- Martial Arts Series -
16th Century Afro-Brazilian Origins
Known around the world as a Brazilian martial art, Capoeira was actually created by the Angolans in the 16th Century. This martial art is a combination of acrobatics, music, and powerful kicks and is extremely fun to watch. However, the effectiveness of Capeoria while facing real-world threat is in question.
Born out of Slavery...out of survival
The Portuguese are responsible for exporting slaves to their colonies in Brazil primarily from Angola, which is located across the Atlantic Ocean almost parallel to Brazil. Therefore, it was an easy re-location of slaves.
Slavery was used to drive the economy primarily through the production of sugar cane processes. And, these slaves were physically punished on a routine basis for any and all mistakes and misbehavior. Like all humans facing punishment and suffering, the slaves were only going to take so much before establishing their counter-punch. And that came in the form of capoeira. Equipped with no weapons, they were forced to train and use their bodies as weapons, which they did very well!
Mestre Bimba, a fierce fighter born in Salvador, became concerned that capoeira's roots were fading from martial art to just plain old fun. He decided to do something about it. He is credited with establishing the first Capoeira training system, as well as the first Capoeira dojo in the early 1930s.
Jailed for Capoeira
The colonial government had enough of Capoeira, since it was proven effective against them. Therefore, anyone spotted practicing the art, would be thrown in jail. It's amazing to me that an art established for survival against colonial attacks ends up becoming such a threat to the government that they have to create a law prohibiting it.
Slavery ends. Capoeira takes over
While the end of slavery was a magnificent achievement, that left the majority of them without jobs and a way of life. The awesome news is that the former slaves, that had been training Capoeira, were now being sought out by war lords to be used as their personal body guards or even their hitmen.
Police VS. War Lords
No different than today's world, the good guys are constantly fighting to stop the bad guys from doing bad things. The police now realized the effectiveness of Capoeira and decided to prohibit its use. Again, anyone found practicing the art would be arrested.
Finally, Capoeira is legal
It wasn't until 1940 that Capoeira was legalized and no longer viewed in association with criminal behavior. This is a milestone for this martial art and for all Brazilians. This was the start of everything Capoeira is today - a martial art and a cultural gift to all who come across it.
A Dance or an Art?
A big concern is whether or not Capoeira is still a martial art, or if overtime, it has transformed into a dance of acrobatics and fun. The Capoeiristas would say it's both. It's a fun dance mixed with acrobatics to express their cultural heritage, while at the same time they are planning a disguised attack or counter-attack. The beauty of it is that the transitions are smooth and disguised. One minute you could be boogy dancing with the guy, and the next he's laying you out with a spinning heal kick. I love it!
Brazil's Source of Pride
Capeoria will never die, because it is rooted in the cultural heritage of Brazil. Capoeira is the face of Brazil as it represents so many important moments in history. It represents resistance to oppression (slavery), the courageous character of the people, and the cultural background of the slaves.
Remember the origin of Capoeira is based on survival. In order to survive a fight, you must be faster and more accurate. The primary techniques used in Capoeira include kicks and sweeps mixed in with a beautiful flow of movement patterns, like a dance. Mestre Bimba also incorporated defense training against knives, since that was a commonly faced attack. However, this training barely exists and certainly not practiced among the majority.
Everything in Capoeira starts with the Ginga. It is the foundation of all the other movement patterns and extended techniques. The idea is to be in constant motion to avoid becoming an easy target to hit, while also allowing opportunities to use feints in order to "set-up" the opponent for an attack.
Why all the acrobats?
I always wondered why the Capoeiristas added in what seemingly was unnecessary flips and rolls. The fluidity of Capoeira depends on the user to recover quickly from unbalanced situations and unexpected attacks, and that is exactly what the acrobatics are used for.
Capoeira gets soft... like the rest of the arts
When I use the word soft, I simply mean that the reason for practicing Capoeira has changed. An art originated for survival is now being practiced for play. Thus, the mindset is totally different and so is the training. When you change the reason for practicing something, you change the effectiveness of it. This is what I mean when I refer to formally tough and violent arts, as soft arts.
Capoeira Angola VS Regional Style
Due to the rise of a softer Capoeira, termed Capeoira Angola, the one and only Mestre Bimba decided it was time to speak up. And again, that is when he decided to uphold the roots of Capoeira and keep it more of a martial art than a dance. He kept the violence in and took the acrobatics out.
Modern day Capoeira
Around the 1970s, a new form of Capoeira was forming. It combined a mixture of the Angola and Regional styles, favoring the Angola Thus, the dancing and acrobatics were favored. This is unfortunate, because nowadays, the art is being practiced without much connection to its roots. And those roots are based on survival, not dancing!
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Editor-in-Chief & Publisher of Warriors Magazine