I feel, and see, the world spin as I fall. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, I come to a jarring stop on the grass of the tennis court. “What was that? Get up, keep going!” I hear my teacher saying, as Miguel continues swaying in front of me with an amused look on his face. I quickly pick myself back up, and move back into the swaying motion so characteristic of Capoeira, the Ginga movement. I haven’t done martial arts since I was in grade-school when I took karate lessons, but I love this – the competition and strength of martial arts, the grace and balance of climbing, and the pure strength of gymnastics all come together in this single set of fluid motions.
Capoeira, as I learned from Pontual (my teacher), is a martial art created by African slaves in Brazil as a way to defend themselves from the Portuguese – learning to fight was illegal among slaves, for obvious reasons, but by practicing Capoeira as a dance they were able to conceal the fact that they were practicing a martial art. Because of this, Capoeira utilizes very fluid motions and attacks, flowing between offensive kicks and defensive dodges and rolls. I find it much more dynamic than the Karate that I used to take, since at no point are you standing still or completing a set chain of movements; instead Capoeira consists of a constant swaying motion combined with kicks, feigns, and trips based off of the motions that your opponent makes.
And I think that’s why I like it. In class we do practice sets of moves and balance exercises, but only for the first portion. Afterwards we “play the game”, Capoeira’s version of sparring. Instead of actually trying to connect blows on your opponent though, we go a slightly different, much more relaxed path; the class forms a circle, the partners shake, and then each one tries to show that they could connect a blow or a takedown… actually connecting is unnecessary most of the time. It’s a game of skill and reactions – we’re testing ourselves and our opponent, but at the end we’re still playing. If someone gets a good hit or trip off on me, I find myself laughing at my mistake and being impressed with their move, instead of getting frustrated that I made a mistake.
I honestly couldn’t say any specific thing about Capoeira that gives that feel, the air of friendly competition, fun, and excitement. I think its the combination of the music and the people watching – its the culture of the sport that differs from any other martial art that I’ve seen. Karate, when I took it, was much more focused and serious – a match takes place in near-silence, where the opponents are focused solely on besting their opponent. When we play in Pontual’s class, there’s music in the background, either a recording if we don’t have many people, or someone playing one of the traditional instruments and singing. And we play in a “Roda” (it’s Portuguese, pronounced Hoh-Dah), a circle of other “Capoeiristas” clapping and cheering us on.
The baseline here, is I love Capoeira. I don’t know if I’ll ever get truly competitive in it, past enjoying the Roda and playing against other people. Right now it’s an amazing counterpoint to climbing for me – Climbing is very slow and static, whereas Capoeira is quick and dynamic. The two complement each other amazingly, and I’ve found that my climbing training helped me get into Capoeira quicker, and Capoeira has helped me with the endurance and core strength that climbing so requires.
A few links for those interested in learning a bit more –
An amazing video showing the school of Capoeira that Pontual teaches from:
For more info on the history: