Editor’s note: Rick Davis, who influenced thousands of students in the martial arts, died Thursday. J.T. Smith, one of his former students and now the owner of his own Muay Thai gym, talks about Davis’ impact on his life.
For the past 36 years I have had the unique opportunity to have a friendship with local Martial Arts Master Rick Davis. To put it mildly, it has been quite a ride.
In 1985, after the dojo I attended closed its doors, I found myself looking for a new place to learn karate. I was 15 years old at the time, and was still new to the world of martial arts. Statesville had several karate schools at the time, but none seemed to be a good fit for me.
One day, my mother told me about a new martial arts school that had started at Thornburg Hosiery. She suggested I give it a try. It was on that night I met the teacher, Rick Davis.
Rick had a trim muscular build, black hair with a long black mustache. I remember taking the class and not being too impressed. When my mother asked about the teacher I replied “he was not that good.” I told her I did not wish to return. I am very thankful to my mother for telling me to go back and give it another try several months later. Had I refused, I would have missed out on an incredible journey, and one of the most valuable relationships in my life.
Rick Davis was not a standard martial arts teacher that accepted one art as his and never changed. In fact, he was extremely progressive in his thoughts on martial arts training. He had a background in boxing, kickboxing, Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu, Jeet Kune Do and other styles. He was always seeking for what worked best, so he could master it, and teach it to others.
At a time when other schools were training in traditional martial arts, he deviated from the norm, and began an American-style kickboxing school. It was this martial art that eventually led him to his passion, Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
In the late ’80s, Rick taught his fighters to use their shins to make contact when kicking as opposed to their feet. It was a tip he learned from another martial arts trainer. Rick discovered this type kick was exclusive to a martial art known as Muay Thai, from the country of Thailand.
Rick was so intrigued by this method of kicking, went to the local bookstore and began purchasing books about Muay Thai. Remember, there was no internet at that time. The more he read and studied about this art, the more he found it to be what he felt was the most effective method of fighting. He also began attending Muay Thai seminars, and before long his school was the only Muay Thai school in this region.
Despite his school being known for producing great kickboxers, Rick said it wasn’t until he began traveling to Thailand that he truly learned real Muay Thai.
It was during one of his many journeys to the Land of Smiles that he attended a fight at Lumpinee Stadium in Bangkok. Rick said he watched one of the best fighters he had ever seen compete and knock out his opponent. Despite the large crowd at the stadium, Rick fought his way through the crowd to meet the fighter. When he approached him, he only knew one Thai word:“Kru” which in Thai means teacher. This was all the fighter needed to hear. He led Rick to the back of the stadium where he met an older Thai man named Naront Siri (aka: Mr Pek). Mr Pek was a former Muay Thai champion and was known for winning 42 consecutive fights by way of knock out by use of his elbows. Mr. Pek agreed to start training Rick and for many years Rick would travel to Thailand to study with him, then bring this knowledge back to his students in Statesville. It was this that made his gym recognized on an international level.
Not only did Rick Davis bring a new martial art to our area, but he was also known for being a three time World Heavyweight Champion, traveling to compete in Italy, Canada and other countries.
Ricks martial arts school was very unique. People from all walks of life would sign up. You would see CEOs training with poor people, all races and religions were represented sharing the mat with a common love for what Rick had created. These people left their opinions and differences at the door and spent their time together as companions building lifelong friendships and love for one another.
Rick has passed away, I no longer have my Kru. However, I am extremely grateful for what I gained from my relationship with him.
The thousands of us who studied under him will always remember the skills we learned, but we will also remember the love he shared with us. I encourage them to continue to share it, and keep his legacy alive.
I am 51 now. I spent most of life with a martial arts teacher who I once said was “not that good”. It makes me laugh when I think about it.
Here are some comments left on Rick Davis’ Facebook page
I will never forget Arjam Rick. He assisted both my kids, even though only my daughter was his student, grow into the well rounded confident female she is today. Rick loved unconditionally and i never saw him turn someone away who needed his help. Have fun rolling in your next journey Arjan! Condolences to his family.
Lexis Diane Kurley
I will never forget this light of a human. When he walked in, the room lit up. I am honored to have been able to meet him and he will continue to inspire me.
My heart goes out to the family and friends. Sending healing to all those who loved him or was touched by him.
Thank you guys for this post. Myself and my family will have his friends and family in our prayers.
Tina B Rod
I can’t even explain the hole in our hearts today. It’s like the whole universe has shifted. We will forever miss you Ricky Rick Davis. How proud he was this day when our son started taking his class. He called him little Marcelo. He had such an impact on our lives and so many others. Love and light. RIP. We love you.
A true champion. This man had a huge influence on my sons and Shawn training them and others who trained them in Muay Thai. Rest In Peace Rick Davis. You will be greatly missed.
Bufferson D. Biff
I am honored to say that I had the privilege to teach children with one of my best friends/mentor. Rick Davis, there are no words that can express the love that I have for you! You have had such an impact on my life and for that I am forever blessed… Regardless of how long my journey will be, I WILL receive a black belt in honor of you my friend. See you again! Rest Easy, I love you. ❤️ #KCCO #RIP
Hated to hear about the passing of Rick Davis. I didn’t know him extremely well, but I had met him a few times and had trained with him. He was one of the most dedicated martial artists I’ve ever met. He touched a lot of lives during his career and changed people for the better. Godspeed sir.
Coaches are more than sports teachers. In ways they can be some of the most important people in our lives and futures. They can teach life lessons no one in our normal lives can. So this one is for you Rick Davis you’ve done way more for so many of your students than any title or belt ever could.
Rest In Piece Rick Davis,
Genuinely the kindest man I’ve ever met in my life. A true warrior and a true embodiment of what a Martial Artist is. Your legacy will be carried on by the hundreds of students who you’ve touched in the years you taught. We will all love and thank you forever. ♥️
My condolences go out to your family, I can’t even fathom the pain they are going through right now.
Brad Borders is with Rick Davis.
We will miss your gentle and humble spirit Rick Davis. You taught some good life lessons to my son and you taught me how not to get punched in the face.
To understand who Rick was, all you had to do was watch him on the mat with his young students and then listen to him talk to them after each class as he sat on the floor with them. He always talked about respect, love and peace to others.
You were most definitely the example of strength under control. Respect, love and peace to you my friend
Today we lost a warrior. My MMA Master Trainer. My friend, and a true inspiration. When I got back into BJJ before having kids Rick Davis was there to guide me, teach me, and humble me. You will be missed friend. And I’ll continue to fight for your legacy down here. RIP to a true fighter. One of a kind 💔😢
If you know this man please stop and take a moment of silence for him-
Rick is a legend, and legends don’t die but ricks body passed this morning-
Rick was a master Thai Boxer and a great coach but an even better person.
The nicest man who was willing to help anyone.
Take time to thank him and what he did for the fight community in NC bc Rick truly paved the path of MMA in the Carolinas and east coast.
A great man and he won’t be forgotten.
See you on the other side brother. Rick Davis
My heart is super heavy right now to hear that this warrior, my kickboxing coach, the guy who taught me so much about being a fighter, has passed away this morning. Thank you so much Rick for all you have done for me and for making me the fighter that I am today, I couldn’t of done it without you. I’m at a loss for words right now but I know you’re in a better place now and no longer suffering. I hope you continue to look down on me and all of us at the gym as we are here to make you proud. RIP Rick Davis, you’ll be forever missed!! Fly high warrior!! Love you man🙏🏼😢🥊
I am honored to have known such an outstanding and amazing man. Your many years of training made you the most dangerous man I know but yet you were among the kindest I’ve met. Even when I doubted myself you lifted me up and always made me feel what I wasn’t at the time. I won’t forget you, man.
Hard to believe you’re gone my brother. You taught me so much, not just Muay Thai and the fight game, but about life in general. You devoted your life to helping others, being a mentor to so many people and spreading love and peace to all. You were truly my hero. I’m glad I got the chance to tell you what you meant to me. You had such a positive impact in my life…and I am who I am today because of you. A good friend told me yesterday that Rick Davis brought his students together, and we all became family, I’m thankful for all my brothers and sisters. I will miss you dearly my friend. I assure you your teachings will carry on and you will forever be in our hearts. Thank you for everything. I love you brother 🙏🏽 ☮️ ❤️