Playing around with capoeira

For those of you who have known me since high school, you might recall that I developed a massive obsession with Lateef Crowder. My best friend had just started learning capoeira and he was teaching me little bits and pieces without actually giving me lessons. I was a passionate but hopelessly un-technical amateur.

Tonight I went for my first ever class of capoeira. It was even more amazing than I hoped it would be. Monitor’s Lobo and Quebra took the class. Monitor is an equivalent of a low level black belt, and the rankings go all the way up to mestre. I’m finding it a little hard to wrap my tongue around the Portuguese, but I love the language. We went through some of the fundamental basics, and I really enjoyed learning the ginga, crescent and spinning reverse crescent kick, and the evasions (crouch, sweeping-step and cartwheel). I’m afraid the Portuguese names for the techniques are beyond me at the moment, but I’m excited to learn them some day. By the end of it, I was kind of getting into a rhythm which I was really pleased with, though I’m still a bit awkward and stilted at times. My one-handed cartwheels need a bit more work, and I can already feel soreness from the conditioning exercises we did. I’m quite fit in general, but capoeira requires a different kind of fitness, a kind of core strength and exuberance of energy to keep on moving when you might otherwise be tempted to slow down.

In the end though, the techniques and conditioning weren’t actually capoeira: they were just training for capoeira. The final part of the lesson had us all standing in the roda (circle) with the monitor playing a berimbau (a stringed bow instrument that you play by tapping it with a stick). We learned the words of a simple capoeira song, and then with some difficulty coordinating my claps in time with the music, we began the call and answer. I fear I blundered the lyrics horribly, but I gave it a decent shot. I’m not always a confident singer and I felt a little out of place at first – I was much more comfortable doing the kicks! – but by the end I was having so much fun I didn’t care.

ginga

The playing (for capoeiristas do not spar) itself was really great. I was a bit worried that I would lack fluidity, creativity and the instinctive knowledge of how to transition from one technique or evasion to the next. But for a beginner, I did pretty all right (I hope!). I definitely wasn’t in time to the music, but I had so much fun cartwheeling and spinning and kicking and moving that I was tremendously disappointed when it was time to stop. Previously I’ve questioned whether capoeira is a practical art for combat, but the Brazilians chose to use it to free themselves from the oppression of the Portuguese because they believed in its potency. Whether or not capoeira can be used for self-defence (or war, for that matter) is a discussion I am not yet qualified to have. But none of that is really important: at its simplest level, capoeira is really, really fun. I had a hell of a time, and I’m really looking forward to getting my body moving and my heart dancing again in the near future.

I think I’ll probably need to take a little more time off to rest my knee more thoroughly (it crunched a few times during class after injuring it on gashuku), but I’m stoked to go back again soon. If you’re free next Tuesnight, I strongly suggest you give it a try. I’m sure you won’t regret it.

-Xin

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2 thoughts on “Playing around with capoeira

  1. Lobo says:

    Nice blog Xin, I’m glad you enjoyed it! You definitely moved well for a first-ish time, it’s always interesting to me seeing how various martial artists move in capoeira.

    The conversation (or argument) about how “effective” capoeira is gets pretty strong even within the capoeira community and it’s definitely a long and complex topic. I like to see capoeira as a continuum – on one side are the people who just want to show off in a circle and jump around without touching each other, and on the other side is a kind of Afro-inspired bare knuckle fight to music. In the middle is where all the fun is, and for me that’s what it’s all about.

  2. […] so that was great. Not a bad start at all. One of them wrote up a really nice report on his blog (here, lots about martial arts too) which made me smile. Everyone tried really hard, despite the often confusing and apparently […]

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