Lafortune has been talk of prep judo for four years
By Kalani Takase
Advertiser Staff Writer
Brady Lafortune loves to strike up conversations with others — but sometimes it's at the least likely moment.
Lafortune is a Moanalua senior and four-time O'ahu Interscholastic Association individual judo champion. His accolades are second to none as the 132-pound judoka has gone undefeated in his four-year prep career and Saturday, he will attempt to capture his fourth state title.
If he is to reach the championship final, Lafortune is already sure of his strategy, regardless of who his opponent may be: Find someone to lend an ear.
In what has become a signature routine for Lafortune, just minutes before his biggest matches, is one of those times that he just can't help himself.
"I can't keep all my energy bottled up inside, I have to talk to someone first," said Lafortune. "Anyone really. Teammates, family, friends, strangers. Sometimes I talk to my opponent, but usually he ignores me because they're trying to focus."
The reasoning, says Lafortune, is to relieve tension and nerves.
"Once I step onto the mat and the referee says (start), I'm already ready and all those butterflies go away because for me, I'm mentally and physically prepared for the match."
WILL TO WIN
Lafortune won his first state title as a freshman at 108 pounds before moving up to 114 the next year. He won his most recent title at 121 pounds and against ascended weight classes this season.
Moanalua coach Brandon Maki said winning has always come easy for Lafortune.
"He never had the technique that other players had growing up and really he didn't have to put in the hard work that others had to put in," said Maki, who also is an instructor at Salt Lake Judo Club, where Lafortune is a member. "I think it's not just because of his athletic ability, but because of his drive to win. Even when he gets put in a tough spot, he finds a way to win. He knows how to win."
Maki believes much of Lafortune's success can be traced to his timing and quickness.
"He knows his body well and his timing is impeccable," he said. "He understands the timing of the way a person moves and when he can catch someone at the right time."
FIRST ON THE MAT
At Friday's OIA Team Championships, Lafortune pulled out a clutch victory against Roosevelt in the title match and led Nā Menehune to their second crown in three years. Maki said having the dual meet matches start at 132 pounds worked to his team's advantage that night. Beginning this season, a weight class is randomly selected before each meet as a starting bout. In years past, matches always began with the 108-pound weight class and ended with the 275 division.
"I was happy about that," Maki said. "It was nice to start off with a player that you're pretty confident in."
Lafortune was more than happy to fill that role.
"I liked that I was able to start off for my team and get that win and get momentum going," he said. "There are no words that can describe that feeling of winning Team Championships. I was more happy to win that than last year's (individual) state championship."
Lafortune not only took care of business on the mat, but provided some pre-match inspiration for his teammates.
"We asked him to give a speech before Team Championships, but we didn't tell him what to say or how to say it," Maki said. "He's the only player on our team this year that played on our 2008 (OIA) championship team and so he brought in his medal from that year. He talked to the kids and showed them what (the medal) looks like and told them what it feels like to get it."
Lafortune said the idea to bring his medal came purely by chance.
"I was looking for my judo gi and I found that medal back from 2008, when we beat Pearl City," Lafortune said. "I passed it around and said that 'we can all get one of these, we just have to have faith in each other and try our best.' Everyone seemed so eager to win their matches after that, especially since it was at our school."
GO WITH THE FLOW
Despite all his achievements, Lafortune describes himself as "equal to everyone else.
"I believe anyone can be beaten on any given day. It's like any other sport, it requires practice. It may seem easy for me, but I've trained at it since (age) 5."
Lafortune said visualizing his opponent and the match helps him relax before matches.
" I visualize them moving, what they do, what I'm going to do if I get caught in a bad situation and how to get out of it, so that nothing will catch me by surprise in a match," Lafortune said. "But, you can't over-stress yourself or over-think things. You can't play thinking too much, you kind of have to let your body flow."
Maki said he has come to appreciate Lafortune's easy-going mentality.
"He tries to lighten the mood when everybody is kind of nervous," Maki said. "I think that's his way of handling the pressure on him, too."
The usually light-hearted Lafortune was hit with a serious situation less than a month ago after he hurt an ankle outside of practice in the week leading up to the OIA's Eastern Division Championships.
"I kind of cried, because when I went to the doctor, he said the ankle is broken, so I thought my season was done," Lafortune said. "I was thinking that this was my senior year and now I wouldn't be able to finish it ... I had a lot of thoughts on my mind at that time."
However, the injury began healing the very next day and Lafortune's hopes rose.
"I went to acupuncture and they drained out the blood that wasn't flowing in there," he recalled. "I went to shiatsu and got work on it there. Three days after I hurt it, I could start to put pressure on it, so I knew that I'd be able to play the next week."
Lafortune did not compete at the East championships, but came back and won the the OIA title the following week. He said he thought of pulling out prior to his championship match, having already qualified for the state tournament.
"That was in my mind, but (Maki) and (fellow Moanalua coach Scott Pak) told me not to play my finals match, but I was like 'If I'm going to make it this far, there is no sense in me quitting there.' I think the adrenaline carried me through it. I wanted to be a four-time OIA champion."
If Lafortune wins Saturday, he will become just the third judoka to claim four individual state titles. Pearl City's Christian Pavo (2005-08) and McKinley's Lianne Tomishima (2004-07) accomplished that feat.
"Coach Brandon told me to attack it like I'm trying to get my first (state title), not defend four," Lafortune said. "My freshman year, everyone thought that I was going to lose, but I wanted to win so bad. (Maki) said that's the hardest I've practiced and played."
The ideal end for Lafortune would include another first.
"The perfect ending for me would be to win my fourth state title and to win a team championship for our school," he said. "We've never won that for Moanalua and to be the captain who led (his) team to the first state championship would mean a lot to me."
Matches begin at 10:30 a.m. at Stan Sheriff Center. The finals are expected to begin around 4 p.m.