Capoeira — Fight? Dance? Or, game?
Arrive at the gym — one last attempt to burn some calories
before weekend festivities begin. You turn up the volume on your
new iPod (Or, if like me, on your 1990 discman with embarrassingly
large headphones) and scope out a treadmill. Thwarted! Not a single
one is available. Moving on, you walk around for a bit, hoping that
someone will finish her indoors half-marathon soon.
As you pass the aerobics studio, you notice that the room is packed
and with an abnormally high percent-age of men (50 percent!). You
walk in; might as well try something new. The class begins and you
find yourself going through a series of swooping kicks, cartwheels,
and move-ments you never knew your body was capable of. Your pores
become saturated with sweat as you are drawn to the beat of a strangely
entrancing instrument being played through the classroom speakers.
You think you are doing something that resembles martial arts, yoga
and dance all at once, but you are not sure.
The teacher pairs you with a partner and you go through a progression
of semi-prescribed motions. Your mind is filled with questions,
“Am I fighting?” “Is this a dance?” “Why
do I feel like I'm playing a game?” Time races. Could something
considered exercise really be this fun and interesting?!
Class is over and your body immediately feels satisfyingly sore.
Your mind is on fire as you try to piece together what just happened.
You crave to learn more. Congratulations! You have just participa-ted
in your first jogo (game of Capoeira).
Capoeira: A Brief History
Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that originated over 400 years
ago. In the early 1500s, the Portuguese arrived in Brazil under
the leadership of explorer Pedro Alves Cabral. In order to get a
large supply of unpaid labor, the Portuguese tried turning the local
Indian population into slaves. Ultimately their attempts failed,
which meant the Portuguese had to look elsewhere for free labor.
The new slaves they got were from many different regions of Africa
and from then on, the slave communities that developed in Brazil
were culturally diverse.
Over time, capoeira emerged within these slave communities as
a mix of many distinct fighting styles, dances and music imported
from Africa. It was considered both a type of fighting and a ritualized
dance. Today, although capoeira is considered a martial art, it
is often referred to as a game.
In its early years, capoeira unified slaves and gave them a sense
of self-confidence. By practicing it, they became adept at defending
themselves against weapons and other kinds of violence. For slaves
capoeira was exceptionally successful as a form of self-defense
because it emphasized brains over brawn.
Malícia, or trickery, is an extremely important trait of
capoeiristas that helps them avoid their opponents' aggressions.
Malícia consists of two parts-understanding the traits and
emotions that exist in humans, such as aggressiveness, fear and
pride, and secondly recognizing those traits in an opponent in order
to anticipate his movements.
By applying malícia, a player masks his intensions and
tricks his opponent as to what move will come next. A capoeirista
often employs acting skills as he plays the part of a coward begging
for mercy. But, once an opponent lowers his guard, the capoeirista
strikes skillfully and precisely.
From 1892 to 1928 capoeira was outlawed in Brazil. During that
that time, it was practiced secretly or in public as to defy the
law. In Rio de Janeiro and Recife it was practiced primarily as
a violent form of self-defense, whereas in areas such as Bahia (on
the East Coast of Brazil), it was ritualized and became a dance-fight
After capoeira became legal again, capoeiristas, such as the famous
Mestre Bimba, began opening capoeira academies throughout Brazil.
At this time, capoeira became a game of not only the oppressed,
but of children and upper class members of Brazilian society as
well. Eventually the Brazilian government passed a bill establishing
capoeira as the country's national sport and today capoeiristas
can be found throughout the world, including Kansai.
A Conversation with Kansai Capoeira
Where did you start practicing capoeira?
I started practicing capoeira at a sports gym in Nagai.
Why do you practice capoeira?
Capoeira movements are unique from any other martial art form.
What made you decide to become a capoeira instructor?
A few years ago, my capoeira instructor in Nagai suggested that
I consider teaching capoeira. Shortly after that I became his assistant.
Now I teach my own capoeira classes at fitness clubs throughout
I read on a capoeira website that the central philosophy
and goal of capoeira is “unity and bringing people together
to keep continual flow regardless of the game and to find peace,
joy and fulfillment in the game and in life”. Do you agree?
Yes, but another important goal of capoeira is to develop a high
level of mental and physical strength within each individual capoeirista.
Doing basic capoeira training every day involves a high degree of
self-discipline and willpower. Admittedly, people study capoeira
at many different levels of seriousness. For example, my students
at fitness clubs just want to have fun and sweat, therefore my classes
don't demand as much mental discipline as a serious capoeira academy.
How is capoeira distinct from other martial art forms?
Other martial art forms focus mainly on blocking, protecting and
fighting. Capoeira involves some of those elements, but it also
incorporates music and dancing moves. Some students use capoeira
to develop fighting skills, but many take classes just to enjoy
interesting and unique movements. One of my students is a karate
expert, despite this, he told me that capoeira often makes him sore
because the movements are so different from what he is used to.
What is the role of music in capoeira?
Music is extremely important in capoeira. It is a mix of singing
and rhythms and harmonies that come from many different instruments.
The most important instrument is the berim-bau (a one-stringed instrument
with a gourd attached). It dictates the rhythm and style of movements
of capoeiristas during a game.
What are the benefits of practicing capoeira?
Students of capoeira develop strength, flexibility and coordination.
More serious students also have to learn how to sing and play the
instruments used in a traditional game of capoeira.
What aspects of capoeira do students find challenging?
Many students have difficulty connecting the various movements.
Transitions between moves are quite challenging.
How old are your students?
My youngest students are in college and my oldest student is 70.
How long does it take to become a capoeira master?
Years of diligent practice.
Do you know of any places to study capoeira in Kansai?
There are several locations throughout Kansai where beginner through
advanced students can practice capoeira. Here are a few:
• Kalista Ryokuchi Sports Club
Osaka-fu, Suita-shi, Senriyama Nishi 4-37-5
(Classes are on Thursdays and Saturdays at 7pm)
• Sumiyoshi Taisha
Osaka-shi, Sumiyoshi-ku, Sumiyoshi 2-9-89
(Classes are on Sunday from 2pm-5pm)
• Lab 3 Osaka
Osaka-shi, Nishi-ku, Kita-Horie 1-1-28, VIP Bldg 7F Z 06-6538-2057
(Classes are on Fridays)
• Minamikata Seishounen Kaikan
Osaka-shi Higashiyodogawa-ku Higashinakajima
2-14-19. Z 06-6322-0216
(Classes are on Tuesdays)
• Lab 3 Kobe
Kobe-shi Chuo-ku Motomachi Dori 2-2-9,
Bungu Sawatani 2F. Z 07-8331-5585
(Classes are on Mondays from 9:30pm-11pm)