By Jane Metsker Contributing Writer
Next semester, for the first time, UMF will be offering an Afro-Brazilian musical martial arts class called Capoeira. The class incorporates history and dance as well as martial arts and will be instructed by Professor Chelsea Fairbank.
Fairbank has always had an interest in music, culture, and history. She first saw Capoeira being played in a park and became fascinated with it. At nineteen, Fairbank moved to Hawaii and was able to find classes there with an instructor from the “motherland” of Capoeira, Bahia Brazil.
“I was very lucky to train with him and have some very close lineage,” said Fairbank. “It’s similar to martial arts where there’s a lineage of teachers, what they call mestre [meaning master] in Portuguese.” Fairbank trained with her mestre for a few years before relocating to Brazil to study full time and learn Portuguese.
According to Fairbank, Capoeira incorporates history, music and community. Historically it has been disguised as a dance and described as a “fight dance.” It has been criticized for being different from traditional forms of martial arts, however, Fairbank said she absolutely believes it could improve anyone’s confidence and ability to protect themselves.
“If somebody was looking for a more straightforward self defense, protection oriented, I think it can fulfill those but it’s not the primary mission of training in Capoeira,” she said.
Tekia Cox, a Junior Anthropology Major, stated in an email interview that she’s looking forward to taking a class that’s both fun and could be useful for developing self defense skills.
“I hope to be able to protect myself and also an anthropological look at that type of defense,” Cox said. “Even if UMF prides itself on being safe it’s important for everyone to learn self defense.”
Fairbank explained that Capoeira is a form of physical and mental training that develops “cunning of an awareness around you and a confidence towards self protection.” Fairbank noted that there’s an ongoing debate about the differences between Capoeira versus more traditionalized martial arts, self defense, that we would think of in the west. She also stated that the class is very inclusive and proactively welcomes all genders.
Senior Psychology major Emily Beard is interested in the course because she has previous experience with martial arts and interested in furthering her education on the subject.
“I took Taekwondo for years and I recognize that this is a very different style of martial arts but I would like to get back into it.”
Beard has some previous knowledge of Capoeira and explained it’s a very defensive art. “It’s good for preventing harm without causing it, it teaches you to block attacks but you won’t learn much about instigating attacks.”
Fairbank said Capoeira has been historically used as a means of escaping oppression and using cunning to facilitate that. “It’s a large symbol for liberation.” She explained that it was a way of training under the gaze of your oppressor so that they don’t know what you’re doing. “It represents empowerment and community in a huge way, it represents inclusion.”
The text included in the course will be an ethnographic text call The Ring of Liberation, however the course is open to anyone with an interest in any component of the course. Fairbank said anthropology students might have an especially keen interest in the course because of its background, but could be intriguing to anyone.
“It is a really unique and special place to explore your own limits but also expand beyond them and have an openness and willingness to do that kind of work,” Fairbank said. “Capoeira presents the the opportunity to do that in a really playful and community based and really joyous kind of way.”
Any students feeling intimidated by the idea of taking the course can be assured it’s an open and inclusive environment for students of any skill level. “If there’s any intimidation about approaching the course, remember that in Portuguese it’s called playing Capoeira, not fighting Capoeira, and I that captures a real sense of how playful the growth that you can achieve through Capoeira is.”