Kansai Scene Magazine


Martial arts master

So you think you can dance? Wait till you see capoeira instructor Simon Williams.

Osaka local and capoeira addict Simon Williams owes his career to Sesame Street. "I first saw [Brazilian martial art] capoeira on TV when I was really young. Sesame Street did a profile of it, and I said to myself, 'I wanna do that.' I didn't see it for another 15 years or whatever. Then I saw a street performance of it, so I went up to the guy straight away and said, 'Where can I learn?'"

Fast-forward to the present and the towering Australian with the mohawk is the director of Power Arts International in Benten- cho, a gym that offers capoeira, breakdancing and gymnastics. I meet 32-year-old Williams at the gym before a class and see straight away why he's so successful as a teacher – he's as laid- back, welcoming and friendly as they come. He tells me how he set it up. "I live upstairs. I first moved here before we had the gym. This was a car park and then we changed this into the gym."

So how does an Aussie specialising in a Brazilian art end up in Japan? While working as a capoeira instructor in Sydney in 2001 he heard that Universal Studios Japan was looking for stuntmen. "They had an audition in Sydney and then they flew me here." For the next three years he worked full-time at USJ, "setting myself on fire and jumping off stuff."

Was it as cool as it sounds? "Rehearsals were full on, we started at 5am because we had to practise before the park opened. I've done about 10 different shows. The first show was a martial arts show, with seven Japanese guys. It was a comedy and we're dressed as sailors and we run out and start yelling at each other and fighting. Then a Jackie Chan type guy turns up and he beats us all up and he gets the girl at the end. You know, it was that sort of a show."

"I was supposed to be here for one year, then they renewed my contract again and again, and three years later, I'm like, 'Okay, I'm going to stay here now'. On my days off I used to teach capoeira. That's how I started the school here."

Williams and Johnston have built up "a good little community" of students and trainers. His clients are about 90 per cent Japanese, and 70 per cent women.

Was it hard to start up a business here? "Making this a gym was not so hard, we had money so it was no problem, but getting the business visa was amazingly impossible. In order to do it legally, we weren't supposed to be in the country but we had to be here signing things and making bank accounts and stuff. We flew out and back into the country every three months for a year and a half. It was really expensive."

But as I watched Williams take the class through their kicks, cartwheels and takedowns, it was easy to see that the hard work was totally worth it in the end. Williams laughs as he agrees, "Yep, it feels like we've been on holiday for seven years."

Head to capoeiraosaka.com or powerarts.org for more info.

Capoeira crazy: If you're a few one-handed cartwheels away from being a Capoeirista, at least learn the lingo: Capoeira is pronounced CAP-OOH-WHERE-RRRA; the final 'ra' sound is a tongue-rolling mixture between 'la' and 'ra'.

• Aluno – student
• Au – capoeira style cartwheel
• Batizado – capoeira baptism
• Berimbau – lead instrument
• Brincardeira – to joke around
• Camarada – capoeira friends
• Cordao – capoeira belt
• Esquiva – defence movement
• Ginga – the base movement
• Queixada – a basic kick
• Malandragem – a sneaky way of playing

Text & photos: Amy Richardson

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