In 2018, Joshua Cruz and Ideraoluwa Lawal emailed Texas Tech professor Lauren Griffith at the same time. They inquired about other people at Tech interested in a dance-like Afro-Brazilian martial art called capoeira.
Cruz, an assistant professor in the College of Education, said he had previously practiced capoeira while living in Arizona. His now-wife Stephanie Allen, who was studying kinesiology at Tech at the time, was also interested in capoeira even though she did not practice it.
“We just happened to email her (Griffith) at the same time, and Idera and I practiced for a while, and then Stephanie started here and decided, ‘Well, why don’t we make this an official club?’ And that’s kind of how we came together,” said Cruz, the club’s advisor.
The capoeira club at Tech later formed in 2019. Capoeira, pronounced “kah-po-weh-rah,” was created by African slaves in Brazil to disguise their method of combat as dance, Cruz said.
When the capoeira club was at its height of about eight members, Cruz said the club had rodas (pronounced ho-dah) where people would gather in a circle to watch the capoeiristas play to percussive Brazilian music.
Griffith, an assistant professor of anthropology, said it is important for students to practice capoeira as well as understand its cultural background. The high-energy environment, she said, can provide a learning experience.
“So you’re singing these lyrics, you’re understanding the history, you’re putting yourself out there, you’re being vulnerable in the company of diverse others,” Griffith said. “I think that you can’t help but look at the world around you a little differently.”
William Tyree, the capoeira club’s vice president, said he had no prior knowledge of capoeira until he came to Tech in 2020. Still, he built his skill and endurance over time by practicing the art.
“I’ve done other martial arts in the past, but I kind of like the energy and the vibe of capoeira,” said Tyree, a second-year political science transfer from Austin.
One student attended the capoeira club’s August 30 meeting from 6:30 to 8 pm at the Tech Rec Center. She, Tyree and Cruz practiced moves like ginga, the default swaying stance of capoeira play, and esquiva, a wheel kick.
Tyree said one of the reasons why he and the rest of the club are trying to recruit more people is not only to host more events, but to ease some of the physical strain of practicing capoeira with only one other person.
“When I used to spar in the past with other martial arts that I’ve done, it gets really tiring, and it’s the same with capoeira,” Tyree said. “If you’re, like, sparring with somebody for a couple minutes on end, at the end of that, you’re just, you’re spent.”
Despite the hard physical work, Griffith said a Portuguese verb used to describe capoeira is “brincar,” which means carefree, childlike play, a concept students should take away from capoeira. She said that fun is necessary in a culture that prioritizes productivity.
“Not only are you supposed to, like, study hard and get a good job, you should also really have a side hustle, like, this is crazy!” Griffith said. “What happened to just messing around and having fun?”
Tyree graduates in December and said he hopes to introduce more people to capoeira and get the club more popular before he leaves Tech. He said the executive board is just glad to have anybody attend so they can spread the culture.
“We’re open to all skill levels, any of that stuff,” Tyree said. “You don’t have to be super fit, you don’t have to be able to do a cartwheel—”
“—We’ll get you there,” Cruz added.
The capoeira club practices from 6:30 to 8 pm Mondays and 6:45 to 8:15 pm Wednesdays in the Rec Center. Those interested may check the club’s TechConnect page for more information.