Brazilian master visits martial arts group

Capoeira is a martial arts form that incorporates music and philosophy.

Jake Grovum

Born in 1963, Yoji Senna grew up in Brazil practicing capoeira, a form of martial arts.

“Really I was born into it; my father was a master,” he said. “It’s not a question of deciding to stay Ö more as I get older, it is part of me. I wouldn’t be able to see me not related to it.”

At the age of 11, he ran away from home and in 1977 became youth champion of the state of Bahia.

“Paradoxically, I survived with my skills that my father taught me,” he said. “It has helped me stay out of trouble, helped me escape a lot of bad situations, too.”

In 1992, Senna moved to Minneapolis and brought capoeira with him. He founded the Afro-Brazilian Capoeira Association, a group affiliated with the University’s AB Kilombo Capoeira student group.

Years later, he would bring another part of Brazilian culture to the University, welcoming Mestre Nô, founder, president and grand master of Associacao Brasileira Cultural De Capoeira Palmares, an organization dedicated to maintaining the traditions of capoeira.

An Afro-Brazilian form of martial arts that blends various maneuvers with music and philosophy, capoeira’s history is rooted in the African slave-trade.

“Capoeira basically is an art form that was created by people that were oppressed and downtrodden,” Senna said. “So the philosophy of capoeira is the question of survival.”

Senna and the group welcomed Nô to the University with a demonstration on Northrop Plaza on Friday.

Speaking through a translator, Nô said he has been practicing capoeira since he was a child.

“Since I was four years old, it became the oxygen that I breathe,” he said.

Nô now travels the world teaching about capoeira to ensure the art form’s survival.

Forming a roda, a circle where capoeira is played, members moved in and out while others played instruments and sang songs around them.

Former University student Emily Kastrul said the roda can teach valuable lessons about life as well as offering an opportunity to practice.

“You can take anything in life and apply it to the roda and capoeira. (They) are like a microcosm of everything else,” she said. “You learn all these things about interaction in the roda and go out and interact with the world.”

Kastrul said capoeira has provided her with a challenge other aspects of her life have not given her.

“I like that I can’t master it. I feel like in a lot of ways school has been easy to me, and all these things have come naturally,” she said. “This is something that I really have to work at.”

Al Wepsala, history and environmental geography junior and president of AB Kilombo Capoeira, started practicing as a first-year student and was hooked.

“I went one night and I thought it was really cool,” he said. “I started going more and more. I didn’t even know the name for six months.”

Wepsala said capoeira took over his life.

“It gets into your blood, you just think about it,” he said. “In class, you start playing a beat on your desk, and singing songs in your head, and that’s what keeps you into it.”

Brian Kramer, adviser to the group, discovered capoeira while he studied abroad in England. When he returned to the United States he continued his training.

“I continue to do it, primarily because I can’t not do it,” he said. “We have classes six times a week, if you don’t go once you feel guilty for that whole two hours.”

While enjoyable, Kramer said practicing capoeira can be a sacrifice as well.

“You have your family, and family for me is a very important thing, and you realize the difference you’re creating,” he said. “You’re taking a different path, and so you identify this thing as a sacrifice first Ö and it sets you aside.”

Drew Yerkes, anthropology and Spanish junior, said capoeira is different from other forms of martial arts.

“People always thought it was like a fight dance,” he said. “You’re not really hitting each other. In my opinion, it’s much more complex than just trying to hit somebody.”

Yerkes also said Senna makes sure his students know the history and philosophy of capoeira in addition to the physical techniques.

Senna said the philosophy is one that can help throughout a person’s life.

“We are a lot of times upside down on our heads (in capoeira). It’s the way we develop perceiving the same thing upside down Ö you extrapolate that Cato life,” he said. “There are moments in life that your life is upside down, and you got to find a way to stay upright.”