Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art which combines aspects of dance, improvised play, and acrobatics organized by a traditional structure of song, music and ritual. Capoeira was invented by African slaves of different linguistic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds in Brazil to unify themselves and to achieve liberation. Today, Capoeira is present in over one hundred countries, having survived centuries of oppression.
Tradional Capoeira Regional was invented by Mestre Bimba in 1928. Mestre Bimba is widely regarded as the most important historical master of the 20th century, although the essence of his style has been largely forgotten. In the city in which he invented Traditional Capoeira Regional, Salvador da Bahia, can be found a small number of groups dedicated to the preservation of his original style. One of these groups, Grupo de Capoeira Porto da Barra, has a satellite in Montreal under the first Canadian Formado* (Contra-Mestre Comprido) of this art.
Capoeira training is complete in that it explores all physical dimensions while utilizing the power of music to inspire and animate the body. The fundamental movement of Capoeira Regional is a constant back and forth swaying in time to the rhythms of the traditional instruments and handclasp. Basic movements teach skills which allow the practitioner to avoid attacks rather than meeting them with force. Movements from inverted and floor positions increase body awareness and amplify the field of vision and range of movement while working the body in new ways. The teaching of over twenty spinning, traumatic and direct kicks as well as basic acrobatics complete the basic training which is guaranteed to increase strength, coordination, cardio-vascular endurance and flexibility. Stretching comprises at least twenty per cent of training time. The game or Jogo de Capoeira is also an important aspect of training which teaches the ability to improvise within the traditional movement and etiquette structures.
The game of capoeira is complex and rewarding, but depends upon a knowledge and respect for the traditions of the art. Physical movements are relatively easy to teach but their proper and safe application within the game is of utmost importance. For a long period of time practitioners play without contact, emphasizing a cooperative approach which eventually results in games of an appealing aesthetic character. The practitioner learns awareness of space and her or his own body, and how to maintain visual contact throughout all the movements. The development of a notion of balance between attacks, defenses and decorative movements while respecting the rhythm of music is very important. The ability to simulate a combat while transforming violence into beauty demands self-control at a physical, psychological and emotional level. In later stages of training takedowns and limited contact are permitted which increases the intensity of the game and the need for respect, knowledge of etiquette, and self-control. The game may be learned with recorded music but the practice of traditional music and the traditional ritual (Roda de Capoeira) is the most rewarding way to learn and profit from Capoeira training.
The music of capoeira is based on the rhythms of a one-stringed instrument of African origin called the berimbau. This instrument, for all its simplicity, has a distinctive sound which resonates with the soul, mind and body. The different rhythms of the berimbau are the principle organizing factor in the circle (roda) of Capoeira which allow the game to be played in a positive and correct fashion. The rhythm determines the speed of the game, and the rules (ie. degree and/or absence of contact) of the particular game. There are a total of eight berimbau rhythms in Traditional Capoeira Regional, each serving a particular function such as opening and closing of a training session, a projections (reserved for Formados, Professores and Mestres). These rhythms are accompanied by two tambourines (pandeiros), handclasp and singing. The songs of Capoeira contain philosophy, history, and riddles and have a call and response structure which demands the participation of all practitioners. While learning the songs the practitioner learns the Portuguese language (in its Brazilian form), as well as the history of the art. The combination of the berimbau, pandeiros, handclasp and singing creates the musical and energetic structure which allows the game of Capoeira to be played correctly (ie. respectfully, traditionally and safely).
Equipment required for capoeira training is minimal. Capoeira has been practiced under very difficult conditions for centuries, and is very adaptable. A level, clean and dry surface is a big advantage. Traditional Capoeira Regional is practiced barefoot and this requires that the training area be adequately heated during the Canadian cold season. After acquiring a solid base in the physical movements, some practitioners may wish to explore more challenging decorative and acrobatics movements. In Brazil these movements would be perfected on the beach, but in Canada trainers require tumbling panels and reception (crash) mats to teach them safely. Traditional Capoeira Regional also requires the purchase of a uniform, consisting of pants and a tank-top or T-shirt with the logo of the group. Practitioners are given one month to be in proper uniform, and lower prices may be available in the case of children and adolescents (17 years and under). The most important equipment is the desire to learn while respecting the traditions of this art in an atmosphere which valorizes teamwork and cooperation over competition.
The system of graduation of the Grupo de Capoeira Porto da Barra is an important element which encourages students and marks their progress, while regulating and recognizing the rights, privileges and responsibilities of teachers. The system is based on ropes of light and dark colours which correspond to the length of time the practitioner has been training. Graduation ceremonies occur once a year during Mestre Cabeludo’s annual visit to Montreal and take the form of a large Roda of Capoeira with guest teachers and students from other cities in an atmosphere of friendship and cooperation. Graduation of Instructors, Monitors, Formados, Professores etc., occurs only in Brazil under rigorous conditions.
*Teacher having at least ten years of training and with the capacity to train and supervise Instructors