By Joshua Rapp Learn, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – If you’ve been in Brazil for any length of time, you’ve probably seen Capoeira. Whether it’s lean and toned Brazilians doing back flips on the beach, or wizened old tricksters circling each other in squares, Capoeira has become a pervasive part of Brazilian culture.
The musical rings that Capoeiristas face off in, called “rodas”, almost always draw attention and even envy, but most people don’t realize how easy it is to get started. People regardless of age, in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life can find their way to Capoeira.
Following these seven tips will put you well on your way – one that eventually may turn into a back flip.
1. Always approach a new academy with respect. Even if you have practiced Capoeira for a decade, you should always show respect when visiting a new school. Although Capoeira may not seem as rigidly structured as some Asian martial arts, it is still very important to show respect to the Mestre, Contra Mestre (the counter master, usually second in seniority) or the professor. It’s a good idea to introduce yourself to the highest in command upon entering an academy, and always thank them before you leave, even if you just came to watch.
2. Play in the roda. It can be intimidating to get into the circle in the midst of banging drums and everyone’s attention, seeing players do back flips over each other and duck mortal kicks within split seconds tends to inhibit newcomers from entering out of fear for personal safety. Most Capoeiristas however, especially in the academies, won’t play too hard with beginners. Famous Capoeirista Mestre Bimba believed that Capoeira represented a kind of cooperation where the better players help the weaker players along.
3. Learn the songs. Capoeira is as much about the music as it is about the physical feats of agility and speed. Listen to the lyrics of the songs to learn more about the history of Capoeira. There are hundreds of different songs out there and groups are writing new songs all the time. The songs also make personal commentary on the way two Capoeiristas in the roda may be playing, serving as words of caution when someone begins playing an aggressive opponent, or merely poking fun at someone when they’ve been knocked off their feet.
4. Learn to play an instrument. The rhythms of Capoeira are almost always led by the twanging of the bow-like “berimbaus.” The instruments set the pace and style of the game. Historically, different rhythms acted as coded messages to the players to indicate danger such as the imminent arrival of police. Often times it’s the master or another senior Capoeirista who leads the rhythm of the game, and when the players become too aggressive, play out of rhythm or there is any other reason to pause the game, he will tap the gourd on the bottom of the berimbau continuously with his stick.
5. Keep your pants on, and seek out the colored ropes. The belt Capoeiristas wear, tend to be given or changed after a “batizado” (new member baptism), so don’t despair if it seems like ages since you’ve been training Capoeira without anything to hold up your “abada” (Capoeira pants).
6. It’s all in the nicknames, and everyone eventually gets a specific Capoeira alias. It’s related to the history of the sport, to help protect the identities of players during the long period of illegality. If you haven’t gotten your Capoeira name yet you will definitely get one by the time you receive your first belt, and hopefully you’ll find it flattering.
7. Have fun! Smile! Even if you decide to train with one of the schools that plays a more contact focused game, remember – you are still just there to learn and have fun. So instead of getting angry or upset if you don’t duck quickly enough and get kicked in the face, just smile and continue playing. It’s the best way of showing good sportsmanship and at the very least it will throw your opponent off until you see a chance to get him back.