Sam, the French Capoeira master, talks about the art form that combines martial arts and dance with rousing music

The music weaves and wanders through the rain drenched Aurovilian jungle. It's fierce but friendly. The Capoeira in progress at Deepanam school is no different.

A group of children sits in a circle, along with two teachers. They're holding unusual instruments — a theatrical Berinbau that looks like the lovechild of a bow and a veena. There's a little girl on the pandeiros (a sort of tambourine), and another pint-sized enthusiast on the agogo (bell). In the centre, boy and girl lithely kick, spin and lunge at each other. There are leg sweeps and gentle aerial acrobatics, punctuated by deliberate knee and elbow jabs.

Although the moves are gentle, more theatrical than aggressive, this is clearly an art form rooted in conflict. As Sam, the French Capoeira master nods, the two players hold hands and bow their heads to each other, after which they're replaced by another pair.

A microcosm of life

“Capoeira is many things: It's a game. It's a fight. It's music. It's theatre. And, it's fun,” says Sam, as the class concludes. “Yes, it is difficult, but so are many things in life that are worth working for. I see Capoeira as a microcosm of life. You will find all the difficulties of life within this circle. Also, all the joys. You play with people you might not want to play with.” He says with a laugh: “The boys hate playing with the girls, sometimes they try to sneak away, but always end up getting caught!”

Capoeira is a Brazilian art form combining martial arts and dance with rousing music. When Portugal began to transport slaves from, mainly, West and Central Africa to man their colonies in the 16th Century, Brazil was a major destination. As legend goes, Capoeira was honed and created by the slaves, to keep them fit and give them hope.

Although this art form is just beginning to make inroads into India now, it has been offered in Auroville since 2004. Sam, now the principal teacher, began his journey 11 years ago in France.

“I was 18, studying business in Poitiers. Friends of mine were doing Capoiera, and they said ‘Why don't you try?' I went. It was cool.” He stayed watching them for three hours, and was hooked. “I liked the fact that it blended dancing and fighting. I was doing Ludo and karate then. I had also learned classical western ballet for quite some time. So, it made it easier for me.”

His first serious class was admittedly tough, though. “There were 30 to 40 of us in a small room. I later found out that the master pushes extra hard on the first class — so only the motivated stay.” After years of training in France, he took a break, since he was studying to be a lawyer. “I was at a point in my life when I knew I wanted something, but did not know what it was. I was angry with the system. I failed my exams and didn't know what to do with my life.”

Then, he saw a documentary on India. “I saw Matri Mandir, and looked it up on Google.” In a leap of faith, he got on a plane, and moved countries in 2006. “When I first arrived in Auroville, it was so hard. Everything was different. As luck would have it, he soon bumped into Tiago, who introduced Capoeira to Auroville. “Tiago is a really friendly guy, and his energy drew people. When he left, he instructed me to teach, saying: ‘You don't have much choice. You love Capoeira. Capoeira gave you a lot. Now it's your turn to give back'.”

Sam takes his mission seriously. He travels to Brazil, to learn from the source. In Auroville, he teaches every day. The age group is anything from five to 60. Anybody can do it. I have a student who is 55 years old. She has been playing Capoeira for three years. And, she's never played a sport in her life.”

Preserving the spirit

The central idea is to preserve the spirit with which the art was originally conceived. “Auroville is a living laboratory, and so this is a special place to experiment.” Classes are open to all. Visit http://capoeira-auroville.blogspot.com/ or check out ‘Auroville Capoeira' on Facebook for details.

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