ROWLEY — Mark Boyle was looking to get back on the mat. A former state champion wrestler with Triton, the 23-year-old Boyle had taken a year off after wrapping up his four-year Division 1 wrestling career at Sacred Heart to settle into his new career in the Air Force.
The bad news, he couldn’t find anywhere to keep wrestling. Instead, he stumbled upon a new and intriguing opportunity.
“There isn’t much opportunity for guys my age for wrestling, you can try to coach or join a club, but there aren’t many kids continuing,” Boyle said. “But jiu jitsu is everywhere.”
The Rowley native came across a Brazilian jiu jitsu facility in Woburn — Boston Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy — on his ride home from work at Hanscom Air Force Base, and quickly took to the new discipline. This past weekend, he competed in his first tournament and won a gold medal, going unscored on to win the 210-pound white belt division at the Grappling Industries tournament at St. John’s Prep.
Boyle, who won 162 matches in his high school wrestling career at Triton, was a perfect 6-0 in the white belt division and also competed in the advanced no gi division. Though he went 1-3 in those matches, one of his losses came by referee decision against an accomplished black belt with more than 20 years of experience.
Jimmy DelOrfano, the owner and head trainer at Boston Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, was impressed with Boyle’s showing.
“It was definitely a surprise,” he said, noting that Boyle’s prior experience on the mat has translated well to the new discipline.
While a relative neophyte to jiu jitsu, Boyle’s background has made him uniquely qualified for the sport. Growing up he was a championship judo fighter under the tutelage of two-time Olympic bronze medalist Jimmy Pedro before taking up wrestling full-time as a teenager. Like those other sports, Brazilian jiu jitsu heavily emphasizes grappling, so many of the skills he has spent years perfecting in judo and wrestling carry over seamlessly.
“I loved it right away, wrestling translates as far as how you move and overall confidence rolling around on the mat, but jiu jitsu I think is more applicable to life,” Boyle said. “You learn skills that could protect you, god forbid I wouldn’t want to use it, but you learn chokes and arm bars, and if you’re going out at night and someone tries to mess with you, you can handle your own. Just having that in your back pocket is a great tool to have.”
Adjusting to the prevalence of submission holds has been the major adjustment for Boyle, who said he had to be careful trying to shoot a double leg takedown on the brown and black belts because they could easily choke him out if he missed. Regardless, he’s enjoying the sport and hopes to compete in a tournament again once work and family commitments start to quiet down again in the fall.
“I have a lot of fun doing it. I’m looking to get better and better and it’s a good time,” Boyle said.