Anniston students take on the Brazilian martial arts style capoeira
by Laura Camper
Sisters Malayshia Fuller, 10, and Unique Caver, 6, learn some capoeira moves in their first class at the Carver Community Center. (Anniston Star photo by Laura Camper)
When Ayodele “Ayo” Ogunmiloro returned to Anniston from his stint in the Air Force, he saw a need in the city’s youth and decided to do his part to fulfill it.

He started in September teaching Anniston students the basics of capoeira, a Brazilian form of martial arts with African roots, because Ogunmiloro knows it helped him.

“I didn’t always take the smoothest road,” Ogunmiloro, 25, said with a laugh.

Capoeira taught him perseverance, discipline, problem-solving and an alternative to violence and thinks it could do the same for his students. He also thinks it will teach them there is more to the world than what they see in Anniston.

“It makes them more accepting of other people,” Ogunmiloro said.

Ogunmiloro heard about capoeira when he was 19. He already had a background in martial arts and the history of capoeira interested him because of its African roots — his father was from Africa, he said. As he researched, the use of music in capoeira intrigued him. The fighting style was first recognized among escaped African slaves in Brazil, he said. Recaptured slaves hid the fact that they were practicing a form of martial arts by performing it to music, Ogunmiloro said. So today, it is performed to the beat of a berimbau, a wooden bow with a single string and a gourd attached, and drums among other instruments.

“It’s a martial art hidden in dance,” Ogunmiloro said.

He first started learning the movements through YouTube videos. Later he attended some classes at Capoeira Maculele in Decatur, Ga.

“I learned the traditions,” Ogunmiloro said. “And how much the music meant.”

The song guides the movements of the fighters who practice in a circle of people or roda (pronounced ho-da), he said.

Ogunmiloro bought some drums and made a berimbau himself to teach the students. His first class started with three students, he said, but it has grown to nearly 20 students.

Frazier Burroughs, director of the Carver Center, said he learned about capoeira from Ogunmiloro at a REAL Men of Anniston meeting.

“He was looking for some place to practice,” Burroughs said. “We worked out something.”

The classes started outside in the parking lot and then moved inside to the meeting room.

At a class on Wednesday, the first since taking a holiday break, eight students kicked, lunged and danced. Four of the students, ranging in age from 10 to 4, were there for their first class. Their mother, India Kimble, just moved to Anniston and heard about the class at the Carver Library.

“I wanted them to get in touch with different heritages and learn something that’s different from our culture,” Kimble said.

Two of the students had been taking classes in Decatur for about a year and were now taking them with Ogunmiloro.

Sierra Mims, 15, said she had heard about the practice from Ogunmiloro and wanted to take the classes.

“It seemed like a lot of fun,” she said. “But it’s hard work.”

Her brother, Jordan Mims, 12, said he liked the practice very much because of the way “the fight is hidden in the dance.”

“We (were) really fascinated by the history,” he said.

Ogunmiloro and his students like practicing at Carver Community Center, but their practices have been interrupted by other events at the center. He would like a permanent place to practice with his students and he’s approached the Anniston City Council for some support, Ogunmiloro said.

Councilman Seyram Selase said he only recently heard about Ogunmiloro’s class and is open to innovative programs like it. However, at this point, Selase is not sure what the city can do to help him. He might be able to introduce Ogunmiloro to some nonprofits that could benefit from a class like his, Selase said.

“Maybe (my role) can be, as a councilman, just making the right connections,” Selase said.

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.
© 2013