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Taekwondo America’s First 9th Degree – A Biography

Posted by on September 20, 2018

Robby Lacy took his first taekwondo class in April 1977(one month before the first Star Wars film was released).  His uncle came across the school on his mail route and decided to bring his son and nephew in to try class.  Schools were not as fancy then, and the space had a tile workout floor and pegboard walls, but from the first class Mr. Lacy was hooked.  At the time a gallon of gas was $0.65, a loaf of bread was $0.36, and $22 per month for 2 years bought a lifetime taekwondo membership for 2 students.  As a Green Belt he met a Blue Belt named Warren Davis.  The two forged a friendship that has spanned four decades.    When he was a Red Belt Mr. Lacy competed in his first tournament.  At the time Regional Tournaments were held in the center aisles of local malls and competitors sparred without safety gear.  He cried when he took two third place medals (in a division with only 3 competitors).  He went on to compete in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky, Virginia, Michigan, North Carolina, and New Jersey.  At a tournament in Nebraska he saw Dale Craig break the world record for breaking concrete blocks before competing himself in a division with over 40 kids.  In 1979 he attended his first Black Belt Camp at the age of 12.  Before that he had four no changes in a row (and would go on to get three more over the course of his taekwondo career). Less than 3% of people who start a martial art achieve the rank of black belt, so he had already beaten the odds.  One afternoon shortly after camp he was sitting in the car with his mom at 4:10, excitedly waiting for his instructor to show up so the 4:00 class could start.  When she asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he replied a taekwondo school owner she told him no.  “Don’t you want to be a lawyer, policeman, fire fighter, or something like that?”.  “No”, he told her, “I want to own my own taekwondo school”.  Testing for 1st Degree he sparred the first female 3rd Degree in the ATA, Tammy Harvey.  She made him cry, and he failed testing.  At 15, he was a 3rd Degree at the same time as his instructor – then he had to wait six years to test for 4th Degree.  At his 4th Degree testing one of his rounds was against World Champion PKA Fighter Jerry “Golden Boy” Trimble.  While he waited for the time to pass before testing he opened a club in Bayou La Batre, Alabama (made famous by the shrimping scene in Forrest Gump).  He would later convince his wife to move 770 miles away to Roanoke, Virginia, where they did not know a soul, and open a school in January of 1991.  He was 24 years-old, and they would go on to own 7 schools either in full or partially, including 5 at one time.  The gamble would prove a great success, with the couple having over 90 people at their first lock-in and bringing over 200 competitors to their first tournament in Roanoke.  From their new home base Mr. Lacy would spar 8 rounds during his 5th Degree testing, go on to become one of the founding members of Taekwondo America in October 1993, and later be the first person to test for 6th Degree.  As luck would have it, 6th Degree was just the beginning because it takes longer to get from 6th Degree to 9th Degree than it does from White Belt to 6th Degree.  The Lacys spent 19 years teaching in Virginia, training thousands of students including 11 that went on to open their own taekwondo schools and 7 who achieved the rank of 6th Degree Master Black Belt or higher themselves.  Then, in April 2010 the Lacy family packed up and moved 1,100 miles to Frisco, Texas to share their taekwondo expertise with a new crowd.  Through numerous struggles and quite a few no changes he trained his three children to the ranks of Black Belt, and on September 21, 2018, he will earn his 9th Degree Black Belt alongside his wife Jenny Lacy achieving her 8th Degree, marking the culmination of a combined 74 years of dedication to taekwondo.

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