HAPKIDO – Mastering The Art (Part 2)

Nial Adams discusses his experience as a practitioner and now a senior instructor of the art of Hapkido in this second of a two-part piece. For the first time, he reveals what it’s like to train and teach some of the world’s most elite fighting groups both at home and overseas. I was about to embark on an adventure that would put my whole training into perspective, having earned my 1st Dan Black Belt and spent much of my adolescence learning Hapkido and Oriental Weaponry.

I was introduced to a local figure by my father when I was eighteen years old. John, a former member of the Special Air Service (for real), was in the midst of establishing a bodyguard training school. John was a straight-talking Scouser who was definitely a result of his military experience; he was frank, direct, and occasionally venomous, but he was also a terrific wit and good company. John developed a big text on the detail of the bodyguarding technique, which is still available today, as one of the first people to formalise the Close Protection training system he had through during his forces career (and something I would highly recommend for those interested). Initially suspicious of my enthusiasm, he gradually warmed up to me and began to teach me several techniques. I was eventually able to assist him in his private lessons. I would do everything as an unpaid assistant, including preparing the tea, cleaning up, organising the kit, and, most crucially, ferrying John around because he didn’t have a driver’s licence. This was an important part of my responsibilities because John’s classes contained a large component of personal growth through scenario training in the nights, primarily in Norwich’s bars! There were several surprising outcomes, some of which were rather frightening.

I was about to take a journey that would bring my entire training into perspective.

I was then trusted to teach his courses and provided some practical hand-to-hand combat, drawn from Hapkido, to the small groups of attendees. I also taught kubotan or Dan-Bong (short stick a traditional Hapkido weapon), which is ideally suited to the needs of BGs/professional security. In return, I learned a wealth of material including the advanced technical skills of Close Protection, weapons handling (small arms), drills and protocols, and much more besides. John very much felt that his students should experience the full range of training and even included resistance to interrogation training, which today would be an unlikely element of any commercial training, especially in such a litigious atmosphere.

These skills were to become a valuable grounding in military technique for me, as my father was at the same time engaged as a civilian instructor teaching groups of the various British Special Forces. Eventually, I was asked to attend and provide my training services on an All Arms Commando Course, which would focus on Unarmed and Close Combat, together with Close Protection Skills. Naturally, I was surprised and a little daunted at the idea of going to teach these guys at the age of just nineteen.

Much of this still remains highly confidential but I can confirm that this included training members of the Royal Marines, SAS, Parachute Regiment, RAF Regiment, and the Intelligence Corps.

Advanced Skills

This advanced material covered some of the very special skills I had learned from my father, my weapons instructor, and most recently John, the CP instructor. Strangely enough, some of the basic skills such as Close Quarter Battle (CQB) with firearms, which I had learned from John (who had not long ago left the forces), were sadly lacking. It was satisfying to bring some of these back to guys who had a serious and genuine need for them – at flashpoints around the world where living on the edge is not done for fun.

Accompanying my father on these courses in the first case, I experienced a completely different mindset to training. The typical civilian, martial arts, perspective is that you should only be able to teach at a high level with years of training, enough certificates to paper the wall, and sufficient grey hairs. However, the military approach very much shows us what you’ve got, and let’s get on with it. I suppose this is a result of the practical need when you are likely to need the skills, on a tour of duty in Northern Ireland, for example, it doesn’t really make any difference where you have learned it from, either it has value or not, either it really works, or it doesn’t.

However, the military approach very much shows us what you’ve got, and let’s get on with it.

My first real exposure in an instructional capacity came about one morning on a two-week course. I walked into a large training hall with around forty guys from mixed regiments. The senior instructor introduced me, and then told the students to switch on and pay attention, this lad knows what he was talking about. As a nineteen-year-old civilian, with sweaty palms and a pounding chest, I stepped forward and thought bugger it, it’s done or dies, I can’t exactly turn around a walk out now. Focusing on my technique I got on with the job at hand and to my surprise found the group highly focused and very receptive. I really enjoyed it and pushed the training to its limits.

At the end of the first course, I was delighted when I was awarded an Instructors Certificate, marked Grade A. This was signed by Lt. Gen. Sir Peter De la Billiere (Former Commanding Officer of 22 SAS Regt. and later Commander of the British Forces in the Middle East). I went on to attend further training courses and was exposed to some fascinating training, including advanced close combat and protection, further weapons handling (small arms, SMG, Assault Rifle, etc.), surveillance and countersurveillance, protection from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and the skills of Hostage Rescue. The chance to benefit from this type of training and be involved with these people was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and brought me a totally different perspective on the true martial element of what we learn.

Dynamic Entry Drills N. Adams on R. In tandem with my continued training and teaching of Hapkido I was then able to integrate the military skills and begin running my own short courses. Initially aimed at those coming out of the forces to take positions in close protection and other allied security roles, these courses filled a gap and attracted a wide range of men, and some women, from all regiments, units, etc. Within a short period of time, I found that the style of training I offered was attracting a lot of civilians as well. These people wanted to learn something really practical and effective and go away with some skill and more confidence in just a short time. Guess what, Hapkido ideally suits this requirement. Certainly, there is no such thing as instant martial arts but Hapkido does deliver a simple system that can be highly effective with little training.

Again I began to discover that teaching in this format was a great way to improve my skills. This is very different from teaching a formal Hapkido class. My private courses attracted everyone from some Neanderthal nightclub bouncers to top City investment brokers and even a Director of BP. In a formal class situation, most students approach their studies with a degree of due care and respect. Some of my course students were hell-bent on testing my skills to the limit and beyond. I can think of several situations where I needed to do it for real but hold back on actually decking the idiots that wanted to try me out. Later on, when I worked as an Instructor for one of the UK’s leading Close Protection training schools (TASK) I found a similar environment. Tough guys that want to train hard and for real are an excellent way to test and improve your skills. My power, reaction speed, and delivery of technique improved massively. This provides not only an opportunity to become much more effective but also a chance to appreciate just how devastatingly effective, and yet controllable Hapkido really is. Many other styles rely heavily on striking, and while you can moderate some striking techniques this isn’t always going to work. Being tall but only of a lean build, I discovered that Hapkido can subdue and control any attacker, any size. In fact, the whole essence of our art, that we use the power and force of our attacker, is amazingly effective. I have fought, in a training environment, some very large and incredibly strong guys, and Hapkido has never let me down. The comments I often get after a session, or the end of the program, are that just how surprised guys are with the effectiveness of my technique.

My private courses attracted everyone from some Neanderthal nightclub bouncers to top City investment brokers.

Crucially one element that has become very apparent to me is that of speed, or in the case of most opponents is the lack of it. When training and teaching at a higher level, and with some very serious students, it is obvious that speed is vital. Hapkido teaches us where and how to strike, and block, as well as lock, control, throw, etc. Speed, getting there first is the real secret, especially if your attacker is bigger and stronger. There is a reality that a smaller person is less likely to sustain a strike and injury than somebody much larger, they seem to be able to absorb it. Fast, powerful (and I mean in technique, not physical strength) blocks and strikes are essential against larger, tougher opponents. Having had a chance to train with some of the best, and believe me some of these guys are fearsome, I can say what we teach really does work. Thankfully the average thug in the street has little skill or combative ability. This is to say they should be underestimated but do not allow yourself to become paralyzed by fear either.

Some of my course students were hell-bent on testing my skills to the limit, and beyond.

Around 1992 I was able to take up another unique opportunity and travel to Eastern Europe to teach and provide my professional security skills. This included helping recruit and train private security operatives, typically former soldiers, serving law-enforcement officers, all looking for a job with some decent pay. I was also requested to teach serving members of the armed forces (various regiments), the police, customs, and the security services. This was a fascinating world to enter. Having grown up with images on the TV of our enemies in the May Day parades in Red Square, it was a strange experience to finally meet these people. After teaching and working in Ukraine I later went to Moscow to assist with the establishment of a new security company. My boss, a very direct and brusque South African, was extremely well connected. This resulted in me working closely with members of the newly formed Security Services, mostly made up of the former KGB. Through this, I was requested to provide training to members of the Presidential Bodyguard team for Mr. Yeltsin. Working with these guys was a real insight. Nearly all were champion boxers or kick-boxers, highly trained and super fit, and all built like the proverbial brick outhouse. At the same time, they were extremely intelligent and very polite and pleasant. I worked with them on advanced control and restraint including the use of some specialist equipment that was still in an experimental stage here in the West. Again it was satisfying to see just how well developed these elements of Hapkido really are highly valuable skills that no doubt will be frequently used in live situations.

I consider myself very fortunate, perhaps lucky, to have enjoyed these unique experiences, all of which have helped me to develop my knowledge and skills in Hapkido. I have been able in turn to pass some of this on to other students and practitioners, and plan to do so for a long time to come. Now at the age of thirty-four, I have attained my 4th Dan, a Master’s rank for the Korean martial arts. Of course, the truth is, this point, whilst very welcomed, and perhaps a chance to look back as well as forward has prompted me to think about my training more deeply. I have realized that we no more master our art than we can perfect the techniques. This is exactly why we train. Just like any athlete or sportsperson we always strive to improve and grow. In those quieter moments with our own thoughts, I am sure each of us realizes that we can always be better, faster, and more technically accurate, and that is just the physical side of our studies!

For me Hapkido is not there to be mastered, this is unobtainable, it is there as a vehicle for our constant development. Progression points out new ways of doing things, new viewpoints on techniques as well as philosophies. Only when we can apply all our ability to really grasp the essence of what we do can we ever hope to reach the level that approaches that of what others might term – Master.

As International Hapkido continues to grow and new students take up a study the art Nial Adams continues to travel and teach Hapkido widely.

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