How do I find a good Hapkido club or instructor?
There are many good Hapkido organisations around the world, there are also many poor ones. The first thing to consider is the instructor. To learn properly you must trust and get on with them. If you have reservations about them personally that is not the club for you.
The traditional rank for a qualified Hapkido instructor is 4th dan black belt, this normally takes at least ten years training. Black belts of a lower dan can teach and often teach well. They can only do so though under the supervision of a 4th dan (or higher) instructor who they should have regular contact with. This ensures proper oversight and maintains technical quality. All HIA instructors are supervised by a 4th dan instructor and also receive training from Grand Master Kim (9th dan) several times each year. A confident, qualified instructor will not hesitate to answer questions like how long have you been training, who is your teacher, what ranking do you hold? As a beginner it is not rude to ask such questions.
The club atmosphere is equally important, you must feel comfortable. Some clubs are very sociable, others can have an air of egotism or arrogance among their members. A good way to get a feel for the instructor and club atmosphere is to visit and watch a class, then participate in a trial class before committing large amounts of money.
The third consideration is that of technique. While a novice does not know the difference between good and bad Hapkido technique some things are obvious. A legitimate organisation should be issuing black-belt certificates from one of the major Korean Hapkido organisations e.g. Hapkido Moo Moo Kwan, the oldest and one of the largest federations in Korea, the Korea Hapkido Federation and International HKD Federation are other examples. The instructor should hold such certification. Beware of schools or organisation that issue their own unaffiliated certificates to their members and instructors.
Be extremely cautious of those instructors making extraordinary claims such as 9th, 10th, or even 11th dan black belt. Such ranks are very rare in the world. Some less than reputable instructors have been known to start their own federation and as the founder seem to believe they can award themselves such high ranks. This practice is not legitimate. A 9th dan rank indicates the founder/head of a significant Hapkido organisation but this rank is not self-appointed, it is granted by a panel in Korea and takes several decades of training and commitment to Hapkido.
Hapkido is becoming a very popular martial art due to the wide range of skills taught. As a result people with a background in a wide range of different martial arts often piece together their own syllabus and then use the Hapkido name for commercial purposes. These instructors are often jacks of all trades and a master of none. Hapkido is a unique martial art in it's own right. It is not a patchwork of Judo, Taekwondo, Karate or other martial arts.
Instructors teaching these mongrel martial art systems usually have a poor understanding of the true Hapkido principles or techniques. Beware of instructors who have gained their Hapkido black-belt by video correspondence courses. This also breeds a poor understanding of the techniques. To be practiced properly (and safely) Hapkido should be studied under the direct supervision of the instructor.
Due to their common Korean ancestry, it is very common for Taekwondo instructors to pick-up a few Hapkido techniques and introduce it to their clubs as Hapkido training. Hapkido is too vast and complex to successfully teach it without studying it in full. Beware of Taekwondo instructors who try to teach Hapkido without having first studied the whole Hapkido system and it's principles which are very different to Taekwondo concepts. Taekwondo and Hapkido can be studied concurrently but it is not an easy conversion for an instructor.