What is Capoeira?

Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art created by slaves from Africa and Brazil in the 1500′s. Capoeira weaves elements of fight, dance, acrobatics, creativity and cunning in order to mystify and confuse its opponent to keep its motives hidden. Practiced to live music at a steady rhythm, Capoeira is most notably characterized into three distinct styles, Angola, Banguela and Regional. Angola pays particular attention to the traditions and rituals of Capoeira. More commonly played slowly and low to the ground, the play is animated yet deceptive. Banguela expresses itself with tricky sequences and fluid movements that creatively subdue the opponent. It is a middle-paced game played somewhere in between the Angola and Regional style. The Regional style emphasizes speed, agility and power in its attack combined with fast kicks, quick escapes, and well placed dynamic acrobatics. All three styles employ the use of counter attacks, open hand strikes, takedowns, sweeps, throws, kicks, headbutts, elbows, knees, and use of ground movements.

As a multi-cultural art form practiced widely today by millions of practitioners, Capoeira transcends race and color, backgrounds and prior ideals in order to unify people under one positive direction. Students take from Capoeira a sense of discipline, a sense of respect, a culture, a language, songs, history, movement and dance.



Latin Americas largest and most populous nation of nearly 200 million citizens, Brazil, received more Africans through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade than any other nation. And although many may not realize it, the Portuguese imported 9 times more slaves than their British counterparts would bring to the United States. Brazil: 4 million; 38% of all slaves; United States: 465,000; 4% of all slaves. Like others throughout the African Diaspora, slaves in Brazil suffered under the horrific conditions of slavery. By some accounts, because of the cruelty of Brazilian slavery, the average life span of a Brazilian slave was only about 7 years. Brazilian slaves often escaped and established Quilombos, independent maroon societies where former slaves governed themselves. In the Quilombos, historians believe that Capoeira began to develop, as a means of necessity to fight against oppressors, to raise the morale of the people and to sustain the culture independent of the colonial influences. Capoeira was practiced in secrecy in the Quilombos and re-taught to the slaves left on the plantations so that they too could escape.  After hundreds of years of fighting it was on May 13, 1888 that Brazil finally abolished slavery. Brazil was the last nation in the Western world to abolish the institution of slavery. Newly emancipated slaves were uneducated and still not accepted amongst the working class of Brazil. They would join or form gangs searching for a means of survival; roaming the streets, keeping themselves busy with Capoeira and criminal activity. Because of this, Capoeira was banned in Brazil in1892. Capoeiristas, in order to sustain this art continued their practice in a more underground fashion. They would also disguise their identities by giving themselves apiledos (Capoeria nicknames) so that they wouldn’t be as easily recognizable by the police. It wasn’t until 1937 when the work of Mestre Bimba and his Capoeira school attracted the eyes of the president of Brazil, Getúlio Vargas. Capoeira’s banned had been lifted and has since been recognized as a national sport in Brazil. Mestre Pastinha also helped tremendously to preserve the original forms of Capoeira by opening his school the Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola in 1942. Mestre Pastinha and Mestre Bimba are seen as the fathers of Capoeira today.

Integral to the voice of Capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian music heard in class is the heart of positive energy received. The resonance of the berimbau, thump of the atabaque and the slap of the pandeiro create an environment that separate Capoeira from every other Martial Art.


 Traditional Capoeira Instruments

A berimbau is a single stringed, gourd resonating mono chromatic instrument. A distant ancestor of the guitar, the berimbau consists of a bent wooden stick, a metal wire, and a dried and hollowed gourd. The wire, or arame is struck with wooden stick, vaquita, in coordination with a rock that is pressed against the arame to create different sounds. The berimbau rhythms control the type of games that are played in the Roda. History does not tell exactly when the berimbau was introduced in to Capoeira, but it is said, “There is no Capoeira without the berimbau”.
The atabaque is known to many as the congo drum. There are some similarities but the atabaque (shown to the left) is a percussion drum that is lined with animal skin. The main difference between an atabaque and a congo drum is the tuning hardware. A congo drum uses a metal tuning structure, where as an atabaque uses a combination of rope and wood wedges as its tuning mechanism. The atabaque is used to play many different rhythms in Capoeira and Brazilian culture.
The Pandeiro is known to many in the Western hemisphere as the tambourine. Although the structure of a tambourine is very similar to that of a pandeiro, pandeiros have tuning flexibility in addition to different metal jingles that create a more distinct sound.


Roda and Philosophy

The Capoeira Roda (pronounced “Ha-Duh”) which means circle or wheel is where practitioners are able to experience the different energies of Capoeira by testing themselves against themselves and against their opponent. Through various styles of games (ex. Angola, Banguela, Regional) and types of rodas (ex. Samba, Maculele), it is the time where all of the skills and etiquette learned in class are able to be applied in friendly competition with a moving partner. Always entering upside down, the players will play fast, other times slow, sometimes high and sometimes low to the ground. By understanding the roda, the Capoeirista has the truest chance to grow as it is a place where expression is encouraged. There are many forms of philosophy that are learned inside of the roda and through the song and music of Capoeira. With time, the practitioner will be able transfer these lessons to their own personal life.