Filed under: Capoeira Life
Most people hear capoeira and they think “breakdance fighting” or some other simplistic definition because they associate capoeira with high kicks and backflips. My friends always tease me and ask if I would “dance around someone” if I ever got in a fight. I laugh. They don’t understand.
Whenever I explain capoeira to someone who has never heard of it, I always begin by saying “it’s a Brazilian art form.”
Photo by andrealex (Flickr)
The capoeira that people see in the media is flashy capoeira: a spin kick here and a flip there in some cell phone commercial, or a fancy way to maneuver through security lasers in a big budget movie. Fancy tricks are an important part of capoeira, but not the only part. The reason capoeira is an art form (and not merely a martial art) is because it is more than a fight; it is a form of personal expression.
Capoeira cannot be defined solely by its martial applications. Capoeira combines fighting, dancing, music (singing and instruments), creativity, into one beautiful result. Will you find that in the UFC?
Without music, capoeira is nothing. Without the rhythm of the berimbau or the call the lyrics, capoeiristas are not at home. Sure, you can bust out an amazonas here or an au solta there, but you would not be doing capoeira. You would be doing fancy tricks. Capoeiristas let the music flow through them, it influences their actions and directs the game. The emphasis on music alone is enough to disassociate capoeira from other pure martial arts, but there is more.
The goal of capoeira is not to fight an opponent, it is to play a game with a friend. There are certainly times when a roda will become violent, but these times are rare and, in my opinion, should be avoided. The capoeira game is expression. Capoeira does not exist without the music, the people in the roda, and the capoeirstas playing the game. The best capoeira happens in lively rodas, when the music is loud, the onlookers are excited, and the capoeiristas are having fun.
Sure, martial arts practitioners may put on performances for spectators (tae kwon do demonstrations, UFC matches, for example), but the focus of their specific disciplines is not personal expression; it is training to overcome an adversary. The focus of capoeira is personal expression and creativity through movement, music, and community.
The game is an integral part of capoeira. It’s fine for people to be introduced to capoeira in movies or video games, but they will never know true capoeira until they see it in the roda. As I said before, if you do a parafuso on the street, you are not doing capoeira. You are doing a cool trick. This trick can be imitated by anyone. Breakdancers may steal many capoeira movements because they look cool, but they cannot call themselves capoeiristas. Aerobics instructors may focus a workout around capoeira moves, but they are not teaching capoeira. Without the game, there is no capoeira.
The difference between capoeira as a martial art and as an art form can be summed up in two sentences: Martial artists fight. Capoeiristas play. If you can understand the difference, you can understand capoeira.
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