"Hapkido and Human Liberty"
Statement of Philosophy
Beth Cody, 2nd-degree black belt
October 6, 2007

During the fourteen years I have practiced Hapkido, I have noticed that the principles and philosophies of Hapkido apply to nearly every sphere of life. Recently, I have observed that they even apply to the relationship between people and government.

For instance, we understand that Hapkido is to be used only in self-defense. It would be unconscionably wrong for me to do an arm bar on somebody who is just minding their own business and not hurting anyone else, simply because I don’t like what they are doing. Only if someone is about to intentionally injure someone else am I justified in using the skills I have spent so much time learning. So why do many people believe that it is OK to use government force to prohibit other people from doing things that don’t directly harm anyone else?

In the last several years, I have become a strong advocate of libertarian ideas, and I have noticed that these ideas have much in common with the ideas and principles of Hapkido. Libertarianism is the only political philosophy that adheres to the Principle of Non-Resistance and the Water Principle, even if most libertarians don’t call them such.

Libertarians believe, as the founding fathers of the United States did, that humans are born with natural rights, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – the right to live our lives freely – and that government should be limited to protecting those rights, without additional meddling in people’s lives.

Unfortunately, over the past century we have seen our government expand its scope to outlaw victimless crimes between willing individuals, and to reduce our freedom to make choices, out of the fear that we might make poor choices.

Government tries to make us do certain things: make us pay taxes, make us wear seat belts, make us stay in school until a certain age, make businesses pay employees a certain wage, make us save for retirement. Government also tries to stop people from doing an even longer list of things: stop young adults from drinking alcohol, stop people of different orientations from getting married, stop people from working in certain professions unless they get permission, stop us from buying certain things from certain people, stop terminally-ill patients from trying experimental drugs, stop immigrants from entering our country.

There are countless ways that people use the power of government to try to make other people do what they think is right. But these laws and regulations nearly always have unintended side effects, which are often worse than the original problems they were meant to alleviate. People want to do what they want to do, and even though it costs more and can be more dangerous to do so, they simply move around any obstacles we put in their way.

This is precisely the theory of the Water Principle, which we teach to every white belt who begins Hapkido. We teach that when we encounter an attacker (an obstacle) we should not try to confront him head-on, but instead move around him to counter his force from another side.

The image we use to describe this principle is water flowing around a rock in a river. The water cannot be stopped by the rock, but instead flows around it and under it, slowly wearing it away and undermining its foundations until it is swept away by the force of the river. The rock seems solid, but the water is actually the stronger force of the two, because it is infinitely flexible in achieving its aim.

People are much like water in this respect. A government that erects too many barriers between people and freedom risks being undermined and swept away just like the rock. Government seems stronger than individuals, but millions of individuals move in unstoppable waves, in countless directions, seeking the freedom to live their lives as they decide to.

Not even the police states in the world’s totalitarian countries are able to fully repress this human need for self-determination. Our founding fathers understood this when they designed our government for our fledgling country, the greatest experiment in self-government ever undertaken. They knew that controlling people is difficult and dangerous, and should be done sparingly – mostly to control violent criminals.

It is so hard to control people that the inevitable result of trying to do so will, in fact, be a police state, as we are in danger of becoming. But who wants to live under a police state? Most people believe that living freely is better, and that is certainly what our founding fathers had in mind for us.

The answer is that government should hardly try to control people at all. The Principle of Non-Resistance suggests that, instead of keeping an iron grip on everyone to control every aspect of our lives, government should have a light hand. Yes, lock up the violent offenders and the serial con men, but it’s not necessary for government to license cosmetologists, outlaw window puppet shows or dictate bicycle registration.

Government policies should merely re-direct people to encourage productive activity. Instead of hindering would-be entrepreneurs with licensing requirements, make starting a new business a “piece of cake”. Opposing and enforcing people’s choices is confrontational. Getting out of their way is Non-Resistance, and works a lot better.

Instead of trying to control others, we should just accept that other people will often make different decisions than we ourselves would make. We may disagree with them, but we don’t have the right to make their decisions for them, even “for their own good”.

It’s truly tragic that citizens and lawmakers don’t understand the principles of Hapkido. Controlling people is rarely effective, because people are like water – they cannot be stopped entirely or forever. Even the biggest dam will fail with time, as repressive governments worldwide have discovered. Non-Resistance is better. We would all benefit if our policymakers understood this as well as Hapkido students do.