Imagine a young boy growing up with a girl’s name. The merciless taunting would have traumatised any child.
That’s what happened to Yeo Kim Hock, who was born to a rich Peranakan family in Melaka, but had to be given up for adoption after a medium told his biological parents their youngest child wouldn’t survive long if he “continued to be a boy”.
“I was a sickly baby and the medium said I had to be given away for me to stay alive. So my mother’s brother, who was a martial arts instructor, adopted me. But I was still sickly. Another medium advised him to change my name to a girl’s. So here I am, your Ah Lian!” says Capt Lim Swee Lian, chuckling while impersonating a girl’s voice.
He now goes by the name Sifu Capt John Lim. A very macho captain, mind you.
At 71, the brawny and fit Lim still retains his youthful looks and a full head of black hair, thanks to his positive outlook and healthy lifestyle.
All original parts, I ask?
“One hundred percent! No hair dye except for a little bit on the sideburns,” he confesses, flexing his biceps.
And boy, what a colourful life he has lived – and in many parts of the world, too.
He recalls, “My adoptive father was a caretaker of a temple with no electricity and that’s where I grew up. I really was a confused kid because I went to a Catholic school where the kids used to poke fun at me for praying to gods.
“Besides learning all kinds of martial arts and qigong, I had to do daily chores. I became a rebel because I was fed up of doing the same thing every day. I was raised a vegetarian and it wasn’t until I was 12 that I tasted chicken when a Malay friend invited me to his house. Wow, it tasted so good and I’ve never looked back!”
After completing high school, Lim ran away to Singapore where his adoptive father’s twin worked. He got a job as a cadet sailor and went sailing, eventually landing in Alaska and moving to San Francisco, where he lived for five years. Along the way, he also discovered his real identity and was, naturally, angry with his biological folks for a while.
“But I missed my family and returned to Singapore. I was still young and would be fighting on the streets occasionally. Unknowingly, I was actually combining all the martial arts techniques I learnt, with rules and intelligence – that’s what mixed martial arts or MMA is all about.”
Restless, he returned to San Francisco. His career in the high seas saw Lim being the captain of several tankers, tug boats and cargo vessels. Lim moved to Saudi Arabia to became the chief marine superintendent of Arabian Oil Co in Ald Al Khafji. He then branched out into the construction industry and moved on to corporate life while juggling some businesses.
“Amidst all of it, I wanted to live in a white city so in 1993, I migrated to Perth (Australia) with my family,” says the father of two.
You cannot take the Malaysian out of Lim so at the end of 2013, he sold off all his businesses and returned to Penang, where he is currently based.
He saw his first MMA show on the island’s Khoo Kongsi clan house and met the gym owner-cum-MMA coach named Ringo Coldenhoff. Coincidentally, Lim actually knew his father.
One thing led to another, and never one to sit idle, Lim and Coldenhoff established Combat FC Entertainment, aka Combat FC in 2014, to offer a platform to build MMA talent while allowing fighters to compete with talents from other countries.
Combat FC is sanctioned by the WKL-WMMAL Florida, United States, and aims to provide the biggest independent fight platform for fighters in Asia, specifically Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and China.
Lim’s goal: “Someday, I want to produce a Malaysian world champion.”
MMA is one of the fastest growing sports in the world but Lim found that no one was teaching local fighters the ground game, that is, mental strength or inner technique. They may have the grappling and striking skills from different martial arts backgrounds but something was still amiss.
So, Lim took it upon himself to train the talent – in an unconventional way, no less.
“Fighters need determination, dedication and discipline. I train the boys at 5.30am at a 200-year-old graveyard. If they can conquer their fear of ghosts, they can conquer anything. I even make them run over the tombs! Sometimes, I dress up as a ghost, make some spooky noises and test their reaction!” he says, bursting out in laughter.
Thus far, his method has borne fruit as several of his fighters brought home medals at a recent MMA championship organised by Combat FC in Hainan, China. It’s the first Malaysian company to hold an MMA event internationally.
Unlike his fellow septuagenarians who would rather take it easy and smell the roses, Lim is raring for more action.
He shares, “My passion lies in fitness. I wake up before 5.30am daily, do some qigong and weight training. I also swim 20km a week and eat ‘baby food’. Occasionally, I might have a glass of beer or wine. The only supplements I take are krill oil and vitamin C with iron.
“A little bit of pain is normal at my age but it doesn’t bother me. I can still do 380kg leg presses though I have to sneak into the gym in the wee hours to do it as the trainers think the heavy weights are too dangerous for me. Find me another 71-year-old who can challenge me!”
That’s the competitive spirit in Lim. Don’t mess with him.