Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art. However, this definition succeeds only partly in defining the peculiar nature of this discipline. The African origins are to be traced back to the slave period, when different ethnic groups were uprooted from their African homelands and forcefully transferred to Brazil, to be used in the plantations, mines and houses of their owners.
A fighting and personal defense technique, Capoeira became a true instrument of defense for the slaves, giving them the opportunity to respond to the violence they endured, and to escape and reach the “Quilombos” - the Republics set up and organized by runaway slaves, where Capoeira was freely practiced.
Etymological studies of the word “Capoeira” take us to a concept of “clearing”, “sparse woodlands” and “cleared terrain”. Oral traditions speak of such places as places where Capoeira was practiced and as the type of terrain where it was best to confront the “capitaes do mato” who tried to capture the runaway slaves, before continuing the escape.
Other sources compare the game of Capoeira to cock-fighting or to the male of a type of partridge called “capoeira”, very jealous and very aggressive when fighting with rivals. Yet other sources point to the possibility that Capoeira became identified with “capoeiras” (baskets) containing poultry, which the slaves carried to the markets - thus linking to these baskets carried by slaves the game practiced by these same slaves.
Capoeira is divided into Angola and Regional. Capoeira Angola is a game distinguished by a slow rhythm and a medium-low position of the capoerista’s body. Although seeming to move in a joking and playful manner, the capoerista is capable of throwing kicks at an unexpected speed. Moving like a snake, jumping like a monkey, using the head like a zebra and moving with the precision of a feline, the capoerista is capable of placing his feet before the opponent’s very eyes. Up until this very day, Vicente Ferreira Pastinha said Maestro Pastinha is considered the greatest Maestro of Capoeira Angola, and it is to him that the spread of this style is primarily attributed.
Capoeira Regional, created by Manoel dos Reis Machado said Maestro Bimba in the region of Bahia, is based above all on the use of kicks and is more easily compared with traditional martial arts. In this type of game, one must know how to play to the rapid rhythm of the Berimbau and best use the agility of acrobatic movements. The body is a continuous and rapid flow of movements, both in attack and defense, and is kept in a medium-high position.
Brazil’s national sport
After slavery had been abolished in 1888 Capoeira was prohibited. Despite this relegation to the margins of society, it continued to be practiced in the streets, in a clandestine manner. It was only in the thirties that this law was revoked and that Capoeira began to gain some kind of social legitimacy. The first schools are formed and, in 1937, Capoeira is declared Brazil’s national sport. From this moment onwards Capoeira is practiced more and more throughout Brazil and, with time, is exported all over the world.