Pushing Harder Isn’t Enough

When I was coming up in Hapkido, I struggled a great deal when working with opponents bigger and stronger than I was.  I had a lot to prove! I was getting messages from my instructor that women were a group who needed more confidence, a group who underestimated ourselves.  And the most dominant narrative of our practice was self-defense against rape.  It wasn’t just a leg sweep, it was a leg sweep or you’ll die!

And so the frustration of not being able to budge my bigger male partner in even a basic technique was so muuuuuuuch.  I wanted it to work! I wanted to show my fire! I wanted to flow and fight like a Hapkido tiger! But I couldn’t.  It just wouldn’t work.

At worst, I’d be singled out for being “too nice” in front of the whole class.  This just killed me because nice was the farthest thing from my mind.  At best, my kind male partners would offer the advice of, “you just need to push harder.”

Just push harder.

Just twist harder, just pull tighter, just be meaner, just be stronger.

But what if I am already twisting and fighting and pulling as hard as I can? What if I’m already giving it all I’ve got? What if this is as hard as I can go right now? I could work out and become stronger, yes! But I’ll never be stronger than everyone.  There will always be someone bigger.  Someone meaner.

The Path of Non-Resistance

Even though people were telling me to do it harder, Hapkido was showing me something different.  When I watched my favorite upper rank do things, they weren’t doing it hard. I could see their relaxation.  And the principles of Hapkido are these:

  • Circular Motion
  • The Water Principle
  • Non-Resistance

I searched hard in those principles for Push Harder.  It’s nowhere to be found in circular motion.  And water – it does not push harder, it is steady and continuous moving around and never wavering.  Perhaps fighting might with might could be found in the principle of Non-Resistance? Clearly not.

So despite what I was being told, I began to realize that success would not be found in pushing harder.  It wasn’t until one day after practice that I asked the right person at the right time.

“You’re Too Nice”

Is what he said to me.  But I said, no.   Everyone told me I was too nice (like it was a bad thing).  Everyone is telling me to push harder and be meaner, but I know that isn’t right. I know that’s not Hapkido.  How can I do these techniques without being stronger?  And then he understood my question, the question that had existed in all of my work since my first day, a question really that we should all always be asking in Hapkido.

And so instead of telling me to push harder, he began showing me what felt like little secrets.  Tiny locks to add to a basic grip against the big and stiff.  Sneaky pokes and points to motivate the uncooperative into movement.  New angles of attack.  Times when my short stature and low center of gravity became my greatest advantage.


After that day, things started getting better.  I couldn’t apply everything perfectly right away, but seemed to light up new pathways and give me more options.  Instead of beating incessantly at a door that would never budge, I could investigate other ways to get to where I was going.

And now? No one cares if I’m nice or mean.  I just do, and I do my best.  And even though working with larger partners is still the greatest challenge to my technique, I have no reason to worry.  I have it in myself, Hapkido has it in its principles the solution.  And I have so many more places to look.


These days I advise my lower-ranking partners from time to time: “If anyone tells you to just do it harder, or that you’re too nice? You come to me.”

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