- Master Ray is an excellent salesman, and a poor businessman. He seemed to always view the dojang from what he seemed to view as the Korean (or Eastern) way. He was the Master, and you were the students. You didn't question him. I tried to encourage him to view his dojang as a business and his students as customers. In other words: a business that does not keep its customers happy loses. I did not mean that he had to kowtow to their every whim, but that he should at least LISTEN to them when they had complaints and constantly look for ways to keep his best customers happy. In most cases, keeping them happy would have simply meant STOP MAKING STUPID, ARBITRARY DECISIONS!
- He has an incredible knack for driving away his most loyal students. Master Ray had a mind-boggingly huge number of white belts coming in. On a normal business curve, with a normal number of students dropping out, by 2011, he should have several dojangs by now! He had several classes a day, filled with low belts. A typical class might have 16-20 people, with about 4-5 "high-belts" (green and up). With normal progression, he should have ended up with a huge number of high belts in short order. Unfortunately, the typical student left by the time they made green belt. I'll explain one of the primary reasons why later. During my several years there, I don't think I ever saw the number of students pass 80. We seemed stuck at that number.
- Mission vs. Business. I have mixed feelings on whether a business can be a mission and a business at the same time. I've been in that situation before, and it didn't work well, primarily for the same reason that Master Ray couldn't get his business/mission to work. STLMAC was a business when it was most advantageous to Master Ray for it to be so, and it was a mission when it was to his benefit (when he was getting free labor out of his students). Each high belt was expected to be involved in part of the "mission", which generally involved recruitment or other tasks that would be normally done by staff. Granted, I understand that a dojang's blackbelts are expected to give something back, usually in the form of assisting with teaching, and even cleaning (as in "Eastern" schools). No problem there. However, people were being asked to give free labor to STLMAC, and the results of their labor usually profited Master Ray, and no one else.
- The infamous "Leadership (Black) Tape". At first, I thought Master Ray had invented the tape system, until I saw students from other dojangs had them: blue for the form, white for the one-step, and red for the board break. You had to have all three before promoting. Okay, so far, so good. But the "black tape" was the cause of some serious bitching among the students and parents. The "Leadership Requirement" initially was quite simple: to get your black tape, you had to invite a friend to one or two free lessons. When the lesson was done, Master Ray (or a member of the "Black Belt Club") would sit the youngster (with parent... parent was REQUIRED to come) or adult down and give them a HIGH-PRESSURE SALES PITCH about signing up for the "one month" program. Now think about it: to progress to black belt, you (and each family member) would have to invite ELEVEN FRIENDS to come to class. This is hard enough for a student (particularly one with few friends, not to mention getting a busy parent to come along), but imagine if you are 35 years old, and you are trying to get your middle-aged friends from the office or factory to come!!! This was the primary reason for very slow progression, and probably the number one reason that young students got discouraged and dropped out. Eventually, every other belt's black tape requirement became a list of other "leadership" things you could do (which actually made much more sense from a leadership standpoint), such as learning to tie a student's belt from the front, writing a paper about a martial art style, leading a class in opening exercises, drill and forms, etc. However, a couple still had to do with recruitment, such as handing out a bunch of fliers in the neighborhood. The whole "invite a friend" thing got so bad, that people were drawing comparisons to Amway... come to a family gathering and start pissing off your family members with requests to come with you to martial arts!
- Master Ray's "poor memory". Master Ray was forever "forgetting" his promises to students. He would tell them one thing, and then he would change it, always to his benefit. He often had to be reminded which requirement a person did for the black tape. This was the straw the broke the camel's proverbial hump for us. It was incredibly painful leaving... rather like getting a divorce and alienating half of your family.
- Proseltizing. Initially, STLMAC was called "St. Louis Christan Martial Arts Academy." I liked that name, because there it was: no bones about it. When you walked in the door, you KNEW what you were getting, and if you didn't like it, you were free to go somewhere else. But the name eventually changed to St. Louis Martial Arts Center. Although a new, prospective student would immediately recognize somethign different (Christian music, mini-"sermons" delivered by Master Ray at the end of class, the "family" atmosphere), they weren't hit with the heavy stuff until they came to white-belt orientation, or later. Master Ray made it a point that you would not be on the Black Belt Club unless you were a Christian, or at the very least, were making "spiritual progress" in that direction. He said on more than one occasion that you would not make Black Belt unless you were a Christian, and one student (probably the toughest, most gung-ho student we ever had) was cut loose, on the excuse that he was not a Christian and had not intention of becoming one. The more likely reason is that the student challenged Master Ray on one of his decisions that would have had a far-reaching impact on student safety.
- Master Ray's "Christianity": Master Ray's Christianity falls into a group called "The Prosperity Gospel" or "Word / Faith Movement." The primary emphasis is that if you have enough faith, God is going to bless you on earth with material wealth. This was a HUGE focus there. Master Ray was drifting further and further into this territory. At first, he was a member of a church that held those viewpoints, I think, somewhat loosely, but eventually, as you discussed, he formed his own church. I know nothing about his "church", having never been there, but if it was anything like his "positive thinking" and "prosperity gospel" message, it strays from the central tenant of Christianity: that we are called to suffer for Christ in our own way. "Suffer" does not equal "material prosperity". I don't have a problem with rich Christians (the Bible tells them to share with those in need). In fact, I really hoped that Master Ray was going succeed financially, and at first, he had a very good thing going. But his inflexibility (not his lack of "faith") drove away his students who eventually decided they had put up with enough!
You are qualified to speak on your interpretation of Christianity and that is all. No one can say definitively what is and isn't Christian. Stick to what you can refute, with proof, or you are gossiping and rumor mongering just like you claim this thread entails.
Originally Posted by Drag On
Oh and thanks for your stories they seem to confirm the "gossip" in the thread.
There is a LOT more I could say - good, bad, and neutral, about STLMAC and Master Ray. I'll save that, perhaps if you have questions or what clarification.
I do not think Master Ray is a bad man, or intends to be a bad man. I think, as one disgruntled parent put it, he has a "spiritual blind-spot." He is VERY GOOD at spotting the spiritual weaknesses in others, but he seems totally incapable of seeing it in himself, or at least, his major flaws. He would often "humbly apologize" for some minor spiritual weakness that no one probably would have noticed if he had not pointed it out.
We really loved STLMAC at first, and we thought Master Ray was an excellent, caring, and talented teacher. It was very sad for us to see what STLMAC had become, and we were sad to see his most talented high-belts leave in disgust after Master Ray decided he did not want them if they wouldn't do things his way.
I did not get pleasure out of reading this thread. There were a lot of people with no understanding of Christianity criticizing Master Ray and ridiculing him for his faith. I think there is plenty to criticize him for, but only God knows his heart. I don't know if he is a con man, or merely blind to his own flaws.
As far as the accusations of being a peeping tom or a pedophile: I'll echo Master Ray to his accusers: PUT UP OR SHUT UP! You can (and should) get yourself sued for making those accusations without hard evidence.
I've been out of martial arts for awhile, being very bitter about my experience. Could the weakest, whimpiest student here come kick my ass, because we weren't taught "real martial arts"? Probably. But that wasn't my primary reason for getting involved. It was to share an experience with my children, and to learn some self defense. Will I ever use it? I don't know. That's not the point. You guys have raised some legitimate questions about his qualifications. I don't know the real answers there. But this thread has taken on a carnival atmosphere, with some people relishing Master Ray's self-inflicted wounds. I think the story of STLMAC is very tragic, because I now a lot of people who have bitter, long-lasting wounds and some people are turned off at "Christianity" as a result. Master Ray will have to go before God (as we all will) and give an account of what he has done with his talent. It is God's job to judge him, not mine. However, you certainly have the right to ask for his qualifications and to warn people if you KNOW things about the school that people might wish to avoid.
I hope you have found this helpful. I wanted to clarify some things, not defend Master Ray, or judge him.
Best of luck to you all in your martial arts endeavors.
As a several-year student and parent, I am qualified to speak on Master Ray's teaching style and his business style. As a member of the "Black Belt Club" I got insight into a lot of things, some good, a lot bad.
Originally Posted by It is Fake
That's fine. You saw what I specifically commented on that I disagreed with in your post. Without proof, which we talk about all through this thread, you are gossiping as well. What you are providing, is anecdotal evidence. Without articles, letters, videos, documents and other proof you are adding stories just like other posters.
Originally Posted by Drag On
My point being the previous "gossip" and "rumors" are in the same realm as your experience as a "several-year student" being in the "Black Belt Club" without proof.
Thanks for your contribution, but don't put other people's experiences down.
I'm not sure I agree that "anecdotal evidence" is the same as "gossip," but whatever. You guys seemed to want to hear from his former students, so I joined in.
I'm not sure if you want / need proof of anything I said. There wouldn't really be documented "proof", since I didn't keep any paper or records. I can just recount from memory what happened to us.
I'm not trying to be harsh on you guys for the questions about his credentials. I think they are valid questions. My primary purpose was to show you what things looked like from the point of view of a family that attended for many years.
I think you probably know what I mean when I say "carnival atmosphere." I understand that the STLMAC is rather like a train-wreck. You want to look away, but you can't seem to.
I can tell you though, that for each "juicy story," there is a person who is wounded and bitter as a result of their bad experience. It really was painful to leave, and to have to drive past that place nearly every day, watching students coming and going.
The former students I talked to, in person in St Louis at Throwdowns, share your pain. Except they also had the added pain of seeing what they learned fail and what actual Martial Arts look and feel like.
Originally Posted by Drag On
No matter what anyone tries to say the point and purpose of MA in general is to develop and hone the skills useful and related to warfare, specifically a passed down tradition or method of doing things ... usually bare handed and/or with simple tools.
Mixing anything else into the mix only muddies the water and brings opportunity for deception and various forms of exploitation.