Taiyo Marang admitted he wasn't good at Shuai Jiao the first time he tried that form of martial arts four years ago.
"I performed extremely poorly," said Marang, an incoming junior at DeSales High School.
But by 2013, he finished second at the national tournament.
This past spring, Marang became a national and world champion, the latter by winning the 60-kilogram title on May 22 at the 2014 Europe-Rome World Shuai Jiao Tournament in Rome.
"I don't know if I did anything special as far as training was concerned," said Marang, a 17-year-old Clintonville-area resident who stands 5-foot-5, 133 pounds and competes in the 135-pound class during domestic events. "I paid attention to how people fought differently during competition in contrast to how you train. I trained a lot by myself (and) with my dad (Jason), worked hard and gained endurance. I think those were the biggest things."
Marang placed first in the United States Shuai-chiao Association national tournament April 12 in Cleveland to earn his trip overseas.
In Rome, Marang fought competitors from China, Italy and Spain, defeating his Italian foe 9-0 in the 60-kilogram final.
Marang's instructor, Matt Mollica, marveled at his pupil's relatively quick ascension -- even though Marang has competed in martial arts since he was 5.
Jason Marang won Sanshou and Shuai Jiao national championships in 1995.
"Competitors from Hong Kong, China (and) places like that still have a huge edge over us. I never send anyone overseas expecting to win," said Mollica, who owns Master Mollica's Kung-Fu and Tai-Chi in north Columbus. "Taiyo's improvement was sudden. He trained harder and I showed him some secrets I thought might do the trick, and from there he combined that hard work with his talent.
"Taiyo was a good student off the bat, and that hasn't changed. He does flips, aerial cartwheels, everything. I think he'll only get better. Bruce Lee was what, 5-6, 5-7 and around 135 pounds? Taiyo is cut in the same mold. In that respect, he's the ideal size for this."
Shuai Jiao, also known as Chinese wrestling, consists of upright fighting in which combatants earn points depending on the type of throw. It is the oldest of all Chinese martial arts, with its first recorded competition taking place in 2,697 B.C.
Punching, kicking and locking skills are not permitted, and a competitor loses the match if a body part other than his feet touches the ground.
"It's an advanced class," Mollica said. "It seems like YouTube videos and the Internet have brought back some of the appeal of ancient arts. I love seeing its popularity."
Jason Marang has no doubt his son has what it takes to remain a factor in Shuai Jiao.
"It hit home with Taiyo that he had to emphasize his technical abilities, and he stuck with that all the way to a world championship," Jason Marang said. "Obviously, he exceeded all expectations. He just applied himself."