Capoeira – fight or dance
For many people Capoeira is one of the more exotic martial arts and less known than the classics like Karate or Muay Thai. Many do not even know it or are unsure whether it is a martial art or a kind of dance. Therefore, this article highlights the martial art Capoeira more closely and explains its origin and development.
Capoeira has it’s origin in Brazil and was born from a mixture of different African dances and cults. According to records, Capoeria exists in early forms since the 18th century. Various legends tell of struggles between slaves and slaveholders in the quilombos. These are branches of escaped black slaves in Brazil at the time of Portuguese rule. Capoeira evolved in these branches greatly and the slaves also used them in the fights against the armed slave hunters.
The next stage of development of the Capoeira is rather to be understood as a kind of street fighting technique. Capoeiristas gathered in street gangs that called themselves Malta and dominated entire streets. They fought against other gangs and authorities, which is comparable to typical gang fights. This Brazilian martial art was particularly widespread in the port cities of Rio de Janeiro, Recife and Salvador da Bahia. These places are considered to be the places of origin of Capoeira. It is thus an urban phenomenon.
Nowadays Capoeira is seperated into the „old“ Capoeria Angola and the „modern“ Capoeira Regional. Over time, the African elements in Capoeira Regional merged with additional influences from other martial arts such as wrestling, jiu jitsu and wushu. Around 1970 today’s acrobatic characteristics started to become a part of Capoeira. Thus movements like twisted jumps or somersaults became a fixed part of the movement repertoire.
Fight or dance
In terms of content Capoeira divides into the three levels fight, music and „Roda“. „Roda“ comes from the Portuguese and means circle that represents the social framework in which the struggle takes place. This circle consists of other capoeirists and musicians. Inside the circle there are always two capoeirists who „fight“. However in the Capoerira the term „game“ rather than „fight“ is used. The goal is to practice together and not to defeat each other. The combat techniques are very flexible and include numerous spinning kicks and acrobatics. Traditionally, the other participants play music as accompaniment in an endless rhythm in various variations. In addition, songs from the era of slavery are being sung.
Malícia – The soul of Capoeira
The central element of Capoeria is the Malícia. It is a martial technique that is quite different from other martial arts. Malícia can be translated as „cunning or malignancy“, but in Brazilian means a positive trait. Thus, the term of „stratagem“ rather applies. In songs about the Malícia it is described as a snake, that waits in a hole for prey and preprs for her attack. In open conflict, the snake might be inferior.
The fight is about giving the opponent a false impression and demonstrating inferiority in order to strike at the right moment. This technique is not taught directly, but playfully tried. The outcome of each fight is thus uncertain and not technique and condition are crucial, but the tactical overview of the game. While the Malícia is still an integral part of the Capoeira Angola, it often takes a back seat in the modern form of Capoeira Regional.
Capoeira in action
Through the form of the „game“, musical accompaniment and often contactless demonstrations Capoeira often creates the impression of a dance for outsiders. However, the meaning of each element is far more profound and part of an effective martial art. Refering to records the slaves hid their training in martial arts in dance during the Portuguese rule not to attract attention. Below are two examples where the Capoeira is shown in demonstrations and film clips with Lateef Crowder.