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This system is known as Gonkwon Yasul and is a modern day mix of several different styles including Hapkido, JuJitsu, and Kyuk To Ki. Its focus is on situations that flow freely instead of choreographed moves in combat. It is considered a gentle art that focuses on open handed techniques as well as throws, locks, kicks and grappling. It is most popular in Korea but over the years has also made debuts in Brazil, Australia, Spain, and the United States.


The Modern Korean Martial Art

Gonkwon Yasul does not have very much history as it was established in 1996. Despite its fairly modern origins, Yasul still aims to encompass many of the traditional Korean martial arts philosophies and techniques. Since its creation, Yasul has gained significant popularity in recent years and has made its way out of Korea and into other parts of the world, being made more famous by singer and songwriter Willie Nelson’s black belt achievement in April of 2014.


Respect for Culture and One Another

Aside from furthering the traditions of Korean martial arts that came before it, Gonkwon Yasul seeks to teach its students to respect one another and to build strong character and self-confidence while in training. Students are taught to use their own inner strength to balance and execute techniques that will control the opponent and take them down as fast as possible. The philosophy that is taught aims to show students that preconceived notions do not play a part in their training and that they should use their skills without prejudice, respecting their classmates and others around them in life at all times.


Teachers of Gonkwon Yasul are unbiased in the way that they instruct their students and talk about the martial art that they have mastered. They often refer to it as the path that others do not follow and stress its unique principles as part of the system of Yasul only and not as an imitation of several other styles, as some have come to see it. They do not believe that a student should be thrust into learning Yasul without knowing about what it is and encourage potential students to learn all that they can, watch matches and events, and participate freely before beginning a serious course of study. They have a great respect for each other and for the students that choose Gonkwon Yasul.


The Principles

Four main principles are incorporated into the course of study of Gwonkwon Yasul. Each one has elements of respect, building character, and body conditioning. They are considered by many to be ingenious and have given the system the acclaim that it has gained thus far.


The first principle is referred to as “Matdaegi” and is also known as the “back of the hand” technique. It refers to the distance between two people when taking certain stances in combat. Several open-handed, joint locking, and throwing techniques are taught using the Matdaegi distance, giving the student critical thinking skills to learn by experience which techniques work with this principle and which ones don’t as they are not simply told from the start.


The second principle is about creativity. It is taught simultaneously with the Matdaegi principle and is when a student begins to learn Samwonbon. By mastering both techniques, students learn to create different combinations of the many moves that have been learned up to this point and can effectively advance using the skills that they recognize in this creativity.


The third principle is the harmony between eum and yang. Eight defensive and eight offensive techniques are learned and the student must learn the harmony between each of them. When beginners and advanced students practice these techniques together, it becomes more apparent how they are connected.


The fourth principle is of Samwonbon. A collection of 77 ways of throwing and controlling an opponent show simulated fights between 2-3 people. If seen by someone who has never practiced or heard of Gonkwon Yasul, they might believe that these moves are the core of the art.


Dress and Ranking System

The dress and ranking system for Gonkwon Yasul are similar to that of several other Korean martial arts. Students must move up through levels that are indicated by colored belts and then may be tested as masters to earn a black belt. The dress is similar to that of other martial arts as well, employing billowy pants and a jacket secured with a belt. Unlike a lot of common dress for martial arts students, the uniform is often black and has Korean lettering or insignia on it, depending on the specific school.


Curriculum and Governing Organizations

The European Gonkwon Yasul Headquarters hosts several events and has a lot of literature about the studies and curriculum of Gonkwon Yasul. Since it is a newer martial art, there are still changes being made among the different schools but, generally speaking, they all follow the main curriculum that focuses on the four principles and belted ranking system.


The practices of Gonkwon Yasul may seem similar to that of other martial arts and many other practitioners actually claim that it is copying their styles. Upon further investigation, anyone pursuing Gonkwon Yasul will find that the several systems that are incorporated into the practices have been turned into something completely new.


Explaining the art of Gonkwon Yasul in great detail would take a large book. The nature of this system is to be something all new that those who have never tried martial arts can get into without the biases of what they might know or have seen in other systems. The grandmasters of this fairly new tradition have taken the styles that influenced what they created and turned it into a system that is not like any other.


Due to the unique nature of Gonkwon Yasul, those who have studied martial arts before within other systems may find that they have some difficulty in understanding and mastering its principles. The systems that have influenced Yasul are present within the training and teachings, but they are woven into a creative system that isn’t the same as training with other systems in any way. In order to fully understand, extensive study is required as well as practice and observation before a student will be able to utilize the concepts learned in Gonkwon Yasul.


Although the practices may differ slightly from school to school, the instruction in Gonkwon Yasul is very strict. There is a structured curriculum that is followed widely by those who wish to teach. This curriculum begins with technical training in the striking, punching, kicking, and other techniques, combinations, and exercises with a partner. Students also learn free fighting techniques and then move on to intermediate examination. The next part of the curriculum concentrates on advanced methods of the first part and the student learns more about combinations, technical training, and free fighting techniques. In this part, the students also learn about philosophy, history, error analysis, teaching techniques and planning, execution of teaching techniques, manners within the Dojang, and the culture of Gonkwon Yasul. The final examination before teaching consists of both a written and oral examination, a technical examination, and ten continuous free fights.



Gonkwon Yasul has undergone some ridicule since its beginning. Although this martial art does respect Korean history and teaches its students about the origins of its techniques, it is nothing like other traditional Korean martial arts and has therefor been referred to as a bastardized version of several other systems. Quite the contrary, Gonkwon Yasul is more unique than any of them since it has dared to do something new in a culture of tradition that has clung to its origins through invasion and other attempts to eradicate it. For this reason, several other martial arts have thought of Yasul as an art that abandons its origins instead of respecting them.


When a person watches Yasul being performed, it doesn’t look like anything that has ever been seen before. Some moves from other systems may be recognized but, ultimately, a true art form has developed in the ways that students learn to move their bodies, harness inner energy to balance and improve themselves, and incorporate strength of character into the ways that they learn to move their bodies. Instead of telling the students exactly what to do or scoring points for specific moves, the students are encouraged to learn each individual way of Gonkwon Yasul and put together their own combinations. They must use critical thinking skills to learn how to take down their opponent as fast as possible.


In addition to these critical thinking skills, the mind and spirit practices that are taught are not the same as those taught in other Korean martial arts. While they draw from the same origins, students are again asked to use their own creativity to learn how to balance what they know about body and spirit with the physical moves that they learn during training. In order to put it all together, they must work with those more advanced than themselves, observe, and study as well as practice. 

The focus here is not as much on samurai swords or weapons but on physical throws.