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Capoeira is a martial art developed in Brazil around 1520. It was developed as a way for slaves to defeat their oppressors/survive in their social environment, but later practitioners disguised it as a form of dance. This now acrobatic dance movement accompanied with musical beats prevented Capoeira's extinction by the hands of the slave captors.

The styles emphasizes kicks, sweeps and acrobatic maneuvers. Some schools also strive to teach Respeito (Respect), Responsabilidade (Responsibility), Seguranca (Safety/Security), and Liberdade (Liberty/Freedom).

Table of contents
1 History
2 Music
3 Roda
4 The Game
5 Kinds of Capoeira
6 Finding a Place to Play


During the 1500’s, Portugal shipped slaves into South America from Western Africa. Brazil was the largest contributor to slave migration with 42% of all slaves shipped across the Atlantic. The following peoples were the most commonly sold into Brazil: The Sudanese group, composed largely of Yorubaa and Dahomean people, the Muhammadanised Guinea-Sudanese group of Malesian and Hausa people and the Bantu group (among them Kongos, Kimbundas and Kasanjes) from Angola, Congo and Mozambique.

There are engravings and writings that describe a now lost fighting dance in Cuba that reminds us of capoeira with two Bantu men moving to the yuka drums. It is called the baile del maní.

These people brought their cultural traditions and religion with them to the new world. The homogenization of the African people under the oppression of slavery was the catalyst for Capoeira. Capoeira was developed by the slaves of Brazil as a way to resist their oppressors, secretly practice their art, transmit their culture, and lift their spirits.


Music is integral to Capoeira. It sets the tempo and style of game that is to be played within the Roda (pronounced Ho'da). The music is comprised of instruments and song. Many of the songs are sung in a call and response format however others are in the form of a narrative - namely a story about an important mestre (master). 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. Others are lighthearted or even silly things, sung just for fun. Experienced capoeiristas will often change their style significantly as the songs or rhythm from the berimbau (below) varies. In this manner, it is truly the music that drives capoeira.

The instruments are played in a row called the Bateria. The first three instruments are berimbaus, which look like an archer’s bow using a steel string and a gourd for resonation. These three bows are the Berraboi / bass, Viola / lead the Violinha / 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.


The Roda is the circle of people within which Capoeira is played. People who make up the rodas circular shape, clap and sing along to the music being played for the two partners engaged in a capoeira match or rather a "game" ("jogo"). Depending on some capoeira schools an individual in the audience can jump in to engage one of the two players and begin another game. The roda is usually about the radius of a berimbau, though some rodas are larger. The berimbau sets the pace of the game being played in the roda. Slow music tends to make momentum harder to gain so air moves are limited to slow yet complex ground moves and handstands. Faster music allows for more circular momentum which is key to gaining "big air" in the roda. Capoeiristas can take up a lot of space while playing, so the roda is rarely tiny, especially if the players are playing quickly. The roda is a microcosm, which reflects the macrocosm of life and the world around us. You practice in the roda so that you can handle the problems of life.

The Game

Much like Aikido, capoeira doesn't focus on destroying the person you play against. Although hurting your partner is not the case, it is not rare to see a roda organized that allows sweeping or unbalancing your partner. Although a person can technically trip your partner, capoeiristas prefer to show that they can by doing the tripping movement yet not tripping their roda-mate. All good capoeiristas know that they are in the roda to become better. If your opponent cannot dodge your slowest attack, there is no reason to use your fastest. Each attack that comes in gives you a chance to practice an avoidance technique. The best players of capoeira find themselves not using the basic techniques of "ginga" (the vascilating base stance) because they are constantly attacking, defending, and avoiding and in constant motion. When mastery has been shown the two players take a short break, walking anti-clockwise in large circle, loosely holding right hands and walking in the same direction. This is called "volta do mundo", or trip around the world. Two or three gentle laps is all the rest you get, then it's time to play again. Volta do mundo is also commonly used by a player either simply because he/she needs a break, but is more commonly used to force the other player to cool down after a heated exchange. It is important to note that volta do mundo is practiced differently by different schools- some hold hands some do not, some walk, some run. If you ever visit a roda make sure you respect that school's behaviours in this respect as failure to do so is looked upon as quite rude.

Capoeira primarily attacks with kicks and sweeps. Some schools teach more or less punches and hand strikes, but in any case, they are not as common. Capoeira also uses acrobatic and athletic movements to maneuver around the opponent. Cartwheels, handstands, sitting movements, turns, steps, flips, and large dodges are all very common in capoeira.

If the leader of the roda finds it is time to stop the players, he will strike his berimbau string repeatedly on the same note. The players should quickly squat before the leader while he explains what he needs to explain.

Kinds of Capoeira

There are many different kinds of capoeira. The two largest branches are Angola and Regional (pronounced 'hezhonaow'). Angola is a slower, trickier, subtler style. It is older and often considered more traditional. It emphasizes movement low to the ground, strength, and subterfuge. The music is slow and there is almost always a full bateria of instruments. Regional is a newer, faster, more martially oriented style. Regionalistas often use flips, fast spinning kicks, and impressive movements. Regional was invented by Mestre Bimba to make capoeira more mainstream and accessible to the public, and less associated with the criminal elements of Brazil. As a result, he removed most of the instruments from the bateria, due to their associations with Candomble. Today, there are many fusion styles, which mix the angola and regional traditions.

Finding a Place to Play

If you are interested in playing Capoeira, every major city has at least one club/group to join. See also: Dance, Breakdancing