How sport inspires: The story of Master Jadir
How sport inspires: The story of Master Jadir
The story of Jadir Fialho Figueira is intertwined with the history of Taekwondo in Brazil and involves fighting for improving the conditions of socially vulnerable children and youth.
Born in the 1960s in Madureira, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro, Jadir was the middle child of a family that struggled to provide the best for their son. Despite many achievements in his adult life, Master Jadir’s childhood was marked by visits to the hospital due to his poor health.
In 1975, a doctor changed the young man’s destiny, suggesting that he should practice a sport to help with his treatment. An orthopaedic boot was needed for easier movement, as his heel did not reach the ground. His working-class father purchased the best boot he could afford as he wanted his son to become a football player.
Jadir’s cousin was part of a social project in Campinho, a neighbourhood in the North of Rio de Janeiro. She practiced Judo and wanted to take the boy to Taekwondo classes.
The first Taekwondo class
Jadir’s cousin ended up convincing him to take a trial lesson.
“When I arrived, I saw a man about my father’s age, who turned to me and said, ‘You’re going to take off your shoes, you can’t step inside with them. The first thing you have to learn is the rules that we have in here.’"
Classes were taught by Carlos de Deus, one of the pioneers of social work using Taekwondo in the state of Rio de Janeiro. From that moment on, Jadir was immersed in a ritual of discipline and respect that impacted him forever.
Many of the young people who participated in that social project were financially deprived. Young people who achieved new belt ranks became supervisors for the minors. All that work was essential for the improvement of Master Jadir’s health.
Eventually, Taekwondo became a passion for Jadir and his practice was not limited to training – it also extended to his life outside the gym. After some time of practicing Taekwondo, a doctor informed him that he no longer needed to wear the orthopaedic boot. The boy went on to have good health and became a disciplined young man full of dreams. The experience changed how he saw the world.
The beginning of a coaching career
In the 1980s, Jadir started training at a gym in Botafogo with Grand Master Yong Min Kim, where he graduated as a black belt. Jadir then started teaching Taekwondo at Jacarepaguá Tennis Club.
He noticed that some boys from neighbouring communities watched his classes through the window until security kicked them out. After approaching them, Jadir discovered that they wanted to take part in the classes, but were unable to pay. He proposed to offer scholarships for these boys so they could participate in the Taekwondo practice. Over time, many of them became champions.
After 14 years of dedication at Jacarepaguá Tennis Club, the teams evolved and achieved incredible results until they became well-known in the region.
The creation of AJTKD
Concerned about youth in the club being exposed to drugs and violence, Master Jadir wanted to expand his support work, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to do it alone.
A student’s father, Mr. Valdir Gomes, along with other interested parents, former athletes, and educators helped him to structure the project. In 2000, this group helped Master Jadir to found the Jadir Taekwondo Association (AJTKD).
AJTKD was founded in Madureira, the neighbourhood where Master Jadir grew up. He aimed to expand the Association’s service capacity and the Community Taekwondo project created more access to the sport. Additionally, psychological and educational support was provided for families and children in need.
“We realized that there was a need for greater involvement of parents and we started to develop activities aimed at families. We also started to notice that with floods of new students, talent began to appear, so we started to identify and select some boys who could be trained for Taekwondo competitions.
Taekwondo officially debuted as an Olympic sport at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, increasing the demand for the sport.
Initially, the objective was to assist young people in and around the community, but the Association began to receive students from various locations in Rio de Janeiro. Over time, former students returned to become volunteers, as they felt the project impacted their lives to the point where they wanted to return to help others have the same opportunity they once had.
In 2004, AJTKD’s work gained even more visibility when the Association started a drug prevention project, in partnership with the UN. That same year, the team received a certificate of recognition for the relevant services provided to Taekwondo, issued by the Brazilian Taekwondo Confederation (CBTKD).
The Brazilian national team
In 2009, at the request of Grand Master Yong Min Kim, AJTKD Master Paulo Rocha and Grand Master Jadir developed the Taekwondo in Schools project. Taekwondo was included in an educational program by the Federal Government of Brazil, called Mais Educação, attracting over 1,000 schools throughout the country.
In 2011, Master Jadir was invited by CBTKD to lead the National Technical Coordination. In addition to the Association, Jadir coordinated the Rio de Janeiro Federation’s technical department, which yielded good results for Taekwondo in the State.
“Our first measure was to create the national ranking system and a new qualifying system for the Brazilian National Team, so that everyone could compete on equal footing. Given that the competitions were very centralized in the south and southeast regions of Brazil, we also started to invest in the north and northeast regions, holding competitions throughout Brazil, to enable people from those areas to take part.”
The national ranking system was so impactful that the number of athletes competing increased from 400 to 4,000 in just three years. Also, an under-21 category, as well as a cadet division,was introduced in Brazil.
There was also an intense commitment on training referees and coaches. To increase Brazilian participation in international refereeing, in 2013, the training course for international referees from the World Taekwondo Federation was brought to the country. Referees from different countries participated in the course and trained a large group of Brazilian refugees.
To promote the training of coaches, in 2013, Jadir and Paulo presented a proposal for national-level training by bringing coaches from other countries to Brazil. In the same year, Brazil hosted Kukkiwon’s international course for instructors, and Taekwondo became part of the Brazilian Academy of Coaches (ABT), a program of the Brazilian Olympic Institute (IOB).
In 2014, a project arose to prepare the Brazilian team for the World Youth Taekwondo Championship and the Youth Olympic Games. Through this project, youth athletes were sent to a training camp in South Korea and China. This project resulted in a gold medal in the World Youth Championships and the Youth Olympic Games. From 2011 to 2015, under Jadir’s coordination, Brazil earned over 160 medals in international events.
“When we started working in the Confederation, Master Jadir said that everyone needed to have equal opportunities, and so we sought to create fair and transparent criteria,” remembers Paulo.
“Our idea was to create a national level project that could equally benefit everyone, regardless of the region they were from“, says Jadir.
Continuous work and inspiration
In 2015, Master Jadir decided to end his cycle in the Confederation and fully dedicate himself to the Jadir Taekwondo Association. It was a moment of restructuring, with new projects, new students, and new volunteers working in Brazil and abroad.
This year, AJTKD held, for the first time, an event at the UN. With presentations by several members and volunteers of the association, the event on social inclusion through sport was a success. Tracing his own story, Master Jadir explained that sport is essential when it comes to his work with children from underserved areas of Brazil.
The Association is celebrating 22 years of activities with a great challenge – to increase the number of children and youth assisted.
Master Jadir proudly speaks of his legacy: “We have won many national and international awards, but the greatest achievement was having made it possible for more than 7,000 children and youth to have access to sport, to have the same opportunity we had.”
And so, that boy who walked with orthopaedic boots and was forced to face great challenges, discovered Taekwondo, a sport that transformed his life and inspired his mission to change the lives of so many other young people through sport.
“Taekwondo is part of my life story. I am very happy to have contributed to transforming the lives of many children and young people through sport. I believe that a simple opportunity can make a difference in a person’s life.”
Article by Carina Itaborahy