DARNICK is a long way from the humid gyms and training halls of Rio de Janiero, but the burning desire of the young men pounding away on bags in the village’s Smith Memorial hall every Tuesday and Sunday night is just the same – to be the best mixed martial arts fighter.
In 1920s Brazil, touring circuses often featured sideshows of full contact bouts of a combat sport termed ‘vale tudo’, meaning ‘anything goes’ or ‘everything allowed’ in the country’s native Portuguese language.
The sport spread to the United States and, in 1993, the world was introduced to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
The UFC – which has rules, albeit minimal – was originally intended as a way to determine the most effective marital art for unarmed combat situations.
However, fighters soon realised to be among the best, they needed to train in a number of different martial arts like western boxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and submission wrestling.
This potent blend is now known by the universal term ‘MMA’ – mixed martial arts – and is rated as the fastest-growing sport in the world.
And that’s where Martin Millar, coach of Borders Cross Combat comes in. A native of Edinburgh who now lives in Earlston after 20 years in the Borders, he started his own martial arts career in the mid-1970s.
Training in judo, karate and Tae Kwon Do was followed by a number of years with the legendary Rick Young from Edinburgh, one of the UK’s most highly-regarded instructors in a number of disciplines including BJJ, Filipino fighting systems and Bruce Lee’s own martial art of Jeet Kune Do.
Martin had actually been away from the martial arts scene for a while until his eldest son, James, started to show an interest after watching UFC bouts on television.
“I was in the wilderness for a bit as far as martial arts were concerned. I wasn’t really doing much for a few years – I’d kind of lost interest, to be honest,” said Martin.
“But as my son, James, was getting older and becoming interested, it brought it all back again and I started getting back into it.”
Before Martin knew it, James and around 10 of his friends from high school were training regularly in the Millars’ living room.
“My wife wasn’t too happy with this invasion – judo mats in the living room, steamy windows and so on. So I said: ‘Right, we’re going to get somewhere’. We rented this place and got a wee club going.”
Borders Cross Combat is now registered with the British Combat Association.
As well as MMA, Borders Cross Combat teaches self defence, with the students coming from all over the Borders, including Earlston, Hawick, Galashiels, Jedburgh and St Boswells.
With up to 15 or 16 young fighters learning their MMA trade, Martin wants to keep the classes small to ensure everyone gets plenty of personal attention.
“I want everyone working together, all improving together and that helps create a real family feeling, a close bond.”
Martin is reluctant to speak too much about his own martial arts career, even though he has trained with some of the ‘greats’ like Bruce Lee’s top student, Guru Dan Inosanto.
“It’s all about them,” he said, pointing proudly to his students. “It’s not about me. They’re the ones who are putting in the hard work, the ones who are stepping into a cage.”
Four of Borders Cross Combat’s fighters took part in the recent successful ‘Battle of the Borders’ tournament in Hawick, posting two wins, a draw and a loss on points.
For Cammy Rodgie, from St Boswells, the event was his first time in the ring. Now in sixth year at Earlston High School, Cammy, 17, has been with Borders Cross Combat since it opened nearly three years ago.
“My older brother was coming and I fancied giving it a try. Yeah, I was a bit nervous before the fight as it was my first and I was up against a 20-year-old.
“But I choked him out in 61 seconds, so I’m pleased with that.”
Cammy says what attracts him to MMA is the confidence it instills and the fitness.
“I quit rugby as I wasn’t enjoying it anymore, and I wasn’t really enjoying any other sports either.
“This is good fun, although it’s not for everyone. Personally, I don’t like the phrase ‘cage fighting’ as it smacks of drunk guys with tattoos just brawling and it’s far from that.”
Martin and his team at Borders Cross Combat are slowly evolving their own particular system of MMA, blending Martin’s experience together with other techniques people bring to training. For example, Martin’s son, James, now trains with the well-known TNT gym when at university in Dundee.
But when back in the Borders and training with his fellow Borders fighters, James shares new techniques he’s learned from styles such as Russian Sambo, Greco [wrestling] and BJJ.
Martin added: “This sport gets the students fit, keeps them focussed, they meet people, and learn new skills all in a tight, family atmosphere. And I am learning from my students as much as they are learning from me. “