Celebrating 46 Years of Sifu Philip Lam and Lee Gar

Lee Gar marks 46 years in New Zealand with an action packed fight card to honour its origins on May 15, 2021. Phillip Lam Promotions Thai Boxing event features some of New Zealand's best Thai Kickboxers facing off against each other in a huge event not to be missed, at Kohimarama’s Barfoot and Thompson stadium.

Mike Diamond from City Kickboxing vs Chris Eades from Urban Sport, and Terrence Montgomery from City Lee Gar vs Oscar Remihana will headline a full undercard of high level muay thai and kickboxing fights, March 15th promises to be a night of brutal, full-contact non stop action not to be missed.

Closing in on almost 5 decades, makes you look back and think about all the incredible things that have been accomplished, and the huge part the man behind it all, Sifu Philip Lam, played in creating one of the strongest nations in combat sport today.

Nz combat sport has rich, intertwined roots with almost all martial arts, and we acknowledge Sifu Philip Lams role in the continuity and longevity of combat sport in NZ, a sport that NZ has achieved global recognition in, and is quickly getting acquainted with the home crowd and NZ audience.

Sifu Lam, established Lee Gar in 1975, with City Lee Gar Gym, and taught Siew Lum Lee Gar Kung Fu, a Southern Shaolin system of martial arts that focused on hand techniques and low kicks, alongside Coach Tojo Dixon.

“ Sifu (Lam) studied under 3 systems, Lee Gar, Jun gar and one other family style. Lee Gar is southern shaolin which focused on open hand ; Phoenix eye, Tigerstyle, and white crane, with low kicks. But he also studied Northern style shaolin as well, which had more high kicks.

In the early days he taught traditional but focused more on self defence. But everything he taught he wanted us to spar and focus on contact work, which moved us towards the competition side .” Coach Wayne Vaega, South Island Lee Gar, explains.

NZ And World Champions Asasio and Albert Heimuli, Iopu Tuteru, Wayne Vaega and Alex Tui were some of Sifu and City Lee Gars first students.

“Around the early to mid 80’s, full contact fights were kickboxing with Muay Thai rules, and 4oz gloves, as the sport hadn’t evolved to boxing gloves, but was adapted soon. This lead Sifus students to learn boxing and prepared them for the addition of boxing gloves to kickboxing and muay Thai competitions.“

Coach Vaegas first fight was NZ Full contact all martial arts style, and sheds light on Kickboxing events they were a part of.

“ The only type of other tournaments around were Karate tournaments, which were mainly points scoring to the body but no contact to the head and everything had to be controlled. The only full contact tournament at that time was kyokushin where full contact to the body/ leg for punches and kicks. you could kick head but no punches to head. The only other tournaments around were ITF Taekwondo tournaments which were semi-contact with safety kicks, but then you still had to have control.”

In the late 80s, Sifu Lam invaluably enriched the inevitable transition of kickboxing to Muay Thai for his students, by organising Muay Thai Champions from Thailand to come to CLG, as trainers to help his students, as well as training with other martial artists from different styles like Terry Hill and Robert McGuinness.

Coach Vaega, on Sifu Phillip lams Nz open full contact martial arts tournaments in the late 70s early 80s.

“ We had full contact to head, body, sweeps allowed, elbows allowed, headbutt allowed, takedown and throws allowed plus you were allowed to wear sand shoes and gloves were the small fingerless 4-6 oz gloves. only 3 divisions under 70kg light weight 70-80kg middleweight and over 80kg was open weight

There were heaps of competitors from all karate, TKD, jujits ,boxing ,and street fighters.

You had 1 3min round of continuous fighting. Winner went on, the loser was out of competition. so in the early days, things were pretty full on as we were still sorting out rules, there was no ring yet, we fought on the floor with judges in each corner similar to other tournaments .

I think the ring and boxing gloves came in either 1981 or 82 ..but those early days were really trying to get some ground rules in, and trying to standardize rules so that everyone was comfortable. When boxing gloves came in, we went and trained with boxers to improve our hands. When we progressed to kickboxing we trained with Kickboxers, and TKD fighters so we could incorporate the different kicks, as Lee Gar systems only used low kicks .

Then finally Sifu started to bring Thai fighters to NZ, to teach us Muay Thai and give us the opportunity to fight the Thais in New Zealand.

Its quite funny sifu always thought of a fight as a cup of tea; enjoy the tea, the flavors etc. once its finished, have another cup, Which he felt when you fight. enjoy the moment, win, loss or draw, learn from it m, then let it go and move on to the next one .

Lot of fighters are pretty critical of themselves after they fight and tend to hold on to stuff where as sifu felt you fight review to move on to the next fight, just like a cup of tea .😃”

Sifu Lam continued teaching at City Lee Gar while his students established their own gyms under the Lee Gar banner. Coach Lolo and Tojo Dixon started the firstBalmoral Lee Gar gym, and Coach Vaega opened up South Island Lee Gar. These three instalments of Lee Gar together produced more NZ combat sport champions like Doug Viney, Eugene Bareman, John Conway, Jason Suttie, Shane “Choppa” Chapman, Ray Seffo and Jason Vemoa, to name a few.

They furthered the Lee Gar name and continued to grow the sport in their own right, by going on to establish a new wave of gyms that was linked to Lee Gar and Sifu Lam, directly and indirectly.

John Conway started up Rebel Lee Gar, Eugene Bareman and Doug Viney bought and took over City Kickboxing, Jason Suttie set up Elite Thai Kickboxing, and Tristam Apikotoa established Team Battle. Ethan Shepp started House of Pain, Eddie Tongolahi Lee Gar Legacy in China and Greg Nesbit Urban Sport North Shore gym.

Dave Gahan established Rotorua Lee Gar which was taken over by Joe White, Richie Nola started Redemption Lee Gar, Tony Angelov took the reins from Sifu Lam in 2014 for City Lee Gar, and coach Asasio Heimuli (Lolo) most recently reestablished Balmoral Lee Gar.

Terry Tuteru started Terry’s Gym, now South Auckland Lee Gar, to train the kids on his street. He was also one of Sifus' students along with his uncle, Iopu Tuteru.

“Sifu found out about it and he asked me why didn't I name my gym as Leegar because I am one of his students. I told sifu Phillip OK why not, only if he's OK with it, and his answer ‘yes! of course’.”

These gyms now house multiple NZs current mixed martial artists and champions who represent at home and internationally, amongst which are Israel Adesanya, Brad Riddell, Brogan Anderson, Carlos Hicks, Nikora Lee Kingi, and Junior Fa. It will be exciting to see what the road to 50 will be like for Sifu Lam and Lee Gars Legacy.

Coach Vaega summarises four and a half decades of Lee Gar in the best way, “Sifu Lam was instrumental with the evolution of full-contact martial arts in New Zealand, progressing from full contact to kickboxing to Muay Thai. His ability to change and adapt our training to suit the times was incredible. That’s why you have so many Kiwi fighters on the world stage doing amazing things.”

Tickets for Philip Lam Promotions Thai Boxing event are available through Coach Tony Angelov at City Lee Gar gym. A livestream for the fight night will also be accessible via Fight Show Live onhttps://fightshow.live/phillip-lam.

Written by Agent 33