The choice of getting stuck into a Martial Art is an exciting one – what challenges am I looking to excel in, in my or my child’s life; is there an element of discipline that a Martial Art can provide that isn’t easily accessible at home, or are there social or peer-group challenges that might be affecting my or my children’s confidence?
Perhaps you’re looking for an alternative way of getting stronger and fitter, more flexible and supple, or wanting to train in a group where it isn’t about body-perfection but more about learning a skill that can actually help you in precarious moments in your life (mind you, I’ve never lost a fight over 100 meters!).
In Part One of this article, we will go into our physical relationship with our body, focusing on the foundations that make us stronger, fitter, and more energised to take on the world.
In Part Two, we will focus on our emotional relationship with our mind, taking self-esteem and confidence into consideration, as well as culture, language, music, and a sense of togetherness that is seldom found elsewhere. Just to give you the heads up, the topics that will be covered are:
Top 10 Reasons to Learn Martial Arts
When it comes down to the wire, taking up a Martial Art compared to signing up to a gym absolutely has its benefits, more so than that monthly debit order from your gym that is actually counting on the fact that you’re a member, but not really committed to going through. Imagine the queues for the treadmills and cycle machines if every single member arrived after or before work? It would be mayhem and chances are they would start increasing prices to deter those who are just trying to ease their conscience about staying fit (the mindset that they don’t routinely go to a gym, but at least they are members, so that’s ok then, right?)
So what is the answer? Is it to become a slave to the system, or to get into an exercise regime that doesn’t make you feel like cattle fodder or part of a conveyor-belt system to get you in and out as quickly as possible? Surely there is a better, more engaging way to get that body you’re looking for, your confidence up, and your energy levels elevated the more you train?
Well, the great news is that there are plenty of alternative methods to achieve the fitness and exercise goals that you are wanting to achieve, and here are 10 reasons why CAPOEIRA, one of the many available Martial Arts, is one of the best to get stuck into…
“The pain you feel today will be the strength you feel tomorrow”
1. Self Defence
One of the first motivators in joining any Martial Art is the ability to fend for ones-self in a moment when conversation or communication has broken down and your natural fight-or-flight instincts kick in. This does not mean that you immediately become aggressive and confrontational, but that you have learnt the ability to manage your strength and direct your emotions responsibly, and should everything else fail, you have the confidence to know that you have leverage in a situation where your aggressor most probably doesn’t expect it.
The responsibility of the ability to over-power a bully, an attacker, an abusive partner doesn’t mean that you should immediately go for the knock-out, but should the moment present itself where you have no option, then at a minimum, you have the experience to manoeuvre yourself accordingly. Far better to be empowered with the skill and not use it, than to not have it at all and need it.
2. Fitness and Exercise
So let’s state the obvious to get it out of the way – it is absolutely better in every aspect of your life to be fit and healthy, as opposed to resolving yourself to a life of couch-potatoes and belly-crisps. No doubt about it. The trick, of course, is to find that mechanism to gets you off your derrière and onto your feet, without you getting anxious about another false-start.
So what’s the answer? You need to find something that gets you motivated and involved, and your mind off the exertion you take to get your heart pumping. Capoeira will get you having fun with spinning, twisting, turning and moving faster than you thought possible, and you’ll be giggling at yourself and with others as you feel that energetic pinch start tickling you again. No tiresome 30-minute time-trials to push through, no painful torture device to scream your way out of, just good, wholesome fun.
And once you’ve had a slice of that energy-pie, your friends will start noticing the improvements long before you do (interestingly enough): more energy, lighter on your feet, motivated, stronger and more mentally in-tune with your body, inspired to push through other hurdles in your life; and don’t forget those endorphins, serotonin and dopamine – natures naturally supplied and administered feel-good factors. A whole new you just waiting to meet the world!
3. Flexibility and Dexterity
You want to stop injuring yourself, or you have that one little niggle that always keeps flaring up? Chances are it’s your knees, could also be your ankle, and no doubt some of you are experiencing lower-back troubles. There is a well-known secret among the physio and chiro practitioners that they all too often share with us, but we seldom find the time to do ourselves…stretching and mobility helps you overcome your injuries.
It’s all about lengthening your muscles. If one muscle group is too tight, you will naturally start to over-compensate somewhere else in your body to maintain your posture, gait, stride, pose, position – everything you do will be over-compensation, whether you are aware of it or not. This repetitive compensation leads to overexertion of other muscle groups, and the natural result is injury when that muscle group starts pulling too much, or the weakened muscle suddenly gets over-exerted.
The trick then is to make sure that all muscles, tendons, and ligaments are all as limber and supple as each other. No one side should be stronger than the other otherwise the potential for injury increases. Stretch as part of your warmup, stretch as part of your cooldown, and in Capoeira, there is ample opportunity for both. The warmup is critical before getting stuck into handstands and cartwheels, and a causal session debrief afterwards has stretching included as well, so you’re never really aware of putting in the effort.
4. Co-ordination and Sequences
Okay, so the idea of spending 10,000 hours to master something potentially has its flaws, but in principle, it has merit, especially when it comes to exercise. You want to repeat that movement, you want to create that motion, you want to establish that routine, and in doing so, you will train the muscles and your subconscious to instinctively react without bringing thought into the picture.
Much like our speech happens without much thinking (or so my family might say to me on more than one occasion to my detriment), we want to train our body to move instinctively without putting too much thought-energy into the movement – you want it to flow. The same can be said for a dance sequence, establishing a safe driving habit, or preparing a meal – it shouldn’t take energy to think about what to do next, or else you’re going to tire yourself out faster. And developing those synapses in your mind will get you moving faster, thinking quicker, and reacting more intelligently to things taking place in a Roda, but also out in the world around you.
Its all about timing – knowing when to duck, feeling when to kick, and understanding what your opponent is going to do next; it becomes instinctive and the true joy of the game gets more and more exciting.
5. Proprioception, Vestibular and Tactile Senses
We all know our 5 senses – sight, taste, smell, hearing, and touch. But when it comes to childhood development and growth, touch, also known as our Tactile sense, works closely with two other less talked about senses – Proprioception (our awareness of our body in space), and our Vestibular sense (our perception of our bodies in motion).
At the base of these senses is our central nervous system, and every developmental building block from there-on relies on these three senses integrating together. Those of us who have experienced concentration or focus related issues, co-ordination difficulties, fine motor skills in-abilities, challenges in learning (ADHD / ADD), all of it, comes down to how these senses have been developed throughout our lives. Even as an adult you could very easily be faced with such situations, like walking through a busy mall where there is constant stimulation, lights, bustling people, and noise, sounds coming from everywhere that starts to make your brain discombobulated, and you get that frustrated tension of wanting to get out of there. It is not the location that is the issue, it is our lack of sensory integration which causes the fight-or-flight emotion; the good news is that there are solutions.
There are plenty of work-throughs to aid us in developing these senses and it is one of the primary reasons why Occupational Therapists are so busy these days – AIT (Audio Integration Therapy), ILT (Integrated Learning Therapy), and VIT (Visual Integration Training) to name just a few. Ultimately you want a programme that can address all of these collectively in one go – something that challenges our audio ability through music, our sense of space through close-quarter interactive movements and sequences, and our talent to maintain balance and co-ordination through engaging motion and acrobatic manoeuvres. Ahhh – Welcome to Capoeira!
“Before the battle of the fist comes the battle of the mind”
–Shifu, Kung-fu Panda 3
6. Confidence and Self-Esteem
Those formative years in our lives are pretty much a haze if you try to think back to them. You’ll know that it was all good, but to try and recall those happy moments isn’t as easy as recalling how you felt with your peers. Ask yourself, what do you remember? Would you say you felt on top of the world, excited, motivated, ready to take on the challenges, or would you recall those feelings of awkwardness, not knowing how you fitted into the world, constantly having a sense of discomfort in new or different environments?
These emotions are absolutely natural, and to deny them would be folly, but imagine having that extra sense of knowing that you can do something incredible that you didn’t think was possible, with undeniable proof? You can go into a situation with absolute confidence that no matter what is about to happen, you are going to be okay, that you can do extraordinary things if you just put your mind to it. Heck, you might even have that natural ability to excel without trying, but you’ll have the humility to not let your ego get ahead of you. It sounds all too utopian and what should happen in a perfect world, but if you’re involved in something that pushes your limits, you’ll realise what it is you can achieve.
It comes down to support, positive reinforcement, encouragement, picking yourself up when you fall, and carrying on regardless of what has happened. Understanding that you are in control of your actions and how you are responsible for the differences in your life is the cornerstone of positive self-esteem, and the community surrounding Capoeira is all of that, and more. We are there to learn from and teach each other, to help pick up, but also to push, and it is done with care, encouragement, and the belief that together we can make ourselves uniquely stronger.
7. Music, Instruments, and Song
It is pretty easy to get going with physical exercise – put on a pair of shoes, and step outside; no biggie. You have space, you’ll be motivated, and even if you take baby steps to get your heart-beat up, at least you’ll find yourself on the road to achieving the goals that you’ve set out for yourself. But what will keep you inspired, where will you find the motivation to start moving once the initial rush has worn off? When all you can hear is the sound of your heart trying to exit your body through your cochlea, you might find yourself wondering what the hell you’re doing.
The answer to that is Music. It brings us together; it unites people of all ages from different cultures and can be referred to as a universal language that we all understand. This is the spirit of Capoeira, its soul. In order to feel the energy of the Roda, or to get inspired during training, music will be the key that will unlock your potential. The music of Capoeira is a distinctly unique sound that has stretched across continents and is made up primarily of the berimbau (accompanied by the caxixi), the pandeiro (tambourine) and atabaque (drum).
Happily enough there are all sorts of instruments for the musically enthusiastic, as well as for those that only wish to play to one beat, even if that means you only need to hum or clap. It is the part of the martial art that will instil rhythm and routine and will help you with the natural flow of your movements. You will also get familiar with the songs and lyrics of the game, and be introduced to a whole new genre of music that is uplifting and exciting and can take you into a rhythmic world of your own. If people look at Capoeira as a dance, it is because the music makes it look choreographed, but make no mistake, it is the music that sets the pace, but the martial art that brings out the fire.
8. Language, History and Culture
There is more to establishing a passion for something new than just doing to basics. You can’t immerse yourself longterm with a new sport if you don’t start getting involved in other aspects of it as well. You’ll want to find a common interest with others to stay motivated, you’ll start talking racing techniques, styles and tips, gear, clothing, equipment and trends. Your conversations will get focused, your opinions and incentives more diverse, and you’ll find yourself getting more stuck into the activity.
Capoeira has all of that, and then some. You can become a staunch devotee of the game and pay homage to the history of the art, its origins and heritage by honouring the history of the game where slaves were traded in Brazil as a commodity and where they needed to find a new identity to maintain anonymity. Or you can take on the culture of Capoeira where respect and appreciation for the lineage teaches you how to appreciate those that are different to you, without needing to understand their past. Common ground is an easy way to facilitate those conversations, but being exposed to so many different walks of life in one circle truly opens your eyes to how we are all equal, every one of us, regardless of where we come from.
You deserve a truly holistic approach from your sporting activity to give you that all-round exposure to everything that life can offer, give, and take from you. Sure, there are games and activities out there that will push your boundaries, extend your limits, make your harder, tougher, and more resilient, but you’re going to need balance or else you’re going to topple over. Find yourself a hobby that can become a passion, allow that passion to become a new way of living, and allow that living to become that change in your lifestyle we all so desperately want. Become Capoeira.
9. Crossing the Midline
Imagine an invisible line running down the centre of your body, starting at the junction of the left and right hemispheres of your brain, and going all the way down. Our development from when we are born tries to get those two hemispheres to work together, allowing for a dominant side to be established, which tends to define whether we are left or right-handed, creative or analytical. In theory, our dominant side (whichever one that might be) aids us in language development, speech, co-ordination, fine motor skills and so on.
Sometimes external circumstances end up preventing us from effectively getting those queues to collaborate effectively, and those start playing themselves out in lack of adequate control of both the left and right-hand side of our bodies. Instead of reaching across our bodies for obvious reasons (reaching for a pen, catching a ball, putting our hands down properly should we trip over), we end up moving our entire torso, over-balancing ourselves, as well as overexerting our energy. This can also be seen in trying to roll our bodies over when lying on the floor. All of these factors start creating the impression that we are clumsy, fidgety, and unco-ordinated, which is grossly untrue and unfair.
Simple exercises like Ginga assist in getting that midline brain activity constantly stimulated. Every exercise and sequence that is completed also gets done from both the left and the right-hand side, which is massively important when playing the game, as well as further developing our brain. The differences become very noticeable very quickly – improved speech, improved gross motor skills, neater handwriting, and a happier temperament. The benefits are endless, and if the intervention happens at an earlier age, the long term effects will be felt forever.
10. Family, a feeling of being part of something greater than you
This is possibly one of the biggest reasons why to chose Capoeira over anything else, and it keeps on coming up, review after review, from one conversation to the next. You want to make lifelong friendships that hold meaning and substance, then you’re going to need to find that common ground that you connect on. For a lot of us, our friendships are based on location or circumstance – we went to school or we worked together, but take that element away and what have you got? If you haven’t found common ground to do things together, then chances are it’s a superficial relationship and may not go the distance should time or distance become an issue.
With Capoeira, you already feel connected to something bigger than you. You’ve trained and experienced life with others that share a common interest, so without even saying boo to the person training next to you, without knowing their name, you’ll be able to have a conversation about that move you’ve just done, that stretch or handstand that worked (or didn’t), or sharing that incredible sense of accomplishment with everyone else in the class. When was the last time you did that in a spinning lab, during a pilates session, or after an aerobic workout? Once you leave the studio, chances are you won’t see or speak to that person until the next session, if you spoke to anyone at all.
Family is what makes us stronger, it is what binds us together and keeps us coming back for more. Even if we are going through challenging moments outside of the academy, there is always a safe space to come in and be a part of something that makes you feel whole, and there is constant support (or distraction) if you are looking for it, without the judgement or harassment of getting under your skin. Capoeira is about aiding, pushing, supporting, and being there for your fellow Capoeirsta whether they realise it or not, and I challenge anyone to come to a session and not walk out with a calmer sense of self and being happier as a result.
There are plenty more reasons why you should take up Capoeira, and the best thing to do is to find that class nearest to you to put your mettle to the test. Find out what you are capable of achieving, take yourself out of your comfort zone in an exciting and engaging environment, and become something more than you thought was possible. You’ll feel s strong sense of reward, and the desire to get more and more involved in the game will start feeding your soul in ways you never thought possible. Capoeira is not just an exercise routine, it becomes a way of life, and it is something that you’ll have forever. Do it, you know you already want to.