In the padded and tranquil setting of the Aikido Yukon studio, students are warming up with their instructor William Jones by doing side push-ups.

“Now everyone do a set of handstand push-ups,” says Jones with a twinkle in his eye. “Welcome to capoeira.”

Capoeira (pronounced ka-poo-eyh-rah) is an Afro-Brazilian martial art and self-defence discipline that brings together fighting techniques, acrobatics, dance, percussion and songs, in what many practioners describe as a “rhythmic dialogue of body, mind, and spirit”.

It originated in the 1500’s when many West Africans were taken from their homeland and transported to Brazil as slaves by the Portuguese.

Although they were taken from their land, they could not be stripped of their culture or desire for freedom. To foster their struggle for freedom, these people began developing techniques for self-defence—and for escape.

Of course, slaves were not allowed to practice martial arts, so the development and practice of fighting techniques had to be disguised. They chose to cloak their martial arts practice with dance.

This practice of performing different defensive and offensive techniques with music, singing and dance became known as capoeira.

Jones was first introduced to the art while living in Vancouver, where his mother was attending school. He was re-introduced to it in 2008 when an instructor from Grupo ABADA Capoeira came to the Yukon to teach a few classes.

ABADA Capoeira, in Portuguese, is the Associação Brasileira de Apoio e Desenvolvimento da Arte-Capoeira. It translates to English as the Brazilian Association for the Support and Development of the Art of Capoeira.

It is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to spread and support Brazilian culture through the practice of capoeira.

“We’re lucky,” says Jones, referring to that instructor.

“He has been able to visit the Yukon several times to teach capoeira because of the efforts of a school teacher in Pelly to continue to bring him back.”

Jones has been practising the art for four years now.

“I was really drawn into capoeira by the constant changing of the movements and the fluidity and the seamlessness of the changes,” he explains.

“I enjoyed the fact that it was very non-combative and was always a challenge to oneself. I also like the camaraderie that the art inspires and the safety to play without suffering judgment from the other players.”

It wasn’t long after he began practising that Jones took his passion to the next level and began teaching.

“I have been teaching now for two years,” he says.

“I wanted to bring a piece of ABADA to the Yukon and to share the sense of play and freedom that is experienced through capoeira with my community.”

Jones hopes more Yukoners will be willing to get involved in the art.

“Just come out and give it a try. Play and have fun,” he says.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a complete beginner. All of the moves can be modified and I’m happy to help you learn and progress to greater levels of difficulty. You’ll be amazed how quickly your strength and skill improves if you are willing to work at it.”

If you are willing to take up the capoeira challenge, you should make your way to the Aikido Yukon dojo at 415 Baxter Street on the weekends. Classes are drop-in and take place at 6:30 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.

You should wear loose, comfortable clothing. After the first class, which is free, classes cost $20, with discounts for purchasing multiple classes at a time.

If you want to learn more about the art before walking into your first class, Jones recommends checking out www.abada.ca and www.abada.org.

Amber Church is a painter, writer and sports enthusiast. You can reach her at sports@whatsupyukon.com.