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...Be a Hapkidoin

Break a sweat, and maybe a few elbows, with this Korean self-defense martial art.
Monday Jul 10, 2006.     By Michael Foreman
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

So you wanna be a Hapkidoin?
Admit it, men. We all secretly wish our hands were deadly weapons, that we could school someone Game-of-Death-style while defending hungry orphans or the honor of our girl. And ladies, be honest, you'd love to beat your boy to the punch, twisting that drunken frat boy's roaming fingers like limp Twizzlers.

Despite what you've heard, fitness doesn't have to mean running in place on a glorified hamster wheel for hours on end. Martial arts like Hapkido can get the heart pumping while teaching confidence, discipline and how to mangle a would-be attacker in a few simple steps. I recently got chucked around by Sabumnim Kevin Sogor, resident Master at Wicker Park's International Hapkido USA, and found out what it takes to release your inner Hapkidoin.

The skinny:
Hapkido, meaning "the way of coordinated power," is a Korean self-defense martial art based in individual accomplishment, not competition. The system eschews showy "striking cobra" type poses in favor of up close, practical maneuvers which focus on three principles: Hwa (harmony of energies), Won (fluid circular motions) and Lyu (a flowing dynamic). So far, this beats my old slap-furiously-and-run technique.

The getup:
Typical workout clothes will work fine for a drop-in trial class. After that, dues cover your dobak and belt, i.e., those killer pajamas that say you mean business and pop wickedly when you move real fast.

The payoff:
Besides the psychological benefits that come with nerves of steel, Hapkido increases flexibility and releases tension caused by stress. Sword classes, called Chung Suk Kuhapdo, fulfill those nascent Kill Bill fantasies while doubling as rigorous aerobic workouts. My time whirling the wooden sword left me drenched and exhausted and worked lower arm muscles I can't pronounce (plus a few that medical science hasn't discovered yet).

Wear and tear:
As with any martial art, safety is paramount. Serious injury can occur from ignoring instruction, moving too quickly or torquing your partner's joints with too much "I'm a badass" zeal. Take heed, as carelessness once left me and my favorite strained ligament lurching around town like a gimp. "Practice slowly," Sogor advises, "because practice doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent. And that can be both positive and negative."

The commitment:
For maximum benefit, Sogor suggests attending two to three two-hour classes per week. Now dragging your sagging carcass in six hours weekly might not sound like fun, but I've found it takes the edge off, leaving me mellow and focused for my next eight-hour cubicle endurance test.

The cost:
Most schools tend to shove a contract in your face (yes, legally binding) for a year of classes before you've gotten both Pumas through the door. Not so at Intl. Hapkido USA, where flexible plans beginning at $85 a month provide less intimidating alternatives.

Difficulty level:
I'm about as coordinated as Napoleon Dynamite in a dance-off, so just learning the basics seemed daunting at first. Luckily, the remaining 3,000-plus techniques draw on the first 15, building much needed muscle memory as you progress. "The first 30 days are the most difficult," says Sogor, "because you're doing things physically, and probably mentally, that you've never done before. After that, you get into a routine that makes things a little easier."

The Verdict:
A few months in and I'm still taking classes, my confidence is high and the moves come more easily. I've also noticed an increase in energy overall. Hapkido can take a lifetime to master, so I'm not yet ready to wander the earth like Cain from Kung Fu, but thanks to patience and perseverance, I could probably take Ralph Macchio in a UFC cage match. Recommended for weekend warriors and serious martial artists alike.

International Hapkido USA is located at 1385 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL 60622. Call (773) 252-4470 to speak to Master Kevin Sogor, or check the website for a schedule of classes.

 

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