Hapkido has a lot in common with the traditional Aikido from Japan since it is also primarily based on the art of Daito-ryu-aiki-jujutsu, a revived martial art taught primarily by Takeda Sokaku. Even the use of Hapkido belts has a lot in common with the history of Aikido.
However, it is important to note that traditional Hapkido does not use colored belts. Instead, much like Japanese Judo, it only uses white and black belts to distinguish the student from the expert. However, as Hapkido moved to the West, the introduction of colored belts became prominent.
This especially became the case in the 1990s when Combat Hapkido was born.
Hapkido Belts and Ranking System
Colored Belts in Combat Hapkido
Combat Hapkido began in 1992 when American Hapkido trainer John Pellegrini began teaching his own variant of the Korean fighting style. His technique incorporated several changes that turn Hapkido into a self-defense art instead of a competitive sport martial art.
To help students identify what rank they were in terms of the skills they learned and time spent practicing, John Pellegrini adapted the colored belt system commonly used in Western Judo and Karate. Where traditional Hapkido only used white and black belts, Combat Hapkido would use several colors.
There are eleven main belts in Hapkido:
- 10th Gup – white
- 9th Gup – yellow
- 8th Gup – orange
- 7th Gup – green
- 6th Gup – purple
- 5th Gup – blue
- 4th Gup –brown
- 3rd Gup – red
- 2nd Gup – red and black
- 1st Gup – black and white
- 1st Dan – black
In many Hapkido schools, it is common to see black belts with white tips to denote what dan or degree the practitioner is in. One white strip at the end indicates a 1st dan fighter while a black belt with 9 white strips at the end indicates a 9th dan fighter or grandmaster.
In some schools the colors are reduced or switched around. A common system that other Hapkido schools use goes as follow: white, yellow, orange, green, blue, red, black.
To identify transitional stages (like the purple belt or brown belt) the school will use a green belt with a blue stripe as they move from green to blue. When moving from blue to red they might have to wear a blue belt with a red stripe.
Not all schools use white tips for their black belts. Others use gold stripes while others use a plain black belt. Those using plain black belts identify their dan or degree by wearing patches on their gi. This latter system is often used in international competitions, particularly for traditional Hapkido.
Moving From One Belt to the Next
Unlike other schools of martial arts, the Hapkido headquarters play a vital role in the advancement of all students. Promotion for a student is always sent to the headquarters for review. This ensures that even if several schools have different belts and colors, the advancement is uniform across the world.
In order to advance up in the black belt degrees it is required for a practitioner to face off against the grandmaster himself, John Pellegrini.
This system of direct confrontation with the man responsible for bringing the art of Hapkido the west ensures that only the very best are entitled to wear the higher degree black belts.
Unlike martial arts such as Karate where the system has been divided by the numerous schools around the world, Hapkido is quite centralized and therefore the quality and skills of each fighter is closely tested.
Time Requirement and Skills
In most martial arts, there is a time requirement before a student may advance to the next belt. In Hapkido, both traditional and in Combat Hapkido, the time limit is not so strict. While it may take ten to fifteen years for a person practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to attain a black belt it would only take 6-8 years in Hapkido.
This is because Hakido does not focus much on the years of experience and instead focuses on mastery of skill and technique. Once a student has shown that they have mastered the skills and techniques of their current ranking they may take the challenge to advance to the next level.
For most schools, particularly for Combat Hapkido, the time requirement is very short, particularly with the colored Gup rankings. Moving from white to yellow may only require six months. Moving from blue to brown may require nine months to a year.
This is quite a contrast when compared to the 18 to 24 months it usually takes to advance in martial arts like Judo or Karate.
One of the main reasons why the Hapkido advancement system is faster is because the martial is taught primarily for self-defense and not as a competitive sport. The main focus of Hapkido schools is to train people basic techniques that can be used on the street and not for winning points at a tournament.