student Rocco Napoli earned his black belt ranking from Palm Beach Combat
Hapkido in Wellington last Thursday after a test including fending off a variety
Hapkido is a Korean martial art primarily for self-defense that employs joint locks, pressure points, throws, kicks and other strikes. Napoli demonstrated his skills in self-defense against a number of opponents, some of them armed with weapons.
The 29-year-old Napoli will now teach as an assistant to instructors Ramon Voils and Gil Levin, who conduct Palm Beach Combat Hapkido classes at the Wellington Recreation Center. All three studied under Randy Kirkby, a combat Hapkido master instructor with 33 years of martial arts experience.
Kirkby still instructs students occasionally in Wellington, where Voils and Levin moved the studio at the beginning of this year because of demand for classes. Kirkby said combat Hapkido isn’t a dazzling martial art involving tournaments and competition, but a practical self-defense system for ordinary people.
“It’s personal self-defense,” Kirkby said. “It’s not flashy. It’s hardcore self-defense. We apply scientific principles to make people aware of predators and avoid confrontation. We train you to go into automatic when everything else fails.”
Kirkby studied under Grandmaster John Pelligrini, who created the Combat Hapkido discipline after years studying Korean hapkido styles.
“I started with him around 1990,” Kirkby said. “We had joint schools together. He developed his system on a worldwide basis. There are 15 countries that teach his style. He’s been recognized by the Korean government.”
Of about 100 schools teaching Pelligrini’s methods in the United States, there are about five in Florida. “We’re the only one in West Palm Beach, and the next closest one is in Coral Springs,” Kirkby said.
Combat Hapkido teaches people how to confound their attackers using the element of surprise. “We teach people how to run away,” Kirkby said. “We teach them how to use a surprise strike to buy time so they can leave the scene. We teach them how to take an opponent down so he won’t have the capacity to chase you. You drop him to the ground and momentarily disorient him.”
Kirkby said Combat Hapkido stresses teaching people how to disarm their attackers of traditional weapons such as knives, guns and everyday objects. “How many people are killed today with non-lethal weapons? The number of baseball bats or sticks being used against people is increasing,” he said. “Kitchen knives and other household items are used every day to hurt people.”
The discipline’s focus on defense and not aggression is also practical, Kirkby said, because someone who acts in self-defense but takes it too far may be perceived as the aggressor.
“Unless they have a weapon, you will end up in court, and that is not what this is about,” Kirkby said. “It’s about protecting yourself. You should only be applying the amount of force to stem the situation from accelerating into something out of control. You don’t want to hurt someone. You want to make them back off. If you need to break someone’s arm, wrist, foot or shoulder joint, we teach you that. It’s not something you want to do unless you have to.”
Hapkido classes often attract a lot of women and children, Kirkby noted. “One of our favorite topics is women’s self defense,” he said. “Why should women be more victimized than men? They don’t have to be. I used to teach abused women’s programs in Palm Beach County. It leaves a mental scar.”
For more information about Palm Beach Combat Hapkido classes, call Wellington Recreation at (561) 791-4005. To reach Instructor Gil Levin, call (561) 818-5537. To reach Instructor Ramon Voils, call (561) 644-1605. For more information about hapkido, visit the International Combat Hapkido Federation at www.ichf.com.