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UI club combines Brazilian martial arts and dance

BY ALY BROWN | JULY 03, 2012 6:30 AM

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Tim Hau and Jason Lutges bounce on their feet lightly as they slowly kick and punch at one another, moving fluidly within their opponent's space. Hau throws his feet up in the air into a handstand, smiling as Lutges nearly knocks him to the ground. Hau slips through Lutges' legs, loses balance, and falls out of the invisible ring.

The two are engaged in capoeira, a style of martial arts mixed with dance and other artistic elements.
University of Iowa club instructor Kevin Hockett described capoeira as a "physical game of chess," a game of giving and taking, tricking your opponent into giving you the upper hand.

"You feel great about yourself when you beat the crap out of your opponent, but you feel a lot better when you have just outsmarted them," he said.

The UI and the University of Northern Iowa both house capoeira clubs open to students and the general public. The UI capoeira club is part of Capoeira Angola, a larger organization with sister groups in Omaha, Portland, Ore., and Port Townsend, Wash.

Hau, a recent UI law-school graduate and member of the UI Capoeira Club, said he has been training since the group began roughly nine years ago. Capoeira has taken Hau across the country and to Salvador, Brazil.

"By far, it's the most engaging, physically and philosophically satisfying art I've had the pleasure to experience," he said. "The benefits for a new student are certainly physical — balance, cardio, strength, tone — however, there are plenty of other benefits."

Capoeira is an equal combination of martial arts, acrobatics, dance, ritual, music, and philosophy, Hau said.

"The whole music aspect of capoeira sets it aside from almost every other martial art out there," Hockett said.

Rather than sparring like in other martial arts, participants "play a game" with their opponents. To win a UI club game, members must drop their opponent to the ground, force them out of the "hoda," or game space, or trap their limbs to manipulate them into unfavorable positions.

The UI club has six regular members during the summer, but the class size grows with the students' return in the fall.

Capoeira is a form of martial arts disguised as a method of dance thought to be developed by African slaves in 16th-century Brazil. Practitioners trained their bodies and minds to overthrow their slave owners under the guise of traditional dance.

Maria José Barbosa, a UI associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese, studies the history of women and capoeira.

"It was forbidden in the 1930s in Brazil," she said. "It was associated with disturbance, lawlessness, because certain groups made it very violent."

Capoeira made its way from the streets into the nationalist movements of 20th-century Brazilian dictators as they worked to promote a unified country.

"Carnaval, soccer, religion, capoeira … all of these things were very important in the 1970s," Barbosa said.

As Brazilians emigrated from their homeland in the 1970s, capoeira appeared in New York City and San Francisco, Barbosa said.

"Now, it is very popular in the academic context, and it is made exotic by Hollywood," she said.

Hockett said the interest in capoeira remains steady in Iowa City.

"Some of us are community members; I just graduated from the law school, and we also have undergraduate students," Hau said. "It's a pretty good mix."

But readers should not confuse capoeira with the competitive grappling art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Jason Clarke, an Iowa City Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor, said although both have roots in Brazil, they come from completely different cultures.

Capoeira is a tradition rich with culture and variety, and anything less than experiencing it for oneself leads to an oversimplification of the art. Even the origins are widely debated, and shades of capoeira change with the participants.

Hockett said the UI group looks at capoeira as a set of guidelines for life.

"It is about the lifestyle we are trying to lead," he said. "A lot more about the concepts and applying the idea of the interactions and viewpoints into the daily lives we choose to live."


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