Grandmaster Dave Wheaton is a revered instructor, who has taught and trained in the martial arts for well over 50 years. He was one of the founders of Santa Barbara Dojo (formerly Martial Arts Family Fitness) and is the founder of Hapkido International (1981). Below is a little bit of his story and his martial arts lineage.

Dave Wheaton began his training in 1966 at the age of 16 in the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do. Over the next few years, he studied a little Muay Thai, Aikido, and Judo. In 1970, Dave met his first true martial arts mentor, Grandmaster Yi, Tae Hee. GM Yi had been a Taekwondo Combat instructor in the Vietnam War’s Tiger Division, where he taught soldiers a very intense style of hand-to-hand martial art called Chung Do Kwan.

Dave trained, taught, and opened a few schools for Grandmaster in Connecticut until 1976 when he moved to the island of Oahu and began teaching Taekwondo at the University of Hawaii. While in Honolulu, Dave was invited to train an art called Hapkido under Grandmaster Sung Ok Hong, and found himself enthralled with the art. Grandmaster Hong was also an amazing instructor and gave his excited student as much knowledge as he could take in.

In 1981, Dave moved back to Seymour, Connecticut where he considered getting a “real job” in a chemical factory. However as luck would have it, Dave was offered an amazing opportunity to rent the same building that he once trained in under GM Yi. When he opened the doors, Dave found that the building had not been touched in all the years since he trained there. With GM Hong’s encouragement, Master Dave opened his very first Hapkido studio.

Referring back to his detailed notes from the days training in Hawaii, Dave began organizing a written, detailed Hapkido curriculum, eventually naming the blended art “Dynamic Circle Hapkido”.
Dynamic Circle Hapkido is a formidable system of self-defense that combines kicks, strikes, throws, takedowns, joint locks and, at higher ranks, weapons training. The emphasis of the art is on flowing seamlessly from one movement to another, and focusing Ki (Chi) energy with the body so that the student, regardless of size or age, can instinctively respond with the appropriate measure of force required.

By the late 80's GM Hong had closed his school, and Dave moved back to Oahu and opened up a Hapkido studio there. Dave was ranked a “Master” (5th Dan) by then, and he had incorporated fitness classes into his studio as well.

In 2012, Grandmaster Yi came to visit Master Dave’s school and at last was able to see his legacy continued on. GM Yi was very impressed by the Black Belt demonstration, noting that the Black Belts were good enough to work with the Secret Service that he had trained earlier in his career.

During the Belt Promotion ceremony, GM Yi surprised everyone by awarding Master Dave the certificate of 7th Dan Grandmaster. It was a powerful and humbling moment for the school, and even more so for Grandmaster Dave.

Grandmaster Dave currently holds multiple certifications and ranks, including:

  • 9th Dan Black Belt in Gene Hong Kwan Hap Ki Do
  • 8th Dan Black Belt in Chung Du Kwan Taekwondo
  • Appointed “Grandmaster” title under the World Taekwondo Chung Du Kwan Federation
  • 2001 Golden Lifetime Achievement Award by the World Karate Union Martial Arts Hall of Fame

As of 2023, Grandmaster Dave is mostly retired, but teaching privately.