Capoeira Moves

Brazil Martial Arts Have a Long History

When you watch a capoeira performance, you may notice how the capoeira moves blend with the rhythm of the music.

Capoeira dance can be beautiful to watch, even though capoeira has a long history wrapped up in fighting. The form you see today differs greatly from how capoeira began.

History of Capoeira

Capoeira began in the 16th century. Much of the history is unknown because of the lack of written records. Nevertheless, the few facts that are known have created a story that is fascinating if not totally accurate. The basic parts of the story are true and captivating.

Slavery was as popular in Brazil as it was in North America. The Portuguese brought slaves from Africa to tend the sugarcane plantations and do other hard tasks. Living conditions were terrible for the slaves and they were often severely punished for any perceived misbehavior.

The slaves longed for freedom, but they had no weapons with which to fight. It was during this time that the beginnings of capoeira were formed. It was meant to be used as a tool for defense and as a weapon to fight enemies.

Once these slaves were able to escape, they went to live in the primitive, hard-to-reach areas and created settlements called quilombos. Other slaves would reach these quilombos as well as Brazilian natives and even Europeans who were on the run from the law. The former slaves taught capoeira to newcomers and its popularity spread.

The people would defend their settlements form Portuguese soldiers using capoeira moves. Legend says that the soldiers thought it was more difficult to capture a quilombo warrior than the Dutch invaders because of their strange fighting style.

After slavery was abolished in 1888, former slaves were left on their own to survive. Many of them moved to cities to live in the slums and set up shantytowns. They would look for work as guards and mercenaries where they would use their capoeira ability.

In 1890, capoeira was outlawed because it was thought to provide an unfair advantage. Anyone caught practicing would be arrested by the police and often tortured.

Advocates for capoeira did not stop teaching the skill. They disguised it as a dance by adding music. People would stand guard to inform the students and teacher if the police were nearby. In 1920, it once again became legal to participate in capoeira.

Capoeira Today

In the 1970s, masters of capoeira began to teach the skill as a martial art to people in other countries. It has often become more artistic and theatrical in areas outside of Brazil.

The fighting aspect of the martial art is still present but disguised to be acceptable to society. It has now become a source of pride to the Brazilian people. When capoeira is played as a game, emphasis is placed on techniques and skill rather than injuring the opponent.

The competitors are called capoeiristas and the sport in usually performed in a roda. Most capoeira moves are used throughout the game, but most performers avoid hitting with the elbow or punching with the fist. They will limit the force used with other movements to prevent injury.

The roda is a circle formed by performers with musical instruments. Everyone sings and claps their hands to the music. The game is played according to the rhythm of the music. Aerial acrobatics are often present in a roda.

Learning Capoeira

There are two styles of capoeira known today, along with a sub-style. Capoeira Angola most closely resembles the original form while it is also accompanied by music.

Capoeira Regional is the second style and began around the 1920s. The main focus of this style is on attack and counter attacks while the Angola form centers around the unpredictability of the performers. Capoeira Contemporanea is a sub-style that uses elements of both the two main styles.

Capoeira is taught all over the world. Masters of the sport teach in the large cities of Brazil such as Rio de Janeiro. They have also taken it outside the country. You will find capoeira schools in the United States and Canada, throughout Europe and other countries.

There are numerous capoeira moves for a student to master. The ginga is the fundamental move for the capoeira game. The capoeirista moves back and forth in a semi-crouching position. There are two goals in using this move: to keep from being an easy target by being in constant motion and to fool the opponent and allow them to attack.

The cadeira is the base position of the ginga. It occurs when both legs are square and one arm protects the face. The other arm protects the side. All movements come from this position.

The au is similar to a cartwheel. It is the rolls and tumbles designed to avoid attack by the opponent and position for a counter attack. There are several variations, each with its own name. The au is done very slowly, keeping the legs and arms bent to create a small target for the opponent.

Esqueva is the name of movements designed to escape from one’s opponent. All moves provide for the head and torso to avoid an attack. It is this move that separates capoeira from other martial art forms. Instead of blocking kicks, the trick is to avoid them. More serious injury could result from a block and it upsets the flow of the game.

Other capoeira moves involve kicks, head butts, hand and arm strikes, and takedowns. Another type of move are the floreios. These moves serve two purposes in the Angolan style of the game. The first purpose is as feints or stylistic variations and the second purpose is acrobatics that are neither offensive nor defensive in the game.

Capoeira has become a strong tradition in Brazil that has spread throughout the world. Watching capoeira moves is like watching a sport set to music and the performers are the dancers.


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