Capoeira girl Isabella "Ninja" Zapanta is a force to be reckoned with. In other words, she's a baaaad mama-jama!
At 15, this proud Filipina American from Philly found her calling in capoeira, the African Brazilian martial art.
Ninja, as she is affectionately called, lives and breathes capoeira, which she began practicing at 7.
"The movie Step Up 3D changed my life! After seeing that movie, I got into capoeira," recalls Ninja. "Shortly after that movie, my mom said, 'Hey, we're going to take capoeira classes'," she says.
Capoeira combines elements of dance, fighting, gymnastics, and music. For you history buffs, Angola is the birthplace of capoeira. Enslaved Africans who were kidnapped and transported to Brazil kept many of their traditional ritual dances alive, passing them on to future generations. Those traditions evolved into what we now call capoeira.
Ninja is captivated by the complexity, speed, power, playfulness, and beauty of this ancient martial art form. Ninja's passion for capoeira has thrust her into the spotlight, and she now is an inspiration to young girls in particular, but also an inspiration to all. When adults see Ninja in action, they are riveted, crowding around her, watching in amazement at her skill.
"She has always been an inspiration, a challenge, if you will," says Ron Wood, her Philadelphia teacher/mentor. "She would absorb all the information I gave her, and she would work on it obsessively. So I always had to find new ways to push her. As a result, I'm a better teacher because of Isabella."
If you're looking for a new way to spice up your fitness routine, try capoeira. Ninja's favorite exercises are handstand pushups, push-ups, pull-ups, and, more recently, bench presses. "I practice almost every day," she says. "I'll work around on my my hands at home, and I know all the songs, dances, and play the instruments, too. When I play capoeira, inside I feel pure joy and I am just so happy."
In spite of her obvious talents and abilities, this superstar remains humble, and she credits much of her success to being surrounded by great teachers and loving and supportive parents.
When it comes to capoeira, working out, and life in general, she believes anything is possible. Wise beyond her years, this pint-size dynamo says, "We should always push ourselves beyond our expectations."
"I love my coaches, mentors, and heroes, and one day I'm going to make history," she told me. I'm going to open the first woman-owned/operated capoeira studio. I want to pass down the culture, inspire new generations, and help others find their game through capoeira."