by Michael Riley
Eddie Chung took up capoeira when he was at university and unfit. One day he was on campus and heard distinctive music and was intrigued. As he approached the capoeira demonstration, he was hooked by the acrobatic movements and soulful music. Little did he know then that it would be the “transformational tool” that would help him turn his life around.
“It guided me through a lot of hardship, not only with losing weight, it also boosted my self-esteem.” Eddy believes that dealing with the fear of confronting an opponent physically in front of a crowd helped him become more confident in all aspects of his life.
Since that day he has been able to turn his passion into a career. Eddy teaches during the week at the International College of Capoeira in the city, but he is finding more enjoyment in teaching at his new local studio in suburban Caringbah. “Teaching here is not for the money. I actually do other jobs to support this because I really want to teach, I really want to spread this love, this passion.
“Last week we had about 30-35 people and I was really quite touched because those are all my friends and they are all over Sydney. They came from far just to support me and I was really grateful.” For Eddy, this support shows him that he is on the right track with his life.
To his capoeira friends, he is known as ‘Mandachuva’, which is Brazilian for ‘Rain Caller’. “In the capoeira community, you are only known by your apelido (nickname). Some people don’t know I’m Eddy at all.”
In comparison to Eddy, his students are noticeably unfit. He has his work cut out for him. To begin class, he leads an aggressive stretch warm-up. Stretches focus on core and balance. Although only at warm-up stage, students are visibly sweating.
Eddy puts some duct tape on the ground in front of the student’s feet to give them positioning in ‘a golden triangle’, illustrating the stance of the style. He tests their balance by giving them a little push. While Eddy prepares for the next segment, he does a few excited cartwheels and flips.
The basic step has the hypnotic momentum of a metronome. Back and forth, left and right. Students are bent at the knee. There is something tribal about this style. Their bodies are down low, like animals ready to attack. Capoeira seems to have elements of dance, martial arts and focused meditation.
Eddy explains,“It is so hard to define capoeira because there are so many different elements.” He says capoeira is not just a martial art, but is as much a cultural and historical phenomenon.
It was developed during the Portuguese invasion of Brazil by slaves. “It’s hard to define: did the Africans bring it over or did the native Brazilians invent it, because after the slave trade finished the slave masters burned all documents in fear of persecution.
“The slave masters didn’t wish their slaves to train in capoeira because at the time it was a much more deadly art so what the slaves did is bring in more music and African tribal drumming to disguise it. That’s why we see capoeira as it is today, with all the music and rituals.”
As the class progresses, Eddy introduces more elements: kicks, cartwheels and ducks. He gets the students to try these moves on each other. He plays a berimbau (a wooden bow-like instrument) with a sound that is rhythmically raspy and creates the mood for a fight. They move against each other in a mirrored fashion and duck each other’s kicks.
Today’s class are beginners, but Eddy demonstrates how fast and powerful capoeira can be. He says that capoeira can be used as self-defence although during class he doesn’t encourage full contact. “We like to play technical, beautiful and smart.”
After class, Steven, 25, of Bexley, says, “I like the mix of martial arts, dance, rhythm and expression of the whole body. It’s an exchange between two people. Not full contact but facing off against each other.” Daniel, 25, of Como, says Eddy is “knowledgeable of the subject. He is good at communicating and has a personal approach”.
Eddy says there is a really big sense of community among capoeiristas. “You make really great friends, people who are willing to sweat with you, to train hard with you, to get hurt, to share the same obstacles, sometimes physically or mentally, and then you develop an even stronger bond.”