Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, has recently brought unique international culture to America, and more locally, to Knoxville.

Joe Williams, professor of evolutionary botany, teaches capoeira and helps inform students and locals of the culture behind it.

This historical art brings together dancing, music and communication but "at heart it is a fight," Williams said.

Williams, whose capoeira title is contra-mestre avestruz, has been teaching capoeira since 1984.

One of Williams' former students, Lahai Wicks, said Williams has a comfortable teaching style and makes sure his students are taught well.

"The thing about Joe is he is very laid back in the style," Wicks, senior in psychology, said. "At the same time, he's very very detailed and when he teaches he makes sure that you learn everything appropriately and the way that his teachers would want you to learn."

Williams discovered capoeira during intermission of a concert that featured a Brazilian samba band and a punk rock band. He attended his first class two days after a demonstration, where he met his teacher, Mestre Acordeon, from Salvador Bahia, Brazil. He has studied under Mestre Acordeon for the past 30 years.

Williams calls capoeira an "ancient art form come to life" and said he hopes to see the culture of it survive, unlike other arts previously brought to the U.S.

"I really like the aspect of cultural exchange," Williams said. "I would like to see it maintain Brazilian roots. I think it has a lot to offer the U.S."

"[Capoeira] is all about community and people relating to each other inside a circle."

Wicks, who studied with Williams from 2007-11, said Williams' love for Brazilian culture made an impact on his college route.

"Besides just learning how to do things, Joe teaches you about the culture behind capoeira, as well as Brazilian culture, which influenced me to take a lot of Portuguese classes and minor in Portuguese here at UT," Wicks said.

The music of capoeira holds a lot of history related to slavery in Brazil. Williams said he teaches traditional songs and lets the players generate a rhythm. The berimbau is a Brazilian instrument played during capoeira. According to Williams, there are different rhythms on it that tell the players what game to play. Some of these include ritualistic games, fighting games and free-for-all games.

Wicks and Williams keep in touch, as both gave a capoeira demonstration at Brazilian cultural night in the spring. Williams also does capoeira demonstrations at the annual Hola Festival and at Market Square. Wicks said performing with his former teacher is an exciting experience.

"It's always intimidating, because he is my teacher," Wicks said. "It's like you have a sense of fear in a way because it's like 'oh, he's better than me.' At the same time, because it's an open and accepting environment, I know when I go in there he's waiting to see what I have to say to him and what I want to do.

"It's always an exciting thing and I always try to do my best whenever I play with Joe."

Capoeira is taught on Tuesdays and Thursdays with varying class levels. For more information visit