Saturday September 8, 2012
By LIM CHIA YING
Children aged three and above are taking up the Brazilian martial art Capoeira.
THE intoxicating, repetitive chants of the Paranaue song was blaring in the background when I stepped into Bodyworks Fitness & Dance Studio in Damansara Heights where an instructor and his young charges were hard at play.
A buff-looking man was swaying his arms while making back-and-forth strides in dance-like movement to the hypnotic beats. Against the backdrop of floor-to-ceiling glass panels, little children as young as three were mimicking his every step. If you thought that this was some dance routine, you would be in for a surprise!
They call this Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art form that involves striking with the arms, punching, kicking, blocking and jumping. Duelling is sometimes referred to as “communication” in the vocabulary of Capoeira exponents.
The trainer, Seelan Manoheran, clarifies that Capoeira is not a dance. He says Capoeira is more of a fighting art.
“Capoeira may seem like a dance to onlookers because of the fundamental movement called ginga (which involves rocking to and fro) is akin to some dance exercise, but it’s really about combat between two opponents.
“If you read between the lines, you’ll associate the steps to one person making a greeting and the other responding in return. Elements like strength, flexibility, power and endurance define this form of self-defence, which is made fun and boisterous with the inclusion of energetic and infectious music that jazzes up the atmosphere,” says Seelan, 36.
Now a senior-level practitioner who is licensed to teach, Seelan had to work his way up. His involvement in Capoeira began when he joined Bantus Capoeira Malaysia, the oldest Capoeira-teaching school in Malaysia. It was formed eight years ago by Rafael Rosario Barbosa.
Seelan has been with Bantus for almost four years now, and is today the co-owner of Bodyworks, which offers a range of fitness-related classes and dance lessons for people of all ages.
Classes available here include ballet, modern and tap, all taught by a fellowship-level, qualified teacher.
The Capoeira class for children began about three months ago in collaboration with the Bantus Capoeira Malaysia. The warm-up session includes lots of stretches, movement exercises and bending routines because this Brazilian martial art is so vigorous and energetic that it demands nimbleness.
“One of the warm-ups we conduct is similar to a chimpanzee walking, whereby the children are trained to move with their hands. Not many adults are able to do so, but when you keep working on it, you feel that your movement and motor skills are rejuvenated,” Seelan says.
Capoeira is highly suited to small children because of their quick reflexes and good coordination. And when it comes to self-defence, they learn how to react almost instantaneously.
Seelan adds that there have been times when parents who send their children to the class were so drawn in by the music that they too danced to the groove and acrobatic moves.
“The fun aspect of Capoeira is that it allows for parents to play and join their kids, which helps with bonding and relationships. In Brazil, the people must either know how to play football or how to play the Capoeira!” he says.
“In fact, you will be stunned by the number of Capoeira schools there. The scene is just crazy.”
Although Capoeira is dubbed a Brazilian martial art, it did not originate from the South American nation. It was only introduced to Brazil by slaves brought in from Africa who performed among themselves by incorporating music to disguise their martial art for fear of reprisal from their owners. The tempo was then upped with quicker beats, making for the modern Capoeira we see today.
“It was described as the game of slaves and was even once deemed illegal. The story goes that when the authorities got wind of anyone playing it, they would come chasing after them, prompting the performers to want to end their ‘contest’ as quickly as they could. Therefore, the pace had to be quickened, which called for faster music,” says Seelan, who was a professional athlete in his younger days.
To remain fit after his retirement from the marathons, Seelan would train regularly at the gym. However, this did not make him feel better, and he would lament about his inadequacy and the lack of specific skill set from doing this kind of training.
When Hollywood released the Capoeira movie Only The Strong in the early 90s, Seelan was immediately hooked. He knew that this was the martial art he wanted to take up.
“It’s different from other martial arts with its back-flips and kicks while also requiring that you use creativity to devise new movements. Isn’t it cool that you can learn self-defence and counter-attacks and yet do so in a fanciful and exuberant manner?
“A lot of girls have actually taken up Capoeira; it isn’t just for men. It’s heartening to note the growing pool of Capoeira trainees and trainers in Malaysia.”
First practised about 400 years ago, the Capoeira is considered a relatively new martial art compared to the other more ancient styles that trace their roots back a few thousand years.
In Capoeira, exponents who want to climb up the ranks has to consider the “likeability” factor. The Batizado (“baptism” or “exams”), says Seelan, are conducted in a public place where the Mestre (Masters) from Brazil come to play with the trainees and grade them.
“The Mestre will take you down in the game, embrace you with a hug and bestow you the belt with the respective colour that indicates your seniority level. It’s like a ceremonial recognition of sorts where acceptance is based on your personality and performance. Some people actually shed tears of joy upon receiving the belt,” he says.
In the Capoeira community, everyone treats everyone as equals, no matter the colour or creed.
“We practise humility, humanity and respect in Capoeira. There are no differences, and if I do bump into another Capoeira learner from another school, we would greet each other – that’s the Capoeira spirit.
“Even during the street Roda (pronounced hoh-dah, meaning “a circle demonstration”), no spectator or performer laughs or looks down on another less skilful person. Everyone will just clap in support,” he adds.
Of course, there are sometimes people who behave arrogantly.
“We always advocate playing a cool and fair game and exchanging pleasantries with your opponent, but people who don’t respect themselves or others will be taught a lesson. There will always be people with far superior skills who will take them down, and that creates embarrassment for them,” says Seelan.
Capoeira also gives one an insight into Brazilian culture, as an all-round Capoeirista has to be able to sing the songs that are integral to the art. The music is played with special instruments like the berimbau (a single-string musical bow), atabaque (a tall, wooden type of Afro-Brazilian hand drum), pandeiro (tambourine) and a-go-go (similar to cow bell).
Asked how long it takes for one to master Capoeira, Seelan shrugs, saying that it really depends on an individual’s innate ability and effort. He says he himself picked it up quite quickly because of his athletic background, but anyone can do it so as long as they are determined and willing to put in the hours.
Now, can we have a show of hands from those wanting to give Capoeira a shot?
> Bodyworks Fitness & Dance Studio is located at 16, Plaza Damansara, Jalan Medan Setia 2, Damansara Heights, KL. Call 03-2011 3549 or 012-292 3549 for a free trial.