A (very) short study on Capoeira

My husband is a contra-mestre of Capoeira, so I was naturally pulled into a world that I knew nothing about. Before meeting him, I always thought capoeira was a silly, odd-looking dance/martial art and that the one-stringed instrument that twanged to the rhythm of the same old drum actually irritated me and I would walk away from places where there were capoeira shows for tourists.

English: Negros fighting using Capoeira steps....
English: Negros fighting using Capoeira steps. Painting by Augustus Earle depicting the illegal capoeira game/dance/martial art in Rio de Janeiro Português do Brasil: Negros lutando. Pintura por Augustus Earle mostrando negros lutando com passos de Capoeira. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After some research and chats with my husband´s fellow capoeiristas, I actually started to enjoy the whole atmosphere and attended my first “batizado”. I was surprised that few mestres ever talk about the history of Capoeira with their students and that there is so much history behind this art form.

A brief study of Capoeira

Capoeira (Photo credit: PanARMENIAN_Photo)

Basically, there are two schools of Capoeira, Angola and Regional. The colours of the Angola school are black and yellow and the colours of the Regional school are red and white. Angola is slow and “played” close to the ground, while Regional is quick and the most widespread form of “jogo”.

The founder of Angola was Mestre Pastinha and the founder of Regional is Mestre Bimba. There is a lovely story about Mestre Bimba when he challenged fighters of several martial arts to show that Capoeira was worthy of attention and just as good as any other martial art. He fought with four fighters and won every fight. He also earned the state board of education certificate.

Both mestres were great teachers and based their teachings on solid foundations of respect, ethics and firm standards they established. Capoeira is very commonly taught in social projects because it teaches youths the value of respect and discipline that they often lack at home. I have personally seen how the lives of some youths are transformed after entering a Capoeira academy.


Schools of Capoeira use a system of “cordas” to show the level (or graduação) of each student. The colour of the cordas depends on the region, but usually the first corda is yellow or white and the last is white or grey (mestre).  To earn a corda, the student must learn a series of moves (movimentos) and berimbeu tunes (toques de berimbau). Each school has its own toques with the corresponding name and they have to be played correctly for the student to earn a new cord. Once the student is ready, he/she attends a batizado/troca de cordões that is held among several Capoeira schools. During the batizado, the mestre of each school presents his/her students and the student that wants to earn a new cord (gradução) must be tested against students of other schools. A student is usually tested against another student that is one level above his/hers or the level of the cord or graduação he or she wants to obtain. If the student passes, his cord is removed and replaced with a new, higher cord. The student also gets a certificate.

During most batizados, there are also “torneios” where all the students can participate and show their “game” without switching cordas. These torneios are divided into skills (acrobacy, jogo, etc.) and the prize is usually a cup or medal.

Each mestre has his own students, but the main aim of the mestre is to teach the berimbau toques, the moves (movimentos) according to the corda the student wants to achieve, and the “sequencias” (a series of moves that creates a “jogo”), and graduate students to become mestres of their own schools or academies.

According to Brazilian law, Capoeira mestres must have studies in Physical Education and all of them do strenuous warming-up exercises before each class. You have to be physically fit to be a true capoeirista and it is great exercise for those who are simply seeking a fitness alternative.

Example of a batizado/troca de cordões

The philosophy
Most Capoeira schools follow the teachings of Mestre Bimba or Mestre Pastinha, but some are influenced by the personal philosophy of the mestre of the school. This leads to a mixing of techniques (capoeira and jujitsu, for example) that sometimes results in violence. Both Pastinha and Bimba believed that Capoeira could not be violent or used for violent purposes.

Film on Capoeira


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