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Gareth Leonard

Learning Capoeira in Salvador


For a guy who almost got laughed out of yoga class back home, I was apprehensive about learning Capoeira.

I’ve seen it practiced in parks and plazas around the world and I’ve always thought it took way too much balance and flexibility for me.

Despite my trepidation, when I learned Salvador was the birthplace of the Brazilian martial art, I knew I had to stretch out and give it a go.

Capoeiristas (or fighters) combine elements of dance, acrobatics and music to battle one another in a no contact “game” of maneuvers.

It looks kind of like a slow-motion Karate dance-off.

I imagine it was a lot more intense when it was originally used to mask fighting by slaves to look like dancing so they wouldn’t be punished or even executed.

Only bound by my limited range of motion, I found a capoeira school in downtown Salvador to learn how it’s done.


There were old photographs on the walls, instruments in every corner and a local expert named Claudia, happy to be showing me her passion.

We started with basic stretches, push-ups, and sit-ups to get the body warm and ready for a work out.

From there, she showed me the basic ginga move to get me going. It’s a side-to-side sway that all other capoeira moves derive from. It felt like the steps a break-dancer does before he drops into a headspin or windmill.

When I got that done we talked about the importance of self-defense and how it’s the focal point of many movements.

I had to pick this up quick because before I knew kicks came flying at my head compliments of the pint-sized professor.


Once I learned how to dodge the bullets I was allowed to shoot some of my own.

Granted, my leg kicks were nowhere near as high (or graceful); we were both pleased at how quick I was picking it up.


That was until we got to the cartwheel maneuver used to avoid a kick.

Let’s just say I would have lost the fight if I needed to rely on this one.


After a few dozen attempts at straightening out my cartwheel, I was sweaty and exhausted.

I gained so much a respect and admiration for capoeira and those who make it look so easy on the streets of Brazil.

With a little more flexibility and a lot more practice, I’m hoping to one day step into a Capoeira circle and show these Brazilians a few gringo moves.

Until then, I’ll stick to drumming along to the beat in the crowd.


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