Dr. Thomas passed away on Thursday, June 4, 2021. Read our organization's obituary tribute to him below.
1964: Began studying the art of judo
1965: Began studying the art of tae kwon do. Some of the instructors he trained under were Grand Master Jhoon Rhee, Master Kwon Ro, Master Jack Dutcher, Master Roji Yamakawa, Master Suk Chung, Grand Master Myung Seok Seo, and Grand Master Parks. Dr. Thomas has studied and mastered several styles of martial arts, including tae kwon do, hapkido, combat fighting, tang soo do, judo, and aikido.
1969: Junior Judo Champion; began studying the art of kick boxing; became a professional kick boxer
1970s: Taught and established his first school in the Washington, DC, Metropolitan area
1980: Became founder and CEO of the Tae Kwon Do Ramblers Self-Defense Systems School in the Washington, DC, Metropolitan area
1989: Named Head Coach of Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Potomac Valley Team, which was the first to win the Olympic competition in martial arts for the Potomac Valley region.
1992: Founder of the Brotherhood of Martial Artists Association
1994/95: Promoter Plus Referee of the Year
1996/97: Board of Directors, Martial Arts Federation for World Peace and the World Youth Federation of World Peace
1997: Nominated for Presidential Award Volunteer of the Year by President William Jefferson Clinton; International Black Belt Hall of Fame Instructor of the Year; Promoters Plus Living Legends Award
1998: The World Martial Arts Hall of Fame Diamond Life Achievement Award; Sokeship, Head Founders, Lead Families, Grand Masters Council—The Degree of Professor of Martial Arts; International Black Belt Hall of Fame Pinnacle Award
1999: World Christian Martial Arts and Pastoral Hall of Fame Diamond Life Achievement Awards; International Blackbelt Hall of Fame Diamond Crystal Award of Spirit; Founding Member of the United States Head of Family Martial Arts Association
2000: Distinguished Soke Award from the World Martial Arts League, Frankfurt, Germany; Member of Board of Directors, International Council of Higher Martial Arts Education; Founding Member and Executive Vice President of U.S. Head of Family Martial Arts Association; Founder and CEO of Saving the Children and Who’s Saving Them International
2001: Unsung Hero Award from the City of Washington, D.C.; Presidential Award from President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush—on this occasion, it was noted that “Dr. Thomas is known as the Pied Piper of martial arts for children.”
2002: Honored as one of the very few non-Asian Americans to receive rank under General Chai of Korea and also one of the few non-Asian Americans to receive rank from the World Korean Martial Arts Union
2005: Doctorate in Philosophy and Martial Arts Sciences, Saudi Arabia; International School of the Year, Hall of Honor, Hall of Champions, United States Head of Family Martial Arts Association; Elite Man of the Year, Tae Kwon Do, Hall of Honor, Hall of Champions, United States Head of Family Martial Arts Association
2006: Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission certificate of appreciation for volunteer service in support of programs for the Department of Parks and Recreation; City Council of Camden, New Jersey, certificate of appreciation for longstanding service and dedication to martial arts and to the El Karate Martial Arts Program; Elite Grandmaster of Honor and Legion of Honor awards, Hall of Honor, Hall of Champions, United States Head of Family Martial Arts Association; proclamation from County Executive Jack Johnson for outstanding community service to Prince George’s County, Maryland; Golden Dragon Award from Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley for the hard work, efforts, and contributions of the United States Head of Family Martial Arts Association (in Dr. Thomas' role as Executive Vice President) to the City of Baltimore
2007: Tribute of Appreciation for Contribution to National Night Out from Rosemary Hills, Lyttonsville, and Rock Creek Communities of Silver Spring, Maryland
2008: Community Service Award, Theta Omega Omega Chapter, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; Certificate of Appreciation for sharing of knowledge from AARP Penn Branch Chapter #3473, Washington, DC; Congratulatory Citation from Maryland State Senator David Harrington for outstanding community service; Proclamation from Bladensburg, Maryland, Mayor Walter James and the Town Council for outstanding community service; Hall of Fame Golden Pioneer Award in testament of distinguished lifelong career and contributions to the martial arts and humanity; 2008 AARP Andrus Award for Community Service Nomination
2009: Blackbelt Sampson Award, Second Annual Pioneer Black Tie Awards, for outstanding teaching and exemplary professional community service
2011: Certificate of appreciation from St. Mary’s County Department of Aging in recognition of his community service; safety expert for Maryland State Bar Association
2012: Recognition of Achievement in education from Senator Victor R. Ramirez, 47th Legislative District, Prince George’s County, Senate of Maryland; Citation from the State of Maryland for community work and for creating and teaching a bullying prevention and self-defense summer camp; Certificate of Appreciation for outstanding service on behalf of stalking victims and Certificate of Achievement in education from the Seniors Against Stalking and Domestic Violence Group; appointed member of the Adult Survivors of Child Abuse and Neglect board; appointed member of the Prince George's County Education Coalition formed and led by Maryland Senator Joanne C. Benson; featured on ABC's (WJLA-7) Leon Harris' August 22 Harris' Heroes segment
2013: Distinguished African American award from the Town of Bladensburg; State of Maryland citation from Governor O’Malley, Lieutenant Governor Brown, and Secretary of State McDonough for his outstanding community work in providing education about bullying through his nonprofit, We Lead By Example, Inc.; certificates of special recognition for his work in bullying prevention from U.S. Senators Benjamin L. Cardin and Barbara Mikulski; named one of the top 125 leaders in Prince George’s County, Maryland, in the 2013 Who’s Who edition of Prince George’s Suite Magazine
2014: Town of Bladensburg proclamation marking grandmaster status (traditional), 50 years continuous practice of martial arts, and over 40 years committed to teaching and working in the community; received World Tukkong Association Certificate of Authority from Professor Bruce Goodwin to practice tukkong moosool as part of the instructional program for Tae Kwon Do Ramblers students
2015: Congratulatory letter from President Barack Obama marking his grandmaster status (traditional); State of Maryland citation from Governor Hogan, Lieutenant Governor Rutherford, and Secretary of State Wobensmith for his high integrity and ability and his outstanding services to the citizens of Maryland; proclamation from the Town Council of Bladensburg marking his grandmaster status and his many years of laudable contributions to the community
2016: Featured on ABC's (WJLA-7) Robert Burton's July 20 Coach of the Week segment; U.S. Congressman Steny Hoyer commemorative video honoring Dr. Thomas for over 35 years of service to the community; Maryland House of Delegates official citations presented to We Lead By Example, Inc./Tae Kwon Do Ramblers Self-Defense Systems and to Dr. Thomas for outstanding service to the community
2018: Featured on The Veronica Harris Show (DCTV)
June 4, 2021: Dr. Clifford Thomas passed away. A life well-lived will never end.
On August 28, 1963, Dr. Clifford Thomas had the honor of hearing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speak on the Mall in Washington, D.C. One message that remained in his heart was that people should be judged by the content of their characters. At home, his parents taught him that it was not enough to live his life for himself alone, but that he should share his skills and help others reach their potential. Dr. Thomas embodied both these messages throughout his personal and professional lives. Not only did he excel in martial arts, eventually becoming a professional kick boxer, but through martial arts he found his voice and his path as a teacher.
Beginning in 1964 under several legendary instructors (Grand Master Jhoon Rhee, Master Kwon Ro, Master Jack Dutcher, Master Roji Yamakawa, Master Suk Chung, Grand Master Myung Seok Seo, and Grand Master Parks), he mastered tae kwon do and branched out to other styles, including hapkido and judo. He was not satisfied to practice his art as an individual competitor. In the 1970s as a young adult, he was one of the pioneering African American black belts who came to the fore and caught the attention of the martial arts world. He began teaching children and adults in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, developing a following among underserved and minority residents. Among his notable students were members of the Black Panthers. He put heart and soul into teaching and reaching out to help others.
In the years that followed, there were many accolades and awards. In 1989, Dr. Thomas was named the coach of the Amateur Athletic Union Potomac Valley Team, which was the first to win the Olympic competition in martial arts for the Potomac Valley region. In 1996/97, he was on the Board of Directors of the Martial Arts Federation for World Peace and the World Youth Federation of World Peace. In 1998, he received the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame Diamond Life Achievement Award. In 2000, he received the Distinguished Soke Award from the World Martial Arts League, Frankfurt, Germany. In 2002, he was awarded distinguished honors both under General Chai of Korea and the World Korean Martial Arts Union, one of the select few non-Asian Americans to be so recognized. In 2005, he received a Doctorate in Philosophy and Martial Arts Sciences from the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia.
Over these years, Dr. Thomas continually expanded the scope of his program to foster crucial survival skills for people of all ages. His work garnered acknowledgement from leaders at the local, county, and national levels, including from three presidents. In 1997, he was nominated for the Presidential Award Volunteer of the Year by President Clinton. In 2001, he received the Unsung Hero Award from the City of Washington, D.C., and the Presidential Award from President G.W. Bush. Building on this foundation, in 2011 Dr. Thomas established the nonprofit We Lead By Example, Inc./Tae Kwon Do Ramblers Self-Defense Systems. He was especially proud of being presented with the Distinguished African American Award from the Town of Bladensburg in 2013. In 2015, he received a congratulatory letter from President Barack Obama marking his grandmaster status.
Always striving to live by example, Dr. Thomas was a leader, not a follower. He never gave up on himself or others. Through his street-smart, yet warm-hearted and kind personality, he served the community as a unique and powerful force for good. People of all ages responded to his patience and generosity. Modeling self-determination, he inspired those around him to achieve greatness and to take pride in themselves. His wit, style, and flair will always be remembered, but his most enduring legacy will be seen through the generations of students he inspired, as he himself was inspired by Dr. King’s words.