So many students will enrol this January with the goal and the burning desire to become a Taekwondo Black Belt, and some will be willing to go through the hardship and discipline to be a really great one. With modern scientific training methods, the potential is there for the black belt standard to be rising all the time. The modern day Taekwondo Black Belt, could and should be able to reach maximum potential within their own physical capabilities.

Everybody has the capacity to excel if they train their minds and bodies. My research shows that anything less than regular weekly physical training will not produce good results. This training can either be in a club or school or with a partner or sometimes alone. Average training and attendance simply will not do. If you want to learn the true meaning of commitment, with the information and facilities available today, failure to take a serious attitude to regular training is self-inflicted sabotage.

Is a Black Belt still seen by the general public as a symbol of expertise in the martial arts? What does it mean in 2012?

We have all known and seen Taekwondo Black Belts who can be good technically, but have weak ethics. Or we have seen the opposite, limited technical ability yet as black belts, good role models to us all. But who am I to judge? In fact, what does the black belt benchmark mean today? Is it just a physical standard, or much more than that?

Deep down we all want a good decent standard of Black Belt. We desire a traceable and credible line of instruction, where each promotion is open to transparency and accountability.

After receiving a Black Belt in Taekwondo from the founder General Choi in Dublin in 1977, my technical skills and ethical behaviour have run the entire gamut of training over the years. Looking back, I managed to have been fairly good, fairly bad, and a few times downright stupid in my training days both in body and spirit.

Now with over three decades being a Black Belt, and after thousands of training sessions, hundreds of seminars, lots of injuries, countless mistakes, as well as some dazzling career moves, here is my interpretation of what a Black Belt should aspire to in 2012.

This is based on my experiences and travels and on only my interpretation. If anyone out there reading this can give feedback and add comment for the overall Black Belt community, we all would benefit.



 I will begin by giving the example of my current physical training programme. Bear in mind that I am 56 years old so the earlier goal of being a scrum half for Ireland is now permanently shelved. This is not very difficult by any standards, so I try and make it fairly consistent.

Frank Murphy Tai ChiI try and rise early so that I train in the morning. Two exercises performed each day are the short Yang Tai Chi 24 form which takes only five minutes. If I am in the mood and if I have time I might do the same form two or three times. I then do about 30 minutes of stretching. Flexibility is important to keep the spine aligned and the hips mobile. For years I always did this for Taekwondo kicking and do some ballistic stretching on the larger muscle groups. After a few kicks, or cycling I do deeper passive stretches held for a minimum of one minute in each position. Only recently I discovered deeper hip stretching has a profound effect on your digestive system, particularly as you get older.

I lift weights every other day. I mainly do shoulder presses and bicep curls in my back garden, as I have an old set of dumbbells and a barbell all ready made up for these two exercises. I also do chin ups from a crossbar that is part of my kids swing. I can only do 8 good chin ups on the first set, then it decreases to 6 and 4 reps after that. The biceps curls and shoulder presses are done for 4 sets of ten to twelve reps depending on my form.

For example the shoulder presses are 20 kg and I do these for 4 sets of ten reps each. I do these regardless of weather. These are my three weight training exercises that I do without fail. They are left at the end of the garden so I don’t worry about if they get wet or rusty. The main thing is that they are convenient. To build my legs I cycle 8 kilometers  three times a week. All the other resistance training I do is with only one 9 kg Kettle bell. I wear a strong belt for this. I do these mostly indoors. Again, I do very basic moves, especially the one where you use the legs, core and arms.

On a chair I do triceps dips and for my core, I do mostly two parts of a three part workout which is on the Kaizendo FitnessBlack Belt Syllabus. I will present this in another blog. We call this the Resistance Drill and do it sometimes with my classes. This again, is easy and you only need two 5 kg dumbbells. I get encouragement for weight training from two of my Black Belts, former world power lifting champion Petra Stumpfova and also from Declan O Sullivan. He is keen on Kettle bells so his enthusiasm is great. Patrick Goulding another instructor works in a gym and he told me recently that a farmer, well into his sixties took to weights and he made the bodybuilders in the gym look on in awe, as he easily lifted hefty weights with ease. I mention this because we need inspiration and hearing about this farmer really inspired me to train more with weights.

Training in the company of others who share inspiring stories, and who are better than myself at certain aspects of training all help.

I try and spar or do boxing at least once a week. Here we try and cover three rounds of Boxing and drills where we limit the jabs or use some other handicaps which limit the crosses. I would advise to try and spar with someone who will push you in sparring. Sparring with a partner who goes for four minute rounds of light contact will do wonders for your overall technique and development.

You tend to be more able to try out a lot more technique when the level of contact is light and the amount of time is at least 3 minutes or longer. Also, I spar using protective equipment, where you can spar a bit harder without the risk of too much injury. Do this kind of training at least once a week with a partner who will push you. Also try sparring with your hands and feet, allow foot sweeps and also just Boxing. Boxing is really great as it is close range and you will take some shots no matter how good you are. We also do Trapping and  combination drills on the Thai Pads. It is here too we do that resistance drill I mentioned earlier. We also have more time to do the short 24 form of Yang Tai Chi.

At the weekends, with some Taekwondo friends, I manage some sparring with hand and foot protection, but have noticed my reaction time especially in relation to kicking range has slowed. While this got to me at first, I then started to put attention to areas that I still can develop. You adapt with age.

On Tuesdays, I teach mainly Black Belts and try and keep up with the pace of the class, which usually lasts for 90 minutes. We do this twice a month. We always begin with 3 minutes of skipping and aim to do this bang on 7 o clock. This training varies. Like we perform certain kicks or kick and punch combinations to the clock.

For example, I do 12 Axe kicks, preceded with a half switch in 30 seconds, or 88 front kicks in one minute. Or 30 press ups in 30 seconds or 45 Degree half skip turning kicks in one minute.

We use a matted floor and this is great for very basic grappling flow drills like escaping from different mounts. An example would be applying a scarf hold and getting out of it. Some longer routines like working the core will take about 8 minutes and all this use of the clock makes us stay focused on keeping some order in our classes. Each night we do a few rounds of Boxing and if we don’t, we will do sparring drills. We all wear a uniform, recite a student creed, and address each other as Sir/Ma’m or Miss and bow to each other as we start and end each exercise. We finish with stretching and sometimes a move form Tai Chi like cloud hands, or brush knee step in a wide stance in a stationary position.

Discipline is balanced with just a tiny bit of wit and mild slagging or winding up matches at times when we lose the run of ourselves. Anyway remember, if I said it once, I will say it a thousand times, we all must have some element of fun and laughter especially when training fairly hard. The times I do not teach publicly, I work out with some private clients, as they have done some martial arts or boxing previously.

To complement my training, I network with a variety of individuals, some of whom are not martial artists but nonetheless keep my interest up on the physical side of training. I try and get away either to attend seminars, mostly in the UK, at least two or three times a year to keep up with changing times. This is either to participate in, or give seminars to different organisations and I view all this activity as physical training.

I recommend all Black Belts balance this type of training with some Yoga, Stretching, Tai Chi and definitely do some Meditation. Yes, mediation is important.

In General Choi’s Taekwondo Manual (1972 edition) Page 273, it shows students meditating after training. This was always part of training before, but modern timetables do not allow for this valuable exercise. My advice is to do it privately, at least try it out for a few weeks. Grab a few short minutes by yourself and shut down the inner dialogue for a tiny fraction of your day. Keep this as a special and unannounced treat, just for you to connect with that part of you where your deepest awareness resides. The benefits in energy levels alone greatly outweigh the investment. I have not yet, met any well respected high ranking and competent martial artist, musician, business person or evolved prolific individual who does not meditate in some way.

Anyway that is my physical training schedule and younger folk will obviously do a lot more. Most Black Belts find the physical training more than enough to satisfy their needs, and this is fine. They are content with that and have any mental side of their training a private affair. Personally I could not do this, but again this is only my opinion and based on my experience. Everyone is different and thank God for that.

In this next piece of this blog, you might want to put on a cup of tea, coffee or mild stimulant as I will present what I believe is necessary to be well rounded  Black Belt in 2012.



To have been awarded a Black Belt, and continue to enjoy training today more than ever before, is for me a blessing. In Ireland, the UK and Australia, I have promoted, or jointly promoted within various organisations 1,322 people to the rank of 1st degree black belt, and above both in Taekwondo and more recently in Kaizendo. I find it rewarding and a huge responsibility in equal measure. I have read many articles and books on the subject of what a Black Belt means, had the privilege of writing for two excellent martial arts magazines, Martial Arts Success for the American based MAIA, and the long standing and brilliantly consistent Martial Arts Illustrated.

I have been fortunate to have trained with, and talked at length, with some truly great custodians of the coveted Black Belt. To have rubbed shoulders, traded leather and drank from the same trough as Teh Hock Ann, TK. Loh, Ernie Reyes Senior, Hee Ill Cho, Tom Callos, Shabir Akhtar, Aiden Walshe, Gerry Martin, Brendan ‘O Toole, Tommy Barry, Frankie Barrett, Norman Creedon, Geoff Thompson, Steve Sharkey, Ted Hopwood, Bob Sykes and many more, left a lasting impression on me since my early training days. Their ages range from forty five years to their late fifties and all are still active in some way.

I was always keen to understand what kept these guys going for so long, what were their hardships? What did they find tough? Did they ever think of giving up? Apart from all having a sharp wit (off stage anyway) what else did they share in common?  I wanted to find a holy grail to what collectively it meant for folk like them to be a Black Belt. The following is only my opinion.

A Black Belt must take massive responsibility to wear the belt. There are no excuses today for not being healthy and fit. In every class, or setting that you tie that belt around your waist, start with a smile and be grateful that you have another opportunity to push yourself and grow, to face some fear and some discomfort. You are unique; you have your own mind and body. Set your own targets and challenge yourself with every drill and exercise for the full class. Perseverance, first impressions, respect, humility, gratitude, honesty, the control of your thoughts and actions, and development of your self spiritually are all on the Black Belt list.

Anchor all these traits, into your character firmly when you snap to attention. These positive traits will, over time, become habitual. When you recite the student creed, or the tenets, you promise to take responsibility for your actions, and to live by these profound principles.These rituals when taken on board will push your body to its maximum potential regardless of your age or you’re past efforts. Because your past does not equal your future, what you do next is completely new.

I find this one of the most positive thoughts ever to come out of this past half century, first introduced by Anthony Robbins. What immense emotional fuel and personal power we can get from this profound statement. It means we can keep on trying every second on our existence.

So why not choose to be at your best at every attempt at of technique and training? Why not try and conquer yourself and be in control of your destiny. When you condition your thoughts and your perseverance level, and take these rituals of training with you to every session, you are nearing your true potential.

Train your body language, eye contact, your outer and inner voice together as one entity.

These mental techniques will, I have no doubt, develop your confidence, you will trust your intuition every time you do it, every time you try it, and begin to make the difficult decisions, to always do what is right and not what is, or may be, convenient.

That intrinsic value you place on that Black Belt, which you wrap around your waist, will be with you in every training session from now on. So forget your past, from NOW onwards. Training is about shaping your character, every one of the great masters cite this as their main reason for training. Google all the founders of the main martial arts and see for yourself that character education, healing, mind and body total evolvement of the human was the key in all the original founders. From Yip Man to Funakoshi and even well before their time and I have never found a guru or master advocating competition with our fellow man as a solid and long lasting reason for training in martial arts.

Yes, it is tough leaving the comfort zone, and embrace our changing times. After 37 years I still find it a struggle. I still find it hard and indeed a very hard grind sometimes. Facing a cold wet night in winter, loading the boot of the car with kit, going into the same training venue, turning the same keys in the same doors, sparring and holding air shields for the same partners, and doing the same techniques, no matter how well disguised, is not for the faint hearted. By the time I meet up with my fellow instructors at the end of the week, I disguise my tiredness, but rejuvenate once we get through that first round.

The price of achieving your full human potential and development and a higher level of awareness are very high. It may well be unaffordable to those who balk at countless repetitions of the same techniques. It may not be available to those who may have the word “boring” in their vocabulary. Yes, a massive sacrifice because when you get to the Black Belt your margin for improvement is small. In fact there are times when you seem to be going backwards. This pressure to seek some kind of technical improvement gets even tighter when the body clocks up four or five decades.

If you are an Instructor as well, on top of this you must be in good form, be the role model, and rarely if ever, give into any mild illness, so you maintain constant optimum health and leave your troubles, complaints, judgements and moans at the door.

The good news in all this is growth. The return is savage habitual discipline, an unstoppable confidence, an outgoing personality, a giving nature all bringing and accelerating positive growth. You see hardship and seeking to maintain yourself physically in such uncomfortable places, but in such a determined frame of mind, will help you grow.

Now in our modern world we can squeeze in some extra training in daily activities. Here are some of the things that might warrant those people in white coats calling round to my house, so some discretion is appreciated if you happen to bump into me out walking. I sometimes wear leg weights when I have to nip into town and park in the highest car park so I walk further or climb the highest stairs when I return. When I walk the kids to school or out walking most places I will try a few deep breaths and this again is a simple little technique that has a good effect on the abdomen. The amount we eat is important too. Try to push the plate away before feeling full and try and cut out any food like a few sweets that you might think are no harm. It all adds up.

On good days, I will do one extra rep if I can, train with the person who will challenge me, and each time I write a blog, make it as though it was my last (ha ha!). So why do all this ? So I can keep growing, so I feel like an excited white belt again,

Remember when you bought the first Dobuk or Karate uniform? How you  folded it, ironed it and couldn’t wait to wear it?  Most of us couldn’t wait to get that first colour belt around our waist.

When you return to your training this year, or if you are new to the martial arts, a warm welcome. It can be tough mentally, physically and emotionally. But here is the gem, always have just a tiny element of toughness in your training. Try and seek discomfort and welcome it. Your intuition like everything else will get sharper with practise and will guide you to train as hard as your body will allow.

For just these few tiny levels of hardship you will always be growing. You can therefore begin applying this attitude to further growth in other areas of your life. In learning another language, writing a book, repairing some past relationship that may appear doomed to silence, or changing a career. When you are having a challenging day or few days learn to see to lesson in the discomfort.

Look, all this is not something I made up and yes, it appears a bit hairy, a bit unusual by normal standards to deliberately seek elements of discomfort as methods of growth in your life – But they work. This attitude works for me and I see it working for others, and so it will work for you. If you want to be a good black belt, fine. Average is fine and normal. However, if you want to be a great black belt, you do not want the words ‘average’ and ‘normal’ to define you. They are just not in the psyche of leaders and role models.

OK, still with me? Here are more recommendations. Those dogged sessions, with those awkward, sparring partners, those extra few reps on that barbell, that ten extra steps in that freezing car park, those times you pushed that plate away, times you did not judge – It all adds up.

A great black belt travels a lonely road. When procrastination and convenience, and a host of hidden emotional demons threaten your development, when things are not going your way, when friends let you down, when the smallest injury cries out as a valid reason to quit a planned session, well, it is these tiny decisions that will define the difference between good & great.

Yes folks, welcome to the road less travelled. I intend to be on this road for 2012. I hope you can join me because I won’t make it alone, and I will struggle keeping the buzz going all the time. I still have inner opponents and demons who try to side-line me. So support me if I stagger at times. I want to grow and develop and help a lot more people in 2012. I want to double my failure rate because I will attempt more things. I could if I like, follow the crowd to easy street, and I probably will on a few times I need to rest because rest is important. It’s not lonely there on easy street, it’s warm, and safe and there is no rejection or discomfort. Oh yes, it is very normal and average abounds. Sadly there is no growth there and at 56 years I feel the best is yet to come. Oh, and when that grim reaper gets to my file and holds up my C.V. I hope he struggles with the weight of it because I intend to have tons more experiences and blogs to go into it yet. If you are willing to make a few small sacrifices, you can join me too in growth and being the best you can be now in 2012.

Still reading ? Ok just a bit more… When you tie that hopefully well worn belt around your waist, remember a big smile and then give a silent moment of thanks. Give sincere thanks for all you have in your life right now. Black Belt thinking is to make a blessings list every morning you wake and at night before you sleep. Focus on what is good and great right now in your life and more and more of good and great will continue to show up in your life. In doing this, you’re moving on that road to evolvement with some degree of acceleration.

Educate yourself and keep an open mind. Mix with Black Belts of other styles and learn not just their physical techniques but also their habits, training rituals and cultures. You will find that we are all related and connected, breathing the same air,  sharing the same emotions, strengths and frailties. As a Black Belt, believe in yourself, and your own values.

Frank Murphy in the SunSo in conclusion, a great black belt trains to their maximum potential, regardless of ability or disability, both physically and mentally as long as the style they choose allows them to do so. The definition of a good or a great black belt varies from individual to individual, depending on their personal values and beliefs, and people are free to express their opinions.

Thank you for taking the time to allow me to share these thoughts with you. I hope it brought a smile to your face and wish you an exciting year ahead.

Happy New Year for 2012, safe and happy training.


Frank Murphy.






  • Truly inspirational. Thank you Master Murphy.

    • Master Frank Murphy says:

      Hi Sir,

      Thank you for the feedback. Glad you enjoyed it, and hope it will aid your progress.

      Best wishes too for 2012.
      Frank Murphy.

  • richard daly says:

    super blog and post and some “food for thought” for us all as we begin 2012 – thank you

    • Master Frank Murphy says:

      Thanks Richard,
      I appreciate it,
      Hope to catch up with you in about a week,in Cyrils place,training or even a meeting or whatever..Anyway its your turn to buy the coffee!!!!!.

      regards and all the best for 2012 to all your gang.


  • ian donnelly says:

    Hi Frank,

    Great article and I love the fact that you adress the individual and do not preach the doctrine of any particular “governing body”. The development and improvement of your self firstly is the key to success physically and mentally. Without personal satisfaction, improvement, development you stop.

    Meditation, my alter ego is as a musician and before my shows I meditate. I dont sit in a quite room and stare at a candle. Its time where I tell myself why I am about to do a great show, like I would tell myself before a tae kwondo competition why I should win and be the best.

    I´m sure you will have a great year and look forward to seeing you in Portugal.

    ian donnelly

    • Master Frank Murphy says:

      Hi Ian
      many thanks for the kind words, I got mighty positive feedbank from the blog, and mostly from Black Belts like yourself. This was something that I had time to do over the Christmas, and God help me to get another like it at the end of January. Trouble, when you get so much positive feedback you better be ready to back it up, in more ways than one. Looking forward to seeing you as I visit Lisbon on March 26th for a week. If we could meet up it would be great, and you could show me a few chords, I have four now. I posted that book today, so between the Irish and Portuguese post you could be looking out for it in 2013, ha, ha,

      Until then Ian take care


  • Derry McCarthy says:

    Hi Frank,
    Inspiring stuff. Just want you to know the difference training with you has made to me,both physically and mentally. Loosing the pounds has been great, but feeling the years falling away has changed my life (sounds like bull but it’s true). I’m 47 years old(nearly 48!) and a Red Black and enjoying every training session like it’s my first. Looking forward to 2012 and the chance to lay my sweaty hands on a coveted Black Belt in Kaizendo presented by Master Frank Murphy himself. As I’ve said to you before..I’ll go as far as I can…as fast as I can…for as long as I can! Thanks.
    Derry McCarthy

    • Master Frank Murphy says:


      Thanks for the positive comments, and what a brilliant description,”lay my sweaty hands”. Your wit is second only to your perseverance. Hope your journey will continue after the Black Belt, as fast, as far, and as long…thanks again.


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