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Capoeira For Dummies – Guest Post by Panayiotis Karabetis

The first time I saw Capoeira was in a video game.  The second time was in the martial arts movie The Protector, starring Tony Jaa.  Capoeira is a gorgeous combination of dancing and fighting.  My guest, Panayiotis Karabetis of The Tango Notebook, talks about Capoeira like I talk about kettlebells and nachos.  Enjoy!



by Panayiotis Karabetis

I want to knock him out, but the teacher doesn’t allow kicks to the face on purpose!

“It’s not part of the jôgo (jO-go) [the game],” he says.

If this was Tae Kwon Do class, I would slap him with my foot for saying that, but this isn’t my house, and these aren’t my rules. My current martial philosophy of one strike, one kill holds no meaning here because this group of hyperactive acrobats believes in peace and longevity.

You tricked me, Mark Dacascos!

It Started With a B Movie

Long before Mark hosted Iron Chef, he starred in Only the Strong as an ex-military officer who trains a group of high-school hooligans in an abandoned fire-house and then single-handedly defeats Miami’s biggest drug lord (who happens to be a Capoeira Master himself).

Watching him fly through the air with the greatest of ease made me feel like I could accomplish anything! However, the movie’s portrayal of the Afro-Brazilian art created a unique buzz, but lost some important details in translation. I’m here to serve as a primer to what the movie neglected to mention. A brief history is in order.

Capoeira Began As A Means Of Survival

With so many versions of its origin, historical accuracy is irrelevant at this point if you want to play the game today. It’s said that Capoeira planted its seed in Africa, and grew its roots in Brazil, but it’s more important to recognize the way it combines music and singing with acrobatics to create a game of dance.

The slaves who created the art were the original players of the game that developed the dance to secretly practice self-defense tactics that were hidden within the choreography. The music they played further coaxed their masters into thinking their actions were in good fun and the songs they sang served as a way to relay encrypted messages without their owners finding out.

This original stealth is why modern Capoeiristas (players of the game) prefer to throw off their opponents with surprise as opposed to violence or aggression. For the real history buffs, start your search here, then read Capoeira: Roots of the Dance-Fight Game by Nestor Capoeira. But first, sign up for a class! Here’s why I say that…

Capoeira Will Change Your Life!

It’s time to stop feeling inferior to all the little girls doing cartwheels on the playground. Capoeira has some serious benefits to offer you:

1. Build insane isometric strength to perform beautiful gymnastic feats

2. Acquire lasting endurance that will make you toss your entire Tae-Bo library

3. Relieve the stress accumulated from your sedentary lifestyle or career

4. Learn to play musical instruments and sing (in Portuguese!)

5. Reshape your priorities thanks to the emphasis on physical fitness

6. Increase your social circle with people just as enthusiastic as you

All you have to do is step inside the roda (hO-da) – the “circle” of people that surrounds the two players of the game.

One Family, Two Basic Styles

Remember at the top when I was annoyed because I couldn’t kick the guy? I forgot to do my homework on different styles of Capoeira:

1. Angola:

2. Regional

Put them together and you have Capoeira Contemporânea, the progressive interpretation that continues to challenge the boundaries of physical movement and playfulness.

And The Band Played On

The game of Capoeira is nothing without music. to accompany your muscle memory. Expect to play these instruments (in order of difficulty):

1. Agogo: a double cowbell played with a stick

2. Pandeiro: similar to a tambourine but with a drum head in the center

3. Atabaque: a special drum much like a conga

4. Berimbau: the most important instrument used in Capoeira

The bateria (orchestra of people) set the pace of the game, which determines which style of Capoeira is played. Slower music usually means Angola style and faster music triggers Regional style. Reading doesn’t do this part justice, so let’s hear the instruments played together then watch a Capoeira performance.

Call To Action: Here’s How To Start Capoeira Today!

Look for classes at a local yoga studio or college campus. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a group in your area dedicated to Capoeira (try Meetup.com). Expect to pay $5 – $15 per class and stay between 1 – 2 hours each time. Capoeira will kick your butt, so wear loose, comfortable clothing to ensure full range of motion as you move.

Let’s be realistic, these movements are hard and take time to master, but a good group will hold your hand while you learn the basics, so forget about discouragement. You’re part of a community now, so leave the violence at the door and embrace comradery, fitness, and a boat-load of fun. My condolences to the way life used to be!

About The Author: Panayiotis Karabetis goes by Pete and writes for The Tango Notebook when he’s not channeling his energies dancing, sparring, or helping people set up QuickBooks.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mary W. November 19, 2009, 1:18 am

    Even though I only took a low-key capoeira class for about 9 months, the speed that my body changed was incredible. It was a free community class only once a week, but my thighs, bum, and stomach were tightened practically right away.

    Are you going to learn to juggle kettleballs while completing a ginga-armada? 😉

  • crestina November 19, 2009, 4:16 am

    Can someone who is fat practice Capoeira?

    • TaTo July 11, 2010, 6:04 pm

      As far as I know, Capoeira is for everybody.

  • Eric | Eden Journal November 19, 2009, 7:40 am

    Very interesting post. I had never heard of Capoeira, but it sounds facinating. You mentioned Tony Jaa in the intro, he’s one of my favorite martial arts actors. I loved Ong-Bak.

  • Pete | The Tango Notebook November 19, 2009, 8:44 am

    @Mary – It would look better juggling doing an Au!

    @Crestina – All people are encouraged. It’s up to you stay involved. I’m a little skinny guy and it kicks my butt 🙂

    @ Eric – Take a look at some clips online and just stare at them with your jaw dropped open, they’re fascinating!

    • Josh Hanagarne November 19, 2009, 11:19 am

      Pete, how far into the classes do they start doing the crazy flipping?

  • Srinivas Rao November 19, 2009, 9:25 am

    I actually lived in Brazil for 6 months while I was in grad school. I attempted Capoeira once a few year back. Make no mistake that it’s an extremely intense work out, and takes time to master. But, there is something beautiful about watching it. When you are on the streets of Brazilian cities it’s not uncommon to see Capoeira circles. Really cool stuff.

  • Casey Brazeal (North and Clark) November 19, 2009, 10:27 am

    Paranaue! Paranaue nanana!

  • Oleg Mokhov November 19, 2009, 10:37 am

    Hey Panayiotis,

    The first time I saw capoeira, I thought it was a beautiful fusion of breakdancing and martial arts. Turns out b-boyin’ got its roots (or shares the same roots, can’t remember) from capoeira. Makes total sense, and explains why capoeira is so irresistible (everybody loves to watch breakdancing).

    Thanks for your simple breakdown of capoeira, and where to go to get started. You’re pushing my curiosity into a more actionable direction, so thanks for the inspiration as well.

    Here’s to the continued elegant fusion of martial arts, dancing and music,

  • Jessica Marie November 19, 2009, 11:05 am

    Wow, the reference to Only the Strong took me back. I remember seeing that movie ten years ago on tv. Thanks for the basic introduction to such an interesting topic.

  • Pete | The Tango Notebook November 19, 2009, 4:29 pm

    @Josh – They get you doing the jinga right away and also the Au (cartwheel) when I took class. Little girls on the playground make cartwheels look easy, but in Capoeira they are intense!

    @Oleg – Life comes together when you fuse music, movement, and people. All cultures do it differently, but whenever they do, something fascinating usually comes from it, yeah?

    @Jessica – Every guy wanted to look like Mark Dacascos when that movie came out. Cult classic 😉

    This one’s for you, Josh: Paranaue! Paranaue nanana!

  • Lori November 19, 2009, 6:37 pm

    I’m struggling to decide who is cooler, Josh or Pete.
    Well, that’s silly, there’s no contest – you both rock the house.
    How cool is this??? I’ve heard of Capoeira, but never knew much about it. Now I’m at least past the “Dummies” stage.

    Thanks, Pete!

    • Josh Hanagarne November 19, 2009, 6:51 pm

      Pete is much cooler. He tangos.

      • Lori November 19, 2009, 7:43 pm

        Yeah, but does Pete know what a Lava Sandwich is?

  • Pete | The Tango Notebook November 20, 2009, 7:19 pm

    You know, I was wondering today what a Lava Sandwich is… Please help me be cool 🙂

    • Lori November 20, 2009, 7:48 pm

      Hey Pete – no problem!
      By the way, you don’t need to know what a Lava Sandwich is to be cool, I think you already have the cool category covered.

      Just go to Josh’s post on Nov 13 called, “Poll: Waaaaaassup?”
      Read it and weep. 😉
      (P.S. I watched a bunch of Capoeira videos on YouTube today – see what you started?!?)

  • Mestres Brasil May 23, 2011, 3:12 pm

    I cannot count how many people started capoeira in the 90s thanks to only the strong !

    • Pete Karabetis May 23, 2011, 9:20 pm

      I’m one of them Mestres! It was a cult classic.

      • Josh Hanagarne May 24, 2011, 9:21 am

        Pete, glad to see you’re still around. How are you?

        • Pete Karabetis May 25, 2011, 9:09 am

          I’m peachy. Doing Information Architecture and Ux Designer for a living (and loving it!) and staying active. I love me some kettlebells 😉

  • Janeen January 29, 2012, 7:54 am

    I’m on the heavier side and I practice Capoeira. I still cant do a proper cartwheel or a handstand I’ve been practicing a month but I’m convinced some day I will be able to. so yes Capoeira is for everyone.

    • Pete Karabetis January 29, 2012, 9:26 am

      Janeen, people think I’m crazy, but I think doing a cartwheel is like riding a bike! Once you get it not only do you not forget it, but you want to do it as much as possible. As for handstands, they’re even more addictive.

      Here’s proof: