Dance? Sport? Martial art? Just call it capoeira

Contra Mestre Simpson from Brazil and Professor Caju demonstrate a few martial art techniques, while instructor Parana plays the berimbau in the background during a Capoeira Workshop at the HUB. - Andrew Leong
Contra Mestre Simpson from Brazil and Professor Caju demonstrate a few martial art techniques, while instructor Parana plays the berimbau in the background during a Capoeira Workshop at the HUB.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

When Patty John started capoeira less than a year ago, she was nervous.

At 41, John didn't have the ability to accomplish even the simplest task demanded by the exotic discipline.

"I was a little hesitant at the beginning. First, you had to clap and sing and I couldn't co-ordinate clapping and singing," she said. "Now I'm learning to play the berimbau."

If you are a little lost, you're not alone. A Brazilian sport that combines music with acrobatic movement, capoeira could be described as a kind of non-contact musical martial art. It is just putting out its first tentative feelers in Cowichan.

John is Director for the Cowichan Station Area Association and Programmer at the Cowichan Station Hub, which hosts a capoeira program led by Professor Caju, who teaches kids and adults in all its aspects.

In November, the group celebrated with a three-day festival that included a workshop, a batizado or baptism to initiate new students into the group, and a graduation ceremony for advanced students. capoeira masters from Vancouver Island and around the world attended. John said it was a great community celebration where a variety of capoeira styles were showcased.

Capoeira begins with everyone standing in a circle called a roda. Three musicians, including the master or mestra, begin playing a wooden instrument called the berimbau. The beat is soon accompanied by a drum, a tamborine-like instrument and a bell. The master begins to sing traditional Brazilian capoeira songs.

The master then invites two players to enter the circle where they interact with each other through dance and acrobatic movements without touching. John said the one-on-one interplay is not choreographed.

The technical movements involved in kicking, spinning, punching, hand stands and take downs are learned through practice, which John said is rigourous.

"If you do it gracefully, it's like a dance. You don't know what someone else is doing so you need to be in tune with them. Someone attacks and the other defends. It should almost be synchronized when you do a kick and the other person defends. There is no touching.  You're threatening more than anything else. It can be very graceful.

"It's a tough physical sport. It's very much a balancing sport. Professor Caju teaches balance, moves, stamina, also the songs and the rhythm."

John said classes begin with learning and practicing the Brazilian music played and sung during a roda. What follows is a workout to learn the combination of movements available.

"We do cartwheels and handstands and low squats. Pretty much every muscle gets worked. You have to be creative as well. You're not just using your body but your mind because you are tuned into somebody else."

A central aspect to the sport is community. John explained the sport is played in more than 100 countries around the world, and capoeirists find community wherever they travel.

"If I were to phone the capoeira school in the Netherlands they would invite me in. There are several groups on the Island as well."

John's advice is to start young when your body is flexible and you have no fear of getting hurt.

"I will probably never perform flips because I started too late. It doesn't matter. There are people of all ages and shapes and sizes. It's about having fun together and you just do what you feel you are capable of.

John encourages other to join the capoeira group at the Cowichan Station Hub.

"It would be so nice to have more people, especially youth. It's great for kids. It's such a good sport. All the elements of music, dance, balance. "

To get your kicks

The classes at The Hub are on:

Mondays : 5:30 - 6:30 pm kids, 6:30 - 8:00 pm adults

Wednesdays : 7:00 - 8:30 pm.

Beginners are always welcome and the first class is free.

Visit or email Caju at to learn more.



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