Part martial art, part dance; Capoeira has come a long way from its origins in 16th century Brazil, where the African slaves infused tribal dances with local influences into a mode of self defence that flew under their masters’ radars. Now this most deliciously kinetic of art forms is everywhere, and in no place is it more passionately practiced than right here in Kansai; in Bentencho, west Osaka to be exact.
Espeto Sports’ owner and resident capoeira master is Simon Williams, a Sydneysider with 20 years’ experience and a true love for the sport. The studio has mats and all things typical to a martial arts gym, but the thing that sticks out is the array of weird instruments that lie temptingly in the corner.
“When it was time to choose one martial art to pursue in particular, it had to be capoeira,” Simon says. “Capoeira has everything, from combat, to acrobatic elements to dance and music, steeped in culture. For me, it’s the most fun of all the martial arts.”
After some vigorous stretching, we get into the core of the lesson practicing moves. Simon demonstrates each with a commentary in both Japanese and English, giving the option of a basic move for newbies or a more complex version for those with more experience. Seeing as I’m decidedly a rookie, I decide not to embarrass myself and stick with the easy moves. I have the time of my life doing (attempting) cartwheels, learning to spin kick and perfecting my ginga; capoeira’s signature rocking motion that completes each move. While a lot of fun, capoeira is also refreshingly taxing on the brain too. Simon explains that this is the sport’s beauty: “Capoeira is both physically and mentally challenging. The complexity makes room for everyone to develop their own unique style. It’s a fantastic way to express yourself.” And I agree. Looking around the room and observing everybody from the elementary school-aged boys and girls, to the twenty-something guys and girls with tellingly-toned triceps, to the middle-aged ladies in the corner; I notice definitive differences in each person’s style.
After a lot of heavy breathing, laughing and reaching for my bottle to replace the sweat that’s formed in a salty V under my neck, it’s time for the main event; the roda. Everybody gathers in a circle and the enigmatic instruments are passed around. Suddenly the circle comes to life with music, face-offs and singing in Portuguese. Even though I don’t know what the hell is being sung, the music creates an atmosphere that sends a shiver down to my toes. Although we’re nowhere near South America I feel somehow transported from the cinerescent streets of Osaka to somewhere much more colourfully latin. As the session comes to a close, I realise that I’ve been sweating for two hours and barely noticed. Exercise that’s both fun and challenging? I’m well and truly sold.
• Address: 1st floor, Fukuhara Mansion, Minato Namiyoke 5-4-20, Osaka, 552-0001
• Tel: 06-6582-7177
• Web: espeto-sports.com
• Classes: Wed/Fri 8:30pm-10:30pm and Sat/Sun 6pm-8pm.
• Taster class: adults ¥1,500, kids ¥1,000