Guest Post- What is capoeira?

This article was written by a guest writer, Instrutor* Coruja, from UPDATE! Capoeira Floraçao.

*Not a typo; it comes from the Portuguese word for "instructor"

What is capoeira?

I feel like to start off this blog there should be something about what exactly capoeira is.  Is it a dance? Is it a martial art? Is it Brazilian? Is it African? Do people ever actually hit each other? Is everyone that does it a hippy? To answer those questions... Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, no...

Capoeira is a lot of different things. For everyone that does capoeira you will get a different explanation for what it is to that individual.  A lot of times people will gravitate toward a particular aspect of capoeira that is attractive to them.  Some people like to practice the music, some people are into the acrobatics, some people like to fight, and the beautiful thing is that not a single one of those people is wrong to say Capoeira is a dance or a fight or a creative dialogue.  

*Note: any time someone is talking about the "origins" of capoeira they are speculating.  No one knows the exact origin of this art because it is a mixture of cultures even at its roots.

(The following paragraph is an extremely abridged example of one possible version of origin. The only reason I am putting this paragraph in is because I want the reader to have, at least, a superficial understanding of the situation that was going on during its development.)

One origin theory is that capoeira was developed from a dance called “N’golo.” N’golo was an acrobatic (zebra) dance done by young males.  The best dancer was able to chose his bride from the village without paying the brides marriage fees.  A theory for the origin of the word Capoeira comes from the indigenous peoples word ka puêra, meaning "secondary growth, the grassy scrubland that sprang up after virgin forest had been cleared for planting."  The reason it is believed that this word is where Capoeira comes from is because in these clearings is where slaves were able to retreat to in order practice their martial art in secret.  

 Mestre Bimba and Mestre Pastinha

Mestre Bimba and Mestre Pastinha

As for Capoeiras development into current times there are two individuals who need to be recognized, Mestre Pastinha and Mestre Bimba.  Mestre Pastinha is the father of capoeira Angola and Mestre Bimba is the father of capoeira regional.  The two styles of capoeira are distinctly different in both appearance and how the practitioners of each style train ( if you YouTube "capoeira Angola" and YouTube "capoeira regional" and you will see the difference).  Although the two styles are very different capoeiristas from either style are able to play with one another.  Mestre Bimba, the creator of what people recognize as capoeira regional, wanted capoeira to evolve from the former style of capoeira.  He wanted it to be recognized as a sport and martial art and be practiced by everyone.  After years of struggling with local government he was allowed to open the first legal capoeira academy in Bahia.

 Atabaques

Atabaques

Interesting fact!!! The atabaque was not included in Mestre Bimba’s bateria.  The reason for this is because the atabaque was a drum used in Candomble, a religion that was brought over during the slave trade and practiced primarily by the lower class.  Mestre Bimba purposely kept the drum out in order to distance capoeira from candomble because of the negative public opinion of the religion.  

If you look at videos of people doing capoeira from when Mestre Bimba was alive to now, you will see a huge difference.  As time has gone on the acrobatics have gotten bigger, the kicks, punches, and grappling movements have all become sharper.  But at the same time the music has also developed.  The songs tell the stories of Mestre Bimba and Mestre Pastinha.  They also tell about other Mestres that have come and gone since then.  The dance aspect of capoeira has also developed over time.  In every group there is a different way to teach people how to dance capoeira, and in every group every individual will develop their own unique way to express themselves when they dance capoeira.

One of my favorite things about capoeira is this: the disguise was never taken away. To this day people still look at Capoeira and say “is that really a martial art?”  In fact, the disguise became an integral part of capoeira.  That's why you can't just say "I do capoeira, Therefore I do a martial art."  When you "do capoeira" you are learning about and representing a culture, you are learning a language, you are learning how to dance, sing, and play instruments, you are learning how to do acrobatics, and, in addition, you are learning a martial art.  

This is my personal opinion, but I believe that the disguise became the art and made it better by evolving into what it is: an art that is constantly evolving through the people and groups that practice it.

So what is capoeira? Capoeira is an ever changing, always evolving, art form that embodies a culture.  Capoeira is a dance, Capoeira is a fight, Capoeira is a means to remember that there is always something to improve upon, and that you should always be trying to better yourself and others around you.  

Resources and good reads:

  • https://books.google.com/books?id=aI-RAgAAQBAJ&dq=when+was+the+atabaque+introduced+to+capoeira
  • http://www.capoeira.bz/mestreacordeon/capoeira/history.htm
  • Mestre Preguicas book: "the art of survival"
  • http://www.joaogrande.org/capoeira_angola.htm
  • http://capoeirasongbook.com/instruments/atabaque/

 

~Instrutor Coruja