Ukrainian kozaks lived in the military settlements of Zaporizhia and other parts of “loca deserta”, and were the sovereign nation of the professional soldiers with a unique structure, spirit of freedom, and warrior culture. They were acting as a protecting barrier for the rest of Europe from the militant invaders from the east and south. Cossack settlements were the place where men who didn’t like the idea of becoming somebody’s slave could find refuge and freedom. From the 15th to the 18th century the Cossacks used to live almost surrounded by various enemies. Poland in the West, the Russian Empire in the North and the Tatars in the South – all of them considered the independent Ukrainian Cossack territory a part of their country. Permanent battle-readiness was the only possibility for the Cossacks to protect their beliefs and culture. The only way to bring up a real warrior was to train him from a young age.
More and more Ukrainian historians agree with Volodymyr Pylat’s idea that the combat hopak was the key element of this educational tradition. Its technical side is as rich as that of karate or judo. Still, continuous oppression didn’t let it survive as a martial art. The destruction of the “Sich” (the main Cossack settlement) by
Catherine the Great in 1775 marks the end of the Cossacks’ glorious history in general and the end of their martial tradition in particular.
Over the following century Ukrainians turned their knowledge into a new kind of art. The nation turned the combat hopak into a common dance.
In the March of 2008 the first school of Boyovyi Hopak in the United States was open. The martial art is taught as half and full contact combat, scimitar saber fencing, in addition to use of other ancient Ukrainian weapons – spys (spear), palycya (staff), tsip (threshing flail), kelep (warhammer), bardka (tomahawk), kosa (war scythe) and dovbnya (bludgeon). Boyovyi Hopak is a mixture of kicks and footwork from the hopak dance, the punches originate from Kyivan bare knuckle fighting; blocks and grappling stem from other ethnic Ukrainian sources. Despite the fact that Boyovyi Hopak originated centuries ago. it’s fully proven to work in present day situations.
Starting in 2009 our school has performed for many audiences in the Chicagoland area with several presentations aimed specifically at an audience which had no previous knowledge of this martial art. These audiences were seeing something like this for the first time. Venues include places such as the Ed Rudolph Velodrome and the Chicago Field Museum.