Capoeira Basics

Capoeira is considered as a cultural practice that is organized in the form of a system, constituting itself by the following elements: the roda, the musical rhythms of berimbau, the songs, the ginga and the corporal movements of the two styles (Capoeira Regional and Capoeira Angola). There is, therefore, an interdependence, where the participants of roda should swap between these different functions in the course of the game, or: the capoeirista has to know to perform all the necessary forms for the event to run: playing as much as berimbau as the atabaque, the pandeiro, the agogô and caxixi and still will alternate with others participants in playing and also singing.

The capoeira game takes place in the interior of a circle of some 2.5 meters of ray. This circle is recognized by the capoeiristas as roda. Inside the circle “play” two participants, whereas around the circle, sitting or standing, are the other capoeiristas.

The capoeira master who is responsible for the space where roda takes place is the maximum authority of the moment, and at the beginning only mestres and graduated students enter into the roda. The ritual of the roda consists of the number of rules that organize the behavior of the players inside the roda and rules the dispute itself.

Two capoeiristas squat down in the front of the musical orchestra. One of them begins to sing a “litany” (ladainha), whose lyrics generally contain a challenge to the partner of game. This one after, may answer the provocation by singing another one ladainha, at the end they are prepared for the fight: they bless themselves by hand touching the ground (and sometimes also touching the berimbau) and finish with a sign of the cross or raise quick the hand to forehead and nape, as is usual in candomblé. It is a ritual to ask for a protection in the game and depends on the religiosity of each player. Right away, they mutually give the hands and stare on each other, waiting that the player of the berimbau-berra-boi (in general the person of the highest graduation present) tilts it slightly over their heads.  The berimbau except to be the leading instrument of the musical orchestra of current capoeira, also represents the higher authority in the roda of capoeira, since the order of the entrance in the same (and many times, for the exit) is issued by it. This gesture to tilt the berimbau is seen as an “authorization” or a “blessing” for entry into the roda.

The capoeiristas enter in the roda through a space known as boca-da-roda in front of the instruments.  They stop at boca-da-roda and perform, one in front of another, simultaneously an (cartwheel) in direction to the center of roda. This starts the game which should restrain itself to the space of the roda. If there are two capoeira mestres playing, nobody except another mestre can interrupt them. When one of the capoeirista wish to finish the game he extends the hand to his adversary (which should stay cautious as this gesture can be an ambush for the application of some surprise attack) and, together they may bless themselves at boca-da-roda, leaving through the same space as they entered.

To enter in the roda during the game one must “buy” the game. A capoeirista squats at the boca-da-roda and, when he thinks it is right, he interrupts the dispute that is happening, putting himself to the front of the one with who he desires to play.

Generally the ritual of the roda is finished by farewell songs.

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There is an interesting analogy that the old capoeiristas establish between roda of capoeira and the world, what we easily realize in the verses of the ladainhas, to enter in the roda is “go around the world” (dar a volta ao mundo) or “go throughout the world” (ir pelo mundo afora). But the world of the capoeira is a different world, special and sacred, (it refers many times to the rituals of candomblé, as by example the frequency of putting the hands on the ground or of reversal; these in the African culture are sacred gestures, since soil for them is like the heaven for the western culture), nobody enters or neither leave without blessings. In fact, there is a profane-sacred ambiguity that contaminates all elements of capoeira cultural system, for example we can see that in the role of berimbau, a musical instrument and a spiritual authority at the same time. As well as in the nomenclature of the corporal movements, which mix profane and religious names (bênção, cruz, vingativa, desprezo, etc.).

There is an important significance in this analogy between the roda of capoeira and the world by the fact that these movements, gestures, music and all the system could be considered as historical witnesses, as the slavery is the historical background of capoeira and this socio-cultural resistance in Brazil took place by a nonverbal form. Therefore, the main support of memory of this culture is in “corporal knowledge”, or being interpreted through the movements and rituals of the roda of capoeira.

Through the opposition of attack/dodge are born the dialectics of the corporal movements of capoeira which inhere mandinga, where a dodge can contain an attack, whereas an attack is able to quickly transform itself into dodge. It is in this mandinga (“witchcraft“), or malícia (“malice“) that the secret of the capoeirista is; therefore through this the player is going to interpret the intentions of another and in advance, putting the adversary in disadvantage.

Even today what matters in capoeira game is to know to keep oneself in equilibrium, to do not lose the support and if by any chance it happens to fall, “fall well“; that means being ready to stand back up as quickly as possible. For the capoeirista, having malícia means to be flexible and opportunist, where the capoeira game is seen as a ritual in the search of power, filled by the memory of the slavery.

The roda of capoeira is formed therefore by grouping of all the characteristics that make up the ritual of capoeira; and through this its peculiarity and social and cultural wealth are made apparent to observers.

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During the time that student lives with the master he gets in contact with the infinite world of capoeira. That is why capoeira doesn’t exist without mestre. Each mestre has his particular way of teaching, to pass on his student everything what he thinks that the student should learn to be a good capoeirista. Usually, basics mean advice of mestre and these advice help to the “rash” ones to avoid the errors in roda or during the game. Some of these advice come in form of hints and are fundamental for the “good behaviour” in roda, as many old mestres require a respect to the traditions and, if not found, they leave to play and so they leave of teach a lot of good things to the younger players. For example, in Capoeira Angola, we can see that it is not allowed to play without shoes neither without a t-shirt.

In capoeira roda if you want to be received well you have to present yourselves to the mestre owning the roda in the first place, afterwards observing the game, play an instrument and only after that ask for permission and go for a game. Roda begins and finishes at the foot of the berimbau; to not stay scattered in the roda is the main motive why it is formed, the roda (circle) is a symbol of the concentration. Not to “pile up” neither create confusion at the feet of the berimbau, it is only to squat there for the exit into the game after the two other players left the roda. Do not clap the hands and neither play the game during ladainha as there can be a challenge sung in it and all players should pay attention. One mestre says that the hands are not clapped during the Angola game. Another says that yes. In the Regional game hand clapping also can be different. Whatever the way it is, consider all hypotheses as correct. The front of the berimbau orchestra should not be screened by players as it is a berimbau that coordinates the game; it gives orders to stop or begin or even to change the rhythm of the game. The instruments shouldn’t be changed between the game players and instrument players during the game; for the instrument player to also play the game he should wait for “space” in the game (when nobody plays) to be allowed to pass the instrument to another player.

It is mandatory for a good capoeirista to know how to play all of the instruments and sing at least ten different songs. When two mestres are playing the game is not “bought” from them. They decide by themselves when they wish to pass the game to another player.

Each one is individual, no one fights the way of another. There is all the wisdom that one has learned in his fight. Ginga is the basic movement from which all the other movements in capoeira game start. An infinity of fundamental points exists to still be said but I leave it open because it would never arrive to an end as there is endless number of mestres in entire Brazil and to say the basics that each one of them follows would be impossible. I highlight below some “Mandamentos da Capoeira” (Capoeira Rules) and the “Pontos Essenciais do Aprendizado” (Essential Points of Training), used a lot by Mestre Bimba and by everybody who follow his style of teaching.


Capoeira Rules

  • Respect mestre and keep the discipline during the trainings;
  • Maintain permanent vigilance in all environments;
  • Do not lose the movements of the other player from sight;
  • Keep calm in all the situations;
  • Take care of the security of the colleagues at the training;
  • Look after the hygiene of the training space;
  • Do not use the acquired knowledge in fun or aggressions on the street;
  • Obey the orders of berimbau during the practice of the capoeira;
  • Obey the instructions of mestre during the trainings;
  • Practice daily all the movements already learned;
  • Do not move yourself away neither turn your back to the partner.

Essential points of Training

  • Modesty;
  • Discipline;
  • Sportive education;
  • Respect to the hierarchy;
  • Kindness to the colleague;
  • Performing ginga perfectly;
  • Obedience to the command of berimbau;
  • Dodge should be the beginning of contra-kick;
  • Do not offer direct resistance;
  • Always accompany the direction of the attack during the dodging;
  • Never flee backwards;
  • Attack against the moving direction of the player;
  • Jump before being knocked down;
  • Defence against the trip is (cartwheel);
  • Never expose the flank, head, neck or the back;
  • Maintain the adversary in the peripheral visual space;
  • Always dodge turning to the same side as the attack movement;

If we will take into the account what each one of these rules or essential points wants to say, we will have in fact one more beautiful sequence of great basics for anyone to learn and acquire to teach.

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Mandinga or MalíciaNêgo véio mandinguêro dá um risu a todumundu mais é brabo i veiaco cum mulequi i vagabundu” (“Old black man, mandingueiro, smiles at everybody but is fierce and smart with mischievous or vagabonds). In this saying you can see very well where is concealed the witchcraft of an old capoeirista. It is from smile to smile that he sets up his game and takes his time with the opponent inside the roda. There is manginga not only in the Angola game, there is one also in the Regional and a lot. Mandinga or malícia is the way that each one creates to play capoeira and to deal with the other player inside the roda. Pretending a movement, showing that goes and does not go, some acrobatics, doesn’t matter what kind of “secret” the player is going to use, they are all unpredictable movements; like a cat walking on top of the roof tiles you never know where it is going to jump in. Mandinga is the “trump“, “card in the sleeve” that the capoeirista uses to test his adversary and to see how far to go with the game, if to hold it tight or let it run easy. Also the prayer that capoeirista does before the beginning of the game is a part of mandinga, it is a moment of concentration that he has to plan his game, nobody knows what capoeirista says when he squats to the feet of berimbau, besides to ask for protection against the eventual accidents he also gives a good one mandingada there in that moment for him sacred and full of secret. Another thing that few understand inside the capoeira roda are the facial or bodily grimaces that the player does at another player; it is there where he camouflages all beginnings for his movements of attack and defence, or being, when an adversary thinks that he is going to do one movement, he changes the fall of the body and suddenly does another movement completely avoiding the attack to one side and attacking from the other side from behind the back. It is in the camouflage of movements where the whole malandragem of the game is. That is why it is used to say:  “QUEIM DROMI IM CASA DUS ÔTRU NUM FÊXA US ÓIU, CONTA AS TÊIA!” (Who sleeps in the house of the others doesn’t close the eyes, counts the tiles). This wants to say that, ARVE GRANDI PODI TÊ MACACU VÉIO NUS GÁIU. Have you understood? Not?!!!!!!!..

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O que é Mandinga? What is Mandinga? – Short summary of documentary “Mandinga em Manhattan” where various mestres talk about the matter…
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