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Learn Three Tricky Combat Hapkido Techniques From John Pellegrini

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

Combat hapkido is unique in that it straddles the line between the ancient and the modern. As the word “hapkido” implies, combat hapkido has roots in old-time Korea. But the addition of “combat” indicates that it’s been modified and updated to better address the needs of reality-based self-defense practitioners.

So even though it’s an old art, it’s also relatively new—which is precisely why it’s attracting the attention of growing numbers of martial artists. “Combat hapkido is down-and-dirty self-defense; it’s not geared for children or sports,” says John Pellegrini, the Chandler, Arizona-based martial artist who founded the style. “I don’t use the old methods—forms, ancient weapons, leaping and bounding maneuvers, or static stances and positions that have been proved ineffective in close-quarters combat. However, I’ve retained many of hapkido’s deeply rooted aikijujutsu basics and effective self-defense components, and blended them with elements from selected grappling and striking arts.” Outlined below are three of John Pellegrini’s favorite combat-hapkido combinations.

Combat Hapkido Training

The keys to stopping an assailant as quickly as possible and escorting him to a less-volatile location, John Pellegrini says, are twofold. First is the basic rule of self-defense. “[You should] make the person compliant before you try to control him,” he says. “Never try to walk a person somewhere [while he’s] still swinging. You make the combatant submit by putting him in an uncomfortable and painful position. Only after achieving total compliance should you escort him away.” The second half of the equation is the brush-trap-strike strategy, which is designed to help you execute pain-compliance techniques such as joint locks.

“Never attempt to put someone in a joint lock at random; you need to distract and weaken him first,” says John Pellegrini, who was Black Belt’s 2004 Instructor of the Year. “Brush-trap-strike is a multifunction tool that keeps you from getting hit while helping you gain the dominant position as you transition from the initial engagement to the joint lock.

‘Brush’ means to parry or deflect the attack. ‘Trap’ means to get hold of the opponent’s wrist, arm, fingers or whatever. ‘Strike’ means to hit him with a blow to the head or another prime target with the objective of disrupting his brain waves or nervous system. While he’s reacting to the blow, he’s ready to be joint-locked.”

Note that the basic idea of the brush—avoiding the attack—can be accomplished by moving to the side, ducking or intercepting the strike with your own strike. Similarly, trapping can refer to seizing the close-quarters-combat zone, which gives you a positional advantage. Moreover, it’s possible for the opponent to unknowingly trap himself by grabbing or pushing in a particular way. Consequently, circumstances sometimes require the employment of variations of the brush-trap-strike and/or going directly to a joint lock.

Hapkido Technique #1: Hammer-Lock Escort

Stance: The defense begins in the combat-hapkido awareness position, the art’s signature fighting posture. It’s similar to a boxer’s stance, except that your hands are open and raised slightly.

Strategy: After you avoid the punch and momentarily take control of the arm so he can’t try to hit you again, stun him with a palm heel to the face. That primes him for the hammer lock.

Speed: Swiftly move into the hammer-lock position so he has no time to recover from the palm to the face.

Lock: John Pellegrini teaches a two-step process. First, place your left forearm against the man’s right forearm, and while you’re holding his wrist, push the arm back and raise it until the elbow is behind his shoulder. Second, leverage the trapped wrist behind the man’s body while applying pressure on the upper arm with your left forearm. (John Pellegrini advocates using the sharp edge of your forearm to wedge into the elbow.) Then let go of the grabbed wrist so you can use your free hand for other things—like seizing the man’s throat.


“Look at that secured arm as the lever, your body as the base, and your forearm, upper arm and shoulder as the fulcrum,” John Pellegrini says. “Use your fulcrum to crank that lever and achieve compliance. For a more stubborn opponent, you can cause extreme pain by applying more weight and torque to winch up the hammer lock while increasing the pressure on the throat.”

Hapkido Technique #2: Armbar Takedown and S-Lock

Stance: The aforementioned combat-hapkido awareness position.

Strategy: The assailant opens with a right punch, which you deflect to the inside using your lead hand. Then trap the wrist and nail him in the head with your left palm.

Speed: While he’s still wobbly from your wallop, transition to the armbar takedown.

Lock No. 1: Maintaining a firm grip on his wrist, place the knife edge of your other hand against his upper arm. Apply pressure on the triceps tendon while you twist and pull the wrist up until it’s against your hip area. That will cause him to lean forward, thereby crippling his balance. Drop your weight to force him face-first to the ground.

Lock No. 2: Getting the S-lock requires some wrangling with the trapped arm. Lift it up and push it behind him, bend the elbow, turn the arm clockwise and twist the wrist outward until the limb reaches the desired shape. Grip his hand with both your hands and tuck his elbow into your body for leverage, then compress the wrist by pulling and twisting. Tips: “Like wringing out a mop or a rag, your pulling-and-twisting motion applies pressure directly into and against the wrist and elbow,” John Pellegrini says. “As you manipulate the arm, it’s important to lower your knees onto his head and kidney area so he can’t escape.”

Footnote: “The S-lock is like a gooseneck [come-along] except that the neck—your opponent’s wrist—faces outward to form the limb into the shape of the S,” John Pellegrini says. It affects the wrist and elbow and adds a little extra to really ramp up the pain component. How? By positioning the assailant facedown with your weight on him and with his arm angled behind his back. It makes the technique similar to a hammer lock, he adds. “As a result, you get to crank his shoulder, too.”

Hapkido Technique #3: Shielding Smackdown

Stance: Once again, it’s the combat-hapkido awareness position—this time, a bit sideways, though.

Strategy: When the adversary unleashes a haymaker punch, go with the flow. In this case, the flow is a flinch. Make it more defensive by raising your left arm as a shield. The shield sets up your offense by enabling you to launch your counterattack from the inside.

Speed: Again, it’s crucial to immediately transition to the counter, which begins with a strike to the face and finishes with a “brachial stun,” a quick knifehand to the windpipe. While he’s leaning backward, attack his exposed groin. The low blow bends him forward, which is your cue to whack the back of his head with your palm.

Tips: “Never use a fist to counterstrike,” John Pellegrini says. “Always use an open hand because it offers better reach, it’s more relaxed and it’s quicker.” Hitting that way is also better should you wind up in court, he says, because witnesses will be able to say he was the one who had his fists clenched.

Principle: “This technique uses the basic high-low combat principle,” he explains. “When you hit the man high, his head goes back. This pushes his pelvis forward, giving you a perfect low target. When you strike low, the pelvis moves back, giving you a high target. This confuses him, which gives you the advantage.” The high-low principle belongs in everyone’s combat arsenal, he says.

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