I cannot say what led me to this incredibly complex and intricate Brazilian martial art. It is so physically and mentally challenging that it is like constantly swimming upstream, or trying to find calm in a vengeful storm, requiring strength, grace and equanimity. The first classes I took in New Zealand were demanding, but I was buoyed by the warmth and camaraderie of the other students. There was something exotic and mysterious about the movements, with their African roots. The strikingly handsome Brazilian instructor embodied every universally desired masculine physical trait and moved with a strength and elegance I had never seen before. I was a fish out of water.
To witness a game of capoeira is to be mesmerized and enchanted by its beauty and playfulness. Accompanied by singing and music, it is incredibly seductive and draws both players and spectators alike into its grip. To play it, especially in the beginning, is to sometimes feel anxious, vulnerable, intimidated and as clumsy as a drunk monkey. Maybe trying to be that person who can contribute something so beautiful, powerful and graceful to the world is a reason to persist, to feel the energy surging through your body and being part of a group where everyone feels the same intensity and ecstasy.
At my first festival (Batizado) in Seoul, I was spellbound by the mental and physical acrobatics I saw and questioned by own perceived limits. There is a depth and agility to capoeira that can never be defined. It is infinite and unfathomable. Instructor Zumbi, imbued with manna and projecting the spirit of the Brazilian warrior he is named after stood firm in front of the participants and told us to look around at those in the room. We are gathered here in friendship and fellowship, he said, and the people we sit beside now will come to play an increasingly important role in our lives as we continue this journey.
Mestre Acordeon, a brilliant and revered man who bears a striking resemblance to Santa Claus, has achieved incredible accomplishments, both within the capoeria universe and out. He has taken capoiera out of the roda (circle) and into the world through activism and philanthropy. His lectures were profound. I took away one simple truth: “Capoeira is about awareness and perception.” By his side was Mestra Suelly, the first female capoeira master born in the United States.
In a traditionally male dominated art, and one that places value on masculine traits (physical prowess), how inspirational to see a woman with such high status. Always firm and strong, she was in complete command, her singing dramatic and spine-tingling. She scrawled her wisdom on one of our girl’s instruments: “Stay long on the path of capoeira.” These words provide a reminder that sometimes the most challenging path can be the most rewarding. Slowly, ginga by ginga, there is a deepening of understanding and awareness, a new way of being in the world.
Of course, Mestre Acordeon in his infinite wisdom must have the last word. In writing about the day he ‘baptized’ Mestra Suelly to the rank of master, he reflects, “In essence, capoeira is a ritualized combat that functions as a vehicle of individual expression through which the capoeirista – a fighter, a philosopher on an introspective journey, and ultimately an artist that practices her art with her own body, emotion and spirit — finds her whole self.”