By Mary-Justine Lanyon
As a boy growing up in the Los Angeles area, Pablo Tello got picked on and was bullied. “I was not a big kid,” he said.
But then he started watching Bruce Lee movies, which inspired him to take up martial arts, specifically Tae Kwon Do. At the age of 13 or 14, he started at a school in Whittier with Master Kim.
“He trained me until I became state champion,” Tello said, “then national champion. He motivated me to want to produce my own national champions.”
Tello continued to compete, coming in third in sparring at the U.S. Open, which is one level below the Olympics. And he completed in the Hammadang, a Tae Kwon Do competition for black belts and masters only. That competition, in which Tello earned a silver medal, was held in Korea. At the time he was a master, a fourth-degree black belt.
Today Tello is a sixth-degree black belt and owns two studios – Victory Tae Kwon Do USA in Hacienda Heights and Victory Tae Kwon Do USA in Lake Arrowhead Village. His studios are named after the studio where his martial arts journey began.
“I wanted to keep the same name because that studio brought me a lot of success. And my Dad’s name is Victor,” he said.
Tello was Master Kim’s first student. “He had been a captain in the Korean army and trained me like the Korean army,” Tello said. “There was lots of discipline. I train my students the American way but with Korean-style discipline.
“Every kid needs some sort of training of this kind. It’s important to have discipline taught to them at a young age. That will carry them further than without it.”
Tello opened his Hacienda Heights studio in 1998 at the age of 26. While running that studio, he got married and had his first daughter. He and his wife, Anela, wanted to buy a house but the market in Huntington Beach, where they were living, was too expensive.
“We liked the mountain area more than the beach,” Tello said, “because of the fresh air, less congestion and the people. We found a beautiful house by the lake.” He commutes to his Lake Arrowhead Village studio by boat.
“I’m living the life – all my hard work has paid off. We felt at home quickly. We have amazing neighbors.”
Initially Tello had no plans to open a mountain studio. However, he felt the need. “I wanted to have kids learn up here. I felt the community needed the studio.”
Within a year of opening the studio in 2018 – which started out at just 300 square feet – it was successful. Tello has now expanded the space to more than 1,000 square feet.
And then COVID hit. Tello continued to teach about 30 students – outdoors. “It was especially tough in the winter,” he said. “But there’s no die in me. The most dedicated students stuck with me.”
They followed the Tae Kwon Do creed: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit.
Things have bounced back and Victory in the Village is back up to almost 100 students. Tello hopes to double that number but has a philosophy of quality, not quantity.
He has three assistants – Brandon Johnson, Connor Robertson and Mika Dearmond – who started out with him as white belts and stuck with him through the pandemic. They work with students at all levels, from the 3-year-old Tiny Tigers to teens and adults.
CREATING NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
Tello’s wish came true when he took 16 students from the Hacienda Heights studio to the national championships in Salt Lake City in late July. Most schools, he said, only had five students who qualified – which means they won a state championship.
Bobby Cazares, who was one of the first students to sign up with Tello, is now the head coach in Hacienda Heights. His goal – and Tello thinks he will achieve it – is to be coach of the U.S. national team.
At the national championship, the Victory students won six gold medals, four silver and three bronze. The first gold medal was captured by Matthew Alfonso. And then his sister Makayla also won gold.
“It’s almost unheard of for a brother and sister to get gold medals,” Tello said. “They will be ranked #1 in the U.S. It’s looking very good for them to make the Olympic team as long as they stay healthy.”
Tello is hoping to see similar success from his students in the Lake Arrowhead studio. “The plan is to recreate the success we have had in Hacienda Heights,” he said.
Driving back from Salt Lake City, Tello said he thought back over the whole experience and everything he has done. “I couldn’t hold back tears of joy,” he said.