What is Capoeira
Martial Arts

Capoeira Fighters

Capoeira martial arts were developed by slaves in Brazil during the 1500's.

Capoeira fighting is marked by deft, tricky movements often played on the ground or completely inverted.

It has a strong acrobatic component in some versions and is always played with music.

The word Capoeira has a few meanings, one of which is the forest or jungle areas of Brazil's interior.

It has been suggested that it took it's name from the places in which runaway slaves would try to hide.

Since break dancing was developed in the 1970s and many of the moves are analogous, many believe that the Capoeira martial art is at its root.

There are two main styles of Capoeira martial arts and they are markedly different.

One is called Capoeira Angola,

  • which is characterized by slow, low play with particular attention to the rituals and tradition of Capoeira martial arts.

The other capoeira martial arts style is regional and is pronounced 'hey-zhow-nao'.

  • It is known for its fluid acrobatic play, where technique and strategy are the key points.

Although groups of one capoeira style or the other do exist, most martial art capoeira fighters tend to mix the two styles to some degree.

Both capoeira styles are marked by

  • The use of feints and subterfuge
  • The use ground work adding in...
  • weeps, kicks, and takedowns

Let's look at some Capoeira History

During the 1500s, Portugal shipped slaves into South America from Western Africa.

Brazil was the largest contributor to slave migration with 42% of all slaves shipped across the Atlantic.

The following peoples were the most commonly sold into Brazil:

The Sudanese group, composed largely of

  • Yorubaa peoples 
  • Dahomean peoples
  • Muhammadanised Guinea-Sudanese group of Malesian
  • The Hausa people

There was also the Bantu group among them..

  • Kongos
  • Kimbundas
  • Kasanjes
  • From Angola, Congo and Mozambique

There are engravings and writings that describe a now-lost fighting dance in Cuba that is very similar to the Capoeira martial arts with two Bantu men moving to the yuka drums.

It is called the baile del maní.

Batuque and Maculele are other fight-dances closely connected to the Capoeira martial arts.

These people brought their cultural traditions and religion with them to the New World.

The homogenization of the African people under the oppression of slavery was the catalyst for Capoeira martial arts.

Capoeira was developed by the slaves of Brazil as a way to resist their oppressors by:

  • secretly practicing their art
  • transmitting their culture
  • and lifting their spirits

Much the same way the Okinawan people did when the Japanese occupied their country.

Some historians believe that the indigenous indians of Brazil also played an important role in the development of Capoeira martial arts.

Capoeira Music

Music is integral to Capoeira martial arts.

It sets the tempo and style of game that is to be played within the Roda (pronounced Ho'da).

The music is comprised of instruments and song.

The tempos differ from very slow (Angola) to very fast (Sao Bento Regional).

Capoeira Music Instruments

Many of the songs are sung in a call and response format while others are in the form of a narrative.

Capoeiristas sing about a wide variety of subjects. Some capoeira music is about...

  1. Caopeira history 
  2. Famous capoeiristas
  3. Inspiring capoeira players to play better
  4. What is going on within the Roda
  5. Life or love lost
  6. Lighthearted or even Silly sung for fun

Capoeiristas change their playing style significantly as the songs or rhythm from the berimbau commands.

In this manner, it is truly the music that drives capoeira. The instruments are played in a row called the bateria.

The first three instruments are berimbaus, which look like an archer's bow using a steel string and a gourd for resonation.

These three bows are the:

  1. Berraboi for bass
  2. Gunga 
  3. Viola leads the rhythm.

Other instruments in the bateria are:

  • Two Pandeiros (tambourines)
  • A Reco-Reco (rasp)
  • An Agogo (double gong bell).

The Atabaque (conga-like drum), a common feature in most Capoeira baterias, is considered an optional instrument, and is not required for a full bateria in some capoeira fighting groups.

The Roda and Capoeira Philosophy

The Roda is the circle of people within which Capoeira is played or practiced.

People who make up the roda's circular shape clap and sing along to the music being played, while two partners are engaged in a capoeira match or rather a "game" ("jogo").

Depending on the capoeira school, an individual in the audience can jump in and engage one of the two players, beginning  a new game.

The minimum roda size is usually about the radius of a berimbau, though they are often larger. 

The berimbau sets the pace of the game being played in the roda.

Slow music limits the game to slow yet complex ground moves and handstands.

Hits usually aren't made but feigned or just shown. The players often turn away from each other's hits just to throw their own.

Slow games are often seen as finesse games, less impressive for the casual viewer.

Faster music allows for more circular momentum which is key to gaining "big air" in the roda.

Capoeiristas can take up a lot of space while playing, so the roda is rarely small, especially if the players are playing quickly.

In the fast game, acrobatics and big, circular kicks abound to the delight of the crowd.

Sometimes actual hits are registered, but only between higher-level competing Capoeiristas.

The roda is a microcosm which reflects the macrocosm of life and the world around us.

Truly, your opponent most often in the roda is yourself, which is the goal of most warrior training arts.

Philosophy plays a large part in Capoeira and the best teachers strive to teach:

  1. Respeito (Respect)
  2. Responsabilidade (Responsibility)
  3. Seguranca (Safety/Security)
  4. Malicia (Cleverness/Street-smarts)
  5. Liberdade (Liberty/Freedom).

The Game

Although Capoeira doesn't focus on destroying the person you play against, it is not rare to see a roda organized that allows sweeping or takedowns.

Although a person can technically trip their partner, capoeiristas often prefer to show the movement without completing it, enforcing their superiority in the roda.

If your opponent cannot dodge your slowest attack, there is no reason to use your fastest.

Each attack that comes in gives you a chance to practice an avoidance technique.

The best players find themselves not using the basic techniques of "ginga" (the vacillating base stance)

Instead they are constantly motion:

  • attacking
  • defending
  • avoiding

When mastery has been shown the two players take a short break, walking counter-clockwise in large circle, loosely holding right hands and walking in the same direction.

This is called volta do mundo, or trip around the world.

Two or three gentle laps is all the rest you get, then it's time to play again.

Volta do mundo is also commonly used by a player when he or she needs a break, but is more commonly used to force the other player to cool down after a heated exchange.

It is important to note that volta do mundo is practiced differently by different schools–

  • some hold hands
  • some do not
  • some walk
  • some run

In some schools, volta do mundo is done when the music is over and the players are waiting for the new one to start.

If you ever visit a roda, make sure you respect that school's behaviors, failure to do so is looked upon as quite rude.

Capoeira martial arts primarily attack with:

  1. Kicks
  2. Sweeps

Some schools do teach punches and hand strikes, but they are not as common.

Capoeira also uses acrobatic and athletic movements to maneuver around the opponent.

  • Cartwheels
  • Handstands
  • Head and hand spins
  • Sitting movements
  • Turns
  • Jumps
  • Flips
  • Large dodges are common in capoeira

If the leader of the roda finds it is time to stop the players, he will shout or strike his berimbau string repeatedly on the same note.

The players should quickly squat before the leader while he explains what he needs to explain.

Capoeira Martial Art Styles and Capoeira Groups

There are many different kinds of capoeira martial art styles but the two largest types are Angola and Regional 'hezhonaow'.

As stated previously...

"Groups of one style do exist, but most groups tend to mix the two styles to some degree."

Angola is the true root style of Capoeira

It is characterized by slower, sneakier movements played closer to the ground.

Its emphasis is on the traditions of Capoeira and the music is slow and there is almost always a full bateria of instruments.

Regional style is newer and the game is more martial arts oriented.

Regional was invented by Mestre Bimba to make capoeira more mainstream and accessible to the public, and less associated with the criminal elements of Brazil.

While Capoeristas can sometimes play Angola-like, slow games, the Regional style is most often composed of fast, acrobatic, and athletic play.

This type of game is characterized by high jumps, acrobatics, and spinning kicks, while maintaining the trickiness and ground-work characteristic of Capoeira Angola.

Today, there are many fusion styles, which mix the Angola and Regional traditions.

Whether playing Angola or Regional, groups often have different styles of wildly different movements.

In general, older styles often have a greater emphasis on traditions

While newer groups concentrate chiefly on martial sport like techniques.

Finding a Place to Play

If you are interested in playing Capoeira, most major cities throughout the world have at least one club/group to join.

Make sure you find out about your group's style and watch a class.

Different groups have many differing advantages, so do the research yourself.

The internet is an excellent place to begin your research.

Some styles are heavily geared towards being clever in the roda.

Whereas others focus more on the physical capabilities of the players.

Some groups practice exclusively Angola, while others practice exclusively Regional.

So if the style you see isn't what you hoped for, keep looking.

Once you join a group, you will eventually have a chance to take place in a batizado, a baptism into the art of Capoeira.

Learning the fundamentals of any martial art is the key to success and this Instruction and Demotration video can help you begin your warrior journey.

At this point, you will normally be given a corda, a cord belt, as well as a Capoeira nickname.

Batizados are great celebrations of Capoeira and normally a number of groups and masters from nearby or far away areas are invited to the celebration.

These ceremonies are a great chance to see a variety of different styles, to watch mestres play, and to see some of the best of the game.

Sometimes they are open to the public, and they are a great chance for outsiders to learn about the art.

If you want to learn more about this incredible and exciting martial art of Capoeira, then get out and do your research here

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