Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Mastering the art

Martial arts training playing role in the success of three Bowie High wrestlers

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Christopher Anderson⁄The Bowie Star Photos
Painted on the walls inside the Bowie High School wrestling room are names of past state champions. There have been some close calls the past three seasons as the Bulldogs try to add another name to that list after a 20-year drought.

Tyler Smith hopes 2008 will be his time. The two-time defending county champion reached the state tournament for the first time last season and is listed as an honorable mention this week in the Maryland State Wrestling Association’s 119-pound rankings.

As successful as he’s been in wrestling, Smith has made a bigger impact in martial arts, where he is a 2000 United States Judo Association national championship finalist in classical judo, in addition to being a Maryland State champion. Teammates Darnell Murphy and Brandon Tipton have similar martial arts backgrounds that have translated into success on the wrestling mat.

‘‘Judo has helped me a lot, but the main thing is working hard at [judo and wrestling],” said Smith, 21-1 this season entering this week.

Smith has competed in judo since he was 6, but he has been around the sport for practically his entire life. He never wrestled before arriving at Bowie High. He added that his abilities as a wrestler came as a result of his background in judo. He placed fourth in the county wrestling tournament as a freshman, then won the event the following two seasons at 103 and 112. He was third at the 4A⁄3A South Region Tournament last season to cap off a 36-win campaign.

‘‘There’s some stuff that translates,” said Smith. ‘‘A lot of the balance really helps. Wrestlers have their kind of balance and judo has their kind of balance. I have both. It’s good for defense and it helps with work ethic.”

Smith has sparred with Tipton in Ju-Jitsu. On the wrestling mat, Tipton competes at 140 and 145. His martial arts background also is extensive, though the sophomore is fairly new to both sports. Tipton has also participated in Sambo, which focuses mainly on the legs, and Muay Thai, a standup style of fighting.

Murphy is a freestyle specialist who learned how to both wrestle and perform Ju-Jitsu while living in Japan the past three years.

‘‘Compared to being a freestyle wrestler with Ju-Jitsu, it’s kind of neat,” said Murphy, who attended folkstyle wrestling camp before stepping onto the mat at Bowie this season. ‘‘This is my first year doing folkstyle. The rules, I’m still learning how to break my freestyle rules into folkstyle. The first time I did that, it was confusing and hard. But overall, it’s been good.”

In Japan, Murphy was the runner-up at 158 pounds in the Beast of the East, a freestyle tournament bringing together American and Japanese schools. He hopes some of what he learned there will translate into a solid postseason run this season.

‘‘I’ve been wrestling freestyle my whole wrestling career,” said Murphy. ‘‘Some of the wrestlers that I have been wrestling here are much more advanced. I haven’t pinned them or I beat them by points because of my freestyling. That has helped a lot.”

Tipton never wrestled before high school. He said he picked up the Ju-Jitsu bug from his father, and it gives him an advantage on the wrestling mat.

‘‘It helps a lot,” said Tipton. ‘‘It gets you used to moving around on the mat in a wrestling position.”

A casual observer may not notice the role that martial arts training plays for the three Bowie wrestlers, but it’s apparent to first-year Bulldogs’ coach Pete Ward.

‘‘It does come into play for them,” said Ward. ‘‘I watch their style and their upper-body technique.

‘‘Darnell’s a big guy who likes to throw. In Ju-Jitsu, that’s typically what you’re doing is throws. You don’t see Darnell shooting the legs. He’s an all upper-body guy. It was really clear when [Smith] first started wrestling that he was a judo guy because he would tie up a guy and stand straight up. In folkstyle, it’s more about finesse. He liked to tie up guys and toss them. It worked for him.”

Smith and Murphy are aiming for deep postseason runs and advancement into the state tournament. They, along with seniors Ronnie Sinclair and Eric Bulger, may be the team’s best hopes to add the next name to Bowie’s wall of champions.

‘‘I hope I win the region and I hope I win the states,” said Smith. ‘‘I’m one of the top in states, so I have a pretty good chance at that. But it will take me to flat out work hard if I want to accomplish that.”

E-mail Adam Rubenstein at