Teacher brings his passion for unique Brazilian martial art to Mansfield

A globetrotting teacher’s passion for a unique Brazilian martial art has inspired the formation of a new community group in Mansfield.

Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 9:29 am
Aaron Hughes with his wife Karine, whom he met while learning capoeira in Brazil.

Capoeira is a fast, physical and versatile form of dance, acrobatics and movement that is accompanied by choral singing and instrumental music, and also steeped in cultural heritage.

Aaron Hughes, who hails from and lives in Mansfield Woodhouse, first fell in love with it while at university in Swansea.

He took his interest to extremes when selling all his possessions and moving to Brazil to spend four years dedicating himself to learning the art.

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Aaron displays one of his many capoeira movements,

And now he is on the verge of setting up Mansfield’s first capoeira group at the Pleasley headquarters of the martial arts school, Raven Defensive Arts, starting on Thursday, May 20.

"I am desperately keen to set up the group,” said Aaron, 38, who works as the communication lead at Yeoman Park Academy in Woodhouse.

"I am sure there is a huge, untapped market for capoeira in Mansfield. It appeals to people who like martial arts and those who like dance. It is particularly popular with young people and teenagers.

"There is incredible joy in capoeira that you can’t find in other aspects of life. There is singing, dancing and the use of musical instruments, so you almost get a tribal feeling when training. You learn an awful lot of skills.”

Aaron and Karine's first dance at their wedding was capoeira.

Aaron is also convinced the martial art can help people recover from the gloom of Covid-19, lockdowns, social distancing and face masks.

"It is very good for those with mental-health problems,” he explained. “The benefits are fantastic.

"There is the exercise and then there is the energy you get from a capoeira class. With the music and singing all connected to the movement, it creates a feeling of wellbeing.

"It will give people a positive, new focus.”

Aaron preparing to start a game of capoeira.

Capoeira was originally developed by Brazilian slaves in the 16th century. It was once banned in Brazil but is now internationally recognised and has even been granted special protected status by Unesco for its cultural heritage.

In some quarters, capoeira is described as a sport, and it does entail two opponents facing each other. But it is more like a system of physical discipline and movement, known for its flowing, acrobatic and complex manoeuvres.

Aaron said: “The essential part of it is a martial game that is played by two people in a circle of other people.

"It is not really a sport as such. There aren’t any official competitions. I would describe it as a physical art.”

The creation of a capoeira group in Mansfield will be the final piece of a martial arts jigsaw that Aaron first started as an eight-year-old at Leas Park Junior School.

He became a black belt in taekwondo while at Manor Academy and after leaving university, he was involved in a successful capoeira group in Swindon.

After a spell in China, practising taekwondo, he became a black belt in karate. And in 2013, when the pressures of full-time teaching became too much, he made the momentous, life-changing decision to pursue his capoeira dream.

"I saved up all the money I could and went out to Brazil,” Aaron recalled. “I chose one of the hottest places, where nobody spoke English, and I had barely enough money to survive.

"Originally, it was just for six months, but I ended up coming and going for a total of four years, training in capoeira every night.”

Aaron paid for the pilgrimage by doing supply teaching whenever he nipped back to the UK, and he even taught capoeira to children at Heatherley Primary School in Forest Town.

He also met his wife in Brazil, Karine, 28, a Portuguese teacher, who is now working with Aaron at Yeoman Park as a personal-care classroom assistant, and is also a carer for adults with autism.

"We have returned home with a real passion to spread the story of this Afro-Brazilian art,” Aaron continued.

"”We want our children to have access to this vital part of their heritage.

"I have the enthusiasm and knowledge for it. Now we need to create this community and see where it goes. I can see it growing over the next year.

"Capoeira has such good vibes. It appeals to lots of different people and has a unique profile.

"I am sure it will improve the diversity and tolerance of the Mansfield area and promote a positive acceptance of different cultures.

"It is also very good for people with special needs, especially those with autism. It is doable by anybody.”

Such is Aaron’s love affair with capoeira that he and Karine chose it for their first dance at their wedding in 2017.

And such is the global influence of capoeira, he has his own unique nickname, ligeirinho, meaning quick, little mouse, which is used and recognised wherever he plays across the world.

He also has his own master, based in Brazil, the revered Mestre Corujao, and Aaron felt the need to request his permission before launching the Mansfield community group.

All you have to do to join the group is get in touch with Raven Defensive Arts via its Facebook page. The group will be open to 15-year-olds and over, and the initial six-week course, which will cover the basic skills and techniques of the art, as well as its history and philosophy, costs £25.

All the money raised will go either to a dementia charity or to help a severely disabled student whom Aaron met in Brazil but who had his family home destroyed by flooding in January.