Photo by Betty Rose Cortes
Five year old student Tristan Paulson, left, takes instruction from Grandmaster Kim, right, at the Kwon Moo Hapkido Federation Martial Arts School in Burien, Wa.

Hapkido: self defense for all shapes and sizes

By: Betty Rose Cortes

At the Kwoon Moo Hapkido Federation School of Martial Arts, Grandmaster Kim practices and teaches children and adults the most traditional form of Korean martial arts, Hapkido, which when executed properly, can take an opponent out in just one move.

The “One Move Out” motto is one of the few mantras of the dojang, where technique is emphasized and tailored to give each student the most effective training of the martial art. Children as young as five years old and adults well into their 40s practice a few days each week with the Grandmaster. During this time they learn discipline, respect, self control and most importantly, self defense that is unique to each person’s physical ability.

“Technique is applied differently for each person and their attacker,” said student Elaine Change, who holds the high honor of a black belt at the dojang, “the Grandmaster adapts the moves to the student’s abilities and its difficulty.”

“Some people are very tall, some are small,” Grandmaster Kim explained, “I came to America in 1981 to teach Hapkido. Americans are very different, so training must be different.”

Grandmaster Kim is originally from Seoul, Korea. Born Chae Un Kim, Grandmaster “Steve” Kim returned to Korea after opening his first school in White Center in the ‘80s. There he sought training from a monk, who later helped the Grandmaster adapt the traditional techniques of Hapkido to fit the statures of his students in America. From this Grandmaster Kim’s Kwoon Moo style of Hapkido was created.

“Other martial arts, like taekwondo, have a lot of showmanship,” he continued, “Hapkido is not a sport. It is the original practice of Korean self defense. There are no points or tournaments.”

While kicking and punching is seen among all forms of mixed martial arts, hapkido is the only style that allows small joint manipulations and twisting, which is dangerous enough to injure an opponent in just one move. “These moves are not allowed in tournaments,” said Chang, “but they are important in self defense.”

And this is what separates hapkido from other forms of the practice. Students learn the traditional style of self defense, the same techniques the Grandmaster used in past while training the Seattle Police Department, SWAT and other law enforcement agencies.

In his dojang, Grandmaster Kim emphasizes the quality of belts over quantity of belts. “Here I look for improvement, skill and sign of progress to change belts,” he said, “Quality of belts is very important.”

“Grandmaster teaches practical martial arts,” said Trevor Caldwell, who has been practicing at the dojang for the past year, “Understanding is a reality and there is practical application of martial arts here.”

Like others, Caldwell stumbled upon the dojang with little background in martial arts. “There are no requirements to join,” said Chang, “in fact, we prefer to have students with no experience.”

Student Cosmo Miller, 14, comes from an athletic background. “I play football and basketball. I like Hapkido because it’s not just a sport. Sports don’t teach us to defend yourself.”

Miller’s mother Liz Wolt is happy with placing him at the dojang, “We’ve had a positive experience here. They teach a lot of respect and discipline, he’s in better shape and is healthier.”

Mother Tanya Paulson and her husband brought their children Tristan, 5, and Tori, 7, to the dojang’s free introductory class and were sold from the get go, “My husband had been in martial arts and wrestling in the past. We like the discipline, respect and self defense taught here in a way that is fun for the kids.”

Aaron Johnson is a 3rd degree black belt and instructor at the dojang. He travels from Lake City Way to make the practices in Burien and has been of student of Grandmaster Kim for 16years. “It’s a good thing to see others learn and progress in the practice,” he said, “There are few styles of martial arts that is as exciting as this, and even until now, I’m still learning new techniques and improving every year.”

You can learn more about Hapkido and self defense by contacting Grandmaster Kim by phone at 206-466-2627, or by email at You can also visit the school’s site at and Facebook page at for more info.

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