Capoeira is an African Brazilian martial art. Many scholars and practitioners trace its origins to present-day Angola in southwestern Africa. It arrived in Brazil during the era of enslavement, wherein tens of millions of Africans were devoured to fuel Europe’s appetite for sugar, cotton, tobacco, and the material wealth that these commodities engendered.
As a consequence, the Western Hemisphere became home to a number of martial arts that were practiced from the southern United States, to the Caribbean, to South America. Never resigned to accept their oppression without protest, the African masses waged guerilla campaigns against their oppressors. In each place, these African warrior traditions were an essential part of the struggle for freedom of enslaved Africans. In Brazil, Capoeira became a key part of the resistance of enslaved Africans to their captivity in Brazil. Capoeiristas employed stealth, cunning, and lethality in their resistance to captivity.
The legal end of enslavement in Brazil at the end of the 19th century meant very little in terms of the enfranchisement of the African masses. They continued to face the daily indignity of oppression. Given Capoeira’s historic role in African Brazilian resistance, it was outlawed as a symbol of their cultural and political suppression from the 1800s until the 1930s.
It was in the 1930s that a renowned Capoeira teacher – Mestre (Master) Bimba was able to press for the end of this prohibition. Not only was he successful in legalizing Capoeira, he was also instrumental in creating one of Capoeira’s contemporary expressions–Capoeira Regional. At the same time that Mestre Bimba was modernizing Capoeira another renowned instructor, Mestre Pastinha, was working to preserve Capoeira’s traditional form–Capoeira Angola.
Today Capoeira is practiced all over the world. It is practiced as a dance, a game, and as a form of self-defense. For many people it has come to represent the African Brazilian resistance tradition, wherein the human spirit continued to struggle tirelessly against the forces of tyranny.
Capoeira is a very dynamic art. It incorporates acrobatics, dance, and self-defense. Capoeira involves a playful game, where Capoeiristas (practitioners of Capoeira) hone their skills, reaction times, and awareness of their opponent’s movements. Capoeira also involves a combat dimension. When applied combatively, Capoeira employs a range of techniques meant to neutralize an attacker, including head hand, elbow, and knee strikes and takedowns. Students will learn strikes, evasions, and grappling. Capoeira will also help them to develop focus, physical conditioning, and tenacity.