Is Hapkido Effective? (For Self Defense, Street Fights & MMA)

is hapkido effective

Hapkido practitioners claim to be privileged to practice a martial art style famed for its powerful kicks, varied hand strikes, versatile joint locks and throws, and effective trapping-range techniques. But is Hapkido effective?

Hapkido is very effective for self-defense and real fights because of its well-rounded martial art system that has many grab attacks, joint manipulations, throws, and arresting techniques, as well as soft counters, circular motions, and kicking and sweeping techniques. However, the effectiveness of Hapkido will depend on how it’s applied.

Although Hapkido is not quite as popular as other Korean martial arts like Taekwondo, it, however, remains one of the most effective for self-defense and real combat.

It is not a sport like Taekwondo.

However, many people still doubt the effectiveness of Hapkido techniques.

So, in this post, we will be looking at the effectiveness of Hapkido not only for self-defense and real fights but also its overall relevance in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

Let’s dive in!

Is Hapkido Effective for Self-Defense?

Hapkido is effective for self-defense because it employs techniques such as joint locks, grappling, throws, punches, kicks, and other striking attacks, all of which are effective for self-protection.

As stated already, Hapkido was originally designed as a form of self-defense.

It also employs the use of traditional weapons such as a knife, sword, rope, nunchaku, cane, short stick, gun (analogous to the Japanese jō), and bō (Japanese), etc, which, depending on the particular tradition examined, vary in emphasis.

Hapkido teaches close-range and long-range fighting techniques, utilizing pressure point strikes, joint locks, and throws at closer fighting distances, and jumping kicks and percussive hand strikes at longer ranges.

This art emphasizes circular motion, control of the opponent, and the redirection of force.

Practitioners aim to gain an advantage over their opponents through good body positioning and footwork to employ the use of leverage, avoiding the use of brute strength against brute strength.

Now, as a self-defense tool, while physical weapons are not always available for use in a self-defense situation, Hapkido practitioners would have no problem defending themselves with it if the opportunity arises.

Even in the absence of weapons, Hapkido remains a complete art that functions in all four ranges of self-defense including kicking, punching, trapping, and grappling.  

Hapkido was designed to defend against and overcome an attacker with skills in many forms of martial combat.

Since Hapkido was adapted from Aiki-jujitsu, it combines striking, punching, joint-locks, throws, and grappling, making it one of the original mixed martial arts.

Unlike modern MMA training, Hapkido gives students a solid base in different forms of defense and roots its strategy in the principles of water, circle, and harmony.

This gives the student a solid foundation to build on so they are not caught off-guard when faced with real-life defense situations.

A martial artist can use it to quickly subdue an opponent and render any attacker incapable of causing harm.

Hapkido emphasizes precision over brute strength, so the Hapkido practitioner can localize any damage dealt to an opponent and avoid creating unintended injuries.

This explains why Hapkido is so popular among private security and law enforcement agents worldwide.

Make no mistake though. If necessary, Hapkido also allows practitioners to leverage highly powerful and even deadly force, especially when in a life-or-death confrontation.

However, practical self-defense remains the primary focus of the art.

Is Hapkido Effective in a Street Fight?

Although Hapkido is generally not designed for street fights but for self-defense, its techniques are highly suitable and effective for practical street application.

Let me say this upfront…

“Hapkido is mainly designed for self-defense purposes. It is not meant to be used as a tool for reckless street fights”

Martial Arts Republic

Now, having said this, one cannot deny the fact that there are several real-life street situations where one might be required to legitimately save his or herself through martial art skills.

Luckily, Hapkido techniques are good for the street and can be applied in street fights.

I already stated earlier that Hapkido is a well-rounded martial art system with many grab attacks, joint manipulations, throws, and arresting techniques, as well as soft counters, circular motions, and various sweeping and kicking techniques.

All these techniques, if learned right, are useful and practical not only for self-defense but also for street fights.

Unfortunately, Hapkido has many weak areas too.

First, Hapkido for beginners is fairly weak and limited in the range of hand strikes.

And since most actual fights often involve a fast flurry of punches (not all of them are wild aimless punches) this could pose a problem.

Also, know that an attacker doesn’t just simply lend his hand out in the air to be grabbed.

So, to fill in that hole, a Hapkido practitioner would benefit from cross-training in boxing to know how to punch more effectively and also learn how to defend against those types of attacks from a live opponent.

This helps them to take the defense techniques learned in Hapkido and adapt them to pressure-tested scenarios.

Also, as I’ve said many times, many throwing techniques in Hapkido are simply unrealistic.

For example, in a real fight, it is nearly impossible to twist a person’s arm and throw them wildly in the air as often demonstrated in a classroom setting – that is just your training partner throwing themselves to avoid breakage during the lock.

Many of the prevalent Hapkido wrist lock techniques would also require a high level of accuracy and skill to pull off in a real fight.

Hapkido also has many kicking techniques which would be impractical in a real street fight.

Yes, compared to Taekwondo (the Olympic variety), Hapkido kicking techniques have more weight commitment and are intended to do more damage.

However, it would be too risky, (though not impossible) to pull off many of the flashy jump-kick techniques in a street fight.

Other than that, Hapkido can be a very adaptive art to use for street fights as long as you employ the right techniques.

You could also learn the basics of the system and build on to it by cross-training in other arts to become better rounded.

Is Hapkido Good for MMA?

Hapkido is good for MMA as it has some techniques such as joint locks and throws that are relevant and applicable to the cage, therefore, making it a good base for Mixed Martial Arts. However, Hapkido as a single weapon is not completely effective in MMA and will need a combination of other martial arts techniques for optimal performance.

When you objectively look at Hapkido, you will see that it sure has elements that can be applied to Mixed Martial Arts fighting.

For example, most Hapkido dojos focus on Karate, Judo, Muay Thai, and other fighting styles.

This, for many, offers a strong core and foundation for MMA application.

Note however that in this case, I am talking about legit Hapkido schools that are close to their Korean roots and not McDojo that teach less effective fighting methods.

So, yeah, Hapkido undoubtedly has some good and useful techniques fitting for the cage.

It offers stand-up grappling similar to Judo, as well as striking techniques similar to Karate and other styles.

However, this variety can be helpful only to an extent considering the demand of MMA where you must be as well-rounded as possible in terms of your various martial arts skills…It’s called Mixed Martial Arts for a reason, right?

This means that knowledge in just Hapkido alone has its disadvantages.

Let me briefly touch on these issues…

The main issue with Hapkido is its reliance on wrist locks and small joint manipulation, such as bending fingers.

In MMA, this isn’t legal, and wrist locks are physically difficult to perform.

Therefore, a large portion of this training becomes invalid when applied to the cage, meaning time could be spent on more efficient skills.

Secondly, Hapkido emphasizes weapons training.

As you might already know, MMA doesn’t allow weapons, so learning these skills is also pretty irrelevant if you plan to compete in the UFC.

Lastly, most Hapkido forms don’t emphasize ground fighting.

MMA has relied on BJJ skills since its inception to attack and defend submissions, as well as get out of bad positions on the ground.

Generally, most Hapkido schools simply pay less attention to grappling from the ground and unless you’re on top, the idea is not to get there in the first place.

So, a Hapkido practitioner with MMA in mind would need to train in BJJ to make up for the lack of sufficient teaching in this area.

I also mentioned earlier that a boxing class would be useful.

Arguably the most famous Hapkido-style MMA fighter is probably the UFC’s Robert Whittaker who has a black belt in Hapkido.

Back in the 90s, there were also fighters such as Patrick Smith who was a Hapkido black belt but primarily a kickboxer.

So, while Hapkido is used mostly in military fighting and for street defense, few fighters have successfully brought and applied it to the cage.

However, the best formula for a successful Hapkido MMA fighter would be to find a legitimate Hapkido school while also training alongside Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and other relevant martial arts like boxing to gain more expertise.

This combination would provide a good variety of skills to make them an all-rounded MMA fighters.


With the right teacher, training, and experience, Hapkido remains an effective martial art since its techniques are incredibly devastating.

But your instructor needs to be realistic about his or her instruction and its real-world application.

Every student also needs to be honest with themselves about their capabilities.

Ultimately, when I have to describe Hapkido at its core to anyone, I simply would say it is “dirty Korean street fighting.”

Read: Is Taekwondo Effective?

Also Read: Is Karate Effective?

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