A Kadazandusun warrior from a lineage of headhunters and martial artists goes MMA.
MARC Marcellinus may be stepping into the cage at ONE Fighting Championship for his debut as a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter on Friday, but the reality is he has been a fighter all his life.
The Kadazandusun exponent of silat kuntau and muay thai has been through a double tragedy and volleyed the toughest trials life has thrown at him, and is still standing tall with a positive outlook on life.
“During those times, I was really down and depressed,” said Marcellinus, in a Skype interview from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. He had just returned from Phuket, Thailand where he had been training and preparing for his upcoming fight against British-Singaporean Stephen Langdown.
“I found the drive to live again in martial arts,” he added. “It teaches us not just how to kick and punch, but how to go through life with determination and perseverance. So, that was how I bounced back gradually and tried to be a better person. I had to learn how to respect myself so that I would respect others.”
Marcellinus is not the first to find solace in martial arts; many others have found the strength to go on even through the harshest of times. But Marcellinus’s story is the stuff of movies.
The 33-year-old grew up in a village in Tambunan, Sabah, a place so remote, it was difficult to get to even by air. The nearest city was hours away by land vehicle. Because of the gruelling journey, the villagers preferred to while away their time in the village and its surrounding areas.
“Back then, there was no Internet or TV, only radio,” said Marcellinus. “So, for us children, martial arts was our pastime. We beat each other up,” he said while laughing.
They also went hunting and fishing, and set traps for wild boars. He killed his first wild animal when he was only 12. In a group hunt, he shot a jaguar with a bow and arrow.
There were families of farmers, while others did handicraft, said Marcellinus. His was a family of hunters, who brought meat back to the village to be shared with everyone. His grandfather grew up with the old, albeit long-gone, tradition of headhunting.
“Back then my grandfather was the headman,” said Marcellinus. “He taught us that life is about ‘hunt, or be hunted’. It was a survival thing, because during the Japanese occupation, my grandfather was one of those who fought against the Japanese. Before he embraced Christianity, he used to keep human skulls in the house. But now, headhunting is no longer a practice. And those who embraced religion gave the skulls a burial.”
Marcellinus started training in silat kuntau when he was about eight years old. His family is from a lineage of martial arts practitioners, he said.
“All our family members had to have some martial arts training to protect ourselves,” he explained. “My family trained in kuntau, and so it has been passed down ever since. In my hometown, fights were normal. Boys got into fights, got cuts and bruises.”
When he started primary school, he picked up boxing. By the time he went to secondary boarding school, he was into karate.
“It was some sort of a sibling rivalry because my brother was into taekwondo,” said Marcellinus, who is the third child of seven siblings. “So, we were challenging each other to see which martial art was the best.”
At 16, he lost both his parents – his father passed away in a road accident while his mother succumbed to cervical cancer. Those were the darkest times of his life, he said.
“My dad had always taught us to depend on each other,” said Marcellinus. “We didn’t want to be a burden to our relatives, so my eldest sister took care of us. I got a part-time job. I would go to school in the morning and in the evening I would do some petty jobs such as building fences and farming. That’s how we supported each other.”
When he went to boarding school in the city, he held fast to his father’s teachings and strove to be independent.
“Boarding school was where the bullying started,” he laughed. “So, I had to be tough. It was challenging growing up alone, not knowing what was going to happen, just living day to day.”
He eventually got into Universiti Teknologi Mara in Shah Alam in 1998 and graduated in sports science in 2001.
“In university, I fell in love with muay thai,” said Marcellinus. “My friend brought me to a place in Kedah called Changlun where every Friday night, they had muay thai fights. My first impression was, ‘What the heck’s happening in the ring?’ But when the fight started, it was just awesome. There were knees, elbows, punches and kicks. Ever since then, I started training in muay thai.”
Marcellinus, who works as a fitness trainer, admitted that he has never had an MMA fight, and it is still all new to him. His friend and coach, Rayner Kinsiong, introduced him to Melvin Yeoh, one of the pioneers of Malaysian MMA, who has been giving him pointers and workout routines and training videos. It was Yeoh who recommended him to ONE FC, and Marcellinus said he signed up because he has never turned down a fight.
“I didn’t know much about ONE FC,” Marcellinus admitted. “It was when my friend showed me stuff about ONE FC that I knew it was international and not just in Malaysia. I was like, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ But there’s no turning back. I just had to go through with this.”
For him, it doesn’t matter that he is still learning about MMA.
“Life has taught me a lot but I won’t stop learning,” he said. “Life is about constantly learning. You can’t be satisfied just knowing one thing. You just have to learn as much as you can.”
In his view, this fight is just another challenge in his life. He has his martial arts mentors, but his greatest mentor is life itself, through which he has learnt to be a fighter through and through.
“It’s true what people say, nothing beats you down more than life,” said Marcellinus. “No matter how tough or how big you are, when life gets you down, you’re going to be down. It’s up to you to fight your own way back up.”
> ONE FC: Total Domination takes place this Friday, Oct 18, at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Catch the livestream at www.onefc.livesport.tv.