We needed something for our youngest son to be a part of, something he could be proud of and learn from. We had previously tried soccer, but he had little interest in group sports. He had watched his older brother in Cub Scouts and had no desire to join. What else was there?
Tae Kwon Do? Maybe he would be interested in that. I clicked through to the website and read about the classes and the Grand Master. Grand Master Chong has trained Taekwondo to just about every kind of special forces America and Korea have. Xander would certainly like that as he is fascinated with the military.
Both boys decided to give the free class a try. When we walked in other parents warmly greeted us. Laurin, the black belt (2nd Dan) who owns and manages the school, was sitting at the desk. She gently told the boys to take off their shoes and head to the mat.
Grand Master Chong, already on the mat instructing, came over to meet them. He gave them a name tag to wear with their names written in Korean.
Free trial class experience
Class began with simple, clear instructions. A third of the class time was dedicated to stretching, followed by form practice then other basic skill practice. Grand Master Chong was kind, patient, hands-on with each of the students. He often giggled when his students did silly things. They learned to stand at attention (Cha Rutt), to answer all instructors with respect (yes/no ma’am/sir), and the basics of how to properly move their bodies to kick and punch.
I watched the whole class noting my sons’ reactions, but it was difficult to tell how they felt with the amount of concentration they were giving their movements. At the end of class, all the students encircled GM Chong. He secured all of their legs and the completed sit-ups as a group. Each student bowed to each other and shook hands (Con Sa Hom Nee Dha), then the same to GM Chong.
Then one of my favorite things happened, GM Chong requires all of his students to hug and thank their parents for bringing them to class. What a wonderful lesson to teach the children. We are already huggers, but what mom turns away a sweaty hug from her growing young men? Not this mom, not ever. I don’t care how dirty they are, I will always scoop them up into my arms.
Both of them ran to me and asked if they could join. I had already decided I would sign the boys up if they wanted, so I met with Laurin again to talk about cost. It was $400 for three months of unlimited classes, two uniforms, and the registration fee. $200 for three months for each child didn’t seem too bad (or $68/month/child), especially considering there were classes six times a week. I had the option to pay each month, but the three-month option gave me a price break. There was no required contract, which I later discovered is common in most Taekwondo schools. Some contracts extended up to three years.
The first two months
GM Chong has found a magical balance of fun and discipline that keeps our boys excited and eager to return to class each day. He is encouraging but firm. GM Chong can be found on the mat teaching every class and personally assisting each student. He laughs with them, but also commands their respect and is inflexible with the discipline required for Taekwondo.
The yellow belt test was quite formal with two other Grand Masters attending to watch the test. Check Chirdon and Craig Clinton. The boys modeled their basic motions, went through their form, and as a grand finale broke boards with their hands. They were proud of themselves and we were proud they had worked so hard to learn these new skills.
After two months our boys had progressed from white belt to yellow belt and are now orange belts. Their level of flexibility has drastically improved as well as their balance. While snapping some photos of them in class I was stunned by how high their kicks had become in such a short time. They had also learned to count to ten in Korean just from hearing GM Chong during stretching exercises.
My son with ADHD does great some days and others are rough, but GM Chong really pushes him to do his best. For that I am grateful. Most people with ADHD require more accountability, balanced with equal parts positive encouragement.
Our boys were very excited and asked immediately to be a part of the camp. After talking it over with my husband, we obliged.
One Saturday afternoon my oldest arrived in his soccer uniform coming straight from his game and GM Chong told us of how he was once on the soccer team in Korea. He told us of how competitive the players are and the difficulties he faced. With this opening, I began to ask him about his life in Korea and how he ended up in the US. He spoke for a long time about the teams he had trained, athletes he had sent to the Olympics, and the Taekwondo schools he ran in Arizona for many years.
It was when I asked about how he ended up in Ohio that he became reluctant to talk. He said he had gone home to Korea giving up on Taekwondo after a bad experience with his former partner.
Chong had come to the US to visit Chuck Chirdon, a friend, who encouraged him to look for a new school location and even helped him get the building remodeled once he found a space in Pickerington.
The conversation left me with an uneasy feeling in my gut. I could tell something wasn’t right with the situation so I decided to background check GM Chong. After all, this man was going to be alone with my children during the day all summer long. Using Been Verified I learned that he had a criminal charge in Arizona, but no other information was given in the report. I had to send a request to the Snowflake Court of Navajo County.
While waiting for the requested public records to arrive I began to investigate both GM Chong and Laurin online. GM Chong had two schools in Arizona, LC Martial Arts, where he partnered with Master Ly Ngo. Both LC schools now show as closed. Yelp reviews for the schools were not favorable.
Hmm, that didn’t sound good. I shared the information with my husband and asked him if he thought I was just being paranoid, as sometimes I worry about little things blowing them out of proportion. Together we agreed that GM Chong had been wonderful to our boys and we were really happy with their progress so we decided to keep going to Taekwondo, not to mention we had already paid for the first three months of class plus $1600 for the summer camp.
GM Chong and Laurin ran the show and the kids had a blast. They came home and told me it was one of the best days of their lives.
GM Chong and Laurin were not there. They had two of their black belt students run the camp.
GM Chong and Laurin were not there so we asked where they were. We were told GM had doctors appointments all week but would be back Monday.
The exterior school sign was taken down during the day. The company told the black belts it was a code violation. When the students called GM Chong he promised to call later that night with an explanation. After arriving to pick up my boys from class I realized GM Chong’s certificate was missing from the wall.
All of this was unsettling and I want to ask some others what was going on so I reached out to another adult student. This student had been running the classes while Laurin visited her father in Puerto Rico and GM Chong was at doctor appointments. Together we discovered all kinds of things that were not adding up. He said he would speak to GM Chong that night and let me know what was going on.
In the pit of my stomach, I already knew what was going on, we were being taken for a ride. I again went to researching and then I found a very damning piece of evidence on youtube compiled by his former students at LC https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bT9oLzX1E8. LC’s World Taekwondo had been the second time GM Chong had run off with people’s money and he was now doing it a third time with Lion’s Martial Arts. Wow!
I shared the video with the student who was supposed to speak with GM Chong. He was shocked and said he had spoken to GM Chong last night. Laurin and Chong promised to send an email out to all the students today and “make things right”.
Epilogue to my tale of sadness
Once I found the video it didn’t matter what Chong and Laurin had to say there was no way I was going back to that school or trusting them with any more money. I had paid the summer camp fee with a credit card and am disputing the charge for services never rendered. It could up to two months before a final decision is made by the credit card company.
The worst part of all of it, this was my children’s first lesson in scams. Someone they trusted, respected, and had learned from had cheated them.
We did receive the three months of instruction that was paid in full. The boys did gain flexibility, learn to count in Korean, and learn many techniques. They also achieved two belt ranks, although I have no idea if another school will accept them as such if we decide to try Taekwondo again.
What we did lose was trust in our fellow man, respect for Laurin and Master Chong, $1600, and our summer childcare arrangements with no advance warning.
I believe Chuck Chirdon is an honest man with a kind nature who was fooled by Chong and Laurin as were the rest of the Lion’s Martial Arts students.
It’s important to note that most Taekwondo schools are bursting with integrity. Many of other schools have contacted us offering their condolences, inviting us to give them a try for free or reduced tuition. Here is a great checklist for finding an ideal school. Wiki also has a complete checklist. You can also verify your Master’s belt level here.
A complete compilation of evidence against Lion’s Martial Arts can be found here including the latest emails between Laurin and myself.
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