Acrobatics, dance moves, and call-response songs in Portuguese present an unlikely combination for a martial art, but the Brazilian sport of capoeira effortlessly unites all three. The result has convinced more than one Marquette student to join Capoeira Nagô, the student capoeira group on campus.
“I saw a bunch of people dancing really crazy [on the Central Mall],” said Jordan French, a sophomore in Exercise Science. “I actually thought it was a dance class, but then I found out that they fight. It was everything that I always wanted to do combined into one.”
The ginga forms the basic move in capoeira, off of which all the other moves are done. It is a basic step across, step back, step across, step back dance motion that is performed low to the ground to give power for the cartwheels, kicks and flips that form a lot of the other moves along with giving the martial artist the ability to move to the ground out of the way easily in a move called the esquiva, which means escape in Portuguese. Even these basic steps were enough to convince Sam Olukotun, a junior in Electrical and Computer Engineering that capoeira was for him.
“I stood up and I did one of those gingas, I tried doing a cartwheel; I was hooked since then.”
Olukotun has never performed martial arts before capoeira, but even those who have really enjoy it.
“I’ve been a martial artist for a while now, and I’m always interested in learning new techniques and styles. I think what kept me coming back to Capoeira is how much fun it is. It’s very playful and high energy, which separates it from some of the more “serious” styles I’ve studied,” said Brian Debs, a senior in the College of Communication. Hannah Grade, a freshman in the College of Health Sciences, did tae kwon do for six years before she started capoeira.
“What attracted me to Capoeira most was the atmosphere of it. Everyone has fun and learns a lot… We sing, we dance, we play, we laugh and we fight.”
From beginners to experienced players, there is always something to do for everyone at each practice. Practice begins with Brazilian music, a basic warm-up and stretch, after which everyone lines up to do cartwheels and handstands down the length of the room. And if a student cannot do either of these, the instructor, Marc Adesso, a law student at Marquette, shows the student how to do a variation suitable for his or her current level.
All skill levels are encouraged to come. After the warm-up and line exercises, the beginners go off to the side to learn new moves and the more advanced students practice and learn new difficult moves. But no matter at what level the student is, practice is inevitably a good workout.
“It’s a very good place to exercise and learn how to do flips,” said Joseph Flask, a junior in Biomedical Sciences.
Adesso, who has been doing capoeira since 2001, agrees. “I like the high energy and boost it gives me.”
Practice culminates in the roda, a circle that the capoeira players form around two players actually practicing the moves they have learned on each other. All of the players get a chance to enter the roda and practice.
“It’s a dialogue of the moves,” said French.
The players in the circle sing call-response songs in Portuguese, clap and play the classic capoeira instruments: the berimbau, a bow that is strummed with a small stick, and the pandeiro, an instrument similar to a tambourine.
Marquette’s student group is part of greater Milwaukee’s Capoeira Nagô. Adesso teaches the classes in various locations throughout Milwaukee every day of the week, with two classes held on Marquette’s campus. The classes are open to anyone.
“I have had the opportunity to interact with many capoeiristas in Milwaukee, a number of whom don’t attend the university and come from all sorts of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds,” said Stephen Self, a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences.
The intense fun of capoeira not only is expressed in the acrobatic fighting moves, but also in the celebration of Brazilian culture and the chance to meet new people.