IT'S THE WEEKEND: Brazilian martial art combines jaw-dropping acrobatics, berimbau music and rhythmical dance in Newport
10:03am Saturday 12th July 2014 in News
DANCE FIGHTING: A capoeira demonstration at the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff - Picture credit Noel Darcy
AS football fans around the globe prepare to watch a highly charged World Cup final on South American soil, The Argus takes a look at a quintessentially Brazilian martial art combining jaw-dropping acrobatics, berimbau music and rhythmical dance.
REELING from their spectacular exit from the greatest tournament on earth, the people of Brazil have temporarily abandoned the artistry and flamboyance for which they are famous – too heartbroken to even carry on the party in Rio that was the 2014 World Cup.
But in one corner of Newport, performers remain in full flow, rehearsing dance moves, jumps and kicks from Brazil that form
a unique art form called capoeira.
The martial art was developed by descendants of African slaves with native Brazilian influences.
Capoeira arose as a hope of survival for escaped slaves who defended themselves against colonialists and disguised the defence system with music and dance to avoid detection and corporal punishment.
It is now a symbol of Brazilian culture, and of resistance to oppression.
Present in many countries on every continent, capoeira attracts countless foreign students and tourists to Brazil each year.
Capoeira presentations, normally theatrical, acrobatic and with a little fighting, are common sights around the world.
Hollywood has recently helped to bring the art form to wider audiences, with memorable routines performed by Vicent Cassel in Ocean’s Twelve, the character Loki in the superhero film Thor, and the “cemetery warriors” in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Often perceived as fast and versatile, capoeira focuses on fighting at a disadvantage or outnumbered.
The swing - or ginga in Portuguese - is fundamental, both for defence and attack and has two main purposes.
One is to keep the capoeirista in a state of constant motion and prevent them from becoming an easy target.
The other is to mislead and trick the opponent, leaving them open for an attack.
Most attacks are made with the legs, like direct or swirling kicks, leg sweeps and knee strikes.
Capoeira also uses defence - in particular esquivas - which can be done standing or with a hand on the floor.
Rolls and acrobatics like cartwheels allow fighters to quickly overcome takedowns and move around the assailant to prepare for an attack.
Exponents of the martial art say it is this combination of attacks, defence and constant movement which gives capoeira its fluidity and choreography-like style.
One capoeirista who teaches at the Share Centre in Stow Hill, Newport, goes by the name of Wolverine.
He tells me: “It is a game, and a fight as well. You can play how you want.
“It is a conversation between two people. The most important thing is dialogue.
“Capoeira is very much a discussion. The emphasis is on evasion.
“There are lots of takedowns in capoeira. It is quite personal – you put a bit of yourself into it.”
Another major element of capoeira is the music, which sets the tempo and style of the game.
The rhythm of the music is driven by a Brazilian berimbau, a percussion instrument and musical bow rolled into one.
Accompanying instrumentalists play hand drums, samba bells and rattles following the berimbaus rhythm, but are also free to vary and improvise depending on the music's style.
The musicians gather around the fighters forming a circle or roda where capoeiristas sing and clap their hands following the music and tempo of the dance.
Many of the songs are sung in a call and response, while others are in the form of a narrative.
Participants are known to sing stories about famous capoeiristas, life and love lost.
Some songs are about what is going on within the roda, while others attempt to inspire players to do better.
Wolverine reflects on the fluidity of the martial art, which encompasses several art forms.
He tells me: “It is not just a martial art, it is not a dance and it is not a game. But it’s a martial art, a game and a dance. It is a unique Brazilian art form. That’s certainly the appeal. It has numerous avenues you can explore.”
Nicknames are also an important feature of the martial art.
Traditionally, players were given a nickname, or apelido, when capoeira practice was seen as a crime.
To avoid getting into trouble, fighters would use their nicknames within the capoeira community.
So if a capoeirista was captured by police, he would not be able to identify his fellow capoeiristas, even under torture.
Today the monikers are given for many reasons, for instance a particular skill, habit or a fighter’s looks.
Wolverine tells me he got his moniker, not because of his ability to withstand blows or display rage in close combat like the character from the Marvel universe, but merely because of his exuberant hairstyle.
“Your teacher gives you a nickname. It is a very common thing in Brazil.
“It can be something that pertains to your character. Sometimes it can be a joke or something you look like.”
The Cardiff-based performer has been practicing the martial art for a decade and last year reached the rank of graduado or graduated student.
He has been studying under a master called Claudio Campos, who has exported the dance from the capital of Brazil, Brasilia.
He said: “It has been very good to me over the years. It seemed like a nice thing to do.
“It is really good for flexibility, strength and stamina. And I think it’s very good for your balance.
“There are musical aspects to it. There is something for everybody. If you’re not into acrobatics, there are songs in Portuguese."
The martial art has two main styles, Capoeira Angola, the traditional style, which has fairly low moves, and the Regional style formed in the 1920s, associated with high acrobatics.
Wolverine uses a very fluid style.
“I kind of put a bit of humour into it," he says. "I enjoy playing. I add a bit of dance, a bit of theatre.
“I found the movements were quite foreign and very different from other martial arts I had seen when I started.
“You do something you kind of learn and you commit it to muscle memory, you develop a vocabulary.
“You formulate your own way of playing, but obviously this takes time.”
The martial does have a competitive side and the regional style is credited with having introduced the first ranking method with three levels, freshman, graduated and specialist.
Fighters wear ropes sometimes using the colours of the Brazilian flag, green, yellow, blue and white.
Wolverine tells me competitions are known to take place in the UK, in particular in London.
And some mixed martial art fighters incorporate capoeira movements as part of their fighting routines.
"Capoeira has broadened my view of the world. It has led me to look into other cultures," Wolverine tells me.
“I found some wonderful things and Brazil has wonderful places.
“The people are fabulous. Capoeira has a rich history.
“From a physical point of view, it has kept me fit and I have some wonderful friends as a result. It’s great stuff.”
* Wolverine has taught at the Share Centre since Christmas but his group is now taking a break until the autumn.
In the meantime, capoeira enthusiasts can try the martial art in Cardiff. For more information log on to cardiffcapoeira.com