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Self-Help: Capoeira

Dancing, sweating... and fighting inanimate objects. We fit right in at the local middle school where we went for a lesson in humility.
By Jul 19, 2012 Health & Wellbeing
In an attempt to reverse the downward spiral of your mental and physical wellbeing, in Self Help we bring you suggestions of classes, sporty things, team events, volunteering and educational stuff that might just pull you out of that boozy tail-spin.

All photos by Josh Tintner

Week 11: Capoeira

We’ve finally conceded and checked out a capoeira class. You may know it as the exercise that Bernie Focker does in Meet the Fockers, “This is Capoeira, man. This is some hardcore shit.” It's a Brazilian style of martial arts that looks like “dance-fighting.”

On a Tuesday night we headed over to Capoeira Brasil where classes are held in a ballet room in the Fudan Middle School but if it's nice out, they meet in Fuxing Park.

What you need

Water. Bring a couple bottles of water because you won’t find any bubblers here. Wear breathable, comfortable clothing. Some people wear white because traditionally if you could keep your clothes clean to the end you were considered more skilled. You’ll be barefoot so don’t worry about footwear.

Who goes

Not too many people were in our class — about 12. When we were there it was a small, mixed-gender crowd of Bolivians, Americans, Chinese and French. Not everyone seemed to speak English but that’s the fun of dance — just follow if you don’t know how to lead. But yeah, the instructor also speaks Mandarin and Portuguese when necessary.

A couple of people had on colored belts, like in karate this means they’re more advanced. Some people seemed really into it all, others were just beginners. Like all sports, the more seriously you take it, the better work out you're going to get.

What happens

We were all standing around kind of stretching when the buff instructors, Tanque and Kafei, arrived. After a brief greeting we got straight into a really intense warm-up — push ups across the length of the room, clapping push ups, the crab walk, crunches (one girl had to go puke in the bathroom). Only when our shirts were completely soaked and we were all gravitating towards our water bottles were they satisfied.

Then we were separated into two groups: the colored belt-wearers and the non-belt-wearers. The beginners started off with a simple stance called the ginga, which involved moving back and forth to the rhythm of the music. It was surprisingly tiring — without regular water breaks we’d all have been keeling over crying, “Uncle.” After what seemed like 10 minutes of this we started to learn a couple of moves.

Because I was a total uncoordinated novice, I was paired up with a chair. For the next 20 minutes I learnt categorically how to beat up a small wooden chair, while others practiced kicks against each other. When I finally upgraded from fighting with the chair to facing a real partner I was too nervous of accidentally kicking her in the head that I spent the entire class just practicing the same three moves over and over. This was mildly embarrassing because across the room I could see my classmates pulling Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon-esque moves.

After a few timid kick-and-spins with an actual person it was time for the roda, a tight circle where people take turns “fighting” (there's no contact) in the middle to the beat of a specially made drum, tambourine and a homemade string instrument. We also sung, well, I hummed, and moved my lips and wondered how everyone else knew the same tribal, dance song.

After maybe 15 minutes of different people taking turns in the circle, the inexperienced ones were welcomed in one-by-one to go at it with an instructor, thankfully no chair in sight. All of us beginners just mimed the instructor and kind of spun around on the ground in an attempt to avoid his swinging legs. I managed to survive the class, but I'm still searching for my dignity. Maybe I left it at Perry’s last weekend.

After the roda, it’s clap-clap-clap, hands in the middle for a 1-2-3 job well-done and that’s it. A couple of announcements and we were on our way out. Not too shabby. But sore... already very sore.

How much of your life will this take up

Classes are Monday-Wednesday from 8-9.30pm and Saturdays from 4-5.30pm. You can go to as many classes as suits you but to get fit we reckon you should hit this two or three times a week. To master the basics is going to take three to six months, but it depends on how coordinated you are. If you've got a dance background you're going to pick it all up much faster.

It's more dancing than you'd expect, more dancing than fighting. It's like going to a club on a Friday night, you're moving constantly and sweating a lot. But less dry humping.

How much does it cost

First class is free. Then you pay 800rmb for 10 classes, good for two months or 500rmb for one month of unlimited classes.


Two things. First, you will feel the pain and masochistic satisfaction that goes with knowing you had a good workout. None of this “maybe you’ll be sore tomorrow” stuff, after one of these classes, you'll be sore on the walk home.

Second, if you’re slow to learn the moves you can still participate. It’s a small community making it obvious who is really serious about it and who is just there for a good workout, but no one’s a jerk about it. In fact, everyone still smiles, even while they roundhouse kick you.

And yes, it costs more than going for a jog, but Tanque will make sure to work you hard enough to get your money’s worth so you’ll be ready to pick out swimsuits before pool season is over.


If you’re not coordinated it can feel silly when you’re spinning around trying to do the moves. Plus, the school where classes are held is poorly air-conditioned. The room gets hot really fast and gets smelly — it didn’t take us long to sniff out who hadn’t washed their gym clothes since the last class…


The Capoeira Mandinga class meets in Jing’an Temple around the same time (starts at 8.10pm) as Capoeira Brasil. Their style is slightly different but all forms mesh together so essentially you could do Capoeira with anyone regardless of what style you learn. They hold class every day except Sunday, but classes on Mondays and Wednesdays are only for intermediate students. The individual class prices are also 80rmb, but their monthly rate is 50rmb cheaper at 450rmb. First class is free for both Capoeira Brasil and Capoeira Mandinga so go check ‘em both out.



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  • patriciomystic


  • jasmineharlen

    See myself in the background. Lol.

  • milica

    is this still running?

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