What is Capoeira?
Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics and music, and is sometimes referred to as a game. It was developed in Brazil mainly by African descendants with native Brazilian influences, probably beginning in the 16th century.
It is known for quick and complex moves, using mainly power, speed, and leverage for a wide variety of kicks, spins, and highly mobile techniques.
Styles of Capoeira
Determining styles in capoeira is a very tough task, since there was never a unity in the original capoeira, or a pedagogical method before the decade of 1920. However, a division between two styles and a sub-style is widely accepted.
Capoeira Angola refers to every capoeira that keeps the traditions held before the creation of the Regional style.
Existing in many parts of Brazil since colonial times, most notably in the cities of Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Recife, it’s impossible to tell where and when Capoeira Angola began taking its present form. The name Angola starts as early as the beginning of slavery in Brazil, when Africans, taken to Luanda to be shipped to the Americas, were called in Brazil black people from Angola, regardless of their nationality.
The name Angola was finally immortalized by Mestre Pastinha at February 23, 1941, when he opened the Centro Esportivo de capoeira Angola (CECA). Pastinha preferred the ludic aspects of the game rather than the martial side, and was much respected by recognized capoeira masters. Soon many other masters would adopt the name Angola, even those who would not follow Pastinha’s style.
The ideal of Capoeira Angola is to maintain capoeira as close to its roots as possible. Characterized by being strategic, with sneaking movements executed standing or near the floor depending on the situation to face, it values the traditions of malícia, malandragem and unpredictability of the original capoeira.
Capoeira Regional began to take form in the 1920 decade, when Mestre Bimba met his future student, José Cisnando Lima. Both believed that capoeira was losing its martial side and concluded there was a need to restructure it. Bimba created his sequências de ensino (teaching combinations) and created capoeira’s first teaching method. Advised by Cisnando, Bimba decided to call his style Luta Regional Baiana, as capoeira was still illegal at that time.
Training was mainly focused on attack, dodging and counter-attack, giving high importance to precision and discipline. Bimba also added a few moves from other arts, notably the batuque, an old street fight game practiced by his father. Use of jumps or aerial acrobacies was kept to a minimum, since one of its foundations was always keeping at least one hand or foot firmly attached to the ground. Mestre Bimba often said, “o chão é amigo do capoeirista” (the floor is a friend to the capoeirista).
Capoeira Regional also introduced the first ranking method in capoeira. Regional had three levels: calouro (freshman), formado (graduated) and formado especializado (specialist). When a student completed a course, a special celebration ceremony was had resulting with a silk scarf being tied around the capoeirista’s neck. Today we use rope or intertwined yarn.
The traditions of roda and capoeira game were kept, being used to put into use what was learned during training. The disposition of musical instruments, however, was changed, being made by a single berimbau and two pandeiros.
In the 1970s a mixed style began to take form, with practitioners taking the aspects they considered more important from both Regional and Angola. Notably more acrobatic, this sub-style is seen by some as the natural evolution of capoeira, by others as adulteration or even misinterpretation of capoeira.
Nowadays the label Contemporânea applies to any capoeira group who don’t follow Regional or Angola styles, even the ones who mix capoeira with other martial arts. Some notable groups whose style cannot be described as either Angola or Regional but rather “a style of their own”, include Oficina da Capoeira, Capoeira Males, Senzala de Santos, and Cordao de Ouro.