by Tania Ferreira
I began practicing judo 18 years ago at the age of 13. I had tried other sports, like basketball and gymnastics, but didn't do very well at them.
In 2000, I was chosen to represent Brazil at the Sydney Olympics, where I finished ninth. The following year, I finished seventh at the 2001 World Judo Championships in Munich.
Around this time I was introduced to Olympic wrestling by a friend and decided to take it up. Although it's different from judo, I quickly reached a level of skill which enabled me to win the Brazilian championships three times.
Along with this success came pressure from the national federations of both sports to choose between judo and wrestling. The strenuous training to excel in both led to two serious injuries, in my knee and my shoulders. My hopes of competing in the 2004 Olympics in Athens--where women's Olympic wrestling was to be introduced for the first time--were suddenly dashed and I was devastated.
It was at this time that I began practicing Nichiren Buddhism at the suggestion of a friend. One of the effects of starting to practice Buddhism was that I became much more aware of negative tendencies in my life and how they sabotage my happiness. Even though I know I am very forthright in my communication with other people, there have been many times when I could not understand why I was going through such a hard time in my relationships with others. I have never been afraid to speak up on behalf of the athletes, for example, to ensure better conditions for us. But the tension this created with my coaches and other officials has often left me feeling miserable and confused.
Mastering the Mind
What I found very empowering in Buddhism is the idea that, based on the principle of cause and effect, we are ultimately responsible for whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. Understanding this has made me much more aware of my attitude. I saw that the basic cause of my frustration was a lack of wisdom in how I approached such situations.
The idea of personal responsibility also helped give me a positive perspective to deal with the disappointment of losing my place on the Olympic team. I realize that I have to win in the circumstances that I find myself in now, and that I can turn any defeat into a cause to win in the future. This has strengthened my confidence.
The Buddhist idea of becoming "the master of one's mind, rather than letting one's mind master oneself," has become a principle that I have begun to strive to put into practice in my daily life--in my sport as well as in my relationships and family life. This change is also reflected in a change in the attitudes of those around me. I have become a person who is trusted by my teammates and the coaches, who now frequently come and seek my opinion or advice. At the same time I feel a greater sense of responsibility toward others and wish to use my experience to help younger athletes.
The sense of working together with others, mutual support and taking responsibility are values that I have learnt within my local SGI group in Rio, where I and other young women get together and discuss how we can improve ourselves.
Though my Buddhist practice strengthens my conviction that I can win, even when I don't win I can now more clearly see the causes of my defeat and how I need to improve.
Buddhism talks about the joyful sense of purpose experienced by bodhisattvas--beings who take responsibility for the improvement of society and the well-being of others. I feel now a greater sense of awareness of my own mission as a "sport bodhisattva," someone who can make a positive contribution in the world of sport.
[ Courtesy July 2006 SGI Quarterly ]