Wandering Warrior, Capoeira




by Jill Roth

If you like music, culture and dance, I have found the perfect martial art for you! Capoeira! This is an Afro-Brazilian martial art that was created by the slaves in Brazil. They disguised its martial applications with rhythm and music. The ghosts of past atrocities add an intensity to this martial art that I have rarely encountered in the United States.The philosophy and etiquette is passed down through oral history, and thus, Capoeira never forgets its brutal roots. Our guides through the world of Capoeira are Professor “Camara” Jay, Instructor Tizoc Guerrero, and Melissa “Iuna” Rex of Axe Capoeira AZ. Reflecting the past of Capoeira, most participants are given a nickname. Historically, Capoeiristas used nicknames to protect participants from being discovered for practicing this martial art. (www.axecapoeira-az.com)

The instructor calls for us to line up for class, and I slink to the back in order to “blend in”. Most of the commands for the practice are given in Portuguese, so I watch my classmates closely. We start with Ginga, a basic series of hand and foot movements used to warm up the body. It reminded me of ancient African dances that I have seen. I’m starting to gain a little confidence and rhythm with this movement when all of a sudden, he adds a step that requires us to turn. Yep, two turns later and I’m in the front of the class. Drat!
Not where I wanted to be. Fortunately, we do several more turns, and I am again in the back. Whew! Much better. By the time we make those turns again, I’m starting to get the hang of it and am not quite as embarrassed by my position in the front. Having survived that, we switch to movements down the floor.

Now, I should say that the website had hinted that we would be doing handstands (bananira) and cartwheels (au). They may have undersold the intensity of this experience. First, we
leap over one of the mat squares, do 3 squats, and then stand on our hands for 1 to 3 seconds. Down the floor we go. Ah, made it! “Very good, now walk down the floor on your hands”, “E”, our instructor, says. “If you fall, do 3 pushups and continue.”

Okay, now I am digging deep into my acrobat training as a kid. I’m feeling pretty good as I make it down the floor without doing too many push-ups. “Ok, excellent, now do it backwards”, leads the instructor. WHAT?!!? Hmmm….we never tried that at my acrobatics class. Shockingly, I am able to do this and again make it down the mat. “Very good, now
jump on your hands while scissoring your feet”. Haha…. Oh, you’re serious? So, off we students go. And, lo and behold, this is also a skill that we are able to do. I don’t know about anyone else, but I am starting to gain some confidence. Time to try some combinations.

“E” demonstrates this beautiful flow of movements that are quite low to the ground and striking in their martial intricacies. I watch intensely as the higher ranks progress down the floor. Truly an exciting combination of steps; I never quite get this one, but our instructor is patient and supportive. In the next flow there are two kicks involved. I’m lucky as we move down the floor this time, as there is a woman right in front of me that I can follow. I note that the Capoeira movements are much lower to the ground, more fluid, and have a lot more leaning involved than most martial arts. “E” now splits us up by rank and takes the higher ranks into the other room.

We are now prepared to work on basics with Professor Camara (Portuguese for friend). He leads our group through Martelo “the hammer”. This is quite similar to round kicks in other martial arts, but your whole body ends up horizontal as you are striking the pad. Professor Camara shared that this is so your face is not a target as you are kicking. In addition,
you continuously block your face with your arms and elbows. We practice with him one at a time, and it is very helpful to watch the other students’ efforts, as you learn a lot from both their strengths and challenges.

We then pair up with a partner and do reps of 10 until he calls us back. Now onto the queixada kick; Professor Camara points out that Capoeiristas have actually woven three kicks into one. This kick starts like a front kick, moves to a sidekick and ends in a back kick. He taught that this “braiding” of techniques is one of the things that makes Capoeira so formidable. This kick is a beautiful kick and could easily be made into a dance-like movement…

Read the rest of the article and the interview on pages 42-25

-Jill Roth

Jill Roth holds her fourth degree Black Belt with the American Tae Kwon Do Association, a Blue Belt in Kempo, a level 2 Reiki and an NRA Certification in Basic Pistol. She has taught Tae Kwon Do across the country. She studies different types of martial arts all over the state and writes about her experiences in her “Wandering Warrior” column.
Email Jill at:


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