The Legacy of Master Robert J. Clark

Korean Karate by Robert Jenkins Clark
Korean Karate by Robert Jenkins Clark

June 15, 2020 (Southampton, NY)–  The legacy of Master Robert J. Clark is significant on the spread of the art of  Taekwondo in the United States, yet most modern practitioners have never heard his name.   Born in 1913, he was a scholar and athlete, having earned a spot on the 1932 US Olympic Swim Team.  Dr. Clark was a military trained man, and in his travels came to be acquainted with Grandmaster Duk Sung Son, the world renowned Chung Do Kwan master.  Grandmaster Son was charged with teaching Taekwondo at the Military Academy at West Point, where Clark was a student, when the two men formed an unusual friendship.  This partnership would help solidify the place of Taekwondo in the United States. 

Southampton Taekwondo (circa 1986)
Southampton Taekwondo (circa 1986)

In the 1960’s Clark became one of the 1st nine (9) Black Belts issued by Grandmaster Son in the United States.  To put this monumental accomplishment in perspective, this achievement was at a time when westerners, simply, did not have access to training in the Eastern Arts.  The famous lore surround Bruce Lee’s death in the 1970’s was that he was secretly murdered for teaching Westerners the martial arts.   Lee’s death was more than a decade after Clark had earned his 1st Dan Black Belt from Grandmaster Son.Tae+Kwon+Do+Chung+Do+Kwan+patch+A

Dr. Clark went on to write two English textbooks, called “Korean Karate: The Art of Taekwondo”, and “Black Belt Korean Karate.”   The name Korean Karate was commonly used in Clark’s era, instead of Taekwondo, because of its greater linguistic familiarity to Westerners.  

As a professor and economist he traveled the United States, and the world, teaching, literally, thousands of students the ancient Korean art before his passing at 95 years of age. 

Clark Taught TKD in Southampton, NY, among other Colleges

Taekwondo Life‘s Editor-in-Chief, Marc Zirogiannis,  discusses the life and legacy of Dr. Robert Jenkins Clark in this episode, as well as his personal experience training under Dr. Clark, in the 1980’s in New York.  Zirogiannis studied for 3 years under Dr. Clark at the Southampton College of Long Island University.

Clark died on December 28, 2008 at the age of 95 with no real significant tributes being paid by the martial arts, or Taekwondo, community.

To Hear Marc Zirogiannis’ Discussion on The Legacy of Robert J. Clark:

2 thoughts on “The Legacy of Master Robert J. Clark

  1. I’m glad I found this. I scoured through this book when I was young and starting Tae Kwon Do. My teacher learned from a Korean instructor and I asked if if it was Mr. Son. He said, “No, but I know who he is.”

  2. Dr. Clark taught me Taekwondo in East Hampton the 1970s , at the high school gym It took me 3 years and got my black belt He was great I loved him We had many talks together. Sorry to hear that he had passed away Thank you for this information .

Leave a Reply