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Capoeira: A Resilient & Unique Martial Art

Although there were many disastrous consequences from colonization-which still have ripple effects on our society until this day- the human spirit is amazingly resilient. Approximately 3.5 million people were kidnapped from Africa and taken to Brazil during the 350 years of the slave trade. The Afro-Brazilian art form of Capoeira is an excellent example of how people created beauty out of that horrible daily reality.


Photo source: Marginal Boundaries

There are many different theories of how Capoeira was exactly born, but all acknowledge that the elements of dance, martial arts, music and acrobatics combined from the exchanges between diverse African peoples in Brazil. When I first learned about Capoeira, I was impressed by the popular theory of why this art form intertwines martial arts and dance-like movements. It is thought that Capoeira was disguised as a dance to fool the slavemasters. Indeed, the tempo of the songs signal the players to move faster or slower, which may have originated from when it was used as a way to signal to the capoeiristas that the slavemasters were approaching and that they should switch from martial arts to more dance-like movements. Capoeira has a powerful story of evolution from being looked down upon to being praised after slaves successfully used Capoeira in the Paraguayan war (1865-1870) and were granted their freedom. But then in 1890, a law prohibiting Capoeira was passed and it remained an illegal practice until 1920.


Photo source: Muito Bonitta

 Mestre Pastinha and Mestre Bimba were two prominent figures in keeping the art of Capoeira alive. It is now one of Brazil’s national sports and is an art form growing all over the world. Capoeira can be played fast or slow, depending on the music. Encircled by people who give their energy by singing, clapping, and playing the Capoeira instruments (berimbau, pandeiro, and a large drum similar to a conga called atabaque), the two capoeiristas ebb and flow in a graceful conversation of kicks, defenses, and acrobatic dance-like movements. Advanced capoeiristas show power and control as they come inches away from each other’s face with their kicks, yet smoothly continue without hesitation or pause in the attack and counter-attack format of the game.

It is an amazing art form to watch, both fierce and elegant. If it so inspires you, find a Capoeira studio near you to begin training and playing. One of the most beautiful things about Capoeira, in my humble opinion, is that it not only makes you physically stronger, but it also trains your mind and soul to be patient and flexible, to be respectful and graceful.

Kaira Portillo

Kaira Portillo-Espinoza was born and raised in San Francisco, CA. She is grateful for having grown up around such a wide spectrum of diversity, which makes the Bay Area the unique place it is. Her first published book, Poems About This Roller-Coaster Ride Called Life, is a collection of poems she wrote throughout high school and college and explores issues of injustice, resistance, sexuality, and empowerment.