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Feb 2005
Issue 057

Out now!

Capoeira — Fight? Dance? Or, game?

Thursday, 6:45pm
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 game.

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 Instructor
Daisuke Hamada

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 Kansai.

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
Z 06-6330-5000
(Classes are on Thursdays and Saturdays at 7pm)
• Sumiyoshi Taisha
Osaka-shi, Sumiyoshi-ku, Sumiyoshi 2-9-89
Z 06-6672-0753
(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)

Japanwide: www.capoeirista.com/schools.html

Text & Photos: Anna Beard • Interpreter: Sakae Yamada


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