We’ve got another great fitness travelling destination for you today, and this time we’re looking at Brazil. More specifically, we’re looking at the 500-year-old martial art of Capoeira that combines dancing, fighting and acrobatics based movements. Furthermore, we’ll also be exploring how the art links to Brazil’s history, how you can get involved and some other awesome activities you can get up to during your Brazilian travels.
First things first, what is Capoeira and where did it originate?
Capoeira, as we mentioned above, is a martial art that combines diverse movement patterns. It was developed in Brazil in the early 16th century by Angolan slaves. The word ‘Capoeira’ actually derives from the Tupi words ka’a (meaning ‘jungle’) and e pûer (meaning ‘it was’). This in combination refer to the areas where escaped slaves would hide across Brazil. The art is so deeply entrenched in both Brazilan and African history, which makes Capoeira one of the only martial arts in the world with a protected status by UNESCO.
The art of Capoeira originated as a way for fugitive slaves to fight and protect themselves. It was used for hundreds of years. So, the use or even practice of the art was cause for arrest. Moreover, its prohibition continued long after the official abolition of slavery in Brazil. Luckily, pioneers in the 20th century sought to bring Capoeira back from repression. In 1932 Mestre Bimba, a fighter from Salvador, opened a school to teach capoeira. He called his style ‘Luta Regional Baiana’s. However, the name capoeira was still officially illegal. In 1941 Vicente Ferreira Pastinha founded the Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola (CECA). It was with the aim of spreading the traditional style far and wide. Therefore, as the art grew in popularity it was legalised, and soon became a symbol of resistance, freedom and African heritage.
What does the art involve?
The art involves a mixture of dance, acrobatic and fighting movements. The ‘dance’ style movements are known as the ‘ginga,’ literally meaning ‘rocking back and forth’. Traditionally this was used to confuse attackers, evade attacks and set up for unpredictable counter attacks.
Acrobatic movements include aú (cartwheels) and a transition position known as ‘negativa’. These movements were used to evade attacks and to regain balance and footing if knocked over or taken down.
The fighting movements of the style are predominantly kicks including high, low, twisting, spinning and sweeping variations. The aim of the strikes is to be quick, explosive and decisive.
Practitioners of the art today often perform public demonstrations with a large emphasis of dance, acrobatics and theatrical showmanship. Games and mock fights between participants take place in circles called ‘rodas,’ and are most often accompanied by music, the rhythm and tempo of which is used to guide the speed and style of the games.
Here is a video showing these game in action
Will I get fit practising Capoeira?
Absolutely. Imagine combining karate, gymnastics and swing dancing and you might just get an idea of the physical requirements of capoeira. In practising the art you’ll develop great balance and bodily awareness, good core control and amazing flexibility. You will also build the ability to move quickly and explosively. Additionally, the constant movement expected during the art is bound to help you build some good cardiovascular endurance.
How do I join in?
For the true fit traveller, the most authentic way to take part in the art is to find a reputable school or master in Brazil. Unlike some other martial arts capoeira has no central headquarters. So, since the nature of the style is very laid back, don’t go expecting to find any high-quality websites to promote the classes. The reality is that the best way to find a class is to explore the area and ask. The art has strong links to the area of Bahia in Salvador, so that would be the best area to start. Although many teachers do speak other languages, it could be useful to learn some basic Portuguese beforehand.
Luckily, if all that sounds like a bit much, there are some niche travel agencies like One World 365 and GoLearnTo. These travel agencies provide planned vacations including flights, food and accommodation for two weeks along with 6 training sessions for between £500-1000 per person.
What else is there to do in Brazil?
As a fitness traveller you’re spoilt for choice in Brazil. The most obvious travel suggestion is to head straight for ‘Christ the Redeemer’. It is Brazil’s most famous landmark and one of the ‘New 7 Wonders of the World’. So, you could take a taxi or bus, but as a fitness traveller we really recommend you take a nice challenging walk up the mountain.
Other great places to see include sugar loaf mountain (accessible only by cable car), Iguazu Falls, Iguacu National Park and the Dunas de Genipabu, which are great to visit as part of a buggy tour.
That’s pretty much all we wanted to talk about. Hence, we hope we’ve given you a little bit of inspiration to try something new and embrace a unique part of the Brazilian and Angolan heritage.
Although we know it’s not exactly usual to mention a history of slavery and repression when suggesting destinations for fitness travellers, Capoeira is inextricably tied to that history. So, in learning the art you are actively taking part in the reclamation of repressed cultures. Moreover, in practising it you are joining to celebrate the resistance, liberty and freedom that Capoeira now represents.
So go and kick, flip and dance your way to fitness!