In his Academy Award-nominated role as Mr. Miyagi in the 1985 hit movie, The Karate Kid, Pat Morita uttered the following advice to his student Daniel LaRusso, “Lesson not just karate only. Lesson for whole life. Whole life have a balance. Everything be better.”
Those words of wisdom could be just as easily attributed to martial arts instructor Vinson Villena, who owns Flying V Martial Arts in Oak Park (111 N. Oak Park Avenue/www.flyingmartialarts.com).
Villena has been practicing Taekwondo for almost 30 years and teaching the Korean martial art over 20 years at various universities, schools, fitness centers and park districts in the Philippines, Los Angeles and Chicago.
While Morita was being considered for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars in the mid-1980s, Villena was immersed in the early stages of what has become a highly successful Taekwondo career. Over three decades later, the 270 students at Flying V would likely pick Villena as a shoo-in for Best Supporting Instructor.
“There’s a lot of truth to the idea of having a good teacher,” said Flying V student Marisela Ramos. “Master Vinson has such a passion for the sport and he wants the world to know about it. He’s so encouraging and supportive toward everybody. He’s very inspiring.”
While many sports and activities are available (particularly for kids), Flying V offers a unique experience.
“Our classes offer more than just something to do after school,” Villena said. “Flying V is about a lot more than just sparring or breaking boards. We teach our students about developing important qualities like work ethic, discipline, confidence and caring about others.
“It’s a totally different generation of kids now,” he added. “That’s why it’s so important to establish good habits at an early age because those lessons will last a lifetime.”
Since Villena began his business venture in 2009 (initially in Forest Park with 20 students), Flying V has flourished with four locations — in Oak Park, Countryside, Rolling Meadows and Chicago.
Ramos, one of Flying V’s most ardent supporters and active members is a 1st degree black belt. She’s not, however, built in the stereotypical mode of martial experts like Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris or Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Then again, that’s the inherent beauty of Flying V, according to the 5-foot-2, 47-year-old Oak Park mother of three.
All walks of life are welcomed. Flying V members range in age from 8 to 61; some students come from diverse ethnic backgrounds as well, including Korean, Filipino, Thai, Mexican, Russian and Chinese.
“The people at Flying V are from all kinds of backgrounds, experiences and ages,” she said. “We found Master Vinson [Villena] through a satellite school in LaGrange. My daughter was involved with highly competitive, often chaotic gymnastics and getting a bit discouraged. I noticed some gentlemen coming in and out in martial arts uniforms, so I asked my daughter if she wanted to try it.” One free trial lesson later, she was hooked.
The offer to take up Taekwondo quickly became reciprocal.
“Master Vinson asked me if I’d like to take a lesson, too, since he encourages families to learn together,” Ramos said. “My first thoughts were, I’m too old and out of shape for this. Then I saw this mom holding her own in a class in Oak Park. I thought, if she can do it, let me give it a try. I loved it right away.”
Ramos is a member of Flying V’s competition team, along with her daughters Ariana (13) and Sofia (11). Although he’s not competing yet, Ramos’ 8-year-old son, Freddy, has an orange belt.
Medaling in Minneapolis
At the 2019 USA Taekwondo National Championships in Minneapolis this summer (June 27-July 4), Ramos and Ariana both won a bronze medal, while Sofia finished sixth in the nation as a first-time competitor in the Cadet Division. Overall, the Flying V team brought home 18 medals (8 gold, 3 silver, 7 bronze). Not bad for a group formed in 2015.
Coached by Harold Martinez, some notable winners from Flying V included: Chandler Torres (Gold/Sparring – USA National Team 2019), Angela Tortora (Gold/Team Poomsae – USA National Team 2019), Alex Tortora (Bronze/Pair Poomsae, Silver/Team Poomsae), Laura Rossi (Bronze/Team Poomsae), Chloe Manno (Gold/Sparring), Ariana Ramos (Bronze/Individual Poomsae), Kirby Chapman (Gold/Individual Poomsae, Silver/Sparring), Marisela Ramos (Bronze/Sparring), Yuriy Rogachev (Bronze/Sparring, Bronze/Individual Poomsae), Kalyx Calimlim (Gold/Individual Poomsae), Nabila DiOrio (Silver/Individual Poomsae), Cecilia Duff (Bronze/Sparring), Alara Randle (Gold/Sparring) and Jacob Terrell (Gold/Individual Poomsae).
Extensive training, competition, plus a few team dinners, accounted for most of the team’s time in Minneapolis.
“I love the intensity of a week immersed in Taekwondo,” Flying V member Sheena Kim said. “Watching not only some of the best Taekwondo athletes in the USA compete, but being able to cheer on my teammates and seeing how our hard work over the years has paid off was great. Ultimately though, it’s not about the medals. It’s about each person’s personal journey through challenge and how we can use our own strength and draw upon our teammates’ support and the coaching of Harold to rise up and do our best.”
Teammate Kirby Chapman added: “Flying V is very special because it’s a family. We love, encourage and support each other, not only in competition, but in life.”
Torres, 17, won gold in sparring for the second straight year at Nationals, which makes him No. 1 in the nation in Male Junior Sparring under 51kg rankings by USA Taekwondo. He’s also on Team USA.
“My family was able to come out and support me and the rest of my team which made the experience even greater,” Torres said. “Coach Harold and Master Vinson led us to a great outing with many medals and fun memories.
“This year, I was able to bring home gold for the second year in a row. I was very proud to be able to achieve this, but I was more thankful than anything to my family, teammates and coaches for their support.”
Training with Martinez since he was 13, Torres has aspirations of becoming an Olympian.
“Chandler is awesome, truly one of the finest people I know,” Ramos said. “He is all over the place, cross-training and competing everywhere he can. He is light as a feather, quick and highly skilled.”
The Flying V competition team typically competes in either World Taekwondo Federation or International Taekwondo Federation tournaments throughout the year. Black belts on the team may compete in prestigious events such as the U.S. Open, President’s Cup, Canada Open and Texas Open.
Villena chose Martinez to lead Flying V’s competition team. Both Filipinos have experience as members of their native country’s national team in Taekwondo.
“Coach Harold has been the rock of our team,” Kim said. “He trains us from the beginning, devoting most of his time and energy to help each member of the team improve every day. We would not exist without him.”
Although plenty of talent exists on the Flying V roster, the insightful instruction imparted from Villena, Martinez and the other coaches is clearly a game-changer.
“Over the years, I’ve seen some coaches get really intense during sparring,” Ramos said. “I’m glad those kinds of coaches are not my master. My [Flying V] coach [Harold Martinez] and Master Vinson are excitable; but in the end, we aren’t being taught to sweep the leg.
“At the beginning of each lesson, we repeat the Five Tenets of Taekwondo: Courtesy, Integrity, Self-Control, Perseverance and Indomitable Spirit. We introduce those concepts in class as lessons that can be applied in life. Taekwondo also has such an honor system that integrity is really part of being a martial artist.”
Training at Flying V calls for determination and courage as well. Chapman, 61, exemplifies those qualities. In 2016, the Oak Park resident was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“The most important life lesson for all of us is to not give up,” Chapman said. “Things happen in life, sometimes devastating things. The easy thing is to curl up in the fetal position and give up. That would have been real easy for me to do in December of 2016. But because of the mental toughness I learned at Flying V from Coach Harold and Master Vincent, I never once thought about giving up and I never once asked, ‘Why me?’
“I’m here today and living life to the fullest because of the Flying V family.”
Lastly, if you’re curious how Flying V earned its name, Villena offers an explanation.
“Since my name is Vinson Villena, I thought Flying V would be a cool name for my martial arts school,” said
Villena, “but my wife also suggested naming the school Flying V from the movie, ‘Mighty Ducks’.
“I liked the idea. In that movie, the players are always helping each other to move forward. On that [Flying V] line, if one player gets injured or is having a hard time, another player steps up ready to help. The Flying V is about developing teamwork, helping others, maximizing your ability and creating a sense of family.
“That’s why my school is named Flying V Martial Arts because we’re a family.”