It’s that time of the month again readers, to put the spotlight on a particular art of combat and give a crash course on its origins, history, techniques, and most famed practitioners. For this installment of Martial Art of the Month, we focus on the martial art that makes literal the oft-made comparison of martial arts to dance, the Afro-Brazilian hybrid of dance, music, and fighting known as Capoeira!
The 1993 film “Only the Strong” served as an introduction to the art for millions of people around the world including myself. How better to kick off about Capoeira than with a clip of the film’s opening sequence featuring the great, multi-talented Mark Dacascos and his Capoeira trainer (who also features in the film) Mestre Amen Santo!
The history of Capoeira can be traced back several centuries to the slave trade established by Portuguese colonists in Brazil. African slaves found themselves in a strange land, robbed of their freedom and their connection to their culture and it was out of a burning desire to reclaim both that Capoeira was born.
The slaves knew that their masters would put a stop to their martial arts training the moment they sensed a rebellion was brewing. So, they took steps to disguise their combat skills by blending them with the movements of tribal dances and many escaped slaves would use their Capoeira skills to keep their freedom and teach others to do the same. As the slave trade began to die out in the latter half of the 19th century, Brazilian slaves would at last gain their freedom, but they would also experience something martial artists throughout history are all too familiar with – their art being unfortunately outlawed by the Brazilian government.
With the practice of Capoeira now being a criminal offense, practitioners were forced to keep their skills hidden and train in secret, but it was with the help of Manuel dos Reis Machado, better known as ‘Mestre Bimba’, that things would change.
Specifically, after a performance of skills before Juracy Magalhães, governor of the Brazilian state of Bahia, Mestre Bimba was able to persuade Brazilian government officials about the importance of Capoeira to Brazilian culture. The ban would ultimately be lifted in the early 1930’s after being in effect for more than four decades.
Mestre Bimba would subsequently found the first Capoeira school in 1932, teaching his own brand of the art known as Capoeira Angola. The goal was to re-establish Capoeira as an efficient and powerful martial art, something which he felt had been in decline during the art’s forty-year ‘legal’ ban.
Check out the cool multi-dimensional capoeira moves in this fight: The Rock vs Ernie Reyes Jr from the movie, “The Rundown”!
The foundation for every moment within Capoeira lies in the “ginga”, (pron: “Jin-ga”) in which the practitioner, known as a “Capoeirista”, sways back and forth, directly drawing from the art’s dance origins.
By performing the ginga, the capoeirista is able to mask his or her movements from the opponent in a similar manner as basic feinting, as well as keeping themselves in a state of constant movement with the opponent unable to predict the incoming attack. The ginga also facilitates a wide range of attacks, from kicks, sweeps and takedowns, as well as evasive manoeuvres such as cartwheels, tumbles, rolls, and somersaults.
In a typical training setting, two capoeiristas will face one another with their fellow students forming a circle around them called a “roda”, while the accompanying music is played on such instruments as the “berimbau” the “pandeiro” the “atabaque” the “agogo” and the “ganza”.
Aside from serious sparring between advanced practitioners, Capoeira training is also frequently treated as a game where two participants trade techniques with the goal of using sweeps or takedowns rather than serious strikes. This helps improve their agility and the flow of their ginga, this is the side of Capoeira that is more widely seen by the general public.
Practitioners you may know
As the man to bring Capoeira out of hiding in Brazil, Mestre Bimba developed a reputation as a highly formidable fighter in his time. He won many public matches after the art’s decriminalization and due to his efforts in the first half of the twentieth century, Capoeira has flourished world-wide and produced a plethora famed capoeiristas. Among them are MMA greats like Anderson “Spider” Silva, Conor McGregor and Marcus Aurelio.
Capoeira has also permeated the gaming world, especially in the popular “Tekken” franchise, which includes the characters Eddy Gordo and Christie Monteiro, two of the world’s most renowned fictional capoieristas!
Because of its connection to dance, Capoeira also lends itself well to martial arts films, with action star Wesley Snipes “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist” director Joey Ansah, and the heavy of “Tom Yum Goong 2” Marrese Crump all being exponents of Capoeira.
However, it’s safe to say that the most recognizable face in Capoeira today is none other than Lateef Crowder Dos Santos, who can be seen displaying his borderline superhuman Capoeira abilities in movies like “Tom Yum Goong”, “Undisputed 3: Redemption”, and “Falcon Rising”!
Lateef even got to play Eddy Gordo himself in the live-action “Tekken” movie, as well as take part in a scientific analysis of Capoeira in the National Geographic martial arts documentary series “Fight Science”!
Well, that’s it for this edition of Martial Art of the Month, we hope you enjoyed it and join us for the next instalment coming soon!