Monday, October 17, 2016

start the day with a bang

Who's there?
Knock who?
낙법! Learn it!

On my way out of my building this morning, I slipped and fell. I was in the B1-level parking garage, trying to drop off a big bag of recyclables before hitting the subway, when my left foot hit a greasy patch—as invisible as black ice—and flew out from under me. I threw out my right arm; my left hip and right hand hit the concrete, but I ended up on my back all the same. The fall didn't hurt anything except my pride: several garbage collectors, as well as the parking-lot attendant in his booth, saw my fall.

But, hey—at least I was jolted awake. The garbage collectors asked if I was hurt; laughing in embarrassment, I said I was fine. It's been over an hour since the event, and I'm still not aching, so this was minor. It's one of the few times I can be thankful for being as fleshy as I am: landing on a hip can have disastrous consequences, and I've already written about my paranoia regarding Korean hospital care.

Hapkido is an integrated Korean martial art: its syllabus includes the percussive, punching/kicking aspects of taekwondo and the "internal," harmonizing/grappling aspects of Japanese aikido. Written with the same three Chinese characters as aikido* (hap + ki + do = 合 氣 道: harmony-energy-way), hapkido means, roughly, the way of harmonizing energy, of using your opponent's force against himself. Unlike taekwondo, hapkido places a great deal of stress on nak-beop (낙법; it sounds a bit like "knock bupp" and means, roughly, "the law of falling"), i.e., learning how to fall. Out of sympathy, my boss told me about an incident in which he slipped on the ice and his hapkido training took over, saving him from injury.

I'd actually like to learn hapkido, assuming I can gather up the courage and the will. I did taekwondo years ago (here's me kicking), but having had one day of hapkido training,** I came away convinced it's the better martial art. Hapkido—affectionately called HKD in the States—teaches you what to do when fights go to the ground, as they so often do; taekwondo teaches you to fight on your feet, with very little time devoted to learning holds, locks, flips, and escapes. Then, of course, there's the nak-beop aspect of hapkido, which could have helped me this morning. Ah, well.

*This is a reminder that, just because two phenomena are described by the same set of Chinese characters, this doesn't mean those two things are one and the same. For a Western analogue to this, think about the word "chip" as it applies to food in US and UK English. In US English, a "chip" is a thin slice of deep-fried potato. In UK English, a "chip" is what Americans call a "french fry." Same descriptor, two different realities.

How are aikido and hapkido different? AKD, traditionally conceived, is an almost entirely defensive martial art. Although it has diversified since the time of its founder, Ueshiba Morihei, the basic AKD syllabus is mostly devoted to redirection of the opponent's force. Many of the earlier training methods revolved around the idea of a swordless samurai who had to defend himself against an attacker still armed with a sword, but modern AKD has evolved to be more "street" in its approach. The AKD syllabus is heavy on defensive tactics, but does use atemi, i.e. quick strikes intended to keep the opponent off-balance and/or distracted while the exponent executes his main attack, which is usually a hold, lock, or flip. HKD, by contrast, has a larger striking syllabus (including some strange, esoteric kicks not found in TKD), but it incorporates almost as many "soft" techniques as AKD does.

**I was at some sort of Korean cultural event in northern Virginia. At one of the booths, there were fliers for a single session of hapkido training. Curious, I picked a flier up and went to a training session maybe a week later. Compared to taekwondo training, it was like night and day: TKD training is militarily rigid: students sit in straight rows; different phases of each class are clearly demarcated; moves are learned in unison, and in very specific sequences; sparring tends to be very controlled. HKD, on the other hand, is loose and relaxed in the way that I've heard Chinese wushu training often is: the master demonstrates a move, then he lets the students pair up and practice with each other at their own pace. I've heard this about the Chinese training philosophy: don't force things. There are exceptions, of course: if you've ever watched Master Pan Qingfu (about whom Mark Salzman wrote in his book Iron and Silk), then you know that some Chinese martial-arts training can be brutally rigid. I doubt Master Pan is the only Chinese sifu to act like a drill sergeant.

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