Capoeira at the Marcha da Consciência Negra in São Paulo, Brazil, 2009
Capoeira at the Marcha da Consciência Negra in São Paulo, Brazil, 2009 Credit: By Partido dos Trabalhadores – PINT9491, CC BY 2.0,


What is Capoeira?

Capoeira is a martial art that originated in Brazil during the colonial period. It combines elements of dance, acrobatics, and music to create a unique and dynamic style of fighting. It is often described as a game, emphasizing the importance of fluidity, improvisation, and creativity. Capoeira is also characterized by its use of deceptive movements and strategy, making it a challenging and exciting art to practice and watch.

Brief history of Capoeira

Capoeira developed among enslaved Africans in Brazil during the 16th century. They used it as a means of self-defense and rebellion against their oppressors, as well as a form of cultural expression and solidarity. Over time, Capoeira became more formalized, with the establishment of schools and the development of techniques and rituals. In the early 20th century, it was outlawed in Brazil due to its association with criminal activity and rebellion. However, it continued to be practiced in secret, and in the 1930s and 1940s, efforts were made to legitimize and standardize the art. Today, Capoeira is recognized as a national sport in Brazil and has gained popularity around the world.

The Basics of Capoeira

Movements and techniques

Capoeira is characterized by fluid and acrobatic movements, often inspired by animals such as the jaguar and the monkey. Basic movements include kicks, sweeps, and takedowns, executed in combination with spins, flips, and other acrobatic maneuvers. The art emphasizes improvisation and creativity, allowing for a high degree of individual expression and making each game unique.

Music and instruments

Music and rhythm are integral to Capoeira, set the pace and tone of the game. Traditional instruments such as the berimbau, pandeiro, and atabaque are used. The music is played in a circle, or roda, which is formed by the Capoeira practitioners and spectators. It is also used to communicate with the players in the roda, signaling the start and end of the game, setting the tempo and rhythm, and providing additional energy.

The role of the roda

The roda is the central element of Capoeira, where the game is played. It is typically formed by a circle of practitioners and spectators, with the musicians playing in the center. The players take turns entering the roda and playing the game, with one player acting as the attacker and the other as the defender. The game is not about defeating one’s opponent, but rather demonstrating skill and creativity. The roda is also a space for cultural expression and community building, bringing together practitioners from diverse backgrounds.

Benefits of Capoeira

Physical fitness

Capoeira is a highly physical and dynamic martial art that requires strength, flexibility, and endurance. It can improve overall fitness and cardiovascular health. The art also involves constant movement and transitions between different positions, which can help to improve agility and coordination.

In addition to physical fitness, capoeira can also provide a full-body workout that targets multiple muscle groups. The constant movement and transitions can help to tone and strengthen muscles in the arms, legs, and core. The art also involves a significant amount of stretching, which can help to improve flexibility and prevent injuries.

Mental and emotional well-being

Capoeira is not just a physical workout, but also a mental and emotional one. It requires focus, concentration, and discipline, which can help to improve mental clarity and reduce stress. The art also involves a significant amount of partner work and interaction, which can help to improve social skills and build connections with others.

In addition to the mental and emotional benefits, capoeira can also provide a sense of self-confidence and empowerment. The practice of capoeira involves taking risks and pushing oneself outside of their comfort zone, which can help to build self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment.

Cultural appreciation and awareness

Capoeira is deeply rooted in Brazilian culture and history, and practicing it can provide an opportunity to learn about and appreciate this rich cultural heritage. The art involves music, dance, and storytelling, which can provide insight into the history and traditions of Brazilian culture.

Capoeira also emphasizes respect and community, and practicing it can provide an opportunity to connect with others from different backgrounds and cultures. It is often taught in a group setting, and the emphasis on teamwork and cooperation can help to build a sense of community and belonging.

Capoeira Styles and Schools

Regional vs. Angola

Capoeira can be divided into two main styles: regional and Angola. The former was developed in the 1930s by Mestre Bimba, and is characterized by fast, acrobatic movements and a more athletic approach. The latter, on the other hand, is characterized by slower, more fluid movements and a greater emphasis on traditional music and storytelling.

Both styles have their own unique strengths and can provide different benefits. Regional capoeira can be more physically demanding and can provide a challenging workout, while Angola capoeira can provide a deeper connection to Brazilian culture and history.

Famous Capoeira mestres and their styles

Capoeira has a rich history and tradition, and many famous mestres (masters) have contributed to the development and evolution of the art. Some of the most famous mestres include Mestre Bimba, who developed the regional style of capoeira, and Mestre Pastinha, who developed the Angola style.

Other famous mestres include Mestre João Grande, who is known for his fluid and graceful movements, and Mestre Acordeon, who is known for his musical contributions to capoeira. Each mestre has their own unique style and approach to capoeira, and studying under them can provide a deeper understanding and appreciation of the art.

Choosing a Capoeira school

When choosing a capoeira school, it is important to consider factors such as the style of the art taught, the experience and qualifications of the instructors, and the overall atmosphere and community of the school. It can be helpful to attend a few classes at different schools to get a sense of the teaching style and community.

It is also important to consider the goals and motivations for practicing capoeira. Some schools may focus more on the physical aspects of the art, while others may place a greater emphasis on cultural appreciation and awareness. Finding a school that aligns with one’s goals and motivations can help to ensure a more fulfilling and rewarding capoeira experience.

Capoeira in Popular Culture

In movies and TV shows

Capoeira has been featured in several movies and TV shows, with the most notable being “Only the Strong” (1993), which popularized the art in the United States. It follows a former Green Beret who returns to his old high school to teach it to a group of troubled teens. The film features several Capoeira scenes, including a final fight scene that combines it with other martial arts.

Other notable movies that feature the art include “Ong-Bak 2” (2008), “Besouro” (2009), and “Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown” (2011). In TV shows, it has been featured in episodes of “The Amazing Race,” “Shameless,” and “The Blacklist.”

In music

Capoeira has also influenced music, particularly in Brazil, where it originated. Many songs, known as “ladainhas,” are sung during performances. These songs often tell stories of the art and its history.

It has also been featured in popular music, with artists such as Michael Jackson, Shakira, and Beyonce incorporating its moves into their music videos and live performances. The Brazilian band Olodum, which was founded in the 1980s, is known for incorporating it into its music and performances.

In video games

Capoeira has also been featured in several video games, with the most notable being “Tekken 3” (1997), where fighter Eddy Gordo was introduced as a playable character. Eddy Gordo’s fighting style is based on it, and his character has since appeared in several other “Tekken” games.

It has also been featured in other fighting games, including “Mortal Kombat 3” (1995) and “Dead or Alive 4” (2005).


Capoeira is a unique martial art that combines dance, acrobatics, and music. It originated in Brazil during the 16th century and has since spread to other parts of the world. It has several benefits, including improving physical fitness, coordination, and flexibility, as well as promoting cultural awareness and community building.

Capoeira has also become a popular cultural phenomenon, being featured in movies, TV shows, music, and video games. Its influence can be seen in popular music and dance, as well as in the media. Its popularity has helped to spread awareness of the art and its history, making it an important part of Brazil’s cultural heritage.