Having a slow start on his New Year resolution to get fit, reluctant exerciser Roddy Louther finally finds a movement form that does it for him. He gives us the low down on Capoeira, the movement, the history and the thrill of the 'game'.
I have always struggled to get my head around fitness. An uncle of mine died when he was 93 years old. He never exercised, was partial to whiskey and pint, and only stopped smoking when he was 60. He simply succumbed to old age in his home surrounded by his six surviving children and 22 great grand children. Bruce Lee on the other hand was as fit as a racehorse, and as lethal a man as you'll ever find. Yet he died suddenly from a blood clot on the brain, aged just 32. Hell, recently a professional football player died of a heart attack while playing. So forgive my 'cautious' approach to exercise.
Believe me, I have nothing against it, and I appreciate the virtues of a healthy body especially of the female variety! But I have never set foot inside a gym, and I don't plan to either. I just don't think going to gym is my kind of thing. The thought of dragging my lardy lump around a gym filled with sweaty beautiful people panics me. So, I resort to sporadic, more anonymous, lonelier pursuits like a brisk walk or a jog along the Promenade, or the river near to where I live. And I have an on-off relationship with the Canadian Mounties morning exercise regime as well. But before you go thinking, 'You're just plain lazy! And who are you to tell us about exercise regimes then?' ' I am not lazy' just disinterested, and I put it down to not having found anything that would intrigue me enough to want to stick to it. Until now.
One sunny afternoon while walking along the Camps Bay beachfront, I spotted a group of men and woman standing in a circle. They wore loose white trousers; the men were bare-chested and the women wore t-shirts. Some of the men and women played strange bow-shaped instruments and African drums while chanting, charging the warm evening air with a sense of sweaty mystery.
At first I thought it might be a Hare-Krishna gathering, but upon closer inspection I saw two men inside the circle involved in what appeared to be a mock battle with elaborate high kicks, airborne attacks and stealthy evasive moves. Not once did they make contact - in fact, silhouetted against the backdrop of a faultless sunset over the Atlantic, the whole gathering revealed itself as a theatrical balletic expression. The movements were complex and seemed strenuous, but the men and women were extraordinarily agile making the efforts seems almost elegant. I had stumbled upon an exhibition class of Abad' Capoeira.
I spotted a familiar face amongst the Capoeiristas. Although we've never met, Marcio Lopez and I sometimes watch football at Scrumpy Jack in Observatory. So when I saw him there a few weeks later, I asked him about Capoeira. Instructor Beleza, as he is known to his students, runs Abad' Capoeira, an international non-profit organization aimed at promoting Afro-Brazilian culture through Capoeira. The organization has a presence in 35 countries worldwide and boasts around 50 000 members.
He went on to explain that Capoeira is, at its heart, a social activity with roots deep in Afro-Brazilian slave culture. It is said the wealthy landowners, fearing insurrection, banned the slaves from practicing any kind of fighting techniques. So they disguised their activities by introducing music and singing. The circle I saw is called a 'Roda' and is reminiscent of tribal gathering around a fire in faraway Africa. But it came to serve as a way of hiding 'the game' happening at its centre. The 'Roda' also consists of musicians who used instruments with African origins. Capoeira has developed into a graceful, acrobatic, stylized, and interactive 'game' of attack and evasive actions. It requires balance, agility, rhythm, and extreme control. Emphasis on freedom of expression and the intrinsic value of each individual continue to be important aspects of Capoeira. As a form of Plyometric exercise involving jumping, bounding and other high impact exercises, Capoeira focuses on maximizing the stretch reflex of the muscles and promoting physical strength, endurance and flexibility through dynamic aerobic movement.
'Capoeira is a remedy.' So said a revered master, a few centuries ago. A later student added, 'But more than that, it's a pharmacy.' As a fitness regime, Capoeira is ideal for men, women and children of school going age. It is an interactive fun 'game' and a great stress reliever. It is a dance and an art form. But it's also a serious form of martial art and as such an excellent confidence builder. Capoeiristas are graded on their level of skill defined by the colour of a chord worn around the waist - the lowest being Yellow and the highest White.
Capoeira schools can be found in most cities in South Africa. The Abad' Capoeira runs classes throughout the Cape Town area, and even at under privileged schools on the Cape Flats. To find out more about Capoeira, the class times, venues near you and the rates, visit www.abadacapoeira.org.za
did you know? There are two styles of Capoeira:
Traditional style. This style is played in a slow pace mostly close to the ground. It is an interactive game with sneaky tricks and theatrical displays by each player, to disguise his/her real intention and to get the advantage over his/her opponent.
Modern style. This style is played at a faster pace, mostly upright. It is a dispute game of powerful kicks, acrobatics, and take-downs executed in high speed. In this style, the player with more athletic prowess gets advantage of the game.
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