At first glance it looks like a well-choreographed dance. And it’s supposed to.
Capoeira, (pronounced cap-oh-eh-ra), is a form of Brazilian martial arts which is characterized by quick, complex moves, acrobatics, and a grace reminiscent of the most skilled hoofers in the business.
But don’t be fooled. The discipline was spawned from slavery and predicated on the art of deception. Sixteenth century slaves crafted it out of their longing to gain freedom without drawing unwanted attention.
Centuries later it has made its way to the shores of St Lucia via Danny Augustin and Michael Sankar. But this story starts in London, where the two friends were students; Augustin at the University of East London, and Sankar at London South Bank University.
Augustin, 24, was the instigator. An accomplished athlete in tennis, volleyball, basketball, and tae kwon do, he was in search of a new challenge and was tipped off by a friend about the fluid movements of capoeira. After an introductory class with his coincidentally Brazilian sister-in-law, he was hooked.
“I went there just to learn how to flip. A lot of people go for different reasons; for fitness, to learn acrobatics, to learn the instruments, some go for the culture. But then you realize you need to have everything. So it just sucks you in and that’s exactly what it did to me.”
He eagerly shared his newfound passion with Sankar, 28, who was not quite as enthusiastic – at first.
“He was trying to convince me to do it for a couple of months. Just never made it. Couldn’t be bothered to be quite honest. Then I saw a video of him doing backflips and I was like, if he’s doing backflips after two, three months of training, let me go and try to learn that. So I gave it one try and I needed some exercise, so it was good exercise. And basically from there I just started doing more and more.”
Together the two trained relentlessly under the guidance of Contra-Mestre PQD; both accumulating several belts along the way and assisting with programmes in the UK.
The two parted when Augustin graduated and returned home. In an effort to keep his skills fresh and share his knowledge, he started a small class in December 2012 at Fitness Freaks, near his Corinth area home. Augustin says he was hesitant at first, but got the blessing of his mentor to offer basic instruction.
Since that initial test class, Augustin’s reach expanded to include a class at Sportivo and the Carellie Gym. He was soon teeming with new ideas but needed help to execute them.
It would soon arrive in the form of Sankar, now graduated as well and back on island. It didn’t take long for the two to partner and take steps to place capoeira firmly on the St Lucian sports calendar. Sankar says that the collaboration was a no-brainer.
“We were training together, we have the same vision, so what’s the point? It doesn’t make sense starting from scratch and we’re competing to get to the same end. We’re not about making a big group and dominating everybody. We actually want others to get into it so that you have a variety.”
One of their top priorities is integrating the artform into the school system. So far, Monroe College is the first to come on board with more set to follow and plans to develop their own junior starter programme.
“We want to start one of our own classes in Carellie because they have padded floors. So it would be more like a test and we’ll see how that goes. Then we want to go to the schools. I’ve actually been getting a lot of feedback from teachers that want us there, especially from the summer camp I am doing now,” explained Augustin.
The duo is currently working on proposals for the Brazilian Embassy, as well as corporate sponsors in an effort to host the first batizado (baptism) and full scale workshops on island. Testing is done by a mestre (master) with belts conferred not just for technical expertise, but cultural awareness as well. Several regional groups have already expressed interest in participating.
But the true joy comes from seeing the fruits of their labour. They light up when talking about the transformation their students have made: weight loss, increased flexibility and strength, but most importantly; confidence. And for anyone who doubts their ability to hang with the class, look no further than Sankar who admits, “When I started off, my foot wasn’t going above my waist. I couldn’t do a handstand to save my life or a cartwheel.”
Adds Augustin, “It’s more of a mental thing. Capoeira is not something that you have to rush. It’s very personal. You do what you can do. If there’s something in the class that you can’t do, there’s always the baby steps. It caters to the individual.”