Lawyer Irailde Carvalho Souza, 59 years old, learned the Japanese martial art iaidô over the internet and is now the only woman on the Brazilian team for the sport. She won bronze in her category in the first edition of the Latin American championship in the sport, in Lima, Peru, last week.
Iaidô is the name of a Japanese martial art, in which the practitioner needs to apply techniques and execute precise movements to draw a sword. Irailde, who has no Japanese ancestors or any Asian ancestors, has had an admiration for art since childhood.
“As a child, I liked reading kung fu magazines, and the first films I watched in my life were about martial arts, especially those about Bruce Lee,” he said, remembering the Chinese martial artist, actor, director, producer and screenwriter. American who lived between 1940 and 1973.
Born in Catolândia, Bahia, Irailde was raised in Rondonópolis, Mato Grosso, where her family moved when she was two years old. She lives in the same city to this day. “When the opportunity arose, I started training in karate. I managed to get to brown belt,” she said. “I soon discovered kendo, iaidô and jodo.”
Kendo is a martial art that consists of fighting with swords. Jodo is the art of using a stick to defend oneself against an opponent with a sword. Irailde learned and trained both. But his obsession was iaido. “I kept watching old videos on the internet. And the more I saw, the more interested I became. I was enchanted.”
In the absence of a sensei in Rondonópolis, YouTube was his master. “And, as I live far from the big cities where iaidô is practiced, it was difficult to travel to have face-to-face classes with a teacher. So, I kept watching the videos and trying to repeat the movements. But in the wrong way”, he recalled.
Then, the Covid-19 pandemic came, and virtual activities became much more common. Irailde stopped being a solitary iaido practitioner in front of the computer and found a group that also started training online.
She remembers the date well, September 4, 2020.
Chemical engineer Silvio Pedroso Yoshikawa, a sensei who lives in São Bernardo do Campo, in the metropolitan region of São Paulo, decided to conduct training via a videoconferencing platform. Vice-president of the São Paulo Kendo Federation and iaidô technical director of the Brazilian Kendo Confederation, he is also the current coach of the Brazilian iaidô team.
Yoshikawa had met Irailde a year earlier, when she had taken a kendo exam in São Paulo.
“That day, I gave an iaidô performance as part of the opening of the events. And it was then that I saw her alone trying to repeat, in a very precarious way, the movements she had seen during the performance. I just watched, without making any comment It’s not common in art for you to offer comments without being asked,” he said.
“After some time, I passed by her again and noticed that she continued to try to repeat the movements,” he added.
Then, Yoshikawa asked Irailde who his teacher was. To his astonishment, he heard “no one” in response and gave him basic instructions.
When, at the height of the pandemic, the sensei decided to create an online training group, he remembered that obstinate woman from Mato Grosso. “I decided to invite her to this virtual training.”
It was two hours a week, without any lack of Irailde.
“At the end of the training, there were always some recommendations that were given as homework exercises. And I noticed that all these tasks were carried out very diligently by her, who demonstrated clear progress each week and a lot of attention to detail”, noted Yoshikawa.
In July of this year, Irailde participated in his first championship, the Brazilian iaidô, held in São Paulo. She finished second, which enabled her to be part of the team that competed in the Latin American championship in Peru.
“Being selected was very gratifying and exciting,” she said, as the only woman on the team. “I hope I can do my best and inspire other women to follow this extraordinary path of the sword.”
Three years of serious training made Irailde even more passionate about art.
“It’s one of the most difficult martial art disciplines, in my opinion. It takes a lot of dedication, a lot of training and a lot of perseverance. It’s a slow process, without stagnation. It takes years to achieve this goal. And I’m still at the beginning of the beginning But, little by little, I’ve been making progress,” he said.
According to her, the sport has “imposition and a lot of beauty” and is “more than philosophy, physical activity or discipline”. “Iaidô teaches its practitioners to overcome themselves. The more the techniques are explored, the stronger we feel. Thus, we begin to improve our mental, physical and spiritual health.”