Originating from Brazil, capoeira combines elements of martial arts, dance, music and acrobats. It is believed that the word capoeira is an adaptation of the Angolan word kapwera which means ‘to fight.’ Dating back as far as the 16th century, African slaves working under oppressive European colonies on sugar cane farms is where it is argued to have developed. It is a highly athletic and disciplined form of martial arts incorporating a lot of Brazilian culture and history with it too, so if this sounds like something you may want to do, perhaps you’re already into martial arts, have a look at the capoeira courses on offer.
How did capoeira start?
To this day, the very exact origins of capoeira is still a debated and controversial matter owing to the fact that back in 16th and 17th century Brazil, records were sparsely used or kept. It is generally argued that slaves from West Africa working on colonised sugar cane farms developed capoeira as a means of self defence against the violent and cruel colonists in inhumane living conditions. The slaves cleverly disguised practising their capoeira as a form of dance so not to be noticed and subsequently punished by the heavy handed colonists.
Escaped slaves would live in quilombos; these were small settlements in remote regions away from the colonies hunting them. Colonial warriors were apparently mesmerised by the settlers’ strange movement and fighting technique, a notable characteristic of capoeira. In the 19th century, as Brazil grew as a nation under Portuguese imperial rule, more and more slaves were brought into the country and so many took up capoeira to try and defend themselves that the ruling bodies prohibited it.
Capoeira was repressed for many years and was only made fully legal in 1940 with great help from Mestre Bimba. He brought back the original capoeira fighting techniques to modern Brazil after feeling it lost its way as a martial art. He called it Luta Regional Baiana as capoeira was still illegal when he started his first training school. Since then it has gone global with capoeiristas emigrating around the world teaching it and tourists coming to Brazil to see it with their own eyes.
What will a course involve?
Capoeira courses are available to complete beginners as well as people who may already be experienced and want to improve their capoeira skills. The fundamental basics of capoeira include learning the ‘ginga’. This is the relatively unorthodox stance you take in capoeira that involves constantly rocking back and forth on your feet in a kind of triangular motion almost like a dance; this continuous movement is used to confuse and frustrate opponents.
From there you can begin to learn the more acrobatic techniques and evasive movements that are essential in capoeira as well as the different cartwheels you can do if you’re already fairly acrobatic; a cartwheel in capoeira is called an ‘aύ’. You’ll also be shown the ‘roda’ which is a circle formed by capoeiristas playing traditional songs with instruments, singing and clapping while two in the middle play either as a performance like a dance or more competitive duels with takedowns. Here is an example of people playing in a roda performed by professional capoeiristas, don’t worry you won’t be expected to be this good right away! Some courses may even show you the musical side of things also.
Courses can be booked one at a time if you’re just testing the waters with it, while others may be over a period of weeks or months. They tend to be during social hours and weekends and normally only last one hour so it won’t take time out of your busy schedule. Who knows where that one off capoeira course may take you though?! It could lead you onto a newfound hobby which you pursue to the point where you could make it your profession.
Is it really for me?
You don’t have to have had previous experience with capoeira to take a course in it, nor do you have to have a martial arts background; anyone can take a class in it. You don’t even have to be that sporty. While experience may serve as an advantage, you don’t have to exclude yourself if you don’t have it. All courses really ask of you is that you wear comfortable clothing and are reasonably fit as it does involve a lot of acrobatics and movement. Courses are great for developing your fitness too. Capoeira really works your core strength, stamina, mobility as well as your flexibility. If another amazing capoeira video doesn’t sway you to it then we don’t know what will!