Capoeira is a combination of dance, ritual and martial arts that developed
out of the Portuguese trade of African slaves to Brazil the 16th century.
Capoeira was illegal in Brazil until the 1930's.
The ritual game begins with two players squatting in a circle, or roda, of
spectators. The players rest at the feet of a single-stringed instrument,
or berimbau, and one player sings a commencement song.
The other player can sing in response or remain silent to allow the first
player to sing the announcement that the game has started. The musician at
the berimbau then picks up the song as the players move to the center of the
circle. The lead berimbauist is the Mestre, or master of the capoeira game. The roda chants,
sings, and drums under the direction of the Mestre.
The players and the Mestre carry on a dialogue during the game; the music
sets the tempo for the tricks that a player can use. A player may also
improvise his movements according to the musical commentary the Mestre gives
to his performance. The Mestre in turn may play music that reflects the
players' attitudes, reactions and strategies.
The goal of the game, or jogo, is to catch the opponent off-guard using
guile, technique and gymnastics. Players can fake each other out using
rapid kicks, cartwheels, handstands, leg sweeps, flips, jabs, dodges, and
turns. The base movement, and the one most often used by beginners, is a
side-to-side motion in a semi-crouched stance called ginga.
Unlike most martial arts, strikes are admired most when there is no physical
contact. A player gains the most applause when the other player has been
skillfully baited into a vulnerable, off-balance position, but has not
actually fallen or been hit.
Although there is no point system, and no official winners or losers,
players can be disqualified for falling into a seated position or, in some forms
of capoeira, using their hands to strike. Some speculate that the lack of
hand use in capoeira harkens back to an ancient Kongo saying: "hands are to
build, feet are to destroy."
Modern martial artists have two main choices for capoeira techniques and
philosophy. Angolan capoeira is the more traditional form, with slow,
dance-like steps while Regional capoeira relies much more on high-energy
Capoeira today is truly a global phenomenon with schools teaching Angolan,
Regional and dozens of fusion styles in major cities all over the world.