Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Capoeira (kA-pu-Ej-ra)

Originating in the 16-1700s, by the slaves of Brazil, Capoeira is a fight, a dance, a game, a ritual. It begins with a roda, or circle, african drums and the berimbaus begin to play. Someone begins to sing, and everyone listens:

Boy, who was your mestre?
My mestre was Solomon.
I owe him wealth, health and duty.
I am a disciple who learns
I am a mestre who teaches.
The secret of Sao Cosme,
is known only to Damon, camara.

Only those who have been initiated know the meaning behind these words, although they are spoken openly on the streets for anyone to hear. The true meaning is more than the words, but something you learn as you learn the art.

The leader calls out 'E arruande!' and a response is called out by those in the circle. 'Ye arruande, camara.'

Two of the men crouch in front of the berimbau and drummers. They bow their heads and seem to be lost in meditation. They raise their heads as the chanting continues...

E, long live my mestre;
-Ye, long live my mestre, camara...
E, who taught me;
-Ye, who taught me, camara...
Ai, the deceitfulness;
-Ye, the deceitfulness, camara...
E, of capoeira;
-Ye, of capoeira, camara...

The two men touch the ground, and trace signs into the dirt. These signs will strengthen their body and spirit. The lead singer begins a new song that signals the beginning of the game.

The two players continue the ritual with the proper movements, and then face each other. The game has begun.
"They realize that it is no longer their friend or training partner who is in front of them, but instead there stands before them a riddle that can present dangerous and unpredictable enigmas in the corporal dialogue that will follow. It is a dialogue that is made up not of words, but rather of movements--exploratory movements, attack movements, defense movements, deceitful movements--questions and answers in the mysterious language of capoeira."

Here is a movie showing a round between two mestres, or masters.

The game of capoeira has three levels, all of which, could be attained within a year of beginning to play capoeira.

The first level is that of the physical aspects. Kicking hard, learning new spins and flips, winning this fighter and that fighter. A player who stays at this level without expanding into the other two levels will only be a fighter, and will miss the depth he might otherwise gain.

The second level is gained gradually, as the philosophy of the game seeps into the consciousness of the initiate. He will begin to notice this deeper meaning, and realize that it was always there, but he did not recognize it.

This second level is founded on the principle of malicia, the knowledge of humanity, life, suffering, joy, the driving force behind our actions. When you can see the cockiness, or the doubt, or the anger in a player, and can foresee his next move, you will also see it in the people around you, at work, at home. Another aspect of this level is the participation in the music, an interest in the history. The player will perhaps write their own songs, and if he indeed understands capoeira, they will be adopted by his camaras (comrades, or brothers).

After decades of immersion in the art of capoeira, the player becomes a master. He can instantly discern what goes on between two players, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually. He will no longer feel the need to show off, he will be content to teach, to play and to learn.

This final level of capoeira was encountered the first time the berimbau played, it was always there, waiting to be uncovered.

Are you truly a Master?

I am indebted to Nestor's 'Little Capoeira Book', for the descriptions and songs in the above post. I left out a lot, so you should check it out at your local library if you are interested.

Extra Information for the curious:

Wikipedia: Capoeira
YouTube: Well played!
YouTube: Slow - this is the dancing aspect
YouTube: A Mestre - very skillful
Amazon: Read any book by Nestor


Widow's Son said...

Utterly fascinating and mesmerizing.

Widow's Son

John Galt said...

I have the book and practice the art. Excellent post.


Sophia said...


I'm still working on Ginga! But, I would love to become even fairly good at Capoeira. Keep practicing!