T'ai Chi Ch'uan Study Center

of the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area


Robert W. Smith

December 27, 1926  -  July 1, 2011



photo credit: copyright, 2016, W. D. Conner, all rights reserved


We invite everyone to attend the annual

Robert W. Smith Memorial

Tai Chi - Neijia Play Day Reunion,

on Saturday, July 8, 2017, from 8 a.m. to about 11 a.m.,

at McLean Central Park, McLean, Virginia, (rain or shine)

at the outdoor basketball court, behind the Dolley Madison Public Library.

(Directions to McLean Central Park and basketball court)

Please bring old pictures, mementoes, etc. 
And your best knock-knocks, favorite Smithisms, etc.

There will be impromptu demonstrations
of Tai Chi, Pa-kua and Hsing-i
by various RWS senior students.

We will gather annually
on the second Saturday in July
for the Robert W. Smith Memorial Festival.


Robert William Smith was born in Richland, Iowa in December of 1926, the Chinese year of the Tiger. From his early days in an orphanage to his later abode in a retirement community in the mountains of North Carolina, his myriad journeys confirmed his conviction that love and friendship are life's most precious parts. He was a man of many achievements in multiple fields, including, for example, teaching, writing, scholarship and historical research, government service, raconteurship and, most importantly, his family.

In 1951, he had the great, good fortune and good sense to become married to the lovely and able Alice. Their partnership prospered. They have four children: Susan, David, Annette and Christine. They have nine grandchildren and three great grandchildren. In addition, as a result of decades of teaching Asian martial arts, they have an extended family of many hundreds of devoted students, grandstudents and great grandstudents.

Mr. Smith taught students in several martial arts. Initially, he coached boxers in Western boxing. He was an early instructor of Judo in America. For 26 years, he held a free Saturday morning T'ai Chi Ch'uan practice in the Bethesda, Maryland, YMCA, parking lot. This legacy continued as, until just recently, Mr. Smith attended a free Saturday morning T'ai Chi practice in a North Carolina, YMCA, parking lot. In Bethesda, he also offered formal instruction in T'ai Chi Ch'uan, Pa-kua Ch'uan and Hsing-i Ch'uan, the three main elements of Chinese internal martial arts. In addition, he has reached many thousands more with his writings.

As an early pioneer of Asian martial arts in the West, Mr. Smith provided a positive foundation of historical accuracy while emphasizing the traditional, ethical influences of the often misunderstood and misrepresented martial arts. The bibliography in his "A Complete Guide to Judo," published in 1958, is still cited by book collectors today while his "Asian Fighting Arts," coauthored with Donn Draeger in 1969, is the definitive reference on the subject. Mr. Smith is recognized world wide as a seminal figure in introducing the West to the nei-chia (internal martial arts) of China.

As an editor, author, co-author and co-translator, Mr. Smith produced 14 books, including the first books in English on Pa-kua Ch'uan and Hsing-i Ch'uan and one of the first books in English on T'ai Chi Ch'uan, co-authored with the famous grandmaster, the late Cheng Man-ch'ing. Mr. Smith's book, "Shaolin Temple Boxing," introduced Western readers to that now famous Chinese practice as well. He has written dozens of magazine articles, most on martial arts topics. In addition, he wrote over 240 book reviews on a wide variety of topics for top newspapers across America. He also penned numerous interviews with authors who caught his interest as well as countless letters to the editor. His poetry has appeared in several anthologies.

Mr. Smith joined the U.S. Marines in 1944 at age 17, served overseas in the Pacific theater with the Fifth Division (Peleliu and Guam) and was among the first troops into southern Japan. He received his undergraduate degree in History from the University of Illinois and his master's degree in Far Eastern and Russian Studies from the University of Washington in Seattle. In 1955, he joined the CIA as an intelligence officer, going to Taiwan four years later in 1959. There he continued his pursuit of martial arts practice and research. During this time he went to Tokyo and won his third degree black belt in Judo at the Kodokan, the international Judo headquarters.

Mr. Smith was legendary for his stories and jokes. His ability to quote poetry and prose and to tell anecdotes and aphorisms held gatherings large and small enthralled for hours at a time. In addition, he wass undefeated in identifying pop songs from the 1930s. His first book (on Judo in 1958) contained a chapter on humor, the first instance of a martial arts book ever doing so. Under the pen name of John F. Gilbey, he wrote "Secret Fighting Arts of the World," a fictitious send-up of the many completely outrageous martial arts stories he had collected. This produced much hilarity as some gullible readers swallowed the ridiculous tales whole and some even quoted Gilbey in subsequent publications. Gilbey went on to write two additional books, a fable and a newspaper article on, yes, knock-knock jokes. Mr. Smith once put an ad in the Washington Post offering "beginning levitation." Alas, there were no takers and the class never got off the ground. In addition, there are a few other practical jokes that must remain classified these many decades later, especially those that made the national papers.

In short, Mr. Smith filled his life with joy and scholarship and he taught us that everything is better when it is leavened with love.

Queried on his full life, Mr. Smith attributed it to humility and luck.

And then more seriously, he said, "I tried."





by Warren D. Conner, copyright © 2016; all rights reserved, thanks.

Photograph by W. D. Conner, copyright © 2016, all rights reserved, thanks.


Contact W. D. Conner via Email


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