IRVINGTON, NJ — Council President Renee Burgess and Vice President October Hudley were among those in attendance to honor Sensei Robert J. Lewis, a local karate instructor, at the Irvington Council meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 12.
During the meeting, Burgess and Hudley presented Lewis, who teaches martial arts at Destined for Greatness Dojo at 2 Union Ave., with a resolution of commendation, sponsored by the Irvington Municipal Council, for serving the community with his martial arts program for the youth.
At a glance, Lewis might seem a typical karate instructor, but he leaves an imprint on the children who enter his dojo to learn martial arts, with his passion for the art shining through. Hudley has seen the impact of Lewis’ work firsthand and attested to his dedication.
“I consider Sensei Robert Lewis an unsung hero,” Hudley told the Irvington Herald after the event. “I applaud him for all the work he does for the children of Irvington. Not only does he teach them discipline through martial arts, he also encourages them to do their best to be scholars in their academics. I wish we had more dedicated men like Sensei Robert Lewis who are passionate about preparing our youth for life skills.”
Preparing his students for life skills, Lewis holds those principles high and firm for himself and said he expects the same from his students.
“We get together with our kids and recite the ABC’s of martial arts,” Lewis said in a phone interview with the Irvington Herald. “Attitude, behavior, commitment, desire, energy!”
“This is how we start our class every time and we end our classes that way, run, high-five and go home,” he continued. “These principals you carry with you your entire life and you get better as the years go by.”
Lewis recalled meeting Irvington Recreation Department Director Donald Malloy back in 2015.
“I was honored because, at a Christian karate program, Donald Malloy, a known gospel singer across the country, saw us and gave us a chance to come in and teach the kids, because my uniform was blue, and it was the same color blue that matched the Irvington Team Strong colors.”
According to the information about Lewis on the commendation he was presented, Lewis got the karate bug many years ago, shortly after he finished his tour of duty with the Marines. He joined the Karate Judo School in Neptune and was taught by 8th Dan Cyril Cousins for three years. In 1981, at age 21, he trained in Isshin-Ryu Karate, later joining Tim Ratty’s Taekwondo Plus in Long Branch in 1990. He rose in the ranks, competing in nearly 20 tournaments, finally opening his first class at the Neptune City Firehouse.
In 1995, Lewis opened the Asbury Park Martial Arts Center in Asbury Park and enrolled 96 students from eight local schools. He continued to compete but, after a bus accident in 2003, had back disc surgery in 2006. Earning a bachelor’s degree in 2007, Lewis continued training and, in 2009, he joined Imperial Martial Arts, a Jhoon Rhee ITF school in Shrewsbury. After moving to Perth Amboy in 2011, he continued competing and teaching in church gyms, creating Blackbelt Christian Academy in 2012.
In 2014, Lewis needed a hip replacement and relocated in Irvington to be closer to his doctors. After getting back into shape and following a second hip replacement in 2016, he again returned to instruction, this time at a Saturday morning karate children’s program at United Methodist Church in Irvington.
When Malloy met and began working with Lewis, the two formed a friendship and, one year later, Lewis was hired through the Recreation Department to teach karate to children at the Chris Gatling Center.
“I started at United Methodist Church with Pastor Prescott Butler and he gave us a chance for years with the Christian karate. It’s the only church in Irvington with Christian karate teaching the Taekwondo system and the Jhoon Rhee Taekwondo system.”
“I’ve partnered with local churches, recreation centers, the NJ Boxing Commission, and the Olympic Taekwondo Association WTF Center in Newark to train our area kids for our own 2024 Olympic karate team,” he added.
Through his Christian karate program, teaching children throughout the summer and operating all year round at tournaments and street demonstrations in the Newark, East Orange and Irvington area, Lewis has become quite well-known. With his number of students increasing, he finally moved his school to a new location, Destined for Greatness Dojo. Last week’s council resolution was the icing on the cake for Lewis.
“Last night, this achievement was my biggest achievement of my lifetime,” he said. “I wish my parents were here to see it. Mr. Donald Malloy from Irvington Recreation saw us four years ago, believed in us and gave us a chance and we never gave up because of it.”
“Congratulations, and job well done,” Burgess said in a quote sent to the Irvington Herald after the event. “Irvington is blessed to have yet another that gives so selflessly of themselves. The time and attention given to the students at this school will help build their self-esteem, discipline and character, which are tools our children need to accomplish their goals and dreams in life.”
“On behalf of the entire council,” she continued, “we want to thank you for all you do in our township and look forward to seeing more great things come out of your establishment.”