By Pedro Souza, Staff Writer
November 13, 2015

In the streets, parks and beaches of Brazil, one often sees groups of people gathered in a circle, playing instruments while two people inside the circle sway, kick and dodge to the rhythm of the music. This is capoeira, a Brazilian martial art practiced through all of Brazil, especially in the northeast of the country.

No one knows exactly when capoeira originated, but it is believed that it was created by slaves in the 16th century. At that time, slaves were forbidden from practicing martial arts and their cultural traditions as well. They were also constantly subjected to torture and violence, and those that tried to run away were chased by “capites-do-mato”. In order to learn self-defense, it is said that the slaves created a new form of martial art and disguised it as a dance. The movements of capoeira are characterized by the way fighters sway and by the wide variety of kicks that they employ, as well as the acrobatic quality of the movements. Elements of diverse African cultures were also mixed in capoeira, making it a matter not only of self-defense but also of cultural identity.

Training sessions usually took place near the “Senzala”, which was the building where slaves were kept. But fights would sometimes take place in fields with small shrubs which were called “capoeira” at the time. This is where the name of the sport came from.

In 1890, Deodoro Fonseca, who was the president at the time, signed a law that made capoeira illegal, as it was considered subversive and violent. Later on, a capoeira master known as Mestre Bimba created a new style of capoeira known as “capoeira regional” (regional capoeira). Bimba would present his style in 1930 to Getlio Vargas, who was the president of Brazil at the time. Vargas enjoyed it so much that he made it legal and turned it into a national sport as well. Bimba also created the first capoeira gym in 1932 in Salvador and named it “Academia-escola de Capoeira Regional”.

His teaching method and style represented an important step in the development of capoeira. He began the tradition of training in an enclosed space, introduced a course curriculum and a systematic training method. He also fixed a defined instrumental arrangement to be played in a capoeira “roda” (circle). The arrangement consisted of a berimbau, which is an instrument composed of a bow and one string, and two pandeiros, which are hand-framed drums very popular in some Brazilian styles like samba and pagode. But his greatest contribution was probably the idea that capoeira should be disseminated and made widely accessible through the use of legal institutions.

In fact, he contributed enormously to the popularization of the sport. Once capoeira gyms became a thing, they spread like mushrooms after the rain, being found all through Brazil and even in many foreign countries. Because of his contribution, many practitioners consider Bimba the father of modern capoeira. His style is also the most widely practiced form of the sport worldwide.

Training capoeira is a great way to improve cardio, strength, flexibility and learning self-defense. At a capoeira gym one also learns discipline and gains confidence as his skills are honed. Last but not least, training capoeira is extremely fun, as well as being a great way to make friends. Whether youre looking to get in shape, lose some weight, learn to defend yourself or just have some fun, capoeira is a great choice and well worth a try.

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