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How Football and Basketball improve my Judo (and maybe yours too).

So I am ecstatic - my unlikely champions - the NY Giants, beat all odds and shocked the world when they became World Champions last night and made the 'perfect' patriots, just one bit less perfect. (By the way, while the Patriots have won 3 championships in the last 7 years, they have also lost 2 as well). Of course, I always hoped my Giants would win, even while acknowledging that the Patriots would be a difficult team to beat.

In every discussion and interview and news blurb regarding the Superbowl, one important factor stood out in my mind. Whenever any of the Giants were asked about the Patriots being 18 and 0, they simply brushed it off as those games don't count anywhere as nearly as much as the one we are going to play. They knew they were the underdog, they new that the Pats were favorites and had a perfect season on the line - but they didn't let it get to them!

This, in my opinion was why they won, why their defense persevered and shut down Brady and Moss, and why their offense found ways to shine when it counted the most - because they were not intimidated by who they were playing.

Last week, before the Superbowl, and while this discussion was going on, (and in the wake of a very sloppy Judo session), I reminded myself of a time where I tried out for the Camp Basketball team.

Let's preface this by saying that I have been 5'10-11" or so since then - since I was a junior in High school. In high school, we had a small team, and 5'10 and change was enough to make me a second-string forward and occasional center. But on the camp team, I was more or less a dwarf. The average guy on the team was about 6'1". But I knew they were having an open tryout and figured I had nothing to lose.

The tryout was pretty much a 5-on-5 full-court game. The Captain/Manager of the team was the head lifeguard and also my boss. He would basically take people from the tryouts list and have them play in the game alongside existing team members. I was kind of nervous at first, and then I realized that I needed to calm down and step up my play to match my opponent. And that's what I did.

I probably played my best basketball ever that night, and then, the unexpected happened - I was playing one of the best players on the team - a 6' 3" forward, he started to drive the lane against me and I knew that he was going to try to go in for a lay up. I stayed with him the whole time, realized when he was going up, and timed my jump perfectly. My hand found nothing but ball, and slammed it hard to the side of the court. Everyone stopped. no one could believe that I, who was never known for being picked first on the court, could "stuff" a guy with four inches on me and much better skills. It energized me. I played with even more intensity, and even though I ultimately didn't make the team, I was so glad that I had had the opportunity and rose to the challenge. The reason I didn't make the team was not because I didn't try hard enough, or because I didn't get a fair shot - but quite the contrary, I didn't make it because even when I gave 110% and had a fair shot, my skills weren't good enough.

But I definitely learned some valuable lessons from that experience and from listening to the Giants this past week:

  1. Look to be challenged by playing those that are stronger and more experienced than you - you WILL rise up to the occasion and sometimes even surprise yourself.
  2. No matter who your opponent is - don't be intimidated by them because they've won ___. If they are only human they too will lose even in a perfect season, or at least get a shot blocked by someone 4-inches shorter.

What I am saying right now isn't anything new. It's something that you might have heard in a similar vane from Rhadi Ferguson, or AnnMaria DeMars, or a whole bunch of other Judo Senseis and coaches out there. Each one of us has our own stories of where we played our most difficult opponents and still managed to eke out a win, against all odds, or even if we didn't win - where we rose up to the challenge and played better than we had imagined.

Here's the rub - the more we look to be challenged, the more of these moments that we will have, and the more of those moments we have, we might ultimately become the elite Judokas that others need to not be intimidated by.

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