The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

The Art of Capoeira, Living Within Oneself

Capoeira Instructor Fabio “Fua” Nascimento explains how students can use aché, a positive energy, to unify groups of people

Joe Finkelstein '18 and other students step out of their comfort zone while practicing Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art with each other. 

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Our RGLP cohort gathered at Rocky as usual, but our regular garb was replaced by sweatpants and sneakers and there was an apparent anxiety on everyone’s faces.  We did not address this anxiety as we joked around and walked across campus to the gym.  Tension was building as we finally entered a room where a slim man with long dreadlocks stood smiling at us.  His smile was infectious and it almost seemed that he could not help his mouth from spreading into that position if he were to let it sit for any number of seconds.  We gathered in a circle, shoeless and unprepared for what was to come.  There were pieces of paper on the floor with foreign words on them and the video sample of the capoeira we were about to partake in showed people chanting and doing flips in a circle.  I had no idea what I was doing.

As Fabio “Fua” Nascimento began to introduce himself and the art of Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, he prefaced it by saying that in order to successfully learn, we would have to live within ourselves and ignore social interactions. Fua warned us that experimenting with Capoeira might be “embarrassing” or “awkward” in our cultural context, but that the best students of Capoeira are “not those that learn the fastest, but those who struggle with joy.”  I thought this was an incredibly beautiful way to look at life in general.  Fua explained the history of Capoeira as a Brazilian/African exercise that was used to fight off slave owners in colonial Brazil.  He said that in his own life, he has not had overwhelmingly bad experiences since he began to practice Capoeira, and thus he considers it sacred.  To have such a passion for anything is beautiful, and his viral energy began to spread to each of us.  The tension began to fade.

As we learned some of the chanting, we began to slowly feel more comfortable letting our voices loose and abandoned our own pride and embarrassment.  The man explained to us the concept of aché, which is a positive energy that can be shared with others to unify groups of people.  We learned the different movements of capoeira and began breaking a sweat.  We partnered up and even engaged in some Brazilian dancing.  In order to succeed in moving our bodies in these new ways, we really had to leap past our own comfort zones, and I thought that everyone in the cohort did a fantastic job with this.  We all started to contribute our own aché to the group and by the very end we were all in a circle hugging each other and screaming at the top of our lungs.  I think the transition we made as a group from slight anxiety to abounding excitement was absolutely amazing, and I think we all learned a lot about how to bring such positive energy into our lives.  Doing the Capoeira with RGLP was an experience I won’t forget any time soon, and I’d recommend anything similar to my friends and family.

- Submitted by Joe Finkelstein '18, a participant in the 16F Rockefeller Global Leadership Program

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