Former editor of Yeah! Brasil, Aldy Coelho, writes about the Brazilian mixed martial art and dance

Not long ago, I  accompanied my husband to his capoeira ‘baptism’. And I confess, I had not been very respectful of his rituals. He had been practicing this sport for a long time and, many times, called on me to accompany him. And I resisted. Every time I watched a class or went to an event, I thought, “What drives people to spend so many hours playing capoeira without stopping?”

aldy4You know what capoeira is, right? Let’s get to the explanations: According to the Wikipedia website, capoeira is a Brazilian cultural expression that mixes sport, fight, dance, popular culture and music. Of Afro Brazilian origin, this manifestation incorporates movements of fight, acrobatics, dance, percussion and music, in a rhythmic dialogue of body, mind and spirit.

Created by African slaves brought to Brazil, capoeira developed mainly in Bahia, and later spread through several Brazilian states. The sport is characterised by agile and complex strokes and movements, primarily using kicks and creeps (or squats), as well as knees and head-butts.

The terminology originates from the Tupi-Guarani language and refers to the forest cover areas of the interior of Brazil. It has been suggested that capoeira got its name from the sites surrounding the large coffee and sugar cane farms that used slave labor.

Until 1940, capoeira was prohibited and considered a crime. Since 2014, capoeira has become recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as Cultural and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Nowadays, the capoeira has become a true exporter of Brazilian culture abroad.

And how did I learn all this? Training capoeira! My view on this sport changed that day, just over two years ago, Aldy1when I accompanied my husband in his ‘baptism’ in capoeira. This is the name given to your first graduation in capoeira, that is, accept the first waist-belt that according to each capoeira group, can have specific colors for different levels of experience. When I tagged along with my husband that day, I came to appreciate that this sport is not the reserve of men only, or for high-strength athletes. There, after the ‘baptism’ and exchange of cords/rope for those who have already evolved, there were children, men and women of all physical types, in addition to older people. I was struck by a lady, at the height of her seventy years, so happy to have graduated to the next belt. A change of cord or, perhaps, chord? A change of key in later life. Seventy years and playing capoeira within the limitations of age.

At that moment, I realized that capoeira is a cumulative sport, in the sense that it goes beyond a sports practice, because it’s a mixture of dance, of ginga, in which one has to be smart enough to attack with precision and to defend the blows of the partner. More than that, it is an exchange of knowledge, of approximation with the people, a cultural manifestation charged with history, that teaches use of the body and the mind to approach or defend the human being. That’s when I thought, “Why not try it?” And the following week, I was there, overcoming my own physical limits and ‘preconceptions’ to open my mind and to steep both body and soul in this artistic expression. And I assumed it would not be easy. Even today it is not. It takes a lot of strength in your arms, legs and abdomen to use your body as your only weapon. I still have to dedicate myself a little should I choose to progress through aldy3the graduations, ranging from beginner, intermediate, trainee, graduate, instructor, teacher, and forming, or formed/master, which is the highest grade of capoeira. The Capoeira Brasil group, of which I am now part, uses these terms and the colors of the Brazilian flag to define the graduations. Anyway, this is my second year into capoeira practice and I already I feel my evolution. I received my second belt and now I am a capoeira student. My husband evolved one level further and became trainee and was authorized to teach classes to other students. At the opening of baptism and rope/belt exchange events, which usually invokes great names of capoeira in Brazil, we made a special presentation telling the story of samba, which, like capoeira, was created to give body and space to African demonstrations to slaves in Brazil, in the eighteenth century.
But, for the samba story, I’ll leave it to the next article!

Aldy Coelho

aldycoelho[at]gmail[dot]com