When David Klotz was 5, he didn't care much about football. He was more interested in playing Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles.
Klotz found just the right outlet, too: karate. It taught him the moves a young Power Ranger wannabe loved, but it also helped him develop the discipline, agility, power and physical control that would come in handy years later as a center on Wilde Lake's football team.
"Overall, it's the stances, getting low, working out and flexibility," said Klotz, a senior. "And also just being able to take control of the situation and let it become what I want instead of what the aggressor wants it to be."
Klotz, a black belt, is one of a small but growing group of varsity athletes who have found that a background in martial arts helps them in other sports.
The benefits run the gamut of the physical (from flexibility and strength to being able to apply that strength) to the mental (from confidence and discipline to the quick thinking necessary to anticipate several moves ahead of an opponent).
"Martial arts is kind of like logic if you think about it," said Ousmane Toure, a junior soccer player at Randallstown. "If I do this, then this is going to happen; so if I do that, what should I be expecting? You open up the pathways to what can happen, and you try to take the best course of action."
Matt Fischer, a senior lineman at Archbishop Curley, picked up martial arts as a freshman in the school's Martial Arts Club. He said that trying several styles of karate as well as modern boxing, grappling and weapons fighting gave him a keener peripheral awareness.
"It's just a different way of thinking. You can almost watch somebody and the way their body moves, you can almost pick out what they're going to do - the way they step and kick a certain way or the way they might run the ball on the football field," Fischer said.
Frank Costello used martial arts training during his 16 years as strength and conditioning coach for the NHL's Washington Capitals, and he is a strong proponent of its benefits for all athletes.
"I think it's an example of cross training," Costello said. "In years past, athletes were lifting weights and doing other things, but this is real functional training and improves flexibility. I think most of all it enables the athlete to use the strength and speed that they've developed. Martial arts is very disciplined. It teaches you to realize your power and how to explode at the right time."
Klotz, the Wilde Lake lineman, sees that in his own game. "It taught me how to control my adrenaline so I don't go crazy and start throwing people all over the place," he said. "Same thing on the football field, where you have a burst of pure power and then settle down."
Karate also teaches how to apply that power so that athletes are not at a disadvantage if they're the smaller, weaker opponent, be it in karate, football or wrestling, said Ken Klotz, David's father, a fifth-degree black belt who has been teaching karate for more than 30 years.
"You're always being trained to think and attack the person's weakness, and I think that's going to come out in your sports," said Ken Klotz, who runs schools in Columbia and Bowie. "I've had lacrosse players, soccer players, et cetera, come up to me and tell me there are very similar strategy thoughts going on."
Ken Klotz regularly has several varsity athletes in the martial arts classes he teaches at University of Maryland and said he has seen more younger ones enroll at his studio.
In addition to the general applications, specific lessons from karate can be particularly applicable to a single sport.
Arnold Farmer, a junior defensive tackle at Poly, said he uses the hand techniques and footwork from karate to get past his opponent on the line.
"You can learn how to lock the offensive lineman's arms so you're more mobile," Farmer said. "Once you lock that arm, you're free to get to the quarterback or the running back."
Sophomore Kaitlyn Pentz, the goalie for the Century girls lacrosse team, said the footwork, flexibility and hand-eye coordination she learned helps, but the mental aspects are most important to her game.
"It taught me confidence," said Pentz, a black belt. "When I get scored on, I tell myself, 'OK, I can get back in this game. I know what I'm doing. I just need to focus on what I'm trying to do.' "
Ken Klotz saw one of the best examples of the cross-training nature of martial arts when he studied in China in December and January. Staying at the Shanghai University of Sports, he saw every sport, "but their core identity is martial arts.
"We got to visit a boarding school, first through 12th grade, and martial arts is the core component of their training," he said. "They do everything else, math, Chinese and all, but their whole idea is that martial arts centers the mind for everything else."
He and Wilde Lake football coach Doug DuVall have discussed introducing martial arts to the Wildecats' training regimen. Finding the time has been difficult, but DuVall said they'd like to try again this summer.
"It's a whole thing about disciplined training, and we attempt to do it in all sports," DuVall said.
"Certainly the discipline of throwing a baseball, that's pure body control. Hitting a tennis ball, shooting a three-point shot, hitting a fastball - that's all really mind over matter. ... Anybody can do them if they have the discipline to practice long enough. In football, there's not a kid, who if he had martial arts training, would not be a better football player."
To see video of David Klotz demonstrating his karate moves, go to baltimoresun.com/karate