Belfast Telegraph

Martial arts honour for Irishman

A 72-year-old Irishman has become the first European inducted into a prestigious martial arts hall of fame in communist North Korea.

Pensioner Robert Howard, now a grandmaster, travelled to Pyongyang to be awarded the ninth degree black belt in taekwon-do.

He is one of nine people in the world with the title Sasung, and has been ranked number eight overall.

Grandmaster Howard, a retired roofing contractor from Dublin renowned for smashing tiles, said he was honoured to receive the accolade.

"In the Guinness Book of Records this is the most lethal form of self defence because it can kill," he said.

"Over the years other martial arts have been watered down a bit but you still do the breaking of tiles and sparring in taekwon-do - you toughen the hands and punch the wall."

Two-fingered press-ups are a regular training exercise.

Grandmaster Howard took up the Olympic sport - created by South Korean army General Choi - in 1966 and within five years became one of the first Irish men to reach black belt standard. He won two silver medals in the 1978 world championships in Oklahoma.

"When I started in taekwon-do back in the 60s I never thought I'd be still training today, and still with my original instructor, Grandmaster Rhee Ki Ha," he said.

"Perseverance is one of General Choi's five tenets and I've always tried to live by them."


From Belfast Telegraph