Cutting loose with capoeira
Weary of martial art stoicism, want to dance to the beat of a different drum or try a sport that prizes play over points scored? Capoeira has what you crave. That's what many are learning as they embrace this popular Brazilian art with Bantus Capoeira Group.
If you're weary of martial art stoicism, want to dance to the beat of a different drum or try a sport that prizes play over points scored, capoeira may be just what you crave. That's what many are learning as they embrace this popular Brazilian art with the likes of Bantus Capoeira Group.
Founded in 2004, Bantus Capoeira Group Japan is a branch of Brazil-based Grupo Bantus Capoeira and has made a name for itself through its contemporary capoeira workshops, performances and presentations. But the club's real claim to fame is its ultimate fun-filled workouts within a close-knit circle (literally) of capoeiristas who check formalities at the door for their love of the game.
"Our classes promote international friendship and understanding, healthy living, and social and environmental conciseness," says Marcello "Cacapa" Pietrantonio, 28. The teacher and Web designer from Australia is the club chairman. He studied capoeira in Australia, Brazil, elsewhere in South as well as North America and Europe before co-founding Bantus Japan with his partner Kinuko "Cafune" Kaneda. He says, capoeira is all the rage in Japan and as a result Bantus is doing more and more events. "There's a huge boom now and 2008 will be the 100-year anniversary of when Japanese first immigrated to Brazil, so we expect even more of demand then."
Bantus meets three times a week for practice and play at locations near Tokyo's Kichijoji and Inokashira Koen stations. Classes include yoga and other warm-ups as well as singing, dance and playing traditional Brazilian instruments, with Saturday sessions focusing on capoeira basics for beginners. But the main event of each class culminates in a playful game of sparing accompanied by vivacious rhythms and song.
After forming a roda, or circle, and launching a lively tempo, pairs face off with acrobatic techniques that range from cartwheels and handstands to love-tap-slap boxing, no-contact kicks and surprise ground sweeps. All the while, observers in the outer circle - some eagerly awaiting their turn - keep the tempo with cheers, jeers clapping and singing. The aim is to outsmart your opponent and trip her or him up with a clever move. "The goal," says Pietrantonio, "is to have a good time - without getting injured." Cunning is clearly the name of this game, which demands agility of the mind as well as the body.
"It's fun," says sweat-soaked Masashi Takahashi, 25. The graduate student of architecture started capoeira while studying abroad in Denmark and joined Bantus a year ago after returning home. "It's very interesting to juggle - spar or dance with others. I like it because it's not predetermined but spontaneous. You have to feel what you're doing and what the other guy is doing while keeping eye contact." Sure it's a blast; but what exactly is this enigmatic art?
"It's almost impossible to express in words what capoeira really is, you have to see it with your own eyes," Pietrantonio explains. "Capoeira has been described as a dance, a martial art, a game, and a ritual. But the truth is it is much more than that. Today, capoeira is the fastest spreading Brazilian art form on the planet, practiced in schools, studios, gyms, on the beaches and streets across the globe."
Capoeira came by way of West Africa between the 16th and 19th centuries to Brazil where more than 40 percent of slaves shipped to South America landed. It was practiced, among other things, as a way to preserve and pass on cultural traditions in the guise of a game. While capoeiristas were persecuted after the abolishment of slavery, Brazil began embracing it as a cultural treasure by the mid 20th century. More than a quarter of a million Japanese have immigrated to Brazil since then and their descendents, along with thousands of other Brazilians, have helped make Japan an ideal haven for capoeira.
"Today, capoeira is a holistic art form, sport and form of exercise," Pietrantonio says. "It's a vehicle for self-expression and a way to make friends and meet people." He adds that it also offers a total body workout that keeps practitioners tone, fit and flexible: "Capoeira works just about every muscle in your body, many that you've probably never used before. Of course you'll improve flexibility, upper and lower body strength as well as stronger abs and back muscles - and stamina, but you'll also develop better balance, reaction time and general fitness." But that's not all.
" You'll develop your self-expression and self-confidence," Pietrantonio says. "Capoeira is unlike any martial art in that dance and music are integral parts of the art form. It will bring you closer to people. If capoeira is to be called a martial art, it is definitely a non-violent one. In fact, capoeira brings out the passion and joy in all people, regardless of age, gender, race or religion. One simple thing that most Japanese people have trouble with at first is the closeness that capoeira promotes. For example, the students at Grupo Bantus Capoeira Japao (Bantus Capoeira Group Japan) always greet each other in the Brazilian tradition with a handshake, a hug, or a kiss."
The camaraderie extends well beyond the roda. The group's approximately 50 permanent members usually gather for food and drink after class and are collectively involved in community projects such as supporting the homeless, orphaned and environment. Many travel abroad for annual capoeira events and tend to be energetic, positive, and outgoing. Perhaps surprisingly, about three-quarters are Japanese but members stress that all are welcome.
"I did Kung fu for a while and I've always been interested in dance," says Uriah Summers, 29. The teacher says that it was over a summer break that he decided to give it a try while in Japan. "I had heard that of all the places in the world where capoeira is practiced Japan is one of the best. It's fun, exciting and a chance to meet some really cool people."
Those with a background in martial arts, dance, and sports take well to capoeira and Pietrantonio says the "tone-deaf wall flowers with two left feet" will find Saturday classes an ideal opportunity to discover their inner Brazilian: "Like anything worth mastering, capoeira is difficult at first. But don't give up, set goals, keep inspired, bring a friend and, most of all, have fun! Totally immerse yourself in the culture, and don't forget to smile."
For other opportunities to cut the rug with capoeira check out Capoeira Angola Center Japan at: http://www.capoeira-angola.jp/ or ABC de Capoeira Do at: http://capoeira-jp.com/eigo/index00.shtml . The curious in Kyoto can try Cais Do Mar at: http://www.caisdomar.net/home_eng.html . In Osaka, check out Capu Japon at: http://www.capu.jp/ .
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