I find that many new students need to first spend time understanding the difference between tension, strength and power. In the English language, if we want to improve at something, we often say that we must knuckle down, train hard orgrit our teeth. Each one of these strangely denotes a state of tension, something that we must learn to let go of if we are to improve in Hapkido.

The new student will often hold stress and tension in their upper body, and try to muscle an opponent down. Some students, being physically stronger than their opponent, can get away with this sort of approach; but if we are smaller and weaker than our opponent, this pushing or pulling is totally ineffectual. I have lost count of how many students will look at me with a bewildered expression, sweat pouring down their faces and say, “Saboumnim, I’m using as much strength as I can, why isn’t it working?”

A student may be physically strong, but what is more important is their power, the ability to use that strength, to communicate it to their opponent. In the example above, the student often feels their own tension and gives them the mistaken belief that they are really hurting their opponent. As a student progresses though, he realises that the more energy he consumes through his own tension, the less he is able to communicate to the opponent.

Other than physical tension, how else do we consume energy?

I find inappropriate posture to be a huge culprit. If our posture is misaligned, then we waste energy stabilizing ourselves, which again means less communicated to the opponent.

Our mental conditioning will also play a huge part in how much energy we consume. The student, who is preoccupied with fear, anxiety, or their own ego, will already be putting themselves at a huge power disadvantage. If our minds are in two places, how can we act?

So if we are to improve our Hapkido we must get control of our bodies through relaxing and releasing unnecessary tension and improving our posture, but also let go of our mental preoccupations. In this state then all our energy can be focused on one spot, we consume less energy and we become more effective and powerful Hapkido practitioners.

Tension vs. power in Hapkido training.