(The following was written by Grand Master Roberts)
My first experience with martial arts was in 1947 when I joined a boxing club at
Kaimuki Park and Judo at the famous Henry Okazaki's dojo in downtown Honolulu
(near the car barn where the HRT busses parked). I was not ready to commit myself
to these arts.
In 1957, I heard of an art called Karate. It was very different from Judo and I was interested in learning more about it. I went to an old Japanese school in Wahiawa where they were teaching this "mysterious" art. When I arrived, the doors were locked, but I could here the activity inside. In those days, all martial arts were taught in secrecy and only to family and friends. I eventually was allowed into the school through a friend and was impressed with what I saw. The class was small, consisting of maybe eight people. I soon learned why this was so. It was small because the training was brutal. There were no women or children, only adult males. I was intimidated by the training even though I was a physically tough, 24-year old, Korean War veteran.
I finally overcame my apprehension and joined the school. The system of was called KAJUKENBO, a combination of Karate, Judo, Kenpo, and Chinese boxing, mainly developed for self-defense. I found it to be an effective street style system. I got my black belt after three years and started teaching for Sijo Adrian Emperado, one of the system's founders, at the Wahiawa YMCA. Among those training at the time were Joe Black, Alapac, Tokamoto, Tony Ramos, and Al Reyes, Sr. At the Wahiawa School, they were the first group of black belts promoted by Sijo Emperado. A few others and I were his second group of black belts.
In 1962, I was assigned to Thailand for a short time, returned to train in Hawaii, and then was assigned to Korea in 1963. At that time, I asked Sijo if I could join another school because I knew I would not be coming back to the islands. Sijo gave his approval knowing that I was a soldier and would be traveling all over the world
I arrived in Korea in 1963 for my third tour in that
country. I was assigned to the 32nd Infantry, 7th Infantry Division. I was assigned as an instructor at the Counterguerrilla Warfare
School and eventually became the Noncommissioned Officer In Charge of the program. After settling in, I went looking for
this "Korean Karate" that I had heard about but never seen.
I found a school near the post and started training as a white belt. I didn't tell the instructor that I had a black belt in Kajukenbo so that I would be treated as a beginner. I trained as often as I could and impressed the instructors with how quickly I learned. My first teacher was Ahn Kyon Won, who was a 4th degree at that time. When I was allowed to free spar for the first time, I went through all of the students without much effort. I was not good with my feet, but my hands were better than theirs.
I ended up sparring with black belts and soon was invited to visit with the style's founder, Hwang Kee, Sr., at the main studio in Seoul near the railroad station. Besides meeting and training with Hwang Kee, I also met his son Hwang, Jr. and Jong Soo Hong, Dan Bon #10. I went with them to black belt exams and we became friends. They treated me with respect because they knew I was serious about the arts and was 31 years old at the time. I left Korea after a year of training in Tang Soo Do.
I arrived in the Washington, D.C. area in the fall of 1964 and immediately started Roberts School of Karate. I
taught the first classes at Specker Field House at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The School has been active continuously since
then. Once I had established the school, I sought other Tang Soo Do practitioners in the area to broaden my training. I
found Grandmaster Ki Whang Kim in Silver Spring, Maryland and chose him to be my new mentor. Hwang Kee had designated Ki Whang Kim as his
official representative for Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do in the United States. I trained with Grandmaster Kim on Saturdays and remained with him until he
passed away in 1995.
In 1967, I was sent to Vietnam. I placed Bob Suggs in charge of the school during my absence. Bob did a great job of maintaining the standards and keeping the school going. I returned from Vietnam in the fall of 1968 and resumed control of the Roberts School of Karate. In 1969, I opened my first commercial school in Brookfield Plaza, Springfield, Virginia. Today, Roberts School of Karate is one of the oldest karate schools in the United States. We are proud of our accomplishments and those of schools being run by our students in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.