Marcial Zuñiga

In his capoeira classes, the kids with Down syndrome or autism interact with other students. It makes him happy that everyone can teach and learn from others.

“Capoeira is for women, men, adolescents, children, adults, aged people with or without disabilities”

How do parents react at the beginning?

They are scared. They observe the class and interrupt it; they even tell me that I do not know their children so well, that I do not know when they have to go to the bathroom or if they need water. It is hard for some kids to communicate; the first year is very hard. Now that the class is about to begin, you will realize that is a group of 35 kids with different abilities; it is not necessary to speak louder to have their attention. All we need is to talk.

It is a conquest.

A real conquest. Look that girl with a cap. She will say hello to everyone who is wearing a uniform but not to those who don’t. Why? Because she identifies herself with them; she knows this is her community.

Was it complicated to encourage them to take the classes?

No. It is hard to deal with the parents. I ask them not to evaluate me for what I do in one day but for what I achieve after three months, as it is then that they can see the results.

What it makes this class even more interesting is that the students with different abilities interact with everybody. Were there any objections?

There are always objections, but the thing is how to deal with them and turn them into something positive.

Students can say that they are not progressing as much as they did before.

That is true. Everything depends on the class dynamic. The interaction is the same with everybody. I call them “mister” or “miss” no matter their age, because that is what they are. If somebody misbehaves, there is a punishment: go to their parents and not continue with the class. There are no differences between them; they are all the same.


What do students learn from this class?

Tolerance. They learn to be patient and be respectful with others.

That is very healthy.

It is.

And you, what do you get from this?

Satisfaction when I see them progressing. Lifting the leg higher, developing motor coordination and reflexes, behaving better at home… that is what matters! Help them grow! I have had kids that are now adults and are doing well… that makes me happy.

It is clear that you like what you do; however, you studied economics.

My family demanded me to do so. I had to study a degree in the university no matter what.

“The interaction is the same with everybody. I call them “mister” or “miss” no matter their age, because that is what they are”

Your degree has something to do with your trade?

Everything is linked. If I had not studied economics, I would not have been able to have this organisation.

You devote yourself to capoeira.

Entirely, every day of the week.

You started practicing capoeira at the age of fifteen. What motivated you to do it?

The music, the rhythm, acrobatics, body resistance, elasticity and everything we achieve.

You tell the parents of the kids with different abilities to evaluate you after three months. What do they say after that time?

Instead of telling me something, they invite other kids: cousins and friends of their children.

Why are most of your classes for free?

Because I really like this; we do it in favour of the community.

And because you know this discipline is positive.

Of course, and you see the results in the medium term.

Your 5-year-old daughter is also your student. That must be exciting for you, isn’t it?

It is but I try to put the excitement aside so it does not interfere with my job. I have to contain my feelings and not make any comment. As she is my daughter, I get crazy inside, but cannot show it.


Because of the other students. There are many kids and we have to learn to be serious or enthusiastic with everybody. We work on ego a lot. We must be careful with what we express.

Interesting… many might consider capoeira as a minor martial art.

That is right, because you see kids dancing, playing, but capoeira involves many things. It does not only involve body but also feelings.

Your mother also practiced it for some time.

Yes, but she was too old, so I thought it was better for her to stop practicing it.

Did you meet your wife dancing capoeira?

Yes, I did. She is from Brazil and the niece of my second capoeira teacher.

So, capoeira gave you everything?

Yes, my job, my family and my wife (laughs)…