“Capoeira – A Brazilian Martial Art Form & Dance”


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Capoeira Brazilian Martial Arts

One of the many attractions you might find on the beaches of Rio or in Bahia is the sight of two acrobatic men or woman doing highkicks, quick leg sweeps and flips in the martial art of Capoeira. In a way, Capoeira has become a national sport in Brazil and has become part of the Brazilian culture.

Capoeira is basically a Brazilian art form that combines elements of martial arts, dance, and music into a performance or a sort of a game. It is known by quick and complex moves, using mainly power kicks, quick leg sweeps, flips, cartwheels and with some ground acrobatics and punches. Capoeira is also used by some Brazilian MMA fighters that incorporate it into their training and use it in their fights to some degree – see video.

Capoeira originated from African slaves in Brazil about 500 years ago. It is believed in its original form that it was some sort of martial arts/dance game. Once this art was discovered, it was banned and went underground. The slaves, however, continued to practice their skills by secretly practicing in in the forest. They used music so that it could be disguised as a kind of dance that allowed them to practice it out in the open.

Today, capoeira has become more of a dance game and a performance that feature two capoeiristas doing acrobatic moves and kicks. It is accompanied by an audience that traditionally sit or stand in a circle, singing and clapping, while watching the performance. It is also accompanied by drums, tambourines, and the twang of a berimbau, a traditional single-stringed instrument that is basically a long piece of wood with metal wire running along it and is played with a stick.

Capoeira Brazilian Martial Art & Dance

Capoeiristas are very agile and never touch their opponents. The goal of the two capoeiristas is to always play to the music. Their movement in the game should coincide with the rhythm being played by the berimbau.

There are certain rhythms that are played in capoeira which are for different levels that demonstrate different skills of strength, flexibility and artistry. Regardless of the rhythm being played the game should always be spontaneous, and the two capoeiristas should maintain continuous motion. Capoeira does not have predetermined moves.

You can often see Capoeira being performed on plazas throughout the city in Salvador in the state of Bahia or on the beach throughout Brazil. You can also go to one of the Salvador’s Academias de Capoeira, where you can observe classes for free. One of the oldest and most famous schools is located in the city of Salvador, the Associacao de Capoeira Mestre Bimba, which offers many demonstrations throughout the week and offers classes as well. You also might be able to find Capoeira class in a city near you.


Capoeira Videos

Below are some Capoeira video clips





Capoeira History

The history of Brazilian Capoeira goes back 400-500 years ago and originated from African slaves in Brazil. It is believed that capoeira was fully developed in Brazil, but the tradition that it was born from is African. There is no evidence that suggest that people played capoeira in Africa, but there is evidence in various parts of Africa of a dance/fight/games that resemble capoeira. One such example is a martial art/dance called Ag’ya, which like capoeira, is done inside a circle combining kicks and acrobatic movements. So, it is most likely that it was developed from one of these type of African martial art/dances

With that being said, it is obvious that the seed of capoeira is African, and that it was fully developed in Brazil. It was in Brazil that this general ritual shared by African slaves began to develop into what we know of capoeira today. However, that exact origins of how it was developed in Brazil is still unclear. There are a few theories out there of how it came into existence in Brazil.

One theory suggests that Brazilian capoeira was developed in “Quilombos”, which were communities of escaped slaves located in hard to reach places in Brazil. In this community it is believed that the first forms of Capoeira were developed as a form of self-defense to protect their community and fight back against attacks of the community.
It has also been said that some members of the Quilombos community would go back into captivity on purpose, just to be able to teach the others the forbidden art that would allow them to fight for their freedom.

Once the fighting art was discovered, it was quickly banned and it went underground. The slaves, however, continued to practice the forbidden art in secret by going out into the forest to practice their skills.

Another method they used to hide the art was using the “roda” or playing circle of capooeira, which is controlled by the “berimbau, a single-stringed bow instrument from Africa. Capoeiristas played capoeira based upon the rhythm played on the “bermbau”. When the overseers or slave masters, and later the police, came around, a look-out would signal the leaders of the roda, and the rhythm played on the berimbau would change. This advised the capoeiristas to pay a game that was less martial, and to play one that looked more like a dance. This would lead the overseers to believe that the slaves were just dancing and having fun, and allowed them to practice their art out in the open.

Throughout the nineteenth century, consistent efforts were made to obliterate all practices of capoeira because many feared that people that knew the art were dangerous and it became associated with criminals. During this time any person caught practicing Capoeira or for any other reason, would be arrested, tortured and often killed by the police.

In the 1930s, it was at this time that Manoel dos Reis Machado, known as Mestre Bimba, opend the first capoeira academy of any kind in Salvador, Bahia. As capoeira was still forbidden by Brazilian law, Bimba called his new style “Luta Regional Baiana” (Bahian Regional Fight), which later on became known as Capoeira Regional.

Mestre Bimba’s teachings were martial arts oriented because he thought that capoeira had become too folkloric. He developed a martial arts training method based on capoeira, which gained popularity and respect quickly because of his reputation as a great martial arts fighter.

Mestre Bimba finally received official licensing for his academy in 1937 from Salvador’s Secretary of Education. In effect, capoeira became legal. It was largely due to work of Mestre Bimba that brought capoeira from the underground to a recognized sport in Brazil.

In 1941, Vicente Ferreira Pastinha, known as Mestre Pastinha, opened the first Capoeira Angola academy. He taught a traditional form of capoeira and his school attracted many traditional capoeiristas who would prefer to keep Capoeira as original as possible. Soon after, capoeira spread around Brazil and became very popular throughout the country.

Capoeira today
Although, Capoeira has changed and evolved over the years, the two main styles are Capoeira Angola and Capoeira Regional, which continue to be practiced in the today’s Capoeira Schools.

Today, capoeira is everywhere and can be found all over the world. In Brazil, it is part of the culture and is found programs of elementary schools, universities, health clubs, and in military academies.

Capoeira is also present in many countries, many renowned Capoeira Masters teach abroad and have established their own schools, such as the Untited States & Canada. One of the largest academies is Grupo Axé Capoeira, which opened its first academy in Vancouver, Canada and now has many academies in USA, Canada, Mexico, U.K. and Russia.

Axé Capoeira Academy


Capoeira Classes/Schools

Below is a list of a few schools/academy that offer Capoeira class in Bahia, Brazil or you can go there to observe classes and see demonstrations.

Associacao de Capoeira Mestre Bimba
Address: Rua Francisco Muniz Barreto 1, Pelourinho – Salvador Bahia
Phone: 71/3322-0639

Grupa Internacional de Capoiera Topazio
Address: Ladeira de Sautano 2, Loja 9, Edificio Marque de Moltavao
Phone: 71/3321-3366


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