Capoeira itself

Our project focuses largely on what capoeira represents and how it has been decontextualised and fragmented over time. Having said that, it is important to be as clear as possible about what capoeira actually is, in order to fully engage with the terms used in articles etc. This post is just to lay out an understanding of what capoeira entails, so as to make the rest of our work more meaningful.

Capoeira is most commonly referred to as a martial art and it’s practitioners tend to use the word ‘jogo’ [game]. However, it might be described as a ‘blurred genre’ [Downey 2002] comprising elements not just from martial arts and sport, but also dance and ritual. Historically a practice outlawed and persecuted, it is now used in diverse contexts: from cultural celebrations to modern gym classes.

Traditional manifestations of the practice involve capoeiristas forming a ‘Roda’ [ring] within which two, or occasionally more, participants partake in demonstrating their abilities. This roda is constituted of people waiting to take part, as well as bateria [musicians] who often initiate ‘call and response’ singing with those waiting to enter. When the roda is formed, the most senior mestre [recognised master of capoeira] present often sings a ‘chula,’ which praises God and his own mestre.

The game itself incorporates an extremely wide range of movements, however blocks are typically frowned upon for impacting the fluidity of play. However, they are not often utilised anyway due to the fact that capoeira encourages it’s participants to show attacks, but not to actually follow them through to fruition. It is understood that there is often more skill and control in freezing the attack right before it connects, than there is in completing the movement. That being said, it is still a contact sport and ‘rasteiras’ [take downs] do occur.

Capoeira also does not have fixed rules and there is no way to determine a winner or loser as such. Extent of aggression naturally varies, where some games are almost teamwork to create the most intricate dance and others resemble far more of a martial art as the term is commonly understood. However overall, the roda allows the game to continue between players, as they swap in and out, for as long as they wish.

There is no universal way of grading a capoeirista’s ability, and individual groups approach the education of it’s members differently. The above pattern outlines some of the basic elements of capoeira as it was practiced traditionally, but the fragmented nature of it’s history and evolution means that this cannot be taken as a comprehensive guide.

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