Have you made a new year’s resolution to learn a new skill and improve your fitness? Are you having trouble deciding between martial arts and dance? Maybe capoeira is the one for you. Blending acrobatic-like moves usually seen in street dance with graceful martial arts fighting styles, capoeira is seeing a surge in popularity due to its distinctive style and beautiful flow. Though considered a powerful form of combat, capoeiristas usually play the game with a smile to show that they do not fear danger.
Although it’s exact origins are unclear, it is generally believed that capoeira was first developed in the 16th century by Angolan slaves, trafficked from West Africa to Brazil by Portuguese colonists. It is thought that the martial art was created as a way to develop self-defence techniques, using a distinctive dance style along with music and singing to disguise its true purpose. The movements may have been based on “The Zebra Dance”, an old African custom in which men would engage in pretend battles.
Due to its direct links to oppression, the game was viewed as a form of resistance, so was subject to a federal law prohibiting the practice until 1890, not long after the abolition of slavery. In 1932, Manoel dos Reis Machado, also known as Mestre Bimba, convinced the Brazilian authorities of capoeira’s cultural significance and proposed a capoeira academy to teach the technique and preserve its movements, music, and rituals. Since then the game has developed into two distinct styles, Regional and Angola, both growing exponentially to become one of Brazil’s most popular sporting exports, second only to football.
What are the benefits?
There are many people who claim that performing capoeira has changed their lives, and when you see the benefits of regular practice it’s easy to see why.
Flexibility: developing flexibility is key to performing flips, kicks and groundwork manoeuvres, which is why capoeiristas regularly undertake stretching exercises such as yoga poses and karate postures
Strength: regular repetition of rhythmic, callisthenic-type movements increases strength and muscle tone as the body uses itself as a weight training workout
Stamina: moving around for over an hour at a time requires a huge amount of energy, so many capoeiristas focus on building their stamina to be able to endure long sessions
Balance: there are certain moves in which players need to balance on their hands, so developing core stability is vital
Coordination: learning how to master the body and have complete control over the movements helps to create a beautifully elegant flow and builds a natural coordination which translates across to a natural posture and poise outside of the game
Jumping kicks, handstands, backflips, and groundwork require a large amount of physical and mental discipline, the result of which creates a huge sense of accomplishment for capoeiristas of all levels. As an added bonus, not only do players get to meet new people and potentially learn a new language, but the confidence and mindset developed by the practice can also improve game playing techniques in other disciples, such as chess and poker.
Ok, I’m sold, where can I learn?
Luckily Brighton has a fantastically progressive culture when it comes to learning something unusual and there are plenty of places to drop in on a class to see if capoeira is for you. Grupo de Capoeira Angola Menino Quem Foi Sue Mestre (MQFSM), originally founded by Mestre Roberval from Salvador, Brazil, teaches an introductory course to the capoeira angola movement for all levels at Middle Street Primary School.