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Capoeira or the Dance of War by Johann Moritz Rugendas, 1825, published in 1835
Focus Kicking, Punching, Slapping, Headbutting, Acrobatics, Leg Sweeps, Knee/Elbow Strikes, Takedowns
Country of origin Brazil Brazil

Capoeira is a combination of martial art, sport and popular culture that developed out in Brazil, by African slaves and Brazilian natives, starting in the 16th century. It was made to give slaves a chance to escape and to survive. Capoeira was illegal in Brazil until the 1930's.[1]

Capoeira uses strong and fast kicks, dodges and fast counter-attacks. It also uses acrobacies and simple take-downs.


As a from of martial arts for slaves

Capoeira's history probably begins with the beginning of African slavery in Brazil. When Portuguese colonists began exporting West African slaves, Brazil, with its vast territory, received most of the slaves, almost 40% of all slaves sent through the Atlantic Ocean.

Although rebellions were rare, capoeira arose as a hope of survival if they managed to escape, as after an escape attempt, colonial agents were sent after the escapees. The martial arts was incorporated into a dance, to escape detection- with music and rhythmic moves, no suspicion could be raised regarding potential martial art training. Due to city growth, more slaves were brought to cities and so made capoeira more prominent and allowed it to be taught and practiced among more people. In Rio the colonial government tried to suppress it and established severe physical punishments to its practice.[1]


After slavery was abolished in 1888, free former people had nowhere to live, no jobs and were thought to the public as lazy workers.[2][3] Capoeira then found a new role- as a dance of criminals.

Modern day Capoeira

They used capoeiristas (capoeira dancers) as bodyguards and hitmen. In 1890, the Brazillian government prohibited capoeira as police identified it as a advantage in fighting and they didn’t want criminals to have this advantage.[4] After this, anybody caught practising capoeira for any reason would be arrested and tortured by the police. Some practises still occurred in remote places with guards to warn of police.

By the 1920s, capoeira repression had declined. Mestre Bimba from Salvador, a strong fighter in both legal and illegal fights, thought capoeira was losing its martial roots due to the use of its playful side to entertain tourists. Bimba began developing the first systematic training method for capoeira, and in 1932 founded the first capoeira school and he called it Luta Regional Baiana as capoeira was illegal in name. By 1940, capoeira was legalized.[5]


Today, capoeira is used as a exporter of Brazilian culture all around the world and in 1970 it began to be taught in other countries.[6] Capoeira presentations, normally theatrical and with little martiality, are common sights around the world. The martial art part however, is still present and still disguised, just as it was in the time of slavery, and trickery is still present and expert dancers used. An attack can be disguised even as a friendly gesture, such is the expertise gone into the research of new moves. Capoeira is now a symbol of Brazilian culture, its ethnic amalgam, and of resistance to oppression.


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