The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

Aché Brasil Capoeira is a martial arts mixed with dance that wrings the sweat out of even the fittest of Calgarians

martialartThe first challenge of capoeira is learning to pronounce the exotic name. The second is to endure the strenuous full-body workout it produces.

Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that looks more like dance than a fighting style. It involves Brazilian music played with an instrument called a berimbau. The music holds the key to the tempo of the workout regime.

Instructor Troy Millington says the workout is free flowing but visually a little strange.

martial artBonnie Silver and Troy Millington perform drills to perfect their kicks.

Photo by: Guillermo Barraza
"To somebody who isn't familiar with capoeira, it looks as though people are dancing," Millington says. "To someone who knows a little bit of martial arts, it can almost be described as shadow boxing. You're moving your legs through the air without hitting anybody."

Capoeira Aché Brasil Calgary was started by Eclilson De Jesus over a decade ago. De Jesus was the person that brought capoeira to Canada when he came to Vancouver in 1990.

Since the inception of the Calgary chapter of Aché Brasil, this rhythmic exercise has caught the attention of fitness buffs in all corners of the city. With several classes regularly held around Calgary, the instructors at Ache Brasil Capoeira offer exercise sessions that bring people back for more.

Participants create a "game" where there are no winners or losers; simply a show of one's ability and what they have learned.

Millington says that capoeira uses the space all around participants to give them an unlimited sphere of movement.

"This 360 degree of movement not only disguises what someone is going to do but encourages a full range of motion which allows for a severe workout of the legs, the arms and especially the body core."

Millington says it all starts with the simple movement called the ginga, which can best be described – as most Calgarians will recognize – as a wider vine step straight from line dancing.

"For someone who has been doing the ginga for a while it will become effortless and they could do it for an hour without being bothered," Millington says. "Somebody who is new might do it for a minute and they'd be done."

"Despite one's fitness level, it's just a different set of muscles."

Bonnie Silver has been a student of capoeira for more than two years. She also says that the Brazilian art is a total body workout she had not been accustomed to before starting it.

"It's complete. Upper body. Lower body. There is also cardio and stretching as well. You're using your core a lot. Overall, core strength has definitely been a big change for me." Silver says.

Along with the physical workout Silver receives, she says that her mind becomes more active as well.

"There's certainly more clarity and confidence to what I was at the beginning. I can't begin to explain how much more confidence I have."

Millington attributes Silver's improved confidence to the awareness one must have during a regular "game." He says that a student must always be vigilant and learn to read subtle movements the opponent makes so they're not missing teeth in the morning.

What Berkeley Pickell noticed first about capoeira was the acrobatic movements it incorporates when you become proficient at the art. He said it intrigued him, so he joined a class at the University of Calgary. Not only did he stretch and use parts of his body he never knew existed, but he found it was a lot of fun as well.

"I think it's a really good workout because it encompasses so many ways of moving your body and challenges you continuously to find ways to make your body move that way, and as soon as it becomes easy to do one thing, there is another thing that you can do -- this is what makes people love the art." - Troy Millington

"It's very up-tempo. Very quick paced. Not only that but it was a lot more fun that some other workouts I've done," Pickell says.

"It incorporates a lot of Portuguese as well as the Brazilian music and culture," he added, after noticing how big a role Brazilian culture plays in learning the art.

Millington says the music is important to the overall feeling of the "game" and inspires passion in a person's movements.

"The rhythm is vital. They can take an experience and turn it from striving, to lifting. It can take a massive edge off how tired you are and can even give you a jolt of energy."

Ultimately, capoeira integrates culture, rhythm and music and a total body workout that allows the participant a unique and special experience.

"I think it's a really good workout because it encompasses so many ways of moving your body, and it challenges you continuously to find ways to make your body move that way," Millington says.

"And as soon as it becomes easy to do one thing, there is another thing that you can do. This diversity of movement that is always available to you in the context of learning capoeira is what makes the workout so challenging and what makes people love the art."

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