Most of you know what BJJ is and likely practice it. Some do jiu-jitsu because it’s cool, others like it as a sport, and others believe it’s an effective self-defense system that will help them in real-world situations. Regarding the last part, there are enough options and contradicting opinions to make your head spin, and one martial art claiming good self-defense efficiency is Hapkido. But how does it compare to BJJ?
Jiu-jitsu is better for self-defense because the training methodology requires you to execute the techniques against a fully resisting opponent. The strong competitive nature further serves as quality control over what works and what doesn’t. Hapkido includes both striking and grappling and is a comprehensive system, but the lack of sparring and competition means practitioners are ill-prepared for actual conflict.
There is much more to both martial arts than self-defense efficiency, so let’s dive deeper and see if BJJ or Hapkido is a better choice for your goals and needs.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a martial art and a combat sport focused primarily on ground fighting. It optimizes technique and leverage through specific positions and submission holds to win a fight on the ground.
BJJ was created in Brazil by taking Judo and catch wrestling techniques and shifting the main focus from throwing to ground fighting. Initially, the style was created as a comprehensive fighting system designed to be effective in real fights, making it successful in early MMA.
Gradually, the grappling-only element grew until it became the dominant form of the art like it is today. As MMA has become a mainstream sport, jiu-jitsu is the fastest-rising combat discipline, both in terms of popularity as a separate sport and the number of practitioners.
Hapkido is a system for unarmed fighting created in Korea. It has borrowed techniques from many martial arts, including judo throws, aikido-style wrist locks and movements, taekwondo kicks, karate hand strikes, etc. Hapkido also emphasizes breathing techniques, circular movements, and redirection of the opponent’s force.
Hapkido is often translated as “the way of coordinated power,” and it shares the same root as Aikido. The founder of Hapkido Choi Yong-Sool spent 30 years in Japan, where he learned Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu.
Upon returning to his homeland of Korea, he and his disciples developed the style of Hapkido by implementing striking techniques from Taekwondo and ground techniques from Judo, among other influences.
Today, Hapkido is a popular martial art with many organizations and schools, primarily in Korea and the USA.
Key Differences Between BJJ and Hapkido
It’s important to note that Hapkido is a very diverse martial art today, with different schools teaching different techniques. Many overarching principles and techniques exist, but the training methodology may vary significantly between schools. So, the statements made in the following comparisons may only be true for part of Hapkido.
Key Features of BJJ
- BJJ is almost entirely focused on ground fighting
- There are two types of BJJ. Self-defense BJJ has some limited striking elements, while in sports jiu-jitsu striking is completely prohibited.
- Sparring plays a crucial role in training
- There is a well-developed competitive circuit
- Competition matches can be won by submission or on points
- The main goal is learning how to effectively execute techniques against a fully resisting opponent
Key Features of Hapkido
- Hapkido is a hybrid martial art created for self-defense
- It has a wide variety of striking and grappling techniques
- There are almost no competitions
- Sparring is rare and never full contact
Hapkido includes many techniques in the striking and grappling departments and is intended to be a fully comprehensive fighting style.
The striking consists of punches, hand strikes, and elbow strikes similar to those in karate, but the kicking game makes it more distinct.
Being a Korean martial art, Hapkido shares a lot with Taekwondo and takes advantage of its entire arsenal. Striking is often used to close the distance and move into grappling range, where joint manipulation techniques like wrist locks come into play.
Hapkido’s grappling arsenal does not end with small joint locks. There are also many Judo throws and even ground submissions. Theoretically, Hapkido is a complete martial art with good techniques at all ranges.
BJJ is all about ground fighting, and the techniques reflect this. There are some takedowns from wrestling and Judo taught in jiu-jitsu, but the real dominance is established on the ground.
Practitioners use different control positions, like mount, side control, and back mount.
Jiu-jitsu employs many submission holds, including chokes, joint locks, and other painful holds, to finish a fight by submitting the opponent or incapacitating them.
The guard system, which allows BJJ practitioners to fight off their backs effectively, represents the most distinct technical aspect of the art.
BJJ thrives mainly because it has a strong competitive nature. While it began as a full-fighting system, jiu-jitsu is mostly practiced as a grappling-only sport today.
The characteristics and rules make full-contact competitions safer than most other combat sports. Tournaments are structured so everyone can compete, from kids to pro athletes to seniors.
At the highest levels, elite grapplers now have the option to become professional athletes, and no-gi submission grappling is gaining more and more traction, becoming a pro sport like MMA and boxing.
On the other hand, Hapkido has barely any competitions, regardless of level. Most practitioners are hobbyists, and in the rare cases where competitions are organized, they are limited in scope.
BJJ has two main versions, and many practitioners engage in both. These are gi and no-gi, and the main difference is in the uniform.
For traditional gi BJJ, you will need a special kimono/gi, which also plays a prominent role during grappling because it can be gripped.
In no-gi, practitioners wear rash guards on top, BJJ shorts, and BJJ spats on the bottom. Regarding protective gear, the only necessary piece is a mouthguard, but you can also choose to wear special BJJ headgear, kneepads, and elbow pads.
The Hapkido uniform originates from the Japanese kimono, just like the BJJ gi, so they are similar, and both consist of a long-sleeve cotton jacket, long pants, and a colored belt.
In terms of protective equipment, it largely depends on the academy and the type of sparring practiced. In most cases, you will need taekwondo-style gloves, a body protector, headgear, and shin guards.
Based on the fact that BJJ is a mandatory discipline for every MMA fighter and many great champions have come from a jiu-jitsu background, but not a single one has mentioned Hapkido as a reason for their success, it’s easy to conclude which style is better.
But Hapkido is not marketed as an effective sports fighting style, so this is not a big loss. The following comparison is much more critical.
BJJ vs Hapkido For Self-Defense
Unfortunately for Hapkido, I firmly believe BJJ is also significantly better for self-defense. There is tons of video footage from street fights, altercations, police arrests, and challenge matches where jiu-jitsu practitioners use their skills to subdue an attacker.
The common criticism against BJJ is that it teaches you to out-grapple another person with a similar skill set, and many of the positions and techniques used in sports jiu-jitsu don’t work on the streets.
This is a legitimate critique, but it’s also true that the fundamental BJJ positions and submissions are designed to incapacitate an aggressive opponent in a fight without rules, and there are hours of irrefutable video footage proving their effectiveness.
On the other hand, I find it impossible to locate even one instance of Hapkido working in an actual situation. All the footage is either a demonstration with willing partners or theorizing why it would work.
The problem with Hapkido is not in the techniques. Almost all of them come from legitimate fighting styles and have been used in real fighting.
The issue is how Hapkido is trained, namely with a willing and helpful partner rather than against meaningful resistance.
And since there is no quality control in the form of sparring or competition, there is no way for practitioners to know whether their techniques and skills will work in a fight.
In Jiu-Jitsu, pressure testing in the form of sparring is a daily practice. If you can choke out a skilled and fully resisting person, doing it to someone who has no idea how to grapple will be much easier.
So, while BJJ is not perfect and has a lot of gaps, it is infinitely better than Hapkido for self-defense based not on techniques learned but on how they are learned and applied.
A fight between a BJJ practitioner and a Hapkidoka is an easy win for jiu-jitsu. There aren’t many videos with practitioners of the two styles fighting each other, not least because Hapkido does not value sparring and competition in general.
Our limited footage confirms what we know: in a one-on-one fight, the jiu-jitsu guy will close the distance, do a takedown, and dominate on the ground against any opponent not well-versed in ground fighting.
You can watch a good compilation from the old days when open challenges were a thing, and people from different styles could fight each other in the ring with minimal rules. Two of the challengers in the video are Hapkido instructors.
I must admit I am not very familiar with Hapkido in real life. I have been exposed to many traditional and modern combat sports styles, but Hapkido is not one of them. But I know it suffers from the same ailment many traditional martial arts do—the lack of pressure testing.
If you want to develop usable fighting skills, BJJ is infinitely better. It has been proven to be the most effective grappling style in pure grappling, self-defense, and MMA.
But this comes at a price—it’s challenging both on the body and mind. You will receive numerous blows to the body and the ego, and injuries to both are inevitable. There is just no other way to learn how to fight.
Many people want to learn martial arts as a hobby rather than to learn how to fight. They don’t want to get punched or strangled daily, which is fine.
Hapkido teaches meditation, breathing exercises, and fine motor skills. It can be of great use for well-being, and you will learn various martial arts techniques that, if trained more realistically, can work.
When you understand what BJJ and Hapkido are and what they can give you, each can be a better choice for your needs.