“Capoeira is a fight for dancers. It is a dance for gladiators. It is a duel between pals. It is a game, a dance, a struggle, a perfect mixture of strength and rhythm, poetry and agility. The only one where music and singing command the movements. The submission of force to rhythm. Of violence to melody. Sublimation of antagonisms.
In Capoeira the opponents are not enemies, they are comrades. They don’t fight, they pretend to fight. In a very ingenuous way they try to give an artistic view of combat. Above the spirit of competition there is a sense of beauty.
The Capoeira player is an artist and an athlete, a player and a poet.”
– Dias Gomes, 1960
Capoeira’s roots lie in the 16th century, when Portugese slavers brought slaves from Africa to Brazil. The true origin of capoeira is widely disputed. Many people believe capoeira began as a way for the slaves to fight back against their owners, disguising a deadly fighting style as a graceful dance. Others believe that the foundations of capoeira go back even further into African traditions, especially the “Dance of the Zebra” called N’golo. Contemporary capoeira is very different than its original incarnation, yet the spirit of the game, traditional philosophies, and varied histories are still as important as ever.
Capoeira, unlike other martial arts, can be more accurately described as a game than a fighting style. It is more chess than UFC. The name of the capoeira game is the jogo. The jogo is played by two capoeira practitioners (capoeiristas) at a time, inside a ring of people called the roda, which is made up of other capoeiristas or onlookers. The capoeiristas engage in a series of attack and counter attack movements made up of mostly kicks, at times coming within inches of eachother.
There are no true blocks in capoeira; attacks are avoided with escape movements which most people may think of when they hear the word “capoeira”. The main “stance” of capoeira, the ginga (swaying, dance-like movement), is another unique characteristic of the art. It keeps the capoeirista in constant movement. Capoeira is also widely identified with beautiful feats of acrobatic skill called floreio. Experienced capoeiristas can twist their bodies in many different ways, executing flips and movements that would make even a gymnast or dancer jealous.
Music plays a deeply important role in the capoeira game. The main instrument, the berimbau, sets the pace for the jogo, and the capoeira players must follow accordingly. If the berimbau player chooses a fast paced rhythm, the capoeiristas play fast, throwing rapid kicks and flips; if he plays a slow rhythm the capoeiristas slow down, focusing more trickery and control. Two other core instruments (more can be brought in depending on the style) accompany the berimbau: the pandiero (tambourine) and the atabaque (drum). Along with these instruments, participants in the capoeira roda sing songs in Portuguese while clapping to the beat.
Alone, each of these aspects are impressive in their own right, but combined they create the unique and beautiful art of capoeira.
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