Thinking Capoeira

For all you purists who are continuously annoyed at the commercialization of the martial arts, this weekend you've got a once-in-a-lifetime shot to see purity in action. For those of you who have never experienced martial arts, this weekend you'll have the opportunity to witness one of the most innovative, exciting and revolutionary martial arts disciplines in the world -- capoeira.

The history of capoeira is rich, to say the least. The abbreviated version goes something like this: The word "capoeira" is Portuguese for "basket," and the origins of capoeira as a martial art trace most directly back to large bird markets in Brazil between the 16th and 18th centuries. Slaves would carry capoeiras full of chickens to the market to sell for their owners, and while they waited for the market to open, the slaves would enjoy themselves by creating and "playing" a ritualized dance.

On the surface, these dances were designed merely to pass the time. In actuality, they were a clever combination of body movements designed for self-defense and eventual escape from slave owners. Over time, the dance came to be known as capoeira, and its practitioners as capoeiristas. The deception involved in capoeira's development has been termed "malandragem," which is Portuguese for "trickery."

The Third Annual Grupo Axé Capoeira Batizado e Troca de Corda (translation: "baptism and change of cord") takes place this Sunday, November 17. Not only will there be a fantastic display of capoeira at the event, but visitors also will get a comprehensive look at Brazilian culture being expressed in a truly artistic way. Performances include a variety of Afro-Brazilian martial arts and dances, such as maculele, Brazilian samba, coco de roda and much more. After the performance, the "baptism" portion of the event will take place, offering visitors a rare look into the "change of cord" ceremony.

According to Joel Flint, a member of the Grupo Axé Capoeira in Phoenix, the cord ceremony is similar to the colored belt system represented in most martial arts, but utilizes cords or ropes to symbolize the fishing rope slaves used while being transported to Brazil on large cargo ships.

Don't miss the opportunity to catch a glimpse of this fascinating martial art. Capoeira is a stunning example of the hope that can grow from hatred, and how that hope can take over a body to make it fight, dance and free itself.

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Maidi Terry