But where did his martial prowess come from? A technical analysis of Choi's teaching certainly shows similarities to Daito Ryu technique, but Takeda Sokaku was notorious for keeping meticulous records of every student he taught. Who can blame him when over the course of his career, he taught an estimated 30,000 students, many of whom were heads of other martial arts? He felt his art of Daito Ryu was proprietary and wanted a way to ensure those who trained with him wouldn't take what they learned back to their schools and pass them off as information that had been there already. It has been generally accepted that Choi Yong Sul did not appear anywhere in Takeda's records, nor did his alleged Japanese name "Yoshida Asao." It has been suggested that he was intentionally omitted because he was Korean, but other Koreans (such as Jang In Mok) appear in official Daito Ryu records so that's not a valid excuse. How then, can we reconcile that with his claims of studying with Takeda?
There are some kanji I can't make out, but the text generally says:
"Dai Sensei Takeda Sokaku in an intense journey through Ironai Otaru, while living in the Mr. Kintaro Watanabe's home taught Choi Yong Sul for 10 days from 6 to 15 August 1942."
So there it is, in black and white, that Choi Yong Sul trained with Takeda Sokaku. But this brings up more questions than answers. It shows that Choi attended a 10-day seminar, as was Takeda's preferred teaching method, but surely he had more than 10 days of training. No one is that naturally gifted to go from zero to mastery in just 10 days, regardless of how rigorous the training was. So where, then, did Choi receive the majority of his training?
In addition to Yoshida's public acceptance of Korean students, I think the most compelling evidence is Choi's alleged Japanese name. It would be highly irregular for Choi to be adopted into the Takeda family and not given the surname Takeda. Yoshi (adopted sons) are a very common tradition in Japanese martial arts, and they are always given the family name of the instructor to carry on their legacy as a "blood" relative. Therefore, if there is truth to the story of Choi becoming an adopted son of a Daito Ryu master, tradition would dictate the family name was Yoshida.
Over the course of his nearly 40 year teaching career, Choi taught numerous students. It is in those students we truly find the evidence of Choi's connection to Daito Ryu. In Aiki Jujutsu, it is generally accepted that aiki (hapki in Korean) is one of those skills that can only be learned through hands-on instruction. Therefore, if you "have it," it came from somewhere. It is not something that can be replicated by watching. So the question is then... Did Choi have it? Judging by the demonstrations by his long-term first generation students, not the ones who only stuck around for a few years and then filled the "holes" in their training with acrobatics, the answer is yes. For example, see this demo by Kim Yun Sang, awarded the Doju title directly by Choi's family and given permission by Choi himself to use his name as the name of his school - Yong Sul Kwan.
What is interesting to note is that both groups I mentioned distinctly use terminology to separate themselves from modern Hapkido. Does that mean that the majority of modern Hapkido doesn't actually incorporate any teachings of aiki/hapki and they feel a need to distance themselves? Who knows?
When looking at what is most commonly displayed as Hapkido, it is hard to see anything more than a superficial connection to Daito Ryu. That is to say that a wrist lock is a wrist lock. As I said earlier, the majority of the Hapkido community stems from those who really only trained a few years with Choi. Certainly not long enough to get the "goods," only a cursory understanding of joint manipulation and throwing techniques that had to be supplemented with material from other arts to be functional. But when you start to dig deeper, you find these small pockets of high level practitioners that truly show that what Choi taught his most dedicated students was infact Daito Ryu. The documentation is there. The biomechanics are there. The teachings are there. Choi's art must be considered a member of the aiki community.
The details of this image are what drew my attention. Anyone can replicate a physical technique for a picture, but if you look closely, Chris is displaying some very distinct principles. First, the entire body is engaged in the technique, rather than just a wrist manipulation (look at his left hand). The reverse pressure on the elbow that creates the sequential locking starts in the opposite leg, and we see him pushing off the ground to generate upward force. Lastly, his right elbow rises in a circular arch as if to bring a sword to Jodan-no-Kamae. Not to mention the look of discomfort on uke's face. As I said, anyone can replicate a picture but these details are a dead giveaway.