What is Capoeira?
Capoeira is an African Brazilian fighting art. Grande-Mestre Touro describes it as a "game of dexterity, agility, flexibility and creativity" (Touro quoted in Price 2016, 4). Within this playful game Capoeiristas (practitioners of Capoeira) hone their skills, reaction times, and awareness. However, Capoeira also involves a combat dimension. When applied as a fighting art, Capoeiristas employs a range of techniques meant to neutralize an attacker including strikes delivered with the foot, head, hand, elbow, and knee. Devastating takedowns are also used within Capoeira.
Hence, students learn strikes, evasions, and grappling. They also learn to music via Capoeira's main instrument--the berimbau. Capoeira helps one to develop mental focus, physical conditioning, and determination.
Our style of Capoeira is called Capoeira Angola de Sao Bento Grande, and is a style of Capoeira from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
A brief history of Capoeira
Many scholars and practitioners trace Capoeira's origins to present-day Angola in southwestern Africa. It arrived in Brazil in the early 16th Century, wherein tens of millions of Africans were transported to the Americas to satisfy Europe’s appetite for sugar, cotton, tobacco, and the material wealth that these commodities engendered.
As a consequence, the Western Hemisphere became home to a number of fighting arts that were practiced from the southern United States, to the Caribbean, to South America. Never resigned to accept their oppression without protest, the African masses waged guerrilla campaigns against their oppressors. In each place, these African warrior traditions were an essential part of the struggle for freedom of enslaved Africans.
In Brazil, Capoeira became a key part of the resistance of enslaved Africans to their captivity. Capoeiristas employed stealth, cunning, and lethality in their fight for liberation. There the art developed in three locations--Rio de Janeiro, Pernambuco, and Bahia (Touro quoted in Price 2016, 4). In 19th Century Rio de Janeiro, the maltas became a major focal point, both of Capoeira's transmission, and also its eventual repression by the state. Edward Powe writes, elaborates on the 19th Century encounter between The maltas and the Brazilian authorities.
"Indeed, the Capoeira gangs (maltas de capoeira) [according to Rego] disturbed the 'tranquility' of the 'citizens' of Rio de Janeiro and became a problem for the authorities. They spread throughout the city, breaking up parties, setting police patrols to flight, and proclaiming their gallantry. They defended their tenuous liberty using only their muscular agility at times and at other times employing knives and razors. Vidigal, the police chief of Rio de Janeiro, armed his men with long chicotes (whips) so that they could deal with these capoeiristas from a distance. Eventually, Feijó (the regent) was obliged to institute corporal punishment and deportation to rid Rio de Janeiro of the 'Capoeira plague'" (Powe 2011, 27).
The legal end of enslavement in Brazil in 1888 meant very little in terms of the enfranchisement of the African masses. They continued to face the daily indignity of oppression, while at times being used by the Brazilian authorities for a variety of political schemes. In 1888, with the creation of the Guarda Negra (Black Guard), Capoeira practitioners were utilized to protect the monarchy from opposition movements. However, with the passage of the penal code of 1890, the decision to expunge Rio de Janeiro and all of Brazil of Capoeira was finalized. Yet despite these efforts, the art continued to endure. And the Capoeira of Rio de Janeiro, the Capoeira Angola de Sao Bento Grande is carried on today by a number of practitioners, including Grande-Mestre Touro and our teacher Mestre Preto Velho.
Today Capoeira is practiced all over the world. It is practiced as a dance, a game, and as a form of self-defense. For many people it has come to represent the African Brazilian resistance tradition, wherein the human spirit continued to struggle tirelessly against the forces of tyranny.
Powe, Edward L. 2011. Black Martial Arts VIII: The ABC & "Bay-ah-Bah" of Capoeira de Angola. Madison, WI: Dan Aiki Publications.
Price, Khalif. 2016. Zumbi: The Capoeira Freedom Fighter, O Capoeirista Guerreiro da Liberdade. San Diego, CA: Jah Jah Books.