But it’s fetching and you wonder. What if I could? Should I try this? Well, kids over 10, and adventurous adults, are taking capoeira lessons in Canada, the USA, and Europe the Philippines, Israel, and Africa. Even in Brazil! It’s popular.
Speaking of popularity, remember Ocean’s Twelve with the jewel thief, François Toulour? Vincent Cassel was the actor. How’s this for a coincidence? Cassel read the script for Ocean’s Twelve while in Brazil. His capoeira caper, to avoid museum security beams, stole the show (and the fake Fabergé egg) with graceful moves and exacting precision.
Call his heroics the sport of the laser dance. Betcha most of us, entranced, hadn’t a clue that it was capoeira. But we were mesmerized at the orchestra of instrumental feints, ducks, flips, and poses all coming from this one man band.
Cassel had done capoeira in his younger years. Perhaps that is the best time to start this art. Apparently he was unavailable to work the next day after the stealing scene. At least he was available to live. A lot of the instructional capoeira videos state, basically and forthrightly, if you do the stuff wrong, you’ll be dead.
Not all capoeira is in a fearsome format. It can be an exhibition of exercise excellence accompanied, and this makes capoeira unique as a martial art, by music. The performers feed off each other, and the music’s lyrics and rhythms, in a startling succession of synchronized: upright, upside down, side to side, kicking, and balancing - moves and motions.
And the musical beat of capoeira is based on the berimbau, which is a flexed stick of Brazilian hardwood strung with an automobile tire wire, and anchored by a reel (calabash gourd) that looks like a huge tumor you’d want removed, like now. It’s a percussion instrument that resembles a fishing rod.
Take the above, throw in a stone and a rattle (caxixí) and you've a sound of the maraca and the twang of a ukulele, at least to these ears. The songs that accompany this instrument (and drum, tambourine, and sometimes a double-bell) can be about anything: a person, a capoeira story, some historical event.
Think of capoeira as a really funky way to do off kilter cartwheels (aú’s), cartwheels on your head (Aú de Cabeca’s), bends, squats, you name it. The gut of the Capoeirista, upon which all other moves feed off, is the Ginga. With one leg going back, with the same-side arm coming forward as a blocker - below the eyes - so you can see your opponent, the switch is then to the other leg going back and the other arm in front, and my quads are quivering...
And if you get a kick out of the Ginga, you can get a kick out of it, literally. And quickly with the Esquiva Baixa. Again, generally, the athletes’ moves are intricately intertwined with the musical muse. The athletes turn their backsides to each other. Sometimes they’ll deign to stand upright and do dance steps in tandem. Then off they go again into their mysterious, magical road show, a road show which is done outside in cities, especially in Brazil’s northeastern region, in the state of Bahia, in seemingly impromptu sessions before bystanders.
Before participants can move up the capoeira food chain they must show improvements in movement and knowledge in the once-a-year batizado (baptism). Some of the children capoeiristas look like masters.
If those kids are successful, they are rewarded with a corda, a colored belt. Different capoeira groups use different colored cordas and grading systems. Standardization is not the rule of thumb, which makes some sense as capoeira is a flow, not a rigid stop-and-start, fitness form.
In a capoeira Angola, for example, singing flows with the participants and the sounds thwack you, thumping the chest before piercing the heart and settling in the soul. The vocals are not in perfect Beach Boys harmony. The sound is not commercial jingle. In fact, the melodies seem to be a mingling of tweaks and twangs in discordancy, yet with all tingling, and touching.
We know, however, capoeira is no soft touch. Watching a capoeira fighter knockout a kick boxer in less than 30 seconds, with a flurry of kicks coming out of the wild blue yonder, is an eye opener, and speaks to its ferocity, its bellicosity. And no wonder these sculpted athletes walk with a spring in their step. In the course of a capoeira dance ritual they’ll easily do two and one foot air flips, somersaults, or Folha Secas “Kick the Moons.”
Call it a shower of power. The thing is if you weren't familiar with this fighting style, you’d never know where the next kick is coming from. Even when a capoeira fighter is down, a kick can shoot up. And if that isn't amazing enough what is totally awesome is how participants arch their backs to degrees unseen.
That math of dangling angles has not been invented yet - but it has. It’s like the combatants are flauntingly flirting with the limits of physical flexibility. Basically, ultimately, capoeira works the whole body. And brain. It’s the complete workout but because the moves involve so much that is not linear, nor lateral, or vertical you have to be careful to keep your enthusiasm and excitement in check and not go swanning off into capoeira sight unseen. Be aware of the potential to wreck yourself. Otherwise you’ll be seen as a racked up mess stacked in the emergency ward.
With real capoeira fighting, remember it’s just not the opponent’s feet and legs, the latter either singularly or collectively in the Armada Dupla, you have to worry about. Watch for punches and grappling that might tie you in knots. And don’t get flummoxed watching the one hand spinning moves either. (To get that hand-twist motion down pat - use the heel of your palm as the contact point - with your fingers and thumb slightly off the ground so they don’t muck up the works.)
Right, got it.
Get this too. The art of capoeira and its history goes deep, and stems from slave days in Brazil, when West African slaves learned this on the fly, but showed it as dance, so Portuguese slave masters wouldn't know it was really being developed as an art of defense. Nowadays, many not only practice capoeira, they live it. It’s an essential, integral part of who they are and, not shockingly, capoeira has some original connection to the Brazilian-African religion, Candomblé, and Catholicism.
But now, and forevermore, it is linked to a life of spirituality and vitality.