A professional fighter is giving his time and skills to teach underprivileged children mixed martial arts – for free.Chad Hepburn (37) from Wynberg has been a fighter for 15 years. Out of passion he decided to help children who can’t afford to learn more about the sport.He now runs Africa Mixed Martial Arts Academy at the Coniston Park recreational hall in Steenberg. Hepburn still practices mixed martial arts, but took the whole of this year out just to teach the children in his academy, and travels to Steenberg twice a week.“The equipment is expensive. Most of the children in poor areas can’t afford to go to the gyms where they can be taught fighting skills because it’s too expensive. I didn’t want to keep it to myself if I could help someone with what I know. It saved me, so it can also help someone. That’s when I started the academy with the help of friends,” says Hepburn.Working out of his own pocket, he bought equipment so that the children and other people who come there, can use it to train with. Hepburn says he started to fight as it was his gateway to escape from substance abuse and gangs. “I wasn’t a saint growing up. I mixed with the wrong group; I was into drugs and alcohol. I was going nowhere slowly,” he says. Some of his friends had even died. “Another friend of mine told me about boxing and I was interested. I joined and I practised. Before I knew it I was competing in amateur fights. That was the turning point in my life.I worked my way up now i do mixed martial arts. Being active and fighting taught me so much. I was disciplined. I learned what it was to be physically and mentally fit, and enjoyed the feeling.” Having fought many well-known giants in the industry and seeing the benefits of this skill, he thought of sharing it. “To me it was the fact that if it could change my life and save me from destruction, it would help others. I chose this area because of the challenges we have – drugs, alcohol and gangsterism are rife in this community, so I wanted to help children get off the streets. There is so much potential out here and I’m glad that they like the sport. Training is not available in this area because it’s expensive, so by being here I’m helping them,” says Hepburn.Apart from training children from the area, he also teaches self-defence classes to women.“I teach them how to defend themselves. I teach them the basics which can come in handy when they are cornered or pinned to the ground. With sexual abuse all over and women getting raped, we teach them how to defend themselves from the ground. I do this out of my own goodness and I want everyone to benefit from it,” he says.For now Hepburn and his students practise twice a week, but they are hoping that next year they will be able to do it every day. They are appealing for help with equipment like punching bags, ropes, gum guards, gloves, head guards, shin pads and judo gear. Next year the students are aiming to compete and get their provincial colours. “The group is really doing well. We want to compete next year. However, I have to buy all the equipment out of my own pocket. Most of the things don’t last long because of wear and tear and constantly need to be replaced. We are pleading with anyone that can help us with equipment – we will be extremely grateful,” says Hepburn. “A lot of children love the sport and I’m willing to teach them, but at times I don’t have the means because I do everything with my own money,” he says.“But, despite the challenges, I really love what I do and it warms my heart when the children enjoy it,” says Hepburn.- If you would like to support the academy and help the children, call Hepburn on 083 542 9543.