Mzungu Memoirs

Capoeira Lesson

Last weekend, Caleb and some of his friends received an impromptu Capoeira (African martial arts) lesson in our front yard from Richard Obonyo, a friend of our neighbor.  Richard is studying mechanical engineering, but takes time out to teach Capoeira to street kids as an outreach ministry, instilling discipline and self-control into his young pupils.  Because his grades where so impressive in secondary school, Richard received a government scholarship to attend university here in Kampala.  Orphaned at 13, he feels a huge amount of family responsibility and works odd jobs to help with school fees for his younger siblings.  He also has a passion for the arts, performing and assisting backstage with the local amateur acting club, which is how our neighbor met him.  In short, Richard is an amazing young man, mature beyond his 22 years.

As I mentioned above, Capoeira is an Africanized form of martial arts.  From what I have read on-line, it was actually started in Brazil by African slaves for defense.  Its methods were powerful and sneaky with the results often brutal and sometimes deadly.  Capoeira is composed of stealthy movements where participants collapse to the ground, use cartwheels, flips, and other movements to avoid strikes and injury by opponents.  Participants use kicks and sweeps in order to strike their opponent.

I’m not really sure how Capoeira made its way back across the ocean to Uganda, but what is practiced here is more of a dance or game than it is about fighting.  Participants gather in a circle with two contestants in the middle.  Those in the circle sing, clap and play musical instruments such as the adeudeu (a stringed instrument) and drums.  The tempo of the music dictates the speed of the movements of the contestants in the middle.  The contestants begin with a movement called the Ginga, a movement in a crouched position where the weight is shift from one leg to the other, mirroring each other almost as in a dance.  Once the rhythm has been established, the contestants move into a series of offensive and defensive movements against each other.

Richard started out the lesson by having the kids sit in a circle and explaining to them how Capoeira is practiced, emphasizing that it is to be used in self-defense never as a means of aggression.  He emphasized the disciplinary and self-control aspects of the practice.  Then he got them up on their feet and taught them some of the basic moves.  He started out with the Ginga.  Once the kids had “mastered” that, he moved on to a couple of kicks.   He also included a defensive crouching movement which sent most of the kids to the ground, literally.  He finished with cartwheels and a movement that reminded me of a toddler trying to learn how to do a cartwheel.

After the lesson for the kids, Richard did a demonstration for us that was unlike any other martial arts I have ever seen before.  The kids were quite impressed as well, and I think they really enjoyed the lesson.  They spent some time afterwards practicing some of their newly learned “moves.”  It was a great way to kill some time and exert some energy on a Saturday afternoon.


“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” – 2 Timothy 1:7

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