About the Instructor

Wael Abdelgawad, Hapkido instructor

Wael Abdelgawad

My name is Wael and I’m the founder of Hammerhead Hapkido. I have black belts in Hammerhead Hapkido, Kokodo Jujutsu and Shorin-Ryu Kempo.

In addition I have been studying Silat for many years, and Pekiti-Tirsia Kali since 2012. My past experience includes Shotokan Karate, Hwarangdo, and brief dabbles with Jeet Kune Do and Aikido.

I’m a writer and web developer, and a single parent raising a daughter. I consider martial arts to be a lifelong journey. I never stop learning. I enjoy teaching as well. It’s gratifying to see a student develop confidence and skill. I’ve had a few students who have used the skills I taught them to defend themselves. That’s very rewarding.

Martial Biography

I was born in Sacramento, California and grew up in Davis and Los Angeles. I began Shotokan Karate at the age of 14 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where my parents were working at the time. I used to literally hike across a few kilometers of open desert to attend classes at the university student gym. I know that sounds like a tall tale, but it’s true.

I also began boxing at that time and used to carry two pairs of gloves with me at all times in the hopes of convincing anyone I encountered to go a round with me. That may not have been very nice on my part, in retrospect.

I continued learning Karate in Fresno, California under the highly skilled instructors Stuart Quan and Greg Dow. Simultaneously I began studying HwaRangDo at the old location on Shields Avenue. Classes were rigorous and I often left with my arms and legs trembling from exhaustion.

I took a break from martial arts instruction in my 20’s, and instead practiced on my own and lifted weights. I returned to martial arts in my 30’s with Hapkido, studying with Erik Medeiros who was (and is) a student of Marc Tedeschi, author of the authoritative book on Hapkido, simply titled, Hapkido. I also attended San Francisco’s Korean Martial Arts Center on the weekends, learning from Grandmasters Jung, Forrest and Goldstein. On some weekends I traveled to Campbell, California to train under Master Kim of Eagle Talon Hapkido. Weekdays I met a Kali instructor at a park in Alameda and began my study of Filipino stick techniques.

I moved to Panama in 2005 and continued my study of Hapkido under Master Ramon Navarro. I also began learning Silat from an American who lived in a coastal town. We met for four-hour sessions every Saturday, in which I taught him and his son Hapkido and he taught me Silat. From that time on I have never ceased my study of Silat, whether through seminars, videos or training with my practice partners.

I returned to the USA in late 2008 and began teaching Hapkido formally at that time. At the same time I began studying Japanese Jujitsu and Okinawan Karate under Senseis Dave and James Olson, and eventually earned black belts in both arts. I continue to study those arts.

My study of Silat deepened and began to influence my Hapkido strongly. In recent years I’ve had the honor of attending seminars with Silat greats such as Maul Mornie and Dan Inosanto. I also resumed training in Kali under Philip Hartshorne, a student of Tim Waide, and continue to do so.

In addition I studied both Jeet Kune Do and Aikido for about six months. I found both arts interesting, but there was too much on my plate and I couldn’t keep up the scheduling demands of so many arts. I still hope to return to those two arts in time.

In 2013 I began the process of consolidating my Silat knowledge into Hapkido in order to produce a more effective and realistic style of Hapkido. From that, Hammerhead Hapkido was born.

Martial Philosophy

I don’t believe in “fighting”, for two reasons:

1. There’s always a chance you could lose, and if that happens you could be badly hurt, paralyzed or killed.

2. There’s enough suffering in the world already, without us bringing more pain into it.

I teach my students to attempt to resolve conflicts non-violently. There is no such thing as fighting for honor. Honor is something we carry within. It is based on our character, and how we treat others. Honor is found in sacrificing for our families, working hard, being honest, and treating people with compassion.

If someone verbally insults you, ignore it and walk away. If an idiot cuts you off in traffic, laugh it off. If someone challenges you to a fight, walk away. A person who behaves belligerently may be insecure, or may be suffering internally in ways we cannot see. We don’t need to add to that person’s pain by hurting them.

If someone is being physically aggressive with you – pushing or finger poking, for example – but it does not rise to the level of assault, and you don’t feel that an attack is imminent, walk away. Forget how it looks to others. The most important thing is that you return home safely to your family.

To me, this is non-violence.

What is an attack is imminent or occurring? What if the other person is a predator looking to rob, rape or kill?

That is when we move into action, holding nothing back, and using all our tools to defeat the attacker. We use dirty tricks, improvised weapons, and whatever we need to survive.

In class, our techniques are predicated on continuing until the attacker is incapacitated.

We train against all types of weapons, and against single and multiple attackers. We are always looking for ways to make our techniques more effective, because even though combat is a last resort, when it happens we want to win. If only one person can walk away, we want to make sure it’s us.

Hapki! (harmonious energy)

Wael Abdelgawad, Founder
Hammerhead Hapkido
Fresno, California

“At this point in my life, after practicing for nearly forty years, I think of my own martial arts practice as a kind of undifferentiated budo or moodo, that is martial art in itself. I am interested in developing core skills – using space, capturing the opponent’s mind, breaking posture and balance, angles of attack and entry, efficiency of movement, leading momentum, and transferring energy to the target. In my own practice and teaching, I find myself drawing on the lessons from many martial arts, from Karate to Hapkido to Aikido to Silat.”
– Michael Partie, instructor at the at the Korean Martial Arts Institute in Kennett Square, PA, USA.


  1. Hi Wael

    I came across your website today and noticed that you trained in Hwa Rang Do for a year. Did you train Hwa Rang Do in Fresno? I was just curious as I too have trained in Hwa Rang Do in Fresno and was wondering if we have met or crossed paths.

    Take care


    • Hi Josh. As I mentioned to you by email, yes, I trained in Hwa Rang Do in Fresno back in the 80’s, when there was a dojang on Shields Avenue. The training was intensive. We’d do breakfalls until we could hardly stand; forward rolls back and forth across the room until we lost our balance. I was in my teens and in good shape, but when class was over my muscles would be trembling. I’d go to drive home and my hands were trembling from exhaustion as I held the wheel. Good stuff.

  2. Hello Wael,

    What do you recommend for a child that has yellow belt on karate, ten years old? He hasn´t practiced it on the last year but thinking on reconnecting to martial arts soon.

    Thank you,


    • Hello dear María,

      Well, it depends on what his goal is through martial arts, and what your goal is for him. If it is for exercise and fitness, then any art is good. For self-defense, I recommend Japanese Jujitsu, Hapkido, Krav Maga, Muay Thai or boxing. Karate is good too, there is nothing wrong with it, but some karate schools teach the art in a very elementary, watered-down way.

      Personally I think Hapkido and Jujitsu are both excellent arts, and I believe Jujitsu in particular has a heavy presence in Europe.

      My best wishes to you and your son.


  3. Thank you very much.

    Taekwondo, Aikido and Karate are the most popular here, I will search for information about Hapkido and Jujitsu, listening to you, the most important to me right now it is to find someone with the same foundations you have to teach him. I like the way you phocus the teaching of a martial art.


    • Between Taekwondo, Aikido and Karate, I would choose Karate. But the instructor is often more important than the art. Watch a class. If the children look excited and engaged, and if the instructor seems to care whether the students are learning, then it’s a good school.

  4. I was taking him to a good teacher in a martial arts gymn(dojo), she was very commited to the kids, he went there 2 years, but he doesn´t want to go there any more, that is why I was trying to look for new avenues, but thinking on the tip you mentioned, I noticed that with the instructor that is teaching on my son´s school, he has many children and they are all engaged, he may not accept him this season(just May) but if I don´t find anything else I can talk to him on September.

    Thank you very much Wael, you have helped me a lot.

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