|Imagecaption:||Capoeira or the Dance of War by Johann Moritz Rugendas, 1825, published 1835|
|Famous Pract:||Mestre Bimba|
Mestre João Grande
Mestre João Pequeno
Capoeira () is an Afro-Brazilian art form that makes a ritual of movements from martial arts, games, and dance. It was brought to Brazil from Angola some time after the 16th century in the regions known as Bahia, Pernambuco and Rio de Janeiro. Participants form a roda, or circle, and take turns either playing musical instruments (such as the Berimbau), singing, or ritually sparring in pairs in the center of the circle. The game is marked by fluid acrobatic play, feints, and extensive use of sweeps, kicks, and headbutts. Less frequently used techniques include elbow strikes, slaps, punches, and body throws. Its origins and purpose are a matter of debate, with the spectrum of argument ranging from views of Capoeira as a uniquely Brazilian folk dance with improvised fighting movements to claims that it is a battle-ready fighting form directly descended from ancient African techniques.
Capoeira's origins are not at all clear. It is a combination of African and Brazilian martial arts, but camps are generally divided between those who believe it is a direct descendant of African fighting styles and those who believe it is a uniquely Brazilian dance form distilled from various African and Brazilian influences. The one popular theory is that it is an African fighting style that was developed in Brazil. This theory is further supported by a mestre named Salvano, who once said, "Capoeira cannot exist without black men but its birthplace is Brazil".
Even the etymology of capoeira is debated. The Portuguese word capão means "capon", or a castrated rooster, and could mean that the style appears similar to two roosters fighting. Kongo scholar K. Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau also suggested capoeira could be derived from the Kikongo word kipura, which describes a rooster's movements in a fight.Afro-Brazilian scholar Carlos Eugenio has suggested that the sport took its name from a large round basket called a "capa" commonly worn on the head by urban slaves. Others claim the term derives from the Tupi-Guarani words kaá ("leaf", "plant") and puéra (past aspect marker), meaning "formerly a forest". Another claim is that given that capoeira in Portuguese literally means "chicken coop", it could simply be a derisive term used by slave owners to refer to the displays as chicken fights.
Some proponents believe that capoeira was first created and developed by African slaves brought to Brazil from Angola, the Congo, the Gulf of Guinea and the Gold Coast, who used it as a way to practice their martial arts moves while making it appear to be a game or dance. Since the slave-masters forbade any kind of martial art, it was cloaked in the guise of an innocent-looking recreational dance. Others believe that capoeira was practiced and used to fend off attacks by Portuguese slavers in Palmares, Brazil's most famous Quilombo maroon colony of escaped slaves.
There is no written historical evidence to support the notion that capoeira is a battle-ready fighting form, and many other proponents see it as a folk dance form developed by African slaves from traditional African dances and rituals. While there is not much historical evidence about capoeira in general, there is other information that supports this view. In his 1835 work Voyage Pittoresque dans le Brésil (Picturesque Voyage to Brazil) ethnographic artist Johann Moritz Rugendas depicted Capoeira or the Dance of War, lending historical credence to the idea that capoeira originated as a dance, rather than a fighting form. There are also numerous other mock-fight slave dances throughout the New World including the Caribbean and other nations in South America.
The island of Martinique is famous for Danymé (also known as Ladja). As with capoeira, there is a ring of spectators into which each contestant enters, moving in a counter-clockwise direction and dancing toward drummers. This move, known as Kouwi Lawon (or "Circular Run" in Creole), is an exact parallel to the capoeira interlude called dá volta ao mundo, or "take a turn around the world". In Cuba, a mock-combat dance called Mani was performed to yuka drums El Juego de Mani. A dancer (manisero) would stand in the middle of a ring of spectator-participants and, moving to the sound of the songs and drums, would pick someone from the circle and attempt to knock them down. Some of the manisero's moves and kicks were comparable to those of Afro-Brazilian capoeira, including its basic leg-sweep (rasteira), which is also used in samba duro, a dance originating from El Salvador. Exactly as in Martinique, the Cuban master drummer's patterns would mirror the contestants' actions and supply accents to accompany certain blows.
Maya Talmon-Chvaicer suggested capoeira may have been influenced by a ritual fight-dance called N'golo (the zebra dance) from Southern Angola, which was performed during the "Efundula, a puberty rite for women of the Mucope, Muxilenge, and Muhumbe tribes of southern Angola."  Since the 1960s, the N'golo theory has become popular amongst some practitioners of capoeira Angola, although it is not universally accepted.
For some time, Capoeira was prohibited in Brazil. In 1890, Brazilian president Deodoro da Fonseca signed an act that prohibited the practice of capoeira nationwide, with severe punishment for those caught. It was nevertheless practiced by the poorer population on public holidays, during work-free hours, and on other similar occasions. Riots, also caused by police interference, were common.
In spite of the ban, Mestre Bimba (Manuel dos Reis Machado) created a new style, the "Capoeira Regional" (as opposed to the traditional "Capoeira Angola" of Mestre Pastinha). Mestre Bimba was finally successful in convincing the authorities of the cultural value of capoeira, thus ending the official ban in the 1930s. Mestre Bimba founded the first capoeira school in 1932, the Academia-escola de Capoeira Regional at the Engenho de Brotas in Salvador-Bahia. He was then considered "the father of modern capoeira". In 1937, he earned the state board of education certificate. In 1942, Mestre Bimba opened his second school at the Terreiro de Jesus - rua das Laranjeiras. The school is still open today and supervised by his pupil, known as "Vermelho-27".
Capoeira is growing worldwide. There have been comparisons drawn between the Afro-North American art form of the blues and capoeira. Both were practiced and developed by African-American slaves, both retained distinctive African aesthetics and cultural qualities; both were shunned and looked-down upon by the larger Brazilian and North American societies within which they developed, and both fostered a deep sense of Afrocentric pride especially amongst poorer and darker-skinned Blacks. In the mid-1970s when masters of the art form -- mestre capoeiristas, began to emigrate and teach capoeira in the United States, it was still primarily practiced among the poorest and blackest of Brazilians. With its immigration to the U.S., however, much of the stigma with which it was historically associated in Brazil was shed. Today there are many capoeira schools all over the world (capoeira is gaining ground in Japan) and throughout the United States, and with its growing popularity in the U.S. it has attracted a broad spectrum of multicultural, multiracial students. Capoeira has gained popularity among non-Brazilian and non-African practitioners for the fluidity of its movements.
See main article: Capoeira music.
Music is integral to capoeira. It sets the tempo and style of game that is to be played within the roda. The music is composed of instruments and song. The tempos differ from very slow (Angola) to very fast (são bento regional). 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 songs are about history or stories of famous capoeiristas. Other songs attempt to inspire players to play better. Some songs are about what is going on within the roda. Sometimes the songs are about life or love lost. Others have lighthearted and playful lyrics. 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.
There are three basic kinds of songs in capoeira. A ladainha (litany) is a narrative solo usually sung at the beginning of a roda, often by the mestre (master). These ladainhas will often be famous songs previously written by a mestre, or they may be improvised on the spot. A ladainha is usually followed by a chula or louvação, following a call and response pattern that usually thanks God and one's teacher, among other things. Each call is usually repeated word-for-word by the responders. The ladainha and chula are often omitted in regional games. Finally, corridos are songs that are sung while a game is being played, again following the call and response pattern. The responses to each call do not simply repeat what was said, however, but change depending on the song.
The instruments are played in a row called the bateria. Three instruments are berimbaus, which look like an archer's bow using a steel string and a gourd for resonance. It is played by striking the string with a stick, and the pitch is regulated by a stone. Legend has it that, in the old times, knives or other sharp objects were attached to the top of the berimbau for protection and in case a large fight broke out. In 'the little book of capoeira' - 'Nestor Capoeira, It is said Mestre Pastinha would tell of a small sickle sharpened on both edges which he would keep in his pocket. He was fond of saying "If it had a third edge I would sharpen that one too, for those who wish to do me harm." Pastinha also spoke of how this blade could be attached to the end of a berimbau. These three bows are the Berra boi (also called the bass or Gunga), Medio, Viola, and lead the rhythm. Other instruments in the bateria are: two pandeiros (tambourines), a reco-reco (rasp), and 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 groups.
While the variety in styles lead to a variety of ranking systems, there is a standard trend that most systems of capoeira follow. In order of ascension, those ranks are aluno (student), graduado (graduated), formado (formed), professor (teacher), and mestre (master).
Usually at their first batizado (baptism), a capoeirista will be given the rank of aluno. In some styles, this may also come with a corda (rope) and/or apelido (nickname). Aluno translates to student in English, and so an aluno is a student of capoeira. Their rank is a recognition of their readiness to learn.
After an aluno becomes well versed in the capoeira they are learning, they can be recognized as an aluno graduado (graduated student). This means they've learned enough about capoeira to be trusted to teach others of it. At this point, they would continue to learn not only capoeira, but how to teach capoeira. It could be considered the equivalent of a black belt in eastern martial arts.
An aluno graduado can then become an aluno formado (formed student). They have formed their own capoeira and are now ready to teach others. A formado will usually be an instructor assisting the head of whichever school they are a part of.
The aluno formado goes on to become a professor. There is not much difference between formado and professor. The main difference being a professor might have his own school in which to teach while a formado would usually be an assistant instructor.
The final rank in capoeira would be a mestre (master). As the name states, the mestre is a master of capoeira. Mestres tend to be the true voices of capoeira. All other ranks are usually assigned by a mestre, but this rank is hard to assign. For the most part, a capoeirista becomes a mestre when the capoeira community recognizes them as one.
The Roda ( Hoh-Dah ) or "Roda de Capoeira" is the circle of people within which capoeira is played. Its circular shape is maintained to keep focus on the players and musicians and retain the energy created by the capoeira game.
The people who make up the roda's circular shape clap and sing along to the music being played by the musicians in the bateria or drum set for the two partners engaged in a capoeira "game" (jogo). The "mouth" of the roda is located directly in front of the bateria. It is at this point where the players begin every game and generally where any new players must enter. In some capoeira schools an individual in the audience can "buy in" to engage one of the two players and begin another game.
The minimum roda size is usually a circle of about 3 meters (10 feet) in diameter. Though they can be smaller and are often larger, up to 10 meters in diameter (30 feet). The rhythm being played on the berimbau sets the pace and goals of the game played within the roda. Slow music limits the game to slow yet complex ground moves and handstands.
Contact in capoeira is generally not made but rather feigned or done theatrically.
In Capoeira Angola, the game rarely involves contact but the danger and possibility of it is always present. In capoeira contemporanea, during some rhythms (e.g. Benguela, Iuna) strikes are shown but not finished while in others (e.g., São Bento Grande de Regional) the players have more freedom to strike each other and make contact. Often games with contact are played at a fast pace, however it is the specific "toque" played on the berimbau, regardless of its speed, which dictates the type of game to be played.
For the participants, the roda is a microcosm of life and the world around them. Most often in the roda, the capoeirista's greatest opponent is himself and philosophy plays a large part in capoeira. A good teacher will strive to teach respect, safety, Malicia, and freedom.
Modern capoeira is often criticized by more traditional practitioners of capoeira as being in the process of losing its playfulness and dialogue due to the prevalence of impressive acrobatics and martial elements over the playful and intricate interactions of capoeira Angola. Dominance in the roda is as much psychological and artistic as it is a question of who is taken down. Capoeira is uniquely social. Networking with other groups and students from other teachers can teach a capoeirista more about the art and improve their skills.
See also: List of capoeira techniques. Capoeira does not focus on injuring the opponent. Rather, it emphasizes skill. Capoeiristas often prefer to show the movement without completing it, enforcing their superiority in the roda. If an opponent cannot dodge a slow attack, there is no reason to use a faster one. Each attack that comes in gives players a chance to practice an evasive technique.
The ginga (literally: rocking back and forth; to swing) is the fundamental movement in capoeira. Capoeira Angola and Capoeira Regional have distinctive forms of ginga. Both are accomplished by maintaining both feet approximately shoulder-width apart and then moving one foot backwards and then back to the base, describing a triangular step on the ground. This movement is done to prepare the body for other movements.
The rest of the body is also involved in the ginga: coordination of the arms (in such a way as to prevent the body from being kicked), torso (many core muscles may be engaged depending on the player's style), and the leaning of the body (forward and back in relation to the position of the feet; the body leans back to avoid kicks, and forward to create opportunities to show attacks). The overall movement should match the rhythm being played by the bateria.
Capoeira primarily attacks with kicks, sweeps, and head strikes. Some schools teach punches and hand strikes, but they are not as common. A possible explanation for the primary use of feet is the common West African belief that hands are for creation and feet for destruction. Another common explanation is that slaves in Brazil were commonly shackled at the wrists, restricting them from using their hands. Lastly, striking with the hands is often seen as unelegant and disruptive to the flow of the game. Elbow strikes are commonly used in place of hand strikes. "Cabeçadas" or headbutts are as common as they are in many of the fighting arts of the African Diaspora. Knee strikes are sometimes seen. Capoeira also uses acrobatic and athletic movements to maneuver around the opponent. Cartwheels called "aú" (a very common acrobatic movement), handstands (bananeira), headspins (pião de cabeça), hand-spins (pião de mão), handsprings (gato), sitting movements, turns, jumps, flips (mortal), and large dodges are all very common in capoeira though vary greatly depending on the form and rhythm.Fakes and feints are also an extremely important element in capoeira games and the setting of traps or illusory movements are very common.
Capoeira defenses consists of evasive moves and rolls. A series of ducks called esquivas, which literally means "escape", are also staple of a capoeiristas' defensive vocabulary. There are typically different esquivas for every step of the Ginga, depending on the direction of the kick and intention of the defender. A common defense is the rolê, which is a rolling move that combines a duck and a low movement. This move allows the defensive players to quickly evade an attack and position themselves around the aggressor in order to lay up for an attack. It is this combination of attacks and defense which gives a game of capoeira its perceived 'fluidity' and choreography.
Other evasive moves such as rasteira, vingativa, tesoura de mão or queda allow the capoeirista to move away or dangerously close in an attempt to trip up the aggressor in the briefest moment of vulnerability (usually in a mid-kick.)
There are also styles of moves that combine both elements of attack and defense. An example is the au batido. The move begins as an evasive cartwheel which then turns into a blocking/kick, either as a reflexive response to a blocking move from the opposing player or when an opportunity to do so presents itself, e.g., at an opponent's drop of guard. Two kicks called meia-lua-de-frente and armada are often combined to create a double spinning kick.
The Chamada is a ritual that takes place within the game of Capoeira Angola. Chamada means 'call', and consists of one player 'calling' their opponent to participate in the ritual. There is an understood dialogue of gestures of the body that are used to call the opponent, and to signal the end of the ritual. The ritual consists of one player signaling, or calling the opponent, who then approaches the player and meets the player to walk side by side within the roda. The player who initiated the ritual then decides when to signal an end to the ritual, whereby the two players return to normal play. The critical points of the chamada occur during the approach, and the chamada is considered a 'life lesson', communicating the fact that the approach is a dangerous situation. Approaching people, animals, or life situations is always a critical moment when one must be aware of the danger of the situation. The purpose of the chamada is to communicate this lesson, and to enhance the awareness of people participating in the ritual.
During the ritual, after the opposing player has appropriately approached the caller of the chamada, the players walk side by side inside the circle in which the game is played. This is another critical situation, because both players are now very vulnerable due to the close proximity and potential for surprise attack.
Experienced practitioners and masters of the art will sometimes test a student's awareness by suggesting strikes, head-butts, or trips during a chamada to demonstrate when the student left themselves open to attack. The end of a chamada is called by the player that initiated the ritual, and consists of a gesture inviting the player to return to normal play. This is another critical moment when both players are vulnerable to surprise attack.
The chamada can result in a highly developed sense of awareness and helps practitioners learn the subtleties of anticipating another person's intentions. The chamada can be very simple, consisting solely of the basic elements, or the ritual can be quite elaborate including a competitive dialogue of trickery, or even theatric embellishments.
Volta ao mundo means "around the world".
The volta ao mundo takes place after an exchange of movements has reached a conclusion, or after there has been a disruption in the harmony of the game. In either of these situations, one player will begin walking around the perimeter of the circle, and the other player will join the "around the world" before returning to the normal game.
As students master the basic moves, their game naturally acquires a more cunning slant as they begin to perfect the art of trickery, or malandragem. This involves a lot of improvisation and modifications of basic moves into a flurry of feints and fakes to trick the opponent into responding wrongly. These attempts can be blatant or subtle at discretion of the players. Effective malandragem lies in the development of sharp observation skills and a keen innate ability to anticipate the moves of the opponent and prepare an appropriate response. Some capoeiristas take this aspect of the art to heights akin to the guile of theatrics and drama. Games displaying elaborate performances and even staging skits reenacting historic cultural aspects of capoeira are commonly demonstrated amongst the most learned of the arts.
Capoeira has two main classifications: traditional and modern. Angola refers to the traditional form of the game. This is the oldest form, approximately 500 years old, with roots in African traditions that are even older, and is the root form from which all other forms of capoeira are based. Modern forms of capoeira can be classified as regional and contemporanea.
See main article: Capoeira Angola. Capoeira Angola is considered to be the "dancier" form of capoeira and is often characterized by deeply held traditions, sneakier movements and with the players playing their games in closer proximity to each other than in regional or contemporanea. Capoeira Angola is often characterized as being slower and lower to the ground than other major forms of capoeira, although in actual practice, the speed varies in accordance to the music. Capoeira Angola is also known for the chamada, a physical call-and-response used to challenge an opponent or to change the style in the roda.
The father of the best known modern Capoeira Angola schools is considered to be Grão-Mestre Pastinha who lived in Salvador, Bahia. Today, most of the Capoeira Angola schools that are accessible in the United States come from mestres in Pastinha's lineage. He was not the only Capoeira Angola mestre, but is considered to be the "Father of Capoeira Angola" bringing this style of Capoeira into the modern setting of an academy. Capoeira Angola is much more commonly practised outside of Brazil, with "academies" being more commonly found in Europe and the US much less so than in Brazil proper.
Regional is the more common form of Capoeira, it is practiced much more widely in Brazil. Capoeira Regional was developed by Mestre Bimba to make capoeira more effective and bring it closer to its fighting origins, and less associated with the criminal elements of Brazil. The Capoeira Regional style is often considered to consist of faster and more athletic play than the more traditional Capoeira Angola.
Later, modern regional came to be (see the next section about capoeira Contemporânea). Developed by other people from Bimba's regional, this type of game is characterized by high jumps, acrobatics, and spinning kicks. This regional should not be confused with the original style created by Mestre Bimba.
Regional ranks capoeiristas (capoeira players) by ability, denoting different skill with the use of a corda (colored rope, also known as cordel or cordão) worn as a belt. Angola does not use such a formal system of ranking, relying instead upon the discretion of a student's mestre. In both forms, though, recognition of advanced skill comes only after many years of constant practice.
Contemporânea is a term for groups that train multiple styles of capoeira simultaneously. Very often students of Capoeira Contemporânea train elements of Regional and Angola as well as newer movements that would not fall under either of those styles. This is controversial because many practitioners argue that Angola must be practiced alone, or that Regional can only be practiced alone for the student to truly understand the form of the game. Other practitioners argue that a capoeirista should have a working knowledge of traditional and modern capoeira, and encourage training both forms simultaneously. This is an issue of great disagreement amongst capoeiristas.
The label Contemporânea also applies to many groups who do not trace their lineage through Mestre Bimba or Mestre Pastinha and do not strongly associate with either tradition.
In recent years, the various philosophies of modern capoeira have been expressed by the formation of schools, particularly in North America, which focus on, and continue to develop their specific form of, the modern art. This has become a defining characteristic of many schools, to the point that a seasoned student can sometimes tell what school a person trains from, based solely on the way they play the game. Some schools teach a blended version of the many different styles. Traditionally, rodas in these schools will begin with a period of Angola, in which the school's mestre, or an advanced student, will sing a ladainha, (a long, melancholy song, often heard at the start of an Angola game). After some time, the game will eventually increase in tempo, until, at the mestre's signal, the toque of the berimbaus changes to that of traditional Regional.
Each game, Regional and Angola stresses different strengths and abilities. Regional emphasizes speed and quick reflexes, whereas Angola underscores a great deal of thought given to each move, almost like a game of chess. Schools that teach a blend of these try to offer this mix as a way of using the strengths of both games to influence a player.
See main article: Capoeira in popular culture. As capoeira's popularity spread throughout the world, so too did its use in popular culture. Capoeira players (capoeiristas) have been seen in television commercials, video games and music videos for a number of years.
In the movie Never Back Down a Capoeria type fighter is featured as part of the tournament entitled the Beat Down, but he is easily put down by the main antagonist Ryan.
Capoeira is the dance of the Male troll in the popular online game World of Warcraft.
The indie game Capoeira Legends for PC revolves entirely around the capoeira theme.
Although not named as capoeira, the character portrayed by Moses Gunn in an episode of the '70s TV show Kung Fu fights in a martial arts style that he explains:'was taught to me by my father despite it being prohibited by the Brazilian government, as we were slaves.'
Capoeira regional groups periodically hold Batizados ("baptisms" into the art of capoeira). Members being "baptized" are normally given a corda (cord belt) and an apelido (capoeira nickname) if they haven't already earned one. Batizados are major events to which a number of groups and masters from near and far are normally invited.
Sometimes a Batizado is also held in conjunction with a Troca de Corda (change of belts), in which students already baptized who have trained hard and been deemed worthy by their teachers are awarded higher-ranking belts as an acknowledgment of their efforts. Such ceremonies provide opportunities to see a variety of different capoeira styles, watch mestres play, and see some of the best of the game.
Batizados and Trocas de Cordoes do not occur in capoeira Angola, which does not have a system of belts. However, some contemporary schools of capoeira have combined the study of both arts and may require their students to be learned in the ways of capoeira Angola before being awarded a higher belt.
Brazilian metal band Sepultura have featured capoeira in some of their music videos, such as Roots, Bloody Roots.
See main article: Samba.
Performed by many capoeira groups, samba de roda is a traditional Afro-Brazilian dance that has been associated with capoeira for many years. The orchestra is composed by pandeiro (tambourine), atabaque (drum), berimbau-viola (berimbau with the smallest cabaça and the highest pitch), chocalho (rattle – a percussion instrument), accompanied by singing and clapping.
See main article: Maculelê (dance). Maculelê as dance is sometimes practiced by itself, but is quite often practiced alongside capoeira, and is featured in many capoeira performances. It should be noted that maculelê and capoeira are fairly similar in style.
See main article: Puxada de rede. Puxada de Rede is a Brazilian folkloric theatrical play, seen in many capoeira performances. It is based on a traditional Brazilian legend involving the loss of a fisherman in a sea-faring accident.