Just over one year ago I decided to try Capoeira.
I was initially thinking to look for a new BJJ school, but my wife suggested we try a Capoeira class instead so that we could train together (BJJ is most definitely not her thing!).
I thought why not? Though I didn’t know much about it, I’d seen it in the street a few times, and liked the idea of combining the martial arts aspect with the acrobacy side – I’d been training handstands and other calisthenic/gymnastics moves for a while, so this sounded like a good combo.
A sign of getting older (or should that be wiser?), the non-contact aspect also appealed. I’d gravitated toward BJJ from MMA, as thought full contact strikes to the head and body probably aren’t a good long-term health option, but even with the BJJ I regularly had niggling injuries which often impeded my enjoyment of other training and activities.
So off I went, looking for a bit of Martial Arts with Acrobatics, but what I found was so much more…
I’ve written numerous times about the importance of PLAY. That rather than following regimented, repetitive training programs or routines, movement should be free, experimental and fun.
This is what Capoeira is all about –
Jogo Capoeira literally means Play Capoeira.
Of course, in English we say we “play” all sports, but really it is not “playing” in the true sense of the word, as sports have lots of fixed rules, and competitive.
Capoeira is not like this – the game is not a competition. Yes, depending who is playing, there may be some showing off and one-upmanship, but in general there is no winner or loser – rather the game should be a playful interaction.
Yes, of course there are some rules and conventions –
- 2 people play at a time
- The only parts of the body which should ever touch the floor are the hands, feet and head. (Bum on the floor means you owe the Mestre a beer…)
- A new player enters the game by buying in – cutting in between the players offering their palm to the Capoerista with whom they want to play
Unlike competitive games however, there is never any point scoring, fixed structure or time limit, and games will always be different depending on the styles and personalities of the 2 individuals playing.
Pergunta e Resposta
There are many great calisthenic/gymnastic style training programs out there, and you can achieve great levels of strength, flexibility and co-ordination training on your own.
Capoeira adds an extra dimension however, by requiring that you interact/react with someone else.
It’s one thing to learn a sequence of flowing gymnastic moves and animal movement patterns, but quite another to be able to flow seamlessly from movement to movement in the roda with another person throwing kicks, sweeps and even headbuts at you!
Capoeira is “Pergunta e Resposta” (pronounced “Hesposta”) – Question and Response.
A question could be a well-aimed kick to the head – the intention, however, is not (usually) to take the other person’s head off, but rather to illicit a response from them in the form of an evasory movement – a duck, a dodge, a dive, a sweep, a cartwheel – there are always many possible responses to any question, with no wrong or right answer (other than getting kicked in the face).
This response must then be followed up with another question, or may indeed be another question in itself.
This constant back and forth requires that capoeristas develop not only great reactions, but also creativity and adaptability in their movements.
Top-level capoeira becomes like high-speed physical chess – you think several movements ahead, anticipating the probable responses of the other player, trying to lead the game in your preferred direction, but always ready to react and adapt to the potentially unpredictable responses of the other player.
This ability is known as “Malícia” (nothing to do with Malice in English), and is prized not just for its utility within the roda, but also for how this heightened perception and ability to read others and pre-empt their intentions can carry through into everyday life.
I really enjoy Capoeira as it’s such a well-rounded physical activity.
It requires strength, endurance, power, flexibility, agility and balance. It keeps you in great shape, and it never gets boring – there will always be room for improvement, new movements to learn (or create), and new Capoeiristas to play.
What I didn’t realise before starting my Capoeira journey though, was that there was so much more to it than the physical exercise side.
When I first started blogging, I was writing about how to achieve “health and fitness”, through “diet and exercise”.
These are all of course very important, but really only a part of the picture if you truly want to thrive. The central tenet of this blog is that if you want to reach your 100th birthday AND still enjoy the party, it’s going to take more than fruit and veg and regular exercise alone.
Mandinga is a term for magic linked with the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé, whose history, customs and mythologies are intertwined with that of Capoeira, and while I’ve certainly not found religion, I have found a certain magic within the world of Capoeira.
A Capoeira e o Cantador
While for most people on the outside, Capoeira is synonymous with the physical aspect, equally important is the music and the singing: Without the bateria (the musical instruments and musicians), the singing and the clapping, there would be no Roda, no Capoeira.
According to tradition, the music and song channels energy to the players in the Roda. The louder and more passionate the playing and singing, the more energy is transferred, and the better the Capoeiristas will play – As previously mentioned, Capoeira’s history, tradition and even the instruments used and words of the songs are tightly wound with that of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé, in which music and dance are used to channel the spirits of Oreixas.
Irrespective of your spiritual beliefs, one cannot deny that the emotional energy imparted by the music and signing of a large group in chorus can have powerful effects. Many people note that when the energy in the Roda is high, they manage to execute movements with ease, which they’ve found impossible in practice.
I’ve always loved music, and learning instruments – a pastime which is not only fun and rewarding, but proven to be great for keeping your brain healthy. I was very pleasantly surprised, therefore, to find that Capoeira has offered a the opportunity learn new instruments – The berimbau, pandeiro, ago-go and atabaque.
Even more revelationary, however, was learning that I could sing…
Despite loving music, I’ve never been a singer – In our first music lesson in high school, the music teacher went round the class while we had to try to hold a note. I was told I was out of tune, therefore a “non-singer” and for the remaining 5 years of music classes, simply had to clap during the singing parts of the classes.
The concept of “non-singer” doesn’t exist in Capoeira however. Everybody must sing, and everyone can sing – it’s a skill like any other which you just have to practice. And to my surprise they, unlike my school music teacher, were totally correct.
Singing and playing music with the group is a wonderful thing – something I didn’t realise I’d been missing out on until now! (Expect a post dedicated to the truth about learning to sing soon).
This is not to say that I find the singing easy, particularly as all the songs are in Portuguese…
A gente fala português
Something I’ve heard a lot around Capoeira circles is “You don’t have to learn Portuguese to train Capoeira… But it helps!”
We Anglophones are notoriously bad for being monolingual. With English serving as the international language, there is often little motivation or opportunity to master another tongue.
A driving factor behind my move to Spain, was to give myself that impetus to finally become fluent in a second language. Little did I know however, that I would soon also be learning Portuguese (and Catalan, but that’s another story).
Of course, it is perfectly true that you can train Capoeira without learning Portuguese, and I’m sure many, if not most of the non-Brazilian practitioners do so, but in my opinion they are missing out.
Learning a second language is another skill which, like learning a musical instrument, is rewarding on so many levels. It’s great for keeping your brain healthy, it enables you to communicate with more people, and it can change the way you think about concepts and view the world.
With regards to Capoeira, I think it helps unlock another level of the rich culture and history which surrounds it. It will also help you get more out of the special events conducted by the older Capoeira Masters who rarely speak any English, and of course understand the songs which form an integral part of each session.
I love the training, playing in the roda, the music and the signing, but what I’ve found really special about Capoeira is the friendships I’ve formed over the last year.
Camará literally translates as “Comrade” or “Camaraderie”, but refers to the bond of friendship formed between fellow Capoeiristas who train together
People search for the secrets of long life and wellbeing in the worlds of nutrition and exercise, which are both undoubtedly important components – but reasearch into longevity and happiness, show that equally, if not more important, is a sense of belonging – of being part of a tightly knit community with strong relationships.
In today’s modern, fragmented society, often these can be hard to come by. Though crowded with people, modern cities don’t nurture the communities in which we once lived. People live in flats and never meet their neighbours, travel in packed underground trains, but avoiding eye contact.
In theory, gyms would be great places for people to socialise, but instead people go and run on their individual treadmill with eyes glued to a screen and headphones in ears.
Capoeira demands that you not only interact with the other members of the group, but that you learn to know and trust them. Though ostensibly a non-contact martial art, the kicks can be devastating. If an experienced player were to enter the roda at full speed and power with a beginner, said beginner would soon be making a trip to the emergency ward.
In addition to trusting the other player not to deliberately kick you in the face, simply getting in the roda to play in front of the rest of the group can be a nerve-racking experience, particularly as a beginner. I think this level of mutual self exposure, helps foster an environment of non-judgemental encouragement and support, or at least has done in our group!
Couple the above with the music and singing in the class, plus the Brazilian party culture, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for making great friendships.
Volta do Mundo
Having recently moved to a new city, Capoeira was a fantastic way to meet new local people.
The Capoeira feeling of Camará however, extends worldwide – there are Capoeira groups all across the world. America, Europe, Russia, China, Israel, Africa and of course the motherland, Brazil.
Volta do Mundo – “Around the World” – In the Capoeira Game refers to when the two players walk around the edge of the Roda, either to catch their breath or recover from an accidental blow, but also the term also reflects how Capoeira has travelled to pretty much every corner of the globe!
We’ve had many visitors to our group from all parts of the globe, and they are always welcomed with open arms, offered places to stay and given the local’s view of the city. This street goes both ways, with my last trip to Rome taking in a Capoeira event, we got to stay with local people, and saw a side to the city we’d never have encountered otherwise.
In January I travel to Brazil for a major Capoeira event. This will most certainly be a very different trip than had we simply gone on holiday there knowing no one!
So I went looking for a martial arts class, and ended up not only finding a great fun way to work every element of fitness, but also learning how to play (and make!) several musical instruments, discovering that I could sing, making some amazing friendships, and getting “membership” to an international network of like-minded individuals.
Don’t take my word for it though, come try for yourself! Another great thing is that Capoeira is suitable for everyone, of all ages, abilities and body types.
The handstands, cartwheels and flips you see in the videos are impressive, and hopefully inspirational, but by no means essential to enjoying Capoeira. You may see someone spinning upside down on one hand and think “I could never do that” and believe Capoeira is not for you – you are mistaken!
You can play Capoiera without even so much as a cartwheel. Perhaps you will surprise yourself, and end up learning handstands, cartwheels and more, which you never thought possible, but even if you don’t, it really won’t hamper your enjoyment, nor the many benefits which come along with Capoeira.
If Barcelona is a bit out of your range, Cordão de Ouro have a network of groups worldwide so there is a fair chance there may be a group near you.
Whether or not there is a CDO group near you or not, if there are a few different groups, I’d strongly recommend you try them all before making the decision to join one. There are many different styles of Capoeira, and many different styles of teaching, even within any one group.
I feel very fortunate to have been lucky enough to come across Boca Rica and his group – not all are created equal, and it was as much blind luck as anything else by which I happened to stumble into such Camará, I hope if you do have a group near you, it is of the same caliber!