LATHAM Darby Wilson Jr. enjoys a challenge.
The Shaker High School student competes regionally on the North American Grappling Association (NAGA) circuit – a tour where Brazilian Jiu Jitsu athletes such as Wilson compete against other types of grapplers including wrestling and judo.
Not only does Wilson compete, but he also wins. At NAGA’s latest tournament Saturday at Albany’s Washington Avenue Armory, Wilson won both the gi (uniformed) and no gi titles in his age group – victories that will help his current national ranking of ninth in the 15-17 age division.
“I like the challenge,” said Wilson. “I like pushing myself to see what I can do.”
His father, Darby Wilson Sr., said becoming a Jiu Jitsu expert has benefits for Wilson beyond the mat.
“I wanted him to be able to defend himself in front of life’s hassles,” said Wilson Sr. “But, I still get nervous watching him (compete).”
Wilson chose Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as his sport after he started watching mixed martial arts matches on television several years ago.
“I got interested when I was a kid,” said Wilson, 17. “I watched MMA, and I fell in love with it instantly.”
Wilson enrolled at Atlas Jiu Jitsu in Colonie and became one of its youngest students. But he drew – and still draws – inspiration from watching the adult competitors as they trained.
“I want to be like the older guys there. They’re awesome,” said Wilson.
Wilson wasn’t just interested in training, though. He wanted a taste of the mixed martial arts matches he saw on TV. That’s when he started competing in NAGA tournaments. There, he could put his Jiu Jitsu skills against athletes coming from other disciplines where the only goal is to pin the opponent to the mat.
“When you’re out there, it’s like a game of chess,” said Wilson. “You almost have to focus on what they’re going to do and what you have to do to get out of it, or even reverse it to your advantage.”