Introduction by Managing Editor Dan Marcus:
Capoeira is a martial art that is virtually unknown in the United States but well-established in various parts of the world It comprises a unique subculture as it incorporates music, song, dance, and group participation in its practice. The art originated in Brazil approximately five hundred years ago, created by slaves from Africa and presented primarily as a form of dance This permitted the practitioners, known a capoeiristas, to deceive their masters into regarding this formidable means of combat as something relatively innocuous and non-threatening.
A deeper objective of capoeira is to create a blend of spiritual and physical energy known as axe (pronounced "ah-she").
In recent decades, Israel has become a leading global center for capoeira, where the art has achieved great popularity among disparate segments of the population--Jews and Arabs, religious and secular. Due to its unique qualities of dance and fight, openness and strategic deception, it challenges long-held perceptions and creates a fascinating social laboratory for human engagement and understanding. A capoeira match, in fact, is referred to as a "dialogue."
Capoeira is also attracting increasing numbers of female practitioners, which is causing Orthodox Jewish capoeristas to contend with a direct challenge to the strictures of their faith and secular practioners to address what many would view as a form of religiously sanctioned prejudice.
Here, Israeli capoeira master Alon Yudelevich discusses the history of this ongoing development, the collision of gender and religious factionalism it's engendered, and how--as the founder of the first formal training academy for capoeira in Jerusalem--his grasp of the situation has evolved in the process of confronting the challenge and promise the art presents for navigating the shifting streams of Israeli society.
Yudelevich's observations contain lessons for any culture where the stabilizing traditions and rituals of the past come into conflict with the onrush of social progress.
Originally, capoeira developed as a male, even macho art form. Early references to female capoeiristas are part of an oral tradition that is sketchy at best. One example dating back to the nineteenth century is Maria Doze Homens (Maria Twelve Men), who is said to have knocked out twelve men in a street fight. However, her precise identity and the veracity of the story remain shrouded in the mists of time.
Not until 1940 did female practitioners of the art begin to make their presence fully known. Among the pioneering women of that time were Satanas, Calca Rala, Maria para o Bonde, and Nega Didi.
Over the years, many teachers have struggled to improve the standing of females in the capoeira circle. Today, while men still predominate, there are groups in which the majority of the members are women. In addition, there are quite a few female masters in Brazil and throughout the world, including several in Israel.
It's unfortunate that in making these strides, some female capoeiristas have felt it necessary to compromise their uniqueness....