Manila Times 4 Mar 2009

The marvelous game of Brazilian ‘capoeira’ 
The perfect marriage of martial arts and dance
By Perry Gil S. Mallari, Reporter 
The call of the roda: Mestre
Torpedo plays with a student
The Brazilian martial art of capoeira is a perfect marriage of martial art and dance.With their dynamic flips and kicks performed to the tune of Brazilian music, watching capoeiristas (practitioners of capoeira) in action is a sensory blast.
African slaves brought capoeira to Brazil sometime during the 16th century. Its character is unique compared to other martial arts because it combines the components of fighting techniques, dance, music and game. “It’s a complete martial art,” explains Renato Gomes de Reis a.k.a. Mestre Torpedo, a Brazilian master of capoeira. Mestre Torpedo recently relocated to the Philippines from Thailand to lead the local branch of the Sinha Bahia de Capoeira, an international capoeira organization.
The original name of the Philipine capoeira group that Mestre Torpedo took under his wing was Grupo de Action Capoeira founded by Joseph Pagulayan two years ago. Pagulayan is a businessman who owns a boxing gym and who has extensive experience in several martial arts that includes tae kwon do, karate, muai thai, jujitsu arnis and kendo. He proudly announces that to date, their group now called Sinha Bahia de Capoeira Philippines is the only capoeira school in the country under the tutelage of an authentic Brazilian mestre.
Pagulayan shares that the birth of their capoeira group was born out of their great passion for the art. “We yearn to share to our people the jogo maraviglioso or the ‘marvelous game’ of capoeira,” he intones. The group’s dedication and impressive growth caught the attention of Mestre Torpedo who came from Thailand to teach a seminar in November 2008. “He was impressed that for a group without a mestre, Grupo de Action Capoeira is going strong,” narrates Pagulayan. After another visit on January, Mestre Torpedo decided to stay for good in the Philippines, “He fell in love with the friendliness of the people and the beauty of the country. He said it’s just like Brazil,” relates Nina Gluesing, a German member of the group. Under the leadership of Mestre Torpedo, the group is now teaching capoeira in five different locations in the Philippines.
Central to the practice of capoeira is the roda (pronounced “hodah”), a game of two capoeiristas in the middle of the circle of fellow practitioners and onlookers with the mestre leading the singing of songs and the playing of musical instruments. Three musical instruments are used in the roda: the berimbau [a bowed string instrument], the atabaque [a floor drum] and the pandeiro [a tambourine].
While the practitioners display their skills through the exchange of kicks, flips and acrobatics, the spirit in the roda is generally positive. By the cheering of the mestre and the group, it is evident that the goals of the players entering a roda is not to take each other’s head off but to build each other up. “The roda is a community where we embrace everybody,” explains Pagulayan.
On the historical background of the roda, Mestre Torpedo points out, “Capoeira was once prohibited in Brazil, during those times whenever the police came, the participants just pretended they were just dancing.” Pertaining to the philosophical undertone of the martial art he adds, “Capoeira is also a way of showing liberty.”
Capoeira being known for its demanding acrobatic routines leads to the misconception that only young people can practice the art. Mestre Torpedo said that this is simply not the case, “Everybody can do capoeira. There are many old people doing capoeira,” he attests. Commenting on the same subject, Pagulayan adds, “We have a student who’s almost 60-years old and a 15-year old boy who’s who weighs almost 300 lbs. Though the boy can’t do the acrobatics, he can move very well on the ground.” He explains that each practitioner may come up with his own expression of the game, “Capoeira is about freedom,” Pagulayan concludes.