Owner Finds His Mojo in the Dojo

Sensei Frankie Tapia, 6th Dan Black Belt and highest ranking Shotokan karate instructor in Moore County. Maggie Beamguard/SLI


Insider Editor

In an unassuming brick storefront in Seven Lakes, Francisco Tapia stood sure and barefooted on the mat in the karate studio he owns. An enthusiastic crowd of supporters and students pressed the limits of the interior walls.

While his mentor and the day’s special guest, Sensei Tim Smith, addressed the crowd, Tapia, or Sensei Frankie as he is known by those in the room, untied the black belt he wore for the last six years. He flipped it around, revealing the brilliant red color symbolizing his promotion to 6th Dan Black Belt. With quick, expert motions he re-tied the belt.

Tapia received a certificate of the achievement from Smith, which he examined appreciatively for several moments before flashing it and a gentle and bashful smile to the cheers of admirers.

Earning this sixth stripe makes Tapia the highest ranking Shotokan karate instructor in Moore County.

The atmosphere within Goshin Dojo on June 1 felt full and celebratory. It was a day 23 years in the making. 

Sensei Tim Smith (left) and Sensei Frankie bow in respect during the promotion ceremony at Goshin Dojo in Seven Lakes on June 1. Maggie Beamguard/SLI

Years of Persistence

If all you know about karate comes from the 1984 “Karate Kid” movie starring Pat Morito as Mr. Miyagi and the then-teen heartthrob Ralph Macchio, you at least know patience and discipline are paramount lessons.

Earning the rank of 6th Dan Black Belt through the practice of Shotokan karate takes approximately 23 years. Promotion to this level takes persistence and dedication. 

Progressing from white, yellow, blue, green, brown and black belt ranks, students are tested on karate techniques, choreographed patterns of martial arts movements against an imaginary attacker, physical fitness, and in the upper ranks, sparring.

Students in the lower belt ranks can advance between training, testing and promotion for each new belt in as little as two months. However, as your rank progresses, so too does the time between testing. 

Tapia’s last promotion to 5th Dan Black Belt occurred in 2018.

“In order to achieve the rank of 6th Dan, I had to engage in a six-year personal growth journey which showcased my abilities as a Sensei: running a dojo, engaging with the community and providing programs which offer students the opportunities to explore martial arts in a structured and nurturing environment,” he said.

Kick Start

Tapia’s passion for the martial arts developed early. He recalls watching boxing matches and UFC fights with his family on weekends.

“Between rounds, my brother and I would clear out space in the living room and conduct our own version of what we just watched on the TV.

“My step-dad would hold hand pads up for us to practice our punches and kicks as well. I was doing this as far back as I can remember, and it is in those moments where my passion for martial arts took root.”

Tapia started taking taekwondo at 9 with his family in Aberdeen. When Smith opened the Goshin Dojo in Seven Lakes in 2001, the family transitioned to karate as some of Smith’s first students. 

When Tapia first stepped on the dojo mat all those years ago he sported the white belt of a beginner. “Between my mom, step-dad, brother and myself, we were at Goshin Dojo almost every day the doors were open,” he said. 

There, they learned Shotokan karate, a style focused on long, deep stances and powerful long range techniques developed by Gichin Funakoshi in 1928.

Sensei Frankie Tapia with his stepfather, Dee Chambers (left), mother, Dora Chambers and son, Oliver Tapia. Maggie Beamguard/SLI

Punching Up

Tapia practiced his craft as a traditional student for many years. His sensei, recognizing Tapia’s maturity, skill level and dedication to martial arts, invited him to become a senpai, or senior instructor.

But Tapia repeatedly turned down the opportunity. “I was just 15 years old and I just couldn’t get over the fear of being in front of a class and conducting lessons,” he said. 

After Smith’s fifth request, Tapia relented and accepted the honor.

This new leadership role required Tapia to punch up his leadership skills, including overcoming a bit of self-described stage fright. 

“I was extremely nervous on my first day so I made myself scarce and hid in the supply room ‘making copies’ when I should have been out on the mats leading warm-ups,” he said. “Sensei Tim had to come and find me and after some stern influencing, I made my way to the mats and that’s where I’ve been ever since.”

As his comfort level grew, Tapia began to see himself in this role for the long term. He particularly enjoyed watching the moments where things clicked for students who had been struggling with certain techniques and seeing the pride wash over them as they achieved their goals. 

Going Before

By 2005, Tapia earned his black belt under Smith and became a sensei himself. “Sensei” means “one who has gone before.” And in 2012, Tapia received the title of Shihan, meaning “Master or Expert Teacher.”

Shihan may be his true title, but he appreciates the affection with which his students call him “Sensei Frankie.” 

“I’m happy to hear those words and be referred to as Sensei, as the title of Sensei implies a close bond between student and teacher,” Tapia said. 

At just 20, Tapia purchased the dojo from Smith and remains its sole owner and operator.

As one of the most important people in Tapia’s life and a tremendous role model, Smith’s presence at Tapia’s promotion ceremony was especially poignant.

Prior owner of the dojo, Sensei Tim Smith, talks with a karate student at the promotion ceremony. Maggie Beamguard/SLI

“It’s such an honor to have him here with us today as we celebrate my promotion to 6th Don Black Belt, and I am beyond excited that Sensei Tim made the trip down from Tennessee to conduct this ceremony,” Tapia said. “He was there in the beginning, and it’s only fitting that he should be here 19 years later to hand me my sixth stripe.”  

Tapia is also grateful for his mom and step-dad who never let him quit karate. “There comes a time in almost every student’s life when he or she will feel the urge to quit. Karate is not easy. Karate takes heart and dedication,” he said.

Like most teens, he naturally wanted to hang out with friends rather than practicing kata on the mats at the dojo. But when he begged his parents to quit, they did not give into his pleas. He thanks them for maintaining the trajectory of his martial arts journey during those times he lost focus and wanted to quit.

What Goes Around

The one going before the students at Goshin Dojo is now Sensei Frankie. And it’s clear that there is more going on than imparting technique for strikes and blocks. The environment and teaching impart life lessons. 

As a student, Tapia said that karate built his confidence, self-discipline and coordination.

“I struggled with direction before I found karate, and once karate was in my soul, the direction of my life suddenly became clear. I had purpose, and I woke each morning with the knowledge that I wanted to make it a better day than yesterday, to work on the things I can control and to temper my responses to the things I cannot,” he said. “Karate teaches respect and in all things, respect is paramount.”

Sensei Frankie helps a student with their white belt, the entry level belt rank for karate moments before he was promoted to 6th Dan Black Belt on June 1. Maggie Beamguard/SLI

So as an instructor, it is rewarding to hear from parents about the ways their children grow and progress while learning karate.

“As an instructor, having parents tell me how much more respectful their children have been since starting karate; how they have embraced responsibility, improved their grades and taken to direction in a more enthusiastic manner is truly one of the proudest moments for me as a Sensei,” he said. 

Finding Mojo at the Dojo

There are plenty of opportunities to learn from Sensei Frankie. “We have something for everyone here at Goshin Dojo,” he said. 

In addition to karate instruction, they offer Parent Nights’ Out, Kick Fit classes for adults and Nerf Nights when the dojo is transformed into a nerf battle ground. 

“Having built a solid student-body that is ever-growing, I am eager to continue to cultivate new ways in which the dojo can continue to be a beloved business in Seven Lakes,” Tapia said. 

Sensei Franki Tapia and some of his students following his promotion to 6th Dan Black Belt on June 1 at Goshin Dojo. Maggie Beamguard/SLI

He has watched the community grow over the last two decades.

“Having the dojo anchored at the one and only major intersection of our small town, I’ve had a front row seat to watch this little community really pop and flourish over the years,” he said.

Whenever he is out and about town, he sees current dojo families and former students home from college who are looking to start careers and families. “You just can’t put a price on that,” he said. 

“There’s a real sense of community in Seven Lakes and I’m more than grateful to be a landmark on the map in our small town. Those large K-A-R-A-T-E letters on the front of our building welcome everyone of any skill level to come inside and join us on the mats on a journey of self-discovery for physical, mental and spiritual health.”

Sensei Frankie displays his promotion certificate to 6th Dan Black Belt. Maggie Beamguard/SLI

The dojo is located at 4355 Hwy 211, Ste. E in Seven Lakes and can be reached at  910-673-5370 or goshindojo7lks@yahoo.com

Karate instruction is held Monday through Thursday from 4-7 p.m., Kick Fit classes run Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. and Saturdays at 9 a.m. Fridays are dedicated to Parents’ Nights Out, Nerf Nights and private classes with birthday parties, tournaments, black belt testing and special events on Saturdays.  

“Absolutely anyone and everyone of all ages and abilities can benefit from Karate,” said Tapia. “No previous experience is necessary, just bring a smile and a positive attitude and the sky’s the limit.”

Contact Maggie Beamguard at maggie@thepilot.com