بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
I’m a big fan of the martial arts, so much so you might even call me a martial arts enthusiast. The physical and mental discipline required of its practitioners coupled with lessons in patience, forbearance, and perseverance are grounds enough for admiration. In addition, each style has native to it its own philosophy, its own outlook on the world, on human interactions, on life in general. It is this aspect of martial arts in particular that I like the most.
When most people think of martial arts, I imagine images of Asia cross their mind: various forms of karate (Japan), taekwondo (Korea), various forms of kung fu (China), muay thai (Thailand), perhaps even escrima (Philippines), and pentjak silat (Indonesia). For mixed-martial-arts (MMA) enthusiasts, Brazil might even come to mind for its brand of jujitsu, creatively called Brazilian Jujitsu, but even this has its origins in Asia (Japan in this case).
Although I have an appreciation for all the flavors of human expression (hence latter part of the term), there’s one art form in particular that I have become endeared to. Unlike the other forms I just mentioned, this particular art form is not rooted in Asia, but rather traces its roots back to the African slaves of the Portuguese during the Slave Trade. The slaves were brought to present day Brazil to work on plantations, much like the slaves of the Americas. It was in Brazil, in the yoke of slavery and oppression, that they concocted an ingenious and beauty art form. I’m taking about no other than the Afro-Brazilian art of martial dancing, Capoeira.
Capoeira is the result of the intelligence, craft, and cunning of the African slaves (some of whom, like in the Americans, were in fact Muslim). Basically, slaves from different parts of Africa synthesized aspects of their cultures (musical instruments, fighting techniques, body movements, etc) into a martial art cleverly disguised as a dance so that their Portuguese overlords wouldn’t punish them for learning how to fight. As such, Capoeira is a thinking man’s or (women’s) art form because emphasis is placed not on direct combat nor on knocking someone’s lights out with brute strength (though a well placed kick most certainly could do so), but rather on the skill, cunning, and craft of the capoeirista (a practitioner of Capoeira). Each bout in the roda (“circle” in Portuguese) is like a conversation between two people wherein the capoeiristas employ a series of fluid faints, dodges, circular kicks (no punches!), headbutts, circulars sweeps, take-downs, and acrobatics from the basic, like the au (“cart-wheel”) or the au batido (“broken cartwheel” or L-kick, the signature move of Capoeira), to the advanced, like the arco-íris (“rainbow”, my favorite move!) or the chintado (Gainer back flip), with the intent not to hurt his (or her) opponent but to, in a sense, “get” him.
So what’s the philosophy? In order to play Capoeira, in order to move with beauty, speed and effectiveness, you have to learn to loosen up both your body and mind. There’s little room for rigidity; you have to learn to be fluid, adaptable, malleable. When situations change in the roda, when the music changes, when the roda becomes smaller, you have to alter how you play-dance-fight. Similarly, in life, you have to be ready and willing to change your perspectives based on the situations you’re in. Moreover, as the slaves proved, in some cases, it’s wise not to fight an oppressive force directly (even though they would later gain their independence). Battles don’t always favor the strong. Sometimes a little guile, intelligence, and fancy footwork make for better weapons.
Peace Itself and Peace to all.