Tikrit, Iraq – The first thing you notice about her is how timid she seems to be before class begins. When she mentions “The Gentle Way,” you’re not sure if she’s talking about the class she’s about to teach or her soft-spoken demeanor.
But as soon as Spc. Sheila Pereira begins her judo class, the timid facade seems to melt away. She’s belting out shouts during warm-up drills and Japanese numerals to fellow Soldiers practicing repetitions of the throw she just taught them.
Pereira, as the only company clerk for HHC, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, doesn’t have a lot of time in her busy schedule, but she uses what spare time she does have to teach fellow Soldiers beginner techniques for judo, or “The Gentle Way.”
Judo is called “The Gentle Way” because the martial art teaches you to use your opponent’s aggression against them.
“You’re using force, but you’re actually using your opponent’s force to your benefit,” Pereira said. “All of the pulls and takedowns, you’ll see that. I don’t have to go out there and use brutal force. I’m just using what you’re giving.”
“It’s a lot of discipline,” Pereira said. “In my family, we were always taught that if you’re going to be a “judoka,” you don’t want to do anything that would hinder your fighting style on the mat. So, when you’re off the mat, that means trying to get to bed early and trying not to party too much.”
Pereira hails from a family that owns a judo dojo in her hometown of Danbury, Conn. She began learning judo techniques at the age of four by her father, a 6th degree blackbelt, and has been training since then. For her, judo is a way of life.
“I wanted to continue training in Iraq and I also wanted other Soldiers to benefit from judo,” Pereira said. “So, I figured I’d start up the class and Soldiers could learn something new if they wanted.”
The judo lifestyle, which Pereira compares to a religion, has extended into her life as a Soldier as well. She said judo has helped her shrug off some of the stress involved with a job in the Army.
“If something makes you upset, just blow it off and say ‘OK, judo is my therapy,'” she said. “Once you get on the mat, you’re not thinking about work anymore. Everything is judo then.”
Her classes are friendly to beginners because most of the moves she teaches in her class are basic moves.
“It’s a lot like wrestling,” Pereira explained. “There are no kicks or punches, so we start out pretty basic, learning how to fall, different throws, takedowns, pins, chokes, armbars, and various escapes. And, then we have them fight at the end of class; lightly.”
Pereira urges Soldiers, especially females, nervous about trying out judo to take a chance to learn something new.
“Don’t think of it as something that’s going to get them hurt,” Pereira said. “And, it doesn’t take you forever to get better. It all depends on you and how much you apply yourself. You don’t have to be a certain size, obviously.”
Pereira has a small stature and most males stand a head above her, but she has fought with guys her entire life.
“Judo has given me a lot more confidence,” she said. “If you lose to a guy the first time, don’t worry about it. You’re not going to win every fight, and that goes for males and females. Test yourself as a female and represent for all the females.”
Pereira, who gives new meaning to the phrase ‘fight like a girl’, said she’s never been in a fight on the streets, but that’s just part of her lifestyle. She hopes her class will benefit Soldiers in a way that will teach them something new and give them something to take their minds off of the daily stresses of life in a combat zone.