Martial art capoeira fuses dance, combat

The Campus Recreation Center’s (CRC) Georgia Institute of Technology Fitness program (GIT FIT) offers a wide range of fitness programs that extend well beyond traditional workout methods, including a number of martial arts classes. One of the more unconventional yet effective options in this category is capoeira, a martial art that originated in Brazil and has become increasingly popular around the world over the past few decades.

While capoeira is generally considered a martial art—the CRC has it classed under martial arts and self defense—capoeira is also a dance, as it originated as a martial art disguised as dance. Some schools of capoeira focus more on the aesthetic, dancing aspect, while others are more interested in the martial, combative side.

“With capoeira it’s a dance, a fight and a game. The game is how you practice. For people on the outside it looks like a dance. The combat is actually inside the game,” said Sean Porter, the assistant instructor for the class at the CRC.

Kicks are the primary form of attack in capoeira, with “esquivas” (a Portuguese word that translates to “escapes”) used instead of blocks. Most important is the motion: capoeiristas are never still. Even when a capoeirista is not kicking or escaping, he or she is doing the “ginga” or “floreios.”

The “ginga” is the most fundamental motion of capoeira, in which the capoeirista moves back and forth in place, stepping and lifting the arms to keep the face protected. “Floreios” are acrobatic movements, such as handstands and flips.

One example of a flip is the “macaco,” which translates to “monkey.” The macaco is a cross between a back bend and a back handspring. Also specific to capoeira is the use of cartwheels as escapes. Known as the “au,” the cartwheel gives capoeirista the ability to move at any angle.

Music is fundamental to capoeira: if there is no music playing in the background, the capoeiristas will clap or drum to give the ones playing rhythm. At the GIT FIT class, the instructor brings music specifically for capoeira. This music always has the same time signature, since the techniques are based on it. The combination of music, martial arts, play and dance makes capoeira unique among martial arts.

“The culture of capoeira was interesting, and I like martial arts. I was looking for something that inherently has flow and a lot of [capoeira] is based on constant movement,” said Ramaldo Martin, an ECE graduate student who has studied several other martial arts.

Capoeira also contributes to physical fitness by being physically challenging. Since capoeiristas never stop moving at any point, capoeira can be considered a cardiovascular workout. However, the movements—kicks, cartwheels and flips especially—build strength, control and coordination.

“Capoeira’s a great workout […] you sweat and move all sorts of new ways,” said Will Milne, a fifth-year EE major.

Further, capoeira is a mental challenge. In the “roda,” or circle, two capoeiristas play or spar, without choreography. In the “roda,” the capoeiristas can use any of their techniques, including kicks.

“It’s also an exercise in focus […] you must pay attention to your opponent at all times […] or you’ll end up with a heel to the face,” Milne said.

For any students interested in trying out capoeira, the GIT FIT class meets on Mondays and Wednesdays from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in Studio A of the CRC.