Published: 28th March 2020
This master from Mumbai teaches one of the rarest form of martial art to kids and even adults
Capoeira master Reza Baba Massah, Founder of the Centre For Capoeira India speaks about how this Afro-Brazilian form of martial art can help women and children fend for themselves
Whenever we watch people perform Kalaripayattu - the oldest known martial art that originated in Kerala - I bet almost everyone longs to learn it too, especially armed with the sword and shield. Like Kalari, there are different forms of martial art from other countries. Capoeira is one of these. Teaching the artform to youngsters for the past 14 years is Mumbaikar Reza Baba Massah, who is popularly known as India's first Capoeira master. Narrating the story behind his centre in India, he says,"I learnt Capoeira from a teacher in Brazil, after which, I started taking a few classes in India, Brazil and a few other countries. In 2005, I decided to start Centre For Capoeira India in different areas, including Juhu, Dadar East, Andheri West in Mumbai. Initially, my programmes were restricted to classes where many youngsters and martial art professionals would come to learn this martial art."
In 2009, discovering his son's interest in learning Capoeira, he decided to take up programmes for school children too. When we ask him if there is an age limit to start learning the martial art, he says, "As children, their bodies are flexible and Capoeira is a mixed artform of dance, singing and acrobatics. Hence, children enjoy learning it. Now, I teach this art to more than 2,000 students in a week. In 2010, it was also included as a part of the school curriculum in Billabong High School in Juhu. Gradually, a few more schools in Mumbai have included it as a part of their self-defense classes, recreational or extra-curricular activities. Apart from Mumbai, I also teach students in Delhi and Jaipur."
Reza Baba Massah
According to the research done by Master Reza, Capoeira was invented by Africans who were treated like slaves because of their skin colour. He explains, "Portuguese rulers would bring them to Brazil only to treat them as slaves. As they were not allowed to learn anything including martial art, which most of the privileged men and women learnt, they created their own form. Later, this was used by them to free themselves from slavery. This is also considered to be one of the youngest forms of martial art. Because a few years after slavery was abolished, anyone practising this art would be put in jail. As time passed, people rediscovered and started learning it again. Now, most of the people in Africa and Brazil practise it."
Master Reza, who believes this art is one of the most non-violent, non-competitive and harmless forms of martial art to one's body, says, "The speciality of this artform is that it involves a lot of music and singing. Many times, people who perform this art use musical instruments that are made out of bamboo. With each class being different and vibrant, children will learn it within three months. When I started learning it in 1997, it was difficult to learn to play music because I had never played any musical instruments. But I loved to do yoga and it became easy for me to learn dance and the acrobatic moves." Reza has great plans when it comes to learning this martial art. He says, "Every hour in India, at least two girls get raped and four of them get molested in public places. Therefore, I want to go to places and institutions to teach Capoeira, especially to women and girls in schools. Therefore, I believe that martial art must be mandatory, as part of the curriculum. Only then, women will be able to prove they are strong and can stop the harassment happening around them."