Media News

A RETIRED ROOFER from Dublin has become the first European man – and only the eighth in the world – to be ranked as an international Taekwon-do grandmaster.

Robert Howard, 72, received his rank as ‘Saesong’ – the Korean word for grandmaster – at the 17th International Taekwon-do Federation world championships in Pyongyang, North Korea, last week.

His new rank is the equivalent of a ninth-degree black-belt – the uppermost of the nineteen different belt rankings. Grandmasters must hold a black belt for a minimum of 35 years – and in many cases for significantly longer – before being considered for the top ranking.

Howard has been a black-belt since 1971, and started his martial arts training in 1966. He was originally trained by another grandmaster, Rhee Ki Ha.

“I’m so honoured to be promoted to Grandmaster by the ITF,” Howard said.

“When I started in Taekwon-Do back in the sixties I never thought I’d be still training today, and still with my original instructor Grandmaster Rhee Ki Ha.

“Perseverance is one of [Taekwon-do founder] General Choi’s five tenets and I’ve always tried to live by them.”

Howard still trains and teaches at his own school in Cabra, and has trained hundreds of black-belt practitioners throughout his time training in Ireland.

Because of his prolific training career, many of the 10,000-or-so Taekwon-do students in Ireland can trace their training to Choi, considered by the ITF to be the founder of the art, and who died in 2002.

His trainer, Korean grandmaster Rhee Ki Ha, is 73 years old and is considered the father of the sport in Ireland, having brought the sport to Ireland and Britain in the 1960s.

The Dubliner – a retired roof-tiler – first came to fame in 1973, when he broke his hand live on national TV while trying to break tiles on the Late Late Show.

He told Morning Ireland this morning that while he would routinely be able to break 10 tiles at once in his younger days, he is still comfortably able to smash six.