Mild-mannered techie by day, martial arts master by night. It’s not the latest comic-book superhero. It’s Domingos Begalli, physical sciences computer resource manager and capoeira instructor at UC Irvine.
And the duality comes naturally. Growing up in São Paulo, Begalli liked math and tinkering with technology. “Hours could pass without me even realizing. It was that interesting to me,” he recalls.
He earned an electrical engineering degree at UC Santa Barbara and was hired in 1993 by UCI’s Office of Academic Computing (now the Office of Information Technology). In 1998, Begalli went to work for the School of Physical Sciences, where his team supports administrative, research and instructional computing.
“My work is my hobby; it’s something that I love,” he says. “That’s the advantage of being a nerd. You like doing it, it’s a puzzle and, at the same time, the results of your work benefit somebody. Nerds rule!”
Begalli also rules in capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that blends flowing, rhythmic sparring with music, song and history. Most Americans first heard of capoeira when actress Halle Berry revealed she had studied it for her feature role in the 2004 film “Catwoman.”
Its roots reach far back in Brazil’s history. “Capoeira was developed by slaves in the 1500s. It was a way to fight for freedom,” says Begalli, who picked up the martial art in the streets of São Paulo. “Now it’s a sporting sensation. It could even appear in the Olympics in the next few years.”
Wanting to bring some of this street culture to UCI, he proposed a capoeira class to Campus Recreation seven years ago and has been teaching it every quarter since.
“Capoeira is one of the most popular martial arts at UCI,” says Mike Puritz, associate director of Campus Recreation. “It’s not like others, which are often very structured. With capoeira, it’s practicing martial arts in a party atmosphere.”
Student devotees in 2004 formed a club called Capoeira Tamandua, after the UCI mascot’s genus. “The anteater is Brazilian, you know,” adviser Begalli says proudly. The group hosts music sessions, workshops and presentations on campus and off.
In 2008, Begalli was nominated for Chancellor Michael Drake’s Living Our Values Award in both capoeira and computing. Asked to reconcile his two disparate worlds, Begalli says: “There’s a symbiotic relationship. Capoeira is a very good stress reliever. When you’re studying or doing research, you’re exhausting your mind. When you do capoeira, you relax your mind and exhaust your body.”
He wants his students to discover their own personal power through the martial art. “People first see the movements and say, ‘Oh, I’ll never be able to do that!’ But then they try it. Those who stick with it end up executing very difficult movements. And age doesn’t matter. Young and old alike thrive,” Begalli says.
“I hope people learn they’re capable of things they may not have realized. Keeping a humble attitude is important. You can be very talented and work hard and achieve great things, and still be humble.”
Spoken like a true superhero.