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:
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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