Grand master Geoff Booth founded the International Hapkido Alliance 25 years ago and he celebrated the organisation’s anniversary with local members last Saturday.
The grand master owns the Complete Self-Defence school at Moorebank and established his own brand of Hapkido, called Kwan Nyom, which is taught in 50 martial-arts schools around the world.
The teacher, in his 50s, has committed most of his life to the art and is recognised as among the most travelled martial-arts seminar hosts in the world.
This year he spent six months teaching Hapkido to students in Thailand, Spain, Germany, Croatia, Holland, Romania, Morocco, Russia, Czech Republic, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, United Kingdom, United States, Mexico, Cuba, Portugal and New Zealand.
“I was on 70 flights this year – it gets a little crazy,” he said.
“On January 17, 1983, there were 19 people who met to create the alliance and of those 19 only seven are still active but we’ve grown to 7500 members in 12 countries.
“I have to travel every year to ensure quality standards are met.”
The grand master said his aim was to pass down his skills. He was honoured with a 10th-degree belt by the highly-regarded founder of the Hapkido style Sin Moo.
“It means high mind fighter. The founder is in his mid 80s and lives in Arizona. He was one of my teachers.
“He’s very down to earth but a very significant person in martial arts. There’s this awe around him.
“He was the chief bodyguard for the Korean president for 20 years. He’s taught the secret service in the US and he even went to Hong Kong to teach a bunch of movie stars, such as JackieChan and he’s fought BruceLee.”
He said he’s like the stereotypical martial-arts leader featured in movies.
“He sounds a bit like Yoda and has lots of wisdom. I’ve learnt a lot from him.
It was either home economics or martial arts at school. It wasn’t on my radar but I have a big mouth and got bullied for it so it was a match made in heaven.GEOFF BOOTH, Grand Master, International Hapkido Alliance
“When we were in the Blue Mountains I remember there was a time when he crouched down and was looking at a snail so I crouched down next to him and he said ‘Geoff, look snail.’ I’m trying to see what the relevance is and he says ‘people say snail is slow.’ Then he clicked his fingers near the snail and its head quickly moved into its shell and he said ‘they can be fast’. The idea is just because everyone thinks one thing, it’s not necessarily so.”
We asked Mr Booth how he found himself in the world of Hapkido and his response was simpler than expected. “I had a choice of home economics or martial arts at school 41 years ago.
“Before starting it wasn’t something on my radar but I have a big mouth so I used to talk my way into getting bullied so you could say it was a match made in heaven.
“I’ve trained in other styles of martial arts as well but I’ve mostly focused on Korean martial arts.”
He addressed some misconceptions. “A lot of people think martial arts is just about self-defence but that’s not true. There’s weaponry arts . . . and arts which are more about health.”
He said it’s important for everyone to know self-defence. And he remembered a specific time when he needed it. “I was involved in a group called the Guardian Angels who volunteered to do safety patrols around the neighbourhood. They watched out for the public’s safety and would do things like walk women to their cars.
“They still exist and are popular in the US. There were occasions where there were physical altercations I got involved in and it’s good to rely on martial arts training then.”
He plans to continue teaching Hapkido for as long as possible. “Our focus is to teach the highest-quality Hapkido we can. We want to teach practical techniques and what everyone can use to defend themselves.
“Self-defence is really based on techniques when you go beyond psychology. Even someone small can have leverage if they have the body mechanics. Size doesn’t matter if you understand the techniques. Some of the ideas are very simple but powerful.
“There’s certainly been many inspiring moments in my career. It might be something as small as helping someone to get techniques right. Or it can be teaching someone and helping them to get out of problems, like alcohol or drug addiction.”
Complete Self-Defence takes students from 3 to their early 70s and their staff teach in other Sydney schools, including at Parramatta and Wollondilly.