What’s your passion? Capoeiraist Jessi Patayon
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There are fights breaking out on the Santa Monica College lawn.
At least, that’s how it may appear at first glance, with the sight of sweeping leg kicks and dramatic punches between students, hurling their bodies at each other with violent efficiency.
But look more closely and you may notice that the fighters aren’t making contact and some of them are smiling. The fluid, rhythmic movement has all the energy of a brawl, but is shrouded in the beauty of a dance. This is the martial art of capoeira, and students at SMC are falling head over heels for it—sometimes even literally.
Often, when watching skilled or veteran capoeiristas, as performers of the art are called, you can catch participants smiling or laughing while they effortlessly throw their bodies into movements that would be immensely difficult for a first-timer. It comes easily enough for the artists that it’s even entered their lingo: hang around a few capoeiristas long enough and you’ll hear them talking about “playing,” their term for engaging each other in the physically challenging dance.
The fighting style is immediately recognizable if you know what to look for. Influenced by African slaves and conceived in Brazil, capoeira combines several traditional regional dances that were typically performed as a warm-up by warriors going into battle. Some scholars suggest that the art was created as a façade invented by slaves preparing for rebellion. Slave-owners would have dismissed the act as merely a form of harmless tribal dancing, giving slaves the vital practice they needed to ready themselves against their oppressors.
The art has the power to unite and connect people, as much of its energy is focused on the importance of interaction, stemming from its original purpose. Santa Monica College student Jassi Patayon, 21, says that this unification of people is one of the most powerful and important aspects of capoeira.
Patayon’s interest in capoeira was sparked at Belmont High School in Los Angeles when he saw people practicing it and eventually tried it himself.
“[I decided] this was it, this was my style,” Patayon said of capoeira, an art that he explained helped him regain the roots he lost after moving here from the Philippines in 2001.
When Patayon first arrived in the United States, he immersed himself so deeply into the American lifestyle that he started to lose his own sense of heritage, he explained. That’s when he discovered capoeira.
Patayon accredits the good things that started happening in his life to capoeira. He learned how to approach things differently and to center himself through capoeira as it helped him gain control of his life in many different ways. He was filled with what capoeiristas call “axe,” a main pillar of the art that describes the positive energy that fills participants and with which they in turn energize their practicing group.
“The minute I started playing capoeira, everything just went straight up,” said Patayon.
Patayon embodies everything that capoeira stands for, according to fellow capoeirista Jonathan Chavez. Chavez credits his own growth in the art to Patayon, who has been teaching him the art for a while now. But the compassion Patayon has shown Chavez isn’t merely contained to the lawn, Chavez added, explaining that the veteran capoeirist’s humble graciousness makes him more than just a great artist, but also a great friend.
“One day, I didn’t have money for food and Jassi gave me 20 dollars; he said he didn’t like carrying money around,” Chavez said.
Another SMC student and friend of Patayon, Talor Williams, had similar things to say about Patayon.
“[He] gets along with everyone and really makes things happen … I like to be friends with people who do that,” said Williams.
All of these aspects of Patayon’s character come out through his choreography and dance work in capoeira. So next time you pass through the Quad and see the grinning fighter schooling other students, don’t worry about breaking up the fight. Instead, just stand back, watch and let yourself be energized by his “axe.”