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:

9 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 .

  3. A few days ago, I became aware of your article regarding Taekwondo Master, Robert Jenkins Clark and listened to your podcast about his life and legacy, including your own training and experience with him. I was particularly pleased with your account of meeting him and your description of his vitality at his then advanced age of eighty, when he arrived in his “bright yellow Ferrari Testarossa.” I was also delighted to hear your statement about the mutual respect between him and his students. In fact his students were his treasure and brought great joy to him in the latter part of his life.

    You mentioned his academic achievements and three advanced degrees that he held. I know that, for a man who achieved in two years what it normally took others six years to achieve, in earning a Masters of Mechanical Engineering for example, it took him a full four years to become a Master in Taekwondo. It was a great physical and mental challenge for him and, in the end, meant more to him than any of his academic achievements.

    In that context, you might be interested in the fact that Dr. Clark, while still a child, was a participant, in the early part of the 20th century, in Lewis Terman’s longitudinal study of high-IQ children. A quick write-up about that study can be found at the link below. Among the children in that study, Dr. Clark fell into Terman’s classification of “severely and/or profoundly gifted” children. Here’s the link:

    Finally, I want to thank you, Mr. Zirogiannis, for the great respect you have shown my father in this article and, particularly, in your podcast. I know that he returned that same kind of respect to you and to others he helped teach the art of Taekwondo.

    –Penelope Clark Bueker,
    daughter of Robert Jenkins Clark

  4. Thank you for the story .I was lucky to know and study with Dr. Clark .
    We were both students or GM Son .
    I remember him well as a good man and dedicated student.
    I had the privilege to train with GM Son and Dr. Clark from 1963 through 1967.
    So greatful to them.

  5. Did RJ Clark have a son of the same name who lived in New Jersey ? I see a daughter listed. Thanks

    1. Yes, he did have a son who lived in New Jersey. Always appreciate hearing from people interested in my father. Penelope Clark Bueker., daughter of Robert Jenkins Clark

  6. I started studying Taekwondo as a student at the University of Northern Iowa in 1970. As you say, Korean Karate was the common reference in those days. As I continue studying to this day, I still remember this was the first Taekwondo book that I bought. GM Son and Dr. Clark are still remembered from these books.

  7. I was a student of Geat master SON during early 1970 I have the book and master son’s dedication to me in korean, I cherish this book and I will pass it on to my grandson who is now 6 years old, 2023 and a green belt in tae kwon do in Athens greece

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