In 1994 I moved to Malaysia where I was offered a job in the capital city Kuala Lumpur as a Post Production Editor for TV commercials. As an opportunity not to missed at 23 years old I decided to leave England and make my way over 6,000 miles to South East Asia. It was always my dream to travel and I wanted to go to South East Asia because I had met an instructor who took a class once in Tunbridge Wells who was from Malaysia called Master Tan. I planned moving to KL completely around training with him, without him even knowing about it.
I had passed my first degree in 1993 and I had met the renowned instructor in Kuala Lumpur name of Master Tan who was at the time a 5th Degree and had taken a training session once in Tunbridge Wells back in 1992 that I had attended. Unfortunately the surname Tan in Malaysia is as common as Smith in England, so there was no chance of just turning up and finding him in the telephone directory, as there were hundreds with the same name.
I tried other TKD classes in KL, however it was never quite what I was looking for. I kept searching for Master Tan and even contacted friends back in England to find some information about him, eventually after a month and a half I found him in the suburb of Section 16, Petaling Jaya.
Master Tan is an old school style teacher, everything was tough and he was very honest with me. I had some success in England as a colour belt and felt I was just starting to become quite good as a Black belt. I remember in the first private session I had with him, he looked at me after I performed Chon-Ji (the first pattern) and he put his head in his hands, shook his head and said “you are Sh*t!”
I was in shock. But from that moment on I was determined to improve and make him proud of me. He has a way about him that you want to please him and you are prepared to do whatever you can for him to feel proud of you. He never said anything like that to me, it’s the way I felt.
For months we just practised Chon-Ji, Dan-Gun and Do-San. I had originally thought that as a Black Belt that I was quite good, but here I had been served up a juicy slice of humble pie, Asian style!
I stayed with the Master Tan for two years training almost every day (in between work) and having private lessons twice a week. For the last 6 months of my stay in Malaysia I quit my job and trained full time. I would go running at 10am or play 2 hours of badminton every morning, then have lunch, Leave for classes at about 1pm and train or teach classes throughout the day. Sometimes Master Tan would train me to one side whilst training the other students (usually school kids at an after school club). I would regularly do over 500 press ups a day culminating in reaching my goal by the time I left of 1000 in a day in sets of 50 on my knuckles. I would train through the afternoon, with breaks of course, all the way until 10.30 or 11.00 at night.
To say I trained hard would be an understatement, I really pushed myself to the limit and immersed myself in my self-development. Master Tan knew this was my personality so he literally took me to hell and back.
I can recall one time after a 14 hour day at work I returned to the apartment at 11 at night to find Master Tan waiting for me. I got my stuff together and we went to the squash court to train. I struggled that night with fatigue and whilst training I suddenly felt ill, I ran out of the squash court and was sick in the bushes. I walked back in feeling light headed, Master Tan said to me “are you ok Phil?” In my mind I thought wow he has compassion, I said “yes thanks, I’m ok now”, he then said “good, 50 push ups!”
Another time we were preparing for a competition in Belgium back in 1995 and we were doing some extra training with the Malaysian team. Unfortunately, our usual hall outside wasn’t available, so Master Tan told us we were to train on the tennis court next door. Have you ever tried walking barefoot on a tennis court? Well after an hour of spinning kicks I hardly had any skin left on my feet. Master Tan then saw PJ Arena was free for us to train on, so he said, ok, let’s go there and do sparring! We walked over to the hard concrete, however after training on the tennis court it was like walking on clouds!
If you can imagine the heat and humidity was constant, over 30 degrees centigrade rain or shine, every time you breathed in you would feel the heat burn your lungs. Most of the time we would train outside at the main training area on concrete called PJ Arena, so there would be a slight breeze in the evening, but many times we trained inside where there was no air conditioning and the conditions were sometimes unbearable. But it helped to toughen me up.
My feet were all cut up and there was blood everywhere and I had left a path of blood from the tennis court. At that time I had a set of Dyna Punch and Dyna Kick dipped foam pads, so I always had black electrical tape in my bag to repair them if they ever tore. I used the black electrical tape to wrap my feet up to stop them bleeding then gently pulled the feet pads over the top. When I stood up it felt ok at first until the blood starting seeping through the tape and I ended up slipping on my own blood on the shiny concrete. To solve this problem I moved across to the rough concrete side where I had more grip and continued fighting.
I have never sweat so much as I did when I was in Malaysia, I became far stronger than I had ever been, faster and more powerful in my patterns. Master Tan really taught me the art of what he calls “whipping power!” This revolutionised my patterns. I fought round after round with his brother Tan Eng Chai and we always smashed the hell out of each other then always laughed about it afterwards.
Throughout all this time Malaysia was going through a faze of what they called “Vision 2020”, which from what I can remember signifies that by the year 2020 Malaysia will be a strong economy with a futuristic city and where it will no longer be classed as a third world country, This is their national “Vision”.
Master Tan chose the name Vision Taekwon-Do Centre for his classes. I believe that Vision can mean different things for different people. For him it is very much about family, as his family are all involved in Taekwon-Do and it extends to his Taekwon-Do family, his students, to whom he is like a father figure.
I was welcomed into his family as if I was part of it. Many times if I was working in the evening and they had a family dinner (sometimes over 15 people at a table) his mother would ask, “where is the Kwai-Lo? (white devil)” I always took this as an affectionate way of referring to me, as sometimes we would be out and about Master Tan would just call out “Kwai Lo” and I knew he was talking to me.
During the last 6 months I had moved into a Chinese family’s house in a rented room that had a bathroom and a fan (no A/C). In my small bedsit, every night I was eaten alive by mosquitoes and I woke every morning to find cockroaches in my bathroom.
Also, because I didn’t have a washing machine, I would sit over the bath and scrub my dobok (uniform) with a stiff brush and soap every night after training, which would normally take one hour to do meaning most nights I didn’t get to sleep until at least 1pm. I would also sit in my bed at night time and plan out how I would run my classes when I returned to England, what I would expect and the standard I would attempt to achieve for my students.
At this point the seed had been planted in my head, because I didn’t want to be just another TKD or Martial Arts instructor, I wanted to produce quality students and true practitioners of ITF Taekwon-Do, no watered down versions and I wanted to have a positive effect on people’s lives. I felt my experiences of living in an Asian community and literally living some of the movies I had watched as a child like “Karate Kid” and “Kickboxer”, I felt like I had really toughened up.
I knew after what I had been through, the continual cut feet and blisters from training on concrete, training in the heat, training until I was sick, the cracked ribs, a twisted pelvis, blistered knuckles, knee problems etc… that enduring the pain had taught me many lessons about how far I could push my body and what it was to get the incredible feeling of satisfaction when I got through the class.
This made me feel on top of the world.
I felt that I could pass these experiences on to others, so after speaking with Master Tan he kindly agreed to allow me to use the name Vision TKD in England.
I returned to England in 1996 after grading to 2nd Degree under Master Tan and successfully winning several tournaments including the Malaysian Nationals in both individual and team sparring, I felt indestructible and ready to go for selection with the English National Team.
What does Vision mean for me now? Vision is what I see for the future (both in my own small family and my students), it is a very positive word that is always moving forwards, always progressing, never resting on its laurels or happy with how things are, it’s about challenging yourself.
Vision is also about the people, our family of students and creating an attitude to training which is to work hard for what you achieve and never expect anything to be given to you.
It is about creating an extremely high level of student physically and mentally who is prepared to train hard to achieve their goals and have the self-belief that they deserve what they have and are grateful for it.
It is about the students feeling as one with other Vision students, knowing that you have a family away from your blood family and a team spirit that can never die.
Vision is about loyalty.
In 1996 I returned to England and took over a small Taekwon-Do class in the little town of Crowborough with just 30 students in, now with the birth of our VMA Fitness Centre, Ellie and I pledge to continue expanding and working hard to help others and always make people feel welcome, our Vision of the future stays the same, it just means it’s not just about Taekwon-Do now. This will be a place were you will always feel at home and your chance to focus on you. Welcome to our family.
Master Tan, Thank you for helping me to become the Taekwon-Do practitioner and person that I am today, thank you for your kind support and guidance throughout the years, thank you for always being there and being like a second father to me. Thank you for letting me be part of your family and Vision.
Your loyal student,
Master Philip Lear 7th Degree
In 2007 Phil met Ellie and they got married in 2010. Ellie was working at Freedom Leisure Crowborough at the time and qualified as a Fitness Instructor and Kettlebell Instructor.
For the next ten years Phil and Ellie ran the Crowborough Kettlebells classes at the Crowborough Tennis and Squash Club whilst Phil was teaching Taekwon-Do at Freedom Leisure, Crowborough.
The dream for Phil was always to have a full-time Martial Arts Centre, with Ellie they both created VMA Fitness in the High Street that now serves the community with the highest level of Taekwon-Do and Fitness classes.
VMA Fitness opened on 9th September 2017 and continues to grow from strength to strength. Phil and Ellie have brought a special “family” feel to fitness in the town, a place that many people consider their “home from home.”