What is Capoeira

posted February 11, 2003 by Jer


A few of you out there have picked up that I study Capoeira Angola, and have taken the time to e-mail me about it. I want to thank all of you who have, because the art of Capoeira is currently trying to define itself in our media-based society. However, those of you who are already familiar with Capoeira have commented on the value of the different Capoeira Schools, namely Regional and Angola. I'd like to talk about this for a moment.

First, for everyone who does not know: Capoeira is the art of Afro-Brazilian Martial Arts. During colonial American times, Africans were brought to North and South America as slaves. Many of the Africans who arrived in Brazil were from the region of Africa known as Angola. With them, they brought a ceremony who's original name was forgotten. It was believed the game was originally played between young men as a contest to win a bride without a dowry, but for enslaved Africans in Brazil, this game offered hope of freedom. In Brazil, the game of Capoeira was shared and taught among enslaved Africans. The traditional instruments were fashioned from what could be found (namely, the Berimbau, the Atabaque, the Pandeiro, the A-Go-Go and the Reco-Reco) and when the slave masters questioned the ceremony, the enslaved Africans would tell them they are just dancing or playing a children's game. This game, however, was a very dangerous martial art, which assisted the escape of so many enslaved Africans that they were able to create their own colonies, or quilombos, in Brazil. Capoeira was quickly outlawed in Brazil, and it wasn't until the 1930's that it began to gain social acceptance. It was around this time that two masters of Capoeira, Mestre Bimba and Mestre Pastina, created schools to help the art of Capoeira grow from its tortured past.

Mestre Bimba created the school of Capoeira Regional. (in Portuguese, you pronounce the letter "R" like Americans pronounce "H," so Regional is pronounced "Heh-jio-nal"). Mestre Bimba was a student of many martial arts, and it was his hope that Capoeira could become an effective and respected fighting style, much like Asian martial arts had become. Using his knowledge of martial arts, Mestre Bimba created the style of Capoeira Regional, using belts as ranks, and adopting the traditional white uniform.

Shortly after, another master, Mestre Pastina, started his own school: Capoeira Angola. Mestre Pastina felt that the soul of Capoeira was its history and its ceremony. To Mestre Pastina, Capoeira was a sport, and the Yellow and Black uniforms of Capoeira Angola were designed to mimic the uniforms of Football (soccer) players. Mestre Pastina's students were taught to respect the heritage and traditional movement of the art of Capoeira.

I recently received an E-mail that claimed "Regional is better then Angola." There certainly are differing opinions on the subject of worth. Some say that Capoeira Regional is stronger. Some say Capoeira Angola is closer to pure Capoeira. My opinion is that we are all Capoeiristas, as we should be loyal to the school of Capoeira we love, but not fight with schools who are different. Mestre Pastina and Mestre Bimba knew of each other, and respected each other as Capoeira Masters. They never played Capoeira with (or against) each other, and if they did, I am certain they would both intend to play to a draw. My master, Mestre Cobra Mansa (loosely translated, Cobra Mansa means Snake Who Does Not Bite) once told me that he never fights to prove himself. He proved to his master that he is a Capoeirista, and he proved to himself. There is no one else he needs to prove it to. He plays to learn, or he plays to have fun. There is no other reason to fight.