Having trained in both Judo and Kendo in school, at the age of 15, Han moved to Seoul to live with his older brother, Young Soo Han, where he began training under Master Byung In Yoon whose art form was called “Kwon Bup.” In fact, Master Yoon taught a combination of two separate arts: One was “Ch’uan Fa,” a circular “soft” style from Manchuria, that is unique because it incorporates techniques found in modern day Kung Fu, Jujitsu and Karate into one system. Master Yoon simultaneously taught a linear “hard” system, based in punches, kicks, and hard striking blocks called “Shuto-Ryu,” and later known as “Shudokan” and “Shorin-Ryu.”

Master Yoon’s school, like all others in Seoul, was closed during the Korean war. Although Han had mastered both hard and soft styles taught by Yoon, Han still searched for his master, not knowing Yoon had moved into North Korea to join his family. Han was now 21 years old, and an accomplished martial artist with four black belts and surviving a war that resulted in almost 300,00 Koreans killed and another 500,000 wounded. Although unable to locate Master Yoon, and without finding anything as challenging as the dual style “Kwon Bup,” Han did not delay his training, taking up the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do. Han trained for five years in the art made famous in America by Chuck Norris (whom Han later befriended at Osan Air Force Base, where Han taught Hapkido and Norris trained in Tang Soo Do.)

In 1958, while training in Tang Soo Do, a fellow martial artist convinced the exceptionally gifted Bong Soo Han to attend a demonstration of a “new” martial art by Hapkido Grand Master Choi (pronounced “Chay”), Yong Sul at the Sung Moo Kwan in Seoul.  Although already an accomplished martial artist, Bong Soo Han was greatly impressed with the Grand Master’s “economy of movement,” witnessing him deflect an attack, smoothly redirecting an opponent’s energy, enabling the small Grand Master to attain complete control and submission of a larger and younger opponent.

Following the demonstration by Grandmaster Choi, Bong Soo Han traveled to Taegu where he trained directly with the Grandmaster. Han was such an accomplished martial artist by this time that GM Choi awarded Han his black belt in record time, and promoted him to be a senior instructor in the Seoul Hapkido school.


Bong Soo Han

Bong Soo Han

Throughout his study and development of Hapkido, the young senior instructor Bong Soo would travel between the Taegu and Seoul schools to teach and train. Starting in 1959, he and other senior instructors, all who had trained in a variety of art forms, would meet in the privacy of the secluded Nam San Mountains, where they practiced and refined the techniques.

During these meetings, the five men would see a Buddhist Monk dressed in traditional robes watching them train. The senior instructors courteously approached the monk, asking in a well-mannered nature if the monk practiced martial arts. Initially the monk just smiled but did not speak. After watching the instructors practice over a period of time, the monk identified himself as Bok Yong Lee, admitting that he was a master in the Korean fighting art of Tae Kyon, and inviting the young men to train under him..

Master Han and a few of the instructors journeyed to the temple. They would stay for a few weeks at a time before responsibilities would call them home. As time went on, only Master Han and a close friend continued the visits. Eventually, only Master Han remained. During this period, he studied the unique martial and spiritual art of Tae Kyon, learing "the principals and philosophy of nature" which are inheret in Hapkido's application to daily life.

In 1961, Master Han was engaged by the United States Military to teach martial arts on the U.S. Air Force base. As one of only 12 So. Korean Hapkido instructors specially chosen during the Vietnam War, in 1967, Master Han provided unarmed and knife combat training to American, Korean, and South Vietnamese troops, as well as a unique specialized curriculum for U.S Special Forces, Green Berets, and CIA personnel.

Emigrating in 1967, Master Han began teaching Hapkido in the United States, and opened his Santa Monica School shortly after , which became the Headquarters for Master Han’s International Hapkido Federation, whose membership includes some of Korea’s most prestigious martial arts masters.

Master Han’s promotion of Hapkido lead to his practice of providing public demonstrations of the art in a wide variety of venues. On July 4, 1969, Master Han was performing a demonstration at a park in the Pacific Palisades, California. In the audience was actor Tom Laughlin, who later described the demonstration as “spectacular,” and what motivated him to ask Master Han to choreograph and perform the fighting for his upcoming film, “Billy Jack.” For the first time in American cinema, the fighting was performed by a true master, rather than an actor. Master Han and Laughlin were praised for creating and staging some of the most realistic martial arts fight sequences in cinematic history. Here's a link to a video explaining one of the best fights in early martial arts movies -  Bong Soo Han

Through his pioneering fight choreography that helped lead to the success of the film “Billy Jack,” Master Han was able to introduce Hapkido to a national audience, which garnered him the title “Father of Hapkido,” crediting Master Han with the introduction of the Korean art of Hapkido into the vernacular of martial artists in the United States. Due to his lifelong pursuit of the advancement of traditional Hapkido, Bong Soo Han was awarded the rank of 9th Degree, with the American title of Grand Master.

Despite Master Han living for 40 years in the United States, only 124 people, of all races, religious and ethnic backgrounds, have promoted to the level of Black Belt in the art as taught by Master Han. To attain this rank, students of Bong Soo Han Hapkido have to attain a proficiency in skills found in Judo (throws and break falls), Aikido (rolls, “falls,” and a philosophy of “non-resistance”) Jujitsu (joint locks and manipulations), Muy Thai Kickboxing (elbow and knee strikes), Chinese Kenpo (hand techniques), as well as Tae Kyon (kicking, pressure point attacks, and philosophy.)

As taught by Master Bong Soo Han, Hapkido is as much philosophical as it is physical, being a Way of Life, with the goal being “Perfection of Character,” attained through the coordination of Mind, Body and Spirit, by practicing meditation, “breath control,” (Ki exercises) and the rigorous physical martial art techniques of Hapkido.