Taekwondo Ego …….!!!!!!! Who Me????

We all know the best part of the martial arts journey, is the training. That addictive buzz when your energy is running through you, you’re in peak shape and the confidence levels soar.  I was coach once at a Clash of the Titans event, one of the UK’s prestigious competitions, (and due to be held very soon again in Huddersfield on Saturday November 12th) and I was fortunate to have a team of black belts who were seasoned competitors and well up for competition. I was the owner of a  Taekwondo Academy and a regular columnist with MAI magazine based in the UK and MA Success a trade mag, based in Oklahoma USA. The local newspapers had press releases on my behalf and all was well in my confidence department.

But I had a bit of an ego…worse still, I was not aware of it. In fact, I thought that if I trained very hard for over twenty years, got all my Dan grades, won many trophies and trained more black belts to be great fighters, then I earned my due share of ego. Had you told me, my instant and defensive reply would be that this was my unstoppable confidence and not ego. I put it down to immaturity, now that I look back.

I bring this subject up because last week,  I saw one of my black belts, who is physically excellent in all he does, recently walk past and ignore a lower ranking belt and swagger on by with matching egotistical body language. No bow, no salute and no smile, handshake, greeting or recognition of the lower grade. It happened twice on the same night. Now this guy trains very hard, he is a good solid black belt and is admired by his peers.

My response to his bad manners is for myself to take some responsibility for his shortcomings. If I am his role model, either I still have a big ego and he copied my actions, or I as an instructor, did not impress upon him (enough) or implement in my class, that character development that goes hand in hand with martial arts physical development…

We know there is a fine line between having an ego and a healthy state of confidence. When we are at the top of our physical game, people look up to us, admire us and try and emulate our ways. They hang on what we say, and how we say it. At Black Belt level, we forget what is was like to be a green belt. What could be a casual, throwaway comment during training, or in a dressing room, in a phone call, a text, an e mail, a joke in the car park, could be devastating blow for a beginner or any intermediate student. A jibe or a judgement from the mouth of the over-inflated ego, especially a black belt, could and often does, end the dream of someone not so physically fortunate.


Taekwondo as taught by the late General Hong Hi stresses moral culture. The five tenets of courtesy integrity, perseverance, self control and indomitable spirit, are known to every practitioner. What is also stressed is that a high degree of etiquette is expected inside and outside the dojang. As well as public service in the community, the student learns humility, comradeship, tolerance and a sense of generosity. Karate followers worldwide see Karate as a deeply philosophical study as well as the physical training. Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi said “The greatest battle lays not in victory or defeat but in the development of one’s character”. Ip Man the Wing Chun guru, issued a code of conduct emphasizing followers become “better human beings” and hold themselves to be responsible for their actions and help the weak in society and to use their skills to improve humanity.

For many, today brings increased struggle and perhaps increased responsibility in these fast changing and unpredictable times. We can get rid of the egotist from our training hall and tell him we disapprove of his actions, or much harder to do, we can stop judging him, help and forgive him, look beneath the layers of his personality and ask ourselves, did we fall into the same trap ourselves at some time. When we look at our transgressors, we see that they are our best teachers. We eventually see that they are indeed very like ourselves. Because after many years training I am convinced we are all connected anyway, and that is why the greats emit non judgement. We correct his technique, so why not give him better examples of how to behave in a more productive way towards his fellow man.

We all have an ego to some degree. If we can be aware of its existence we can tame it. We must train as hard and as smart as our bodies allow, but do it as much for ourselves as well as others. The next time you are in the company of a great human being you will see humility first hand, feel peaceful and contented in their presence and remain energised long after they are gone.

Frank Murphy – November 2011.

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