BLOG: My day learning capoeira

FACT: I like sports.

OPINION: I’m good at them.

FACT: I will always try new ones.

The most recent attempt: capoeira, which is a Brazilian martial art that has elements of dance, acrobatics and music.

We pulled up to Casa Jaya, a yoga, dance and capoeira studio. Nuzzled in between trees growing bananas and colorful plants sat a little studio and cafe. It was a mini slice of the Amazon in the middle of the hustle and bustle of São Paulo.

We arrived early to find the capoeira master not yet there. So like most people in their early 20s, we played group camp games. When the capoeira master, José Geraldo Santos Souza, arrived (we later learned he prefers not to be addressed as master because he wants verticality in his relationship with those he teaches and plays capoeira with), we got a brief history lesson capoeira. Slaves used to play it in the fields to practice fighting, without actually fighting. It kind of reminded me of boxing, a lot of footwork and dodging things. We did the crab walk and camel walk and I felt like I was back in elementary gym class doing relay races.

We rearranged the room and put the chairs in front of the windows to not let bad vibes in. It was peculiar. I couldn’t tell if I was about to learn a martial art or partake in a religious ceremony.

Next we took our hand at trying some of the instruments involved in capoeira. My musically challenged self was not eager to try out this part of the game. After realizing others were able to keep the beat, I tried my hand at the pandeiro (a fancy tambourine). I know a lot of people who say the only instrument they could possibly play in a band is the tambourine, but let me tell you, IT’S NOT AS EASY AS IT LOOKS. We did a simple beat but I still managed to screw it up and the non-master master noticed.

The only task left to learning capoeira was to master the moves that make up the game.

We staggered ourselves throughout the studio and mimicked the moves the non-master master was doing before us. I thought I kept the beat pretty well and only bumped into others a limited amount of times.

It was now time to put everything we had learned together and officially become initiated as a player of the game. One by one, brave volunteers took their turns playing capoeira with the non-master master. Once I mustered up enough courage to take my turn, the unthinkable happened; I wasn’t terrible. Circled around by19 of my fellow Ball State students, I was playing capoeira. Using moves such as the crab walk and camel walk, you switch positions and battle. The objective of the game was not to let your opponent be to the back of you. After shaking hands and pointing to the sky or Jesus or maybe the ceiling, I battled. When the 45-second match was over the non-master master recited off some phrases in Portuguese to me. Victor, our host, translated his words in English.

“You play with the heart and spirit and skill of someone who has been playing capoeira for years,” he told me. It was reassuring that I was not terrible! I thought it was special because he honestly didn’t say that about anyone else. Maybe I exaggerated on the skill part, but everything else was true. I was officially initiated into the wonderful world of the game of capoeira.

It may not have been pretty with the offbeat tambourine playing, my ugly crab walk and occasionally running into someone, but it was an experience to say the least. Who knows, maybe I’ll start my own capoeira club back at Ball State.

Elizabeth Wyman is a Ball State University student and writer for BSU at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and BSU at the Games on Facebook.

Elizabeth Wyman

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