CAPOEIRA (Ca-poh-eh-ra) is a form of martial art that combines self-defense with music and acrobatics. It was developed in Brazil over 400 years ago. The emerging school of thought is that Capoeira developed in the streets of Brazil after the Abolition of 1888 by those who were once slaves. These East and West Africans and native Brazilians could not find work because they were illiterate and only possessed skills related to slavery, so they spent their days loitering on the streets. Love of music united these cultures and it was not long before the roots of Capoeira were planted. Music inspired dancing, comraderie inspired play, aggression inspired self-defense.
At first glance, Capoeira looks like a choreographed dance between two people because it is played to music and the game is a seamless combination of circular movements. To those who train, Capoeira is a game of questions and answers, call and response. It is a dialogue between two players where movements such as kicks, esquivas, and floreios, represent the words of the language. The challenge lies not only in the ability to form fluid sentences with these movements, but to form them in such a way that they respond to the “sentences” being formed by your opponent.
The roda (pronounced HOH-dah) is a circle formed by capoeiristas and capoeira musical instruments, where every participant sings the typical songs and claps their hands following the music. Two capoeiristas enter the roda and play the game according to the style required by the musical instruments rhythm. The game finishes when one of the musicians holding a berimbau determine it, when one of the capoeiristas decide to leave or call the end of the game or when another capoeirista interrupts the game to start playing, either with one of the current players or with another capoeirista.
In a roda every cultural aspect of Capoeira is present, not only the martial side. Aerial acrobatics are common in a presentation roda, while not seen as often in a more serious one. Takedowns, on the other hand, are common in a serious roda but rarely seen in presentations.
The basic stance of Capoeira is the ginga. Everything originates from this movement. The ginga is a dynamic stance where one moves from a lunge position on one side, to a lunge position on the other side. The hands are used to maintain balance as well as protect the face from any hand strikes.
Unlike other martial arts, Capoeiristas use movements called esquivas to dodge kicks. Esquiva literally translates as “to dodge”. The main types of offensive movements are the round kicks and straight kicks. Round kicks are used more in the game of call and response where hard strikes are not necessarily the object of the game. Straight kicks are used as striking kicks when a friendly game of Capoeira evolves into a fight. The most common straight kick is the martelo. The martelo is not always used for hitting. It’s effectiveness can also be displayed during a friendly game of Capoeira where the kick is stopped just in front of the target to show that it could have hit.
The game of Capoeira is a dialogue of attacks and counterattacks, punctuated with floreiros. Floreios, or flourishes, are the acrobatic movements of the game. They are not used when the game turns into a fight. The beauty of Capoeira is that it flows from a flurry of kicks to awe-inspiring acrobatics back to a flurry of kicks, without missing a beat. More advanced Capoeiristas often use floreios to challenge each other in a can-you-do-this kind of game where they try to out-do each other with breath-taking acrobatics.
Movements are but one aspect of Capoeira. Music is as equally important to the game as the movements, if not more. The focal point of any game is the orchestra, which usually consists of five instruments: the atabaque (drum), three berimbaus (bow-shaped attached by a string loop to a gourd) and a pandeiro (tambourine). The berimbau dictates the type of game that is to be played through different toques or rhythms. Toque de Angola calls for a slow, strategic type of game whereas Regional de Bimba calls for a fast-paced more aggressive type of game. In order to advance to the higher levels of Capoeira, one must also become adept at playing each of the instruments as well as lead the roda (pronounced “Ho-Da”) in song. The roda is the circle in which the The songs are sung in Portuguese and are a source of energy for the roda. Through singing, the Capoeiristas who form the roda provide energy for the game that is being played within – energetic singing fuels the players and helps them to elevate their game. Playing Capoeira without the music would be like playing a hockey game without the fans.
Capoeira is more than a martial art. It is an art form that exercises the mind as well as the body. Capoeira encourages men to be graceful and fluid, and women to be strong, powerful and confident. As for the children, they are not taught the fighting aspects of Capoeira until they have matured and have developed a solid understanding of the cooperative game of call and response. Capoeira is the whole package – exercise for the mind, body and soul.
(Thanks to one of the founding Capoeira Camará students “SORRISO” for the above information and the amazing write-up!)