, there’s the opportunity to get around it and hit him,” Stephen Petermann says. “Most people know how to jab when they come in; we don’t have to train them. But they don’t know how to deliver a very powerful punch, stab or palm strike when somebody is right up close to them.”

In addition to the ordinary straight punch, hapkido students learn closed-fist and open-hand strikes for varying distances. “When you’re in close and try to punch somebody, that’s not the best time” Stephen Petermann says. “For the most damage, you want him out at the extreme range of your arm. But you have to be able to deal with him up close, so you’re going to change that straight punch into a palm strike or stab.”

Fight Strategy

In hapkido, the goal is to make students move away from technique-oriented striking — throwing an uppercut and aiming for the floating-rib area — and toward target-oriented striking — wanting to attack a certain pressure point and determining that a precise knuckle strike will best accomplish that. In other words, an exact target is identified before a technique is chosen. “If you fight somebody and you just want to punch him, you shouldn’t think in those terms,” Stephen Petermann says. “In self-defense, you should think, I’m going to hit this point, not this area.”

“Pressure points are very important when using your hands, especially when your opponent is more powerful than you,” says Jeffrey D. Harris, also an instructor in Jang Mu Won Hapkido. “You can’t overpower him with strength, but you can create severe weakness in his body by using the various pressure points.” There are half a dozen good ones all over the body that function well for the average person, he says.


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But not all hapkido hand strikes target a pressure point, Stephen Petermann says. “We hand-strike for a particular target — not necessarily a pressure point but certainly a weak spot.”

Another important strategy of hapkido hand strikes is disguising what you’re doing, Stephen Petermann adds. “Very rarely do you see [other arts] put proper attention on looking at the person’s eyes, making your face not say, ‘Here it comes; get ready for it.’ Also, looking into a person’s eyes tends to make him look into yours; that allows you to sneak your hand up and hit him with something unexpected.”

Combat Options

Whenever hand strikes are discussed, a question emerges: Should you opt for open-hand strikes to prevent injury to your knuckles and wrist or choose closed-hand strikes, which can inflict more pain on your attacker but which may damage your own body? Hapkido promotes the view that the art should include all techniques and the student should choose what works best for a particular target in a particular situation.

“Everybody knows that if you palm-strike, you’ll never hurt your hand,” Stephen Petermann says. “But if the target is the bone over the eye and you want to make him bleed so he can’t see what you’re doing, are you going to use a palm strike? You may, but you won’t accomplish what you want. So you have to use a knuckle strike. Yes, it might hurt you to get that, but if you don’t, you may lose.”

On the street, you must be prepared to exploit any opportunity to stop your attacker, even if it means risking injury to yourself, Jeffrey D. Harris says. “As Master Kim is fond of saying, ‘You don’t always have a chance to get to what you’d like, so when you get a chance, you take it.’”

(To be continued. Read Part 1 of this article to learn how hapkido functions in kicking range.)

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