CAPOEIRA

 

Capoeira is an amalgamation of fighting style, dance, rhythm of body and spirit. Capoeira is a martial art.

Capoeira is one of the most fascinating components of Brazilian culture. The philosophy of the capoeirista (one who practices capoeira) during the roda consists of balancing the moments of defense and attack according to the ever-changing timing of the jogo (the game of capoeira).

Capoeira is an art in and of itself. It should not be confused with any other form of dance or martial art. Capoeira has evolved within a particular historical and social context, in conjunction with varied cultural influences within the vast country of Brazil. The indigenous population, the blacks and the whites have all made capoeira what it is today. Capoeira was created by the Brazilian people but adapted for the entire world.

Capoeira is considered by many as a fight disguised as a dance and by others as a dance hidden within the fight. In conclusion, capoeira is a game.

 

HISTORY OF CAPOEIRA

 

The roots of capoeira date back to the end of the 17th century. Former slaves, recently freed, found themselves in a new and challenging situation. During this period of transition, the labor formerly provided by slaves was rapidly replaced by an underemployed population living outside the city. This provoked a massive exodus of the black rural population toward the cities, in search of work and means of subsistence. Illiterate and lacking any formal instruction or practical knowledge other than that acquired during their enslavement, the economic and social situation of the Black population in Brazil was dreadful.

It was during this period of rapid urban expansion and increasing class segregation within the Brazilian population that capoeira first appeared as a form of Black resistance against their white oppressors.

Indeed, during this time, the conflicts between the blacks and the class dominant, mainly white, were very often inevitable. These conflicts and revolts impelled the authorities to repress all forms of physical expression, including capoeira, which they believed might lead people to fight. Therefore, the legal authorities empowered their police force and gave their officers the right to apply corporal punishments against any person surprised in the practice of capoeira. Precise directives for such physical restraint and punishment were established in a letter dating back to October 31st, 1821 and signed by the Minister of War, General Carlos Frederico de Paula e Nicolau Viegas de Proença.

Nonetheless, this did not stop the Brazilian army from exploiting the martial arts' knowledge of the capoeiristas during their war with Paraguay. An entire battalion of capoeira-trained soldiers was sent to the front line and was acclaimed for its decisive victories. This group of soldiers received the nickname "The Battalion of Zouaves" (the vicious ones).

Practitioners of the art received a serious blow on October 11th, 1890 when decree nº487 was inserted into the Brazilian Penal Code. This decree incorporated several articles into extant chapter XIII:

  • Article 402 - The practice of exercises of agility and physical strength commonly known by the denomination capoeiragem, on any street or in any public space, will be considered a grievance and carry a penalty of 2 to 6 months imprisonment. Distinct paragraph - Belonging to a group, gang, or "Malta" is considered a grave grievance. The leaders or heads of such groups will subject to a doubled penalty or sentence.

  • Article 403 - In the event of a repeat offense, the capoeiristas will be subjected to the maximum penalty, as articulated in article 400 (3 years imprisonment in Colônias Penais e Presídios Militares located at the border).

  • Article 404 - If, during the practice of capoeira: there is a homicide, or any bodily harm or wound inflicted; or any transgression of public authority or of a private individual; or any disturbance of the peace and public security; or are hidden weapons are discovered, then the penalty incurred will be determined according to the law for such crimes.

This decree was applied with vigor and zeal. At the beginning of the provisional government's mandate, a great number of people were pursued by the police and either put in prison or deported to Fernando de Noronha. From that point on, the gradual disappearance of the practitioners of the art seemed irreversible.

However, capoeira was renewed in 1937 when Getúlio Vargas, then president of the Republic of Brazil, abolished decree nº487. The only condition was the obligation to practice this art in closed spaces. The legality of capoeira, thus inevitably, fell under institutional control.

The goal of the legalization of capoeira was to demonstrate support for the social standardization that the new government was trying to implement. Indeed, it was under the Vargas' republic that we first saw the emergence of a rhetoric of the body. The state began promoting health and the physical activity. This viewpoint is punctuated by the implementation of a training program for physical education instructors.

References:

  • Master's thesis in Sociology defended by Luís César de Souza Tavares. "Dança da guerra: Arquivo-Arma". December 1984.

  • Master's thesis in Sociology defended by Luís Renato Viera. "Da Vadiação à Regional Capoeira: Uma Interpretação de Modernização no Brasil". December 1990.

 

Mestre Pastinha
(1889–1981)

Mestre Bimba
(1900-1974)

GRAND MASTERS

 

Two of the greatest and most respected proponents of capoeira are: Mestre Pastinha and Mestre Bimba.

 

Mestre Pastinha,

Vicente Ferreira Pastinha,
was the proponent of Capoeira de Angola. He was oneof the

greatest celebrities in the popular life of Bahia.

Vicente Ferreira Pastinha was born on April 5th 1889 inSalvador,

Bahia. He formed at his turn a great number of capoeiristas,

not only because he was an exceptional one himself, but because

of his remarquable personality, his philosophic and poetic words,

his love and knowledge of Capoeira Angola fundamentals.

He was the son of the Jose Señor Pastinha and Maria Eugênia Ferreira.

His father was a Spanish businessman, owner of little shop in the

historical center of Salvador and his mother was a Brazilian woman

of African descent from Santo Amaro da Purificação who was

earning her life selling  acarajé, typical meal of Bahia, and washing

clothes for rich families of Salvador.

Some say Mestre Pastinha was exposed to Capoeira at a tender age by

an African from Angola named Benedito. Pastinha often got beat up by an older and stronger boy from his neighborhood. One day, Benedito saw the agression and then told Pastinha: "Instead of wasting your time playing and flying a kite, stop by at my house so I can teach you a few things of great value". Others say Pastinha learned Capoeira later in adulthood.

Mestre Pastinha taught Capoeira mainly to his collegues from the Marine, where he was working since age 12. When he got out of the Marine at age 20, Pastinha opened his first Capoeira school. Pastinha, was not only a capoeirista, but also a professional painter, he even gave painting lessons. In 1941, he founded the Sport Center of Capoeira Angola located at Casarão numéro 19 of the Largo do Pelourinho. It was his first academy school of Capoeira.

Discipline and organization were mandatory rules at Pastinha's school. His students always wore black pants and yellow t-shirts, the same colors of the Ypiranga Futebol Clube, his favorite soccer team. In Pastinha's view, the difference between Capoeira Angola and Capoeira Regional resides in the fact that it does not have any method, it is sacred and it is malicious. Pastinha did not accept the mixture made by Mestre Bimba who incorporated moves from other martial arts to Capoeira .

Pastinha dedicated his life to Capoeira Angola. He became one of the references in african-brazilian culture. He died on November 14th 1981, at the age of 92, blind after 18 years, given up by the public organizations and most of his old friends.

"Angola, Mother Capoeira!
It is a sorcery from slaves who long for freedom.
Its beginning (principle) has no method,
Its end is inconceivable to the wisest of mestres."

(Pastinha's definition of capoeira)

 

 

Mestre Bimba,

Manoel dos Reis Machado,
created the style of Regional Capoeira and also modified the

traditional image of capoeira. Through his work, capoeira found

representation among varied social classes and within varied

geographical regions of Brazil (beyond Bahia).

Manoel dos Reis Machado was born on November 23rd 1900 in the

neighborhood of Engenho Velho, Bahia.

Son of Maria Martinha do Bonfim and Luis Candido Machado,

he was the youngest of 25 sons. He received his nickname when

his mother lost a bet with the midwife (who predicted a son instead of

a daughter) during his birth.

His father, was known to be a great batuqueiro (a batuque fighter,

a form of combat from the North-East of Brazil, which unfortunately

disappeared). Bimba was introduced to Capoeira Angola at the age

of 12 by the captain of Bahia's Navigation Company named Bentinho.

One may say, Manoel dos Reis Machado changed the course of the history of capoeira. He did set new standards in the art: perhaps by being in touch with college students and upper middle class people of that time; maybe by accentuating the vision of the artists who perceived his reality ahead of his time, by emphasising the fighting aspects of the art while adapting it to the society's reality. Mestre Bimba realized that it was necessary to initiate some changes in capoeira so that it can evolve and ultimately conquer its place in the cultural, educational and sports fields of Brazil.

Mestre Bimba was known to be a skilful fighter - accepting challenges on the ring - and a practitioner of traditional Capoeira Angola. In the 30s, he met a student named Cisnando Lima, a cearense from a traditional family, who practised other martial arts to whom he taught capoeira. From that relationship were born many terms used in Regional like mestre, batizado, formado, formatura, calouro, orador, and a new method of teaching. Cisnando also suggested the name Regional (because at that time capoeira was prohibited by the law). Mestre Bimba then created the "Luta Regional Baiana", which became what we know as Capoeira Regional. Unlike Capoeira Angola that was practiced in the streets, by improvising, Capoeira Regional was taught in closed places, with strict method and code of ethics, rigid physical conditioning and training sequences.

Capoeira did not always have its actual status. There was a time when capoeiristas were considered as thugs and outlaws because many were involved in disputes, killings, burnings, sabotage and other atrocities. When capoeira was taught rigorously in closed spaces, it then became a national discipline.

In 1973, Bimba went to Goiânia, where he died at the age of 74 on February 5th 1974.

"At that time, capoeira was for dockworkers, carriers and malandro. I was a dockworker, but I was a little of all that. Capoeiristas were persecuted by the police like damned dogs. One typical penalty to a capoeirista caught in the act, was to tie his wrists to the tails of two horses and race the horses to the military barracks. As a joke, it was better to pick a fight near a military barrack."

(Bimba, profil of the master)

 

TYPES OF CAPOEIRA

 

Today capoeira is divided into three types: Capoeira de Angola (in the tradition of Mestre Pastinha), Capoeira Regional (in the tradition of Mestre Bimba) and nontraditional style Capoeira.

Many people think that Capoeira de Angola is an African fighting style or that it resembles some forms of African dance. In any event, the term Capoeira de Angola is not used in to name the country of origin (Angola is a country situated in the southern part of West Africa), but rather to pay homage to the slaves and African descendants living in Brazil. The people of Angola, as those of Brazil, were colonized by the Portuguese. In fact, the term Capoeira de Angola did not precede that of Capoeira Regional, since no distinction was necessary at that time. The game was simply called Capoeira or "Vadiação".

That capoeira is today known as Capoeira de Angola. It is an original and traditional game, referred to affectionately by several capoeiristas as mother-capoeira (Capoeira Mãe in Portuguese).

Capoeira Regional benefited from the pro-athletic mandate of the governing political party, fitting into the sports oriented perspective prevalent at that time. It was named Capoeira Regional da Bahia by Master Bimba. It was he who first introduced various teaching techniques, established sequences and predetermined movements into the practice of Capoeira.

And so capoeira has evolved...

For some people, it has improved, for others it has been negatively transformed!

Capoeira instructor, Ajanã Nascimento, believes that it has now arrived exactly where it should be, reflecting our reality and stemming from the world in which we live.

" We must play according to the rules of the game! Only those who want to change will!
Today, several capoeira Masters have adopted the principle of teaching capoeira as a totality. The result is a capoeirista without divisions or preconceived notions, one who is able to adapt to different ways of functioning and the varied traditions of each place, in spite of the threat of contradictions resulting from discordant discourses or varied labels. Capoeira is in a constant state of evolution, through the game of each capoeirista, each adapting to the comings and goings of life. Thus, rigidity yields its place to creativity and the natural movement of each capoeirista, without losing the philosophy of the jogo".

 

BENEFITS OF CAPOEIRA

 

The fundamental principles taught in capoeira include a corporal dialogue, the body’s intelligence, the ability to react, balance, as well as the notions of space, time, rhythm, music and an understanding of the philosophy of the game.

Capoeira is a marvelous exercise for the body, involving all of the muscle groups and developing a series of physical qualities. While playing in the roda one rapidly notices a great change: less tension, faster reflexes and increased power.

By persevering your breathing becomes regulated as the regular practice of capoeira (at least three times a week) develops the cardiovascular system. And, most beautiful of all, one develops great abdominal muscles, these muscles being amongst those most solicited.

Below are the qualities that the practice of capoeira develops and improves.

  • Endurance : to provide the maximum energy during the entire period of play.

  • Agility: the movements change direction at any time.

  • Flexibility: large movements dominate capoeira.

  • Speed: in order to trick your adversary.

  • Balance: to master the body’s control during complex movements.

  • Coordination: to be able to respond to attacks with arms, the trunk of the body and legs, all at once.

  • Rhythm: the game is led by music and singing and the pace of the movements must match the music’s rhythm.

But capoeira in not only good for the body. Capoeira works with one’s emotions, helping to liberate aggressivity, although the sport does not encourage any form of violence. Capoiera develops the mastery of one’s body and mind, as well as one’s creativity.

By practicing capoeira you improve:

  • Your concentration: The attention paid to your adversaries movements must be constant.

  • Your perseverance: Perfect mastery of one’s body comes only after diligent practice.

  • Your daringness: Little by little one’s fear of performing certain acrobatic movements is overcome.

  • Your cunning: In order to fool your adversary with unexpected sequences of movements.

A few facts:

  • One hour of capoeira burns about 500 calories.

  • Stretching and weight training are complementary to capoeira as they improve flexibility.

  • Everyone can practice capoeira according to his/her natural abilities. Only those with spinal cord problems must receive authorization and be followed by a doctor in order to practice.

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