Tag Archives: Capoeira

Is your Corpo Fechado?


Capoeira is not only a martial art, a dance and a game. It comes along with its cultural background, which developed in the Afrobrazilian circles of Brazil and spread all over the world. It’s like HipHop, or like Yoga. It left it’s national and cultural boundaries and spread to places where some parts of it’s culture might be less well understood than others. Some interesting thoughts about cultural differences in the practice of Capoeira are given in a post by Mandingueira on her highly recommendable blog www.mandingueira.com. Even in Brazil many connotations and aspects of this art get lost due to old mestres dying and their knowledge usually dying with them. Here in Europe or in the U.S. or in Asia only few pieces of this culture are learned. This is why once in a while I come along and try to explain some of the words which you will hear in connection to capoeira. I’m not Brazilian and my connection to Brazil is solely because I love to play Capoeira Angola. So all I can give you is my limited view on some parts of Capoeira culture. If you know better, feel free to correct.

After this short intro I will now come to the question given in the title. Is your Corpo Fechado? For all those who dont know Portuguese, Corpo Fechado means “closed body”. in Capoeira, and in related Afrobrazilian cults like Candomblé, Corpo Fechado does have an important meaning. I will try to explain both the secular and the spiritual meaning of this word.

Corpo Fechado – in the Roda

The closed body in the Roda is a basic principle of Capoeira. Everybody learns it from the very beginning without having to know that they are actually working on a ‘closed body’. The Corpo Fechado in the Roda is your defense, most basically your hands and arms protecting vulnerable parts of your body. These parts are especially your face, neck, chest and lower torso.

Already doing the Ginga does demand the player to keep up his defense every time his body is moving forward. One arm always protects the face. If not so the danger of getting a kick or slap into the face is imminent (I wont judge now how nice or fair it is to kick into the face of somebody whose face was unprotected… that’s another topic). The same does account for every single movement in Capoeira. And also both in traditional and modern variants of the Game. Some Mestres do complain that in modern variants due to a higher distance between players the necessity of a “closed body” decreases. In Capoeira Angola on the other side, a closed body is a necessity – and in every second of the Game a hole in your defense can be used by your partner.

I dont want to scare you people away. And I also dont want to show you just the one side of the coin. Modern Capoeira and Capoeira Angola do allow you to show apparent “entrances” into your body. In the ideal case sometimes you might seem absolutely helpless with you body wide open. And still be able to close the body when it’s needed. That is to lure your partner into a situation where he thinks he has you, and showing him that that is not so. One of my favoritue Capoeira Angola pictures is the one posted below where the player in white seems absolutely helpless. Still, his partner does not fall into that trap keeping up his defense, knowing that a good player can defend himself in whatever position he is.

corpo fechado

But dont forget one essential thing about capoeira. That it is not about concentrating on one thing. Corpo Fechado is a set term in Capoeira culture, but it is not the only thing. Theoretically you could have a perfect defense, but still be absolutely horrible in playing Capoeira. Thus, Corpo Fechado is one part of Capoeira, a part everybody should know of, but not the above-all most important part of it.

Corpo Fechado – in Life

Corpo Fechado does also have a very religious connotation. In Afrobrazilian practises achieving Corpo Fechado is possible through specific rituals and by wearing amulets. Having a Corpo Fechado means being invulnerable against all kinds of physical attacks. If it’s knives or bullets. The most favourite person to have had a Corpo Fechado was the Capoeira legend Besouro Manganga. Manoel Henrique Pereira (1897-1924) was a legendary Capoeirista and criminal in Santo Amaro, Bahia. He was known and loved by the folks for his fights with the police. In times of danger he would transform into a beetle and vanish from the place. He was also known to be invulnerable – or only vulnerable by an enchanted wooden dagger (made of the Tucum-tree), which was the reason for his death in 1927.

But the Corpo Fechado does exist outside of Capoeira aswell. As I said, it is part of Afrobrazilian culture. The rituals and ideals behind this go back into Kongolese religious practices, where there was the belief in Kanga Nitu. Kanga Nitu was “binding your body” thorugh rituals protecting it from evil spirits. Other rituals did include the use fetishes and amuletts – socalled Nkisis – against arrows from enemies in times of war, or for a successful hunt (among many other uses). The ideas of Kanga Nitu and corresponding rituals came along with the slaves and still have an influence on Afrobrazilian culture.

One part which is to be mentioned together with it are the patuás, the amuletts which protect the faithful from all kinds of physical harm. These amuletts did contain a diversity of herbs alongside with prayers written into them. But it obviously doesnt seem to be enough to just wear a Patuá around your neck, you also have to know your prayers and rituals, and what is forbidden and what not. Basically, you have to believe and know the religion before you start “protecting” yourself with a Patuá. As the proverb says: “Quem nao pode com mandinga, nao carrega patúa.” Roughly translated: Who doesn’t know Mandinga, should not use a Patúa. Today a lot of people do carry a Patúa without actually believing in it’s use. It has become a part of Capoeira fashion. I personally do not believe in the effect of a Patúa, but I still would strongly recommend any person who carries a Patúa to learn about its implications. Even if he/she does only see it as a fashionable accessoire, it is still of use to know what you are walking around with.

There are also certain ways to “open” the body of a person, even when that person does have a “Corpo Fechado”, this does include the use of enchanted weapons (as it was in the case of Besouro Mangangá). But also the person himself can cause his “protection” to fail. One known way is to have sex. Some traditional Mestres dont recommend practising Capoeira after having had sex the night before.

So, the next time a mestre screams at you to “fechar o corpo” he means that you should keep up your defense. He usually does not mean you to be abstinent before you come to his class or to wear a Patúa, because as Capoeira does spread around the world, there will be more and more practitioners who do not believe in Candomblé or into any Afrobrazilian manifestation of those ancient Bantu traditions. Still, even if you dont believe in them, it’s useful to know about it – and even if it is only to comprehend more what we are doing, playing Capoeira.

Picture sources:





Filed under Philosophy, The Game

O menino quem foi seu Mestre?

Mestre Pastinha

Menino, quem foi seu mestre ?
Quem te ensinou a brincar
O teu mestre foi Besouro
Aprendeu com Manganga

Eu aprendi com Pastinha
Quero contigo Brincar
A capoeira de angola
A africano quem mandou

Na capital de Salvador
Foi pastinha que me ensinou
Na roda de capoeira
Reconheço esse valor

(M.Joao Pequeno)

At the 13th November 1981 Vincente Ferreira Pastinha, known to the world as Mestre Pastinha, died at the age of 92. Today that is 27 years ago. The only reason why I write this post is to remind everybody of one of the biggest and most important Mestres of Capoeira. I wont go into the details of his life. When he was born, who did teach him capoeira, why, and when he started to teach Capoeira. There is enough sources for that, and everybody who is interested will find the information. Important is what Mestre Pastinha stands for.

Mestre Pastinha stands for the tradition of Capoeira Angola. He is the Mestre of Capoeira Angola. He was not the only one around and not all Angoleiros are from his lineage. But he did do for Capoeira Angola what Mestre Bimba did for the recognition of Capoeira. Both Mestres were not the sole reason for the re-collection of traditions (Pastinha) or for the social integration (Bimba) of Capoeira. But both of them gave these specific processes a face. A name and a point of reference.

What Mestre Pastinha did was keeping up and teaching the traditional Bahian capoeira in a time when Capoeira Angola started to vanish from the streets. Other Mestres of Capoeira did give him the duty and the responsibility to keep up the traditions. And although he was of higher age already, he did start teaching people, building up students who would pass on Capoeira Angola. Without Mestre Pastinha, there wouldnt have been a Mestre Joao Grande, a Mestre Joao Pequeno, a Mestre Moraes, a Mestre Cobrinha, a Mestre Jogo de Dentro… all the people and their organizations which make Capoeira Angola the smaller but definitely not less important part of today’s Capoeira. Not only today’s Capoeira Angola Community, but also the general Capoeira world would have been totally different – and I think far less attractive – if he wouldnt have done his job.  Would there be another one who would have taken the responsibility? No one knows for sure. But what we know is that he did it. And he did it in the best way possible. Concentrating on everything what Capoeira was losing in a time when Capoeira was getting more popular among Brazilian society, but only if it was stripped of it’s Mandinga, Brincadeira, rituals, spirituality, individuality and – to sum it up – it’s soul. He did resist all these temptations and died miserably.

It’s sad that his role in keeping traditional Capoeira alive was only fully comprehended when he was already dead, but that’s often with big personalities in history. We can’t change history, but we can keep his work up. I dont expect it from everybody, just somebody has to do it. And those who are mostly (but not solely) responsible for this are the Mestres, especially the ones who dedicate themselves to Capoeira Angola.

This is the reason why in future I will also post more about specific Mestres of Capoeira Angola, and their achievements and ways to keep up the heritage of Mestre Pastinha. And with this I will finish now and hope that I did a small contribution to the memory of Mestre Pastinha.




Filed under Mestres

Mixing styles: Can you train both Angola and Regional?

This is one of the most controverse topics in discussions between Angoleiros and Regionalistas. And it is a question which is coming up more and more often since several groups claim for themselves that they a) practise both or b) that the dichotomy between Regional and Angola is artificial and thus, that they are training “Capoeira só”. Capoeira e uma so, I agree. But most of the time this sentence is used to downsize the existing difference between the styles. Isnt it possible that there is one Capoeira, but with two different styles? Can you intermix those styles?

Capoeira e uma so?

First I want to talk about the difference between Capoeira Angola and modern variants of Capoeira. The question I want to ask is: how big is the difference? Because, if there is no big difference between the two styles of Capoeira, than the issue is not that big, right? We have to keep in mind that these styles are not monolithic constructs. They did develop over time and under the influence of different mestres and different schools, thus both evolving into artforms with a lot of variants. Thus the issue get’s more complicated than you think.

Let’s chose the most simple solution to this problem. Below I posted 6 videos of Capoeira games and you people will make a self-test and see if you can see the difference between an Angola game and a Regional game.

Ok, so most of you were able to distinguish the different styles here, right? Good, for me that’s proof enough that there is not only one Capoeira, bBut two distinguishable styles.

Enter: Capoeira Angonal

Can you intermix the styles?  As supporters of a mixed Capoeira do say over and over again, there was no dichotomy between Capoeira Regional and Capoeira Angola before Mestre Bimba and Mestre Pastinha started teaching these. So logically there should be the possibility to get back to the traditional “pre-forms” of Capoeira by mixing Capoeira Angola and Regional, right? Although this logic seems to be intriguing, as an Angoleiro I have to say that there is one basic mistake in this assumption. That is to see Capoeira Angola as something which did evolve from the old Capoeira and which is significantly different from it, as different as other modern variants of Capoeira. We Angoleiros do insist on the fact that Capoeira Angola is the traditional Capoeira (or at least what comes closest to it). The dichotomy did evolve when the modern form of Capoeira Regional did come to existence. So if somebody wants to rely on tradition, why doesnt he play Capoeira Angola?

Thus, when you try to intermix the modern form with the traditional form, then what you wont get back to a traditional form. Present mixes of Capoeira Regional and Capoeira Angola are sometimes called Capoeira Contemporeana or Capoeira Angonal. When you search for both terms you will find modern Capoeira groups, Angoleiros still would still call them Regionalistas. Check it yourself on Youtube by typing in Capoeira Angonal. Some of the videos do sometimes resemble an Angola game, but as an Angoleiro (and I assume also as a modern Capoeirista) you will be able to see the difference. On the other side I have to admit that it is hard to name the differences. There is a lot differentiating the Angoleiro from the Regionalista: the ginga, the way of moving, the use of malicia (there is also malicia in modern Capoeira though), the expression, the speed, the proximity of the players to each other and much more. Although we might not be able to pinpoint it, we can tell if we see an Angoleiro playing or not.

But what is with those old Capoeiristas who did say that they were neither Regional and neither Angola like Mestre Canjiquinha or Mestre Leopoldina?

With these Mestres it is more difficult to put them into certain categories, as they are clearly no Regionalistas, but they seem to differ from the typical Angoleiro style. To answer this you have to remember that most Angoleiros nowadays are in the tradition of Mestre Pastinha and his students Mestre Joao Grande and Joao Pequeno. But there were other mestres, and those played different. For Angoleiros there is no contradiction. The other old mestres might play differently, but for an Angoleiro they are clearly traditional Capoeiristas, thus: Angoleiros. On the other side, supporters of the “Capoeira e uma so” idea do bring these examples as evidence that present day Capoeira Angola is also just a new style and that by practising Capoeira Angonal, you are actually really traditional! Angoleiros, seeing themselves as protectors of the traditional Capoeira, see “Angonalistas”, their game, and start getting suspicious. Is Capoeira Angonal just a marketing idea, brought up when being “traditional” started to be cool again? Because, Capoeira Angonal did not exist (neither as word nor as idea) when traditional Capoeira was threatened by extinction, when being modern was all, and being traditional was considered antiquated or plain stupid. Only when people started realizing that being traditional is not equal to being old-fashioned and antiquated, and when traditional Capoeira did start to rise in reputation again, only then the “true” “pre-forms” of dichotomy free Capoeira did come up.

Can you train both and keep them separate?

So, for an Angoleiro you can’t intermix the styles and make a Capoeira Angonal. That would be just taking over some of the traditions, but keeping the modern changes in it. Thus, it would still not be traditional Capoeira Angola. It would be more like taking your favourite pieces to spice your game up again, but denying the rest.

On the other side there are other groups who say that they train both, but separated from each other, having Capoeira Angola classes in one week and Capoeira Regional classes the other weeks. At first thought, there cant be a big problem with this, right? The only thing you have to do then is to define when you are going to play Regional, and when you are going to play Angola. I have met people who did say that they train both and yes, you could see that. It was still not the game of an Angoleiro. The following video is an example where you see a group of Regionalistas training Capoeira Angola.

But be careful: It’s not that Angoleiros dont appreciate when modern Capoeiristas do show interest in Capoeira Angola. I love it and I wish much more modern Capoeiristas would do that! But you should be aware that everybody will see the difference between a pure Angoleiro and a Capoeirista who learned to play Capoeira Angola.

At the end: it is one body and one brain we are training. And if you have seen people from other martial arts training Capoeira you know exactly what I mean. What you learned before, does influence your game. Be it another martial art, be it Capoeira Regional or Capoeira Angola. I trained for a year with a group of Capoeira Contemporeana, and I have observed two things about my game: One, if I would want to play the same way as the students of that group, I would have to train years with them, and concentrate on not using what I learned before. Only after years people will have a hard time seeing if I was an Angoleiro before or not. And on the other side, only after a year of training with a modern Capoeira group my first Capoeira Angola teacher and other Angoleiros could see the difference in my game. Less than before I was going into Jogo de Dentro, I was kind of restricted in my game. Had problems seeing through the malicia of my teacher, and so on.

I dont say it’s bad that I trained with a group of modern Capoeira. Life is a learning process and for sure I have learned things in the last year. But I realized myself that my game started to change, and develop away from my Capoeira Angola skills. That is why I now start focusing on Capoeira Angola again.

Is it impossible to play both?

No it’s not, when you see Mestres play you can see that there are a lot of Mestres who can play both styles of Capoeira. With some of the bigger Mestres it is impossible to see if they are Angoleiros or Regionalistas. They blend into any Roda. And that’s something admirable for sure. One nice example is the game in the following video.

But to be able to blend into both styles does not only need the will to do it, but also the coordination and the experience to do so. For the usual student of modern Capoeira, like most of my readers, it is impossible to play Angola Angoleiro style. And for me it is impossible to play Regional Regional style.

At least not with a few years of experience.


So what does it mean for us? First, we have to decide on what we are gonna be. Do we want to be Angoleiros or Regionalistas? Do we want to concentrate on one, or do we want to learn both? It’s not a mistake to chose to learn both styles. I can see that there are different qualities in the different styles and that you want to learn and experience them both. I as an Angoleiro dont want to recommend on training some kind of mix of the two styles, because these mixes have not proven themselves to be a real alternative to the established schools and styles. And I would also recommend you to learn the two styles in different schools. Not because one school might not be able to learn you the basics of both, but because the chance to learn both properly is higher when you go to a modern Capoeirista for modern Capoeira, and to an Angoleiro for Capoeira Angola.



Filed under Capoeira Today

Respect Your Berimbau!

The first time I heard and saw the Berimbau, I was amazed. Some other people were not used to its sound and did not understand it. And while learning more about Capoeira, a student does understand that having a Berimbau and learning how to play it and that listening to the sounds and the orders of the Berimbau in the Roda is of uttermost importance in Capoeira. I always accepted this as a fact and did not waste energy to think about it, until the first person asked: “why?”

When we thoroughly study the sources, we see that Capoeira was not always associated with the Berimbau. When Rugendas was describing Capoeira in 1825, there were drums. When Debrét was drawing the black street vendor with the Berimbau, there was no Capoeira. In the few first-hand sources we have about Capoeira of the 19th century, there is just no Berimbau. And still, today all our Mestres and teachers do emphasize the importance of the Berimbau. The Berimbau started to become a symbol of Capoeira. When I see somebody walking around with a Berimbau here in Europe, I just assume he is a Capoeirista. So, what happened in the last 100 years? Why is the Berimbau so important to Capoeira, while it was just not associated with it just 110 years ago?

Let’s try to track it back.

Out of Africa – the Berimbau

The Berimbau is an African-derived instrument. Recent and past indigenous tribes of Brazil did not have musical bows, the Europeans neither. But in Africa around the 15th century till today there was a huge diversity of different musical bows, of which I have given an overview in another post of mine. The ones who played these bows and built them in Africa were shipped over to Brazil and there they started making Berimbaus and playing them. We find the first historical documentation of the Berimbau in the early 19th century. Especially travellers from Europe were fascinated or curious about the musical bow which was described as being used by street vendors and beggars. And it was especially an instrument used by Blacks, not by the mestizoes, not the poor whites, it was the African Brazilian people who used the Berimbau.

The first times the Berimbau was mentioned together with Capoeira, was in the early 1880’s. One document of this time (about 1891) is a description by Joao Silva da Campos, whose description was published posthumously in 1941:

The excited dark crowd performed Batuques. Samba. Capoeira circles. One heard pandeiros, cavaquinhos, violas, harmonicas, berimbau and cadential hand clapping. It was  pandemonium (Campos 1941:131).

This description, which does not seem to be the description of an insider, does definitely show us that Capoeira and the Berimbau were already in the same happenings, but maybe not specifically linked to each other. It was still mainly poor African Brazilians who practised Capoeira, and who played the Berimbau. But in one expect there is an important difference between Capoeira and the Berimbau. While Capoeira was practised in different places, the Berimbau seems to have survived in only few places. Especially in Salvador. In Rio Capoeira was practised without the Berimbau (and without the Ginga and so on), but was associated with war songs used by the Guiamos and the Nagoas. In Recife Capoeira was associated with the city’s principal music bands, but they also had no Berimbau.


In the 1930’s the Berimbau was nearly extinct in Brazil. It was only played in Salvador, and here most of its players were Capoeiristas or associated to them. And then, when Capoeira did suddenly increase in popularity thanks to Mestre Bimba and the legalization of Capoeira Academies by Getulio Vargas, the Berimbau did start to be used more and more. And today, only 70 years later, the Berimbau is a symbol of Brazil, but more of Afrobrazilian culture, and, of all, of Capoeira. It is still most intimately connected to Capoeira, but has now its existence in performance and entertainment outside of it as well. Without Capoeira, the Berimbau would never had experienced such an increase in popularity in the world. And maybe, though this is speculation, it would not have survived.

But there is also the other side of the coin. Would Capoeira have survived or gained so much popularity without the Berimbau? Mind, that the Capoeiras of Rio de Janeiro and Recife, the ones without the Berimbau and stripped from many parts of Afrobrazilian culture, did not survive. Alright, this is all speculation, because, in fact, Capoeira and the Berimbau did survive. My opinion is still, that without each other, both would have been much weaker nowadays than before. They are in a symbiosis: a situation, where two different entities are closely associated gaining mutual benefit from this. Already this is a reason to respect the Berimbau and keep it in your Rodas and in your trainings.


There is more to the Berimbau. The Berimbau is the Master of the Roda. Of course, yes, there are other Mestres, but in every Roda, in modern Capoeira Rodas and in traditional ones, the Berimbau does control speed and style of the game. That’s why there are different rythms, different toques of the Berimbau. That is why the Berimbau is the first instrument to play in a Capoeira Roda. That’s why every instrument can miss in a Roda, but not the Berimbau. And that’s why Capoeiristas can walk through any street and will react on the sound of the Berimbau, usually making him attent and making him search for the Roda. That is why there are all rituals around the Berimbau, why it’s at the Pé do Berimbau where we enter the Roda.

Mestre Bimba did modernize Capoeira, but he did leave the Berimbau, because it is the controlling instance in a Capoeira Roda. It is the Berimbau and the bateria of Capoeira, which did keep Bahian Capoeira under control, so that it could be playful in the first, beautiful in the second and deadly in the third game. That’s the big difference of Bahian Capoeira to Capoeira Carioca or Capoeira of Recife. That’s why it did survive.

Everybody has to listen to the Berimbau, if he does not, he doesn’t have any idea of Capoeira.

And us?

I have to admit it. My Berimbau skills are far less than my playing skills. I might play some toques and be able to keep up a Roda, but whoever calls my Berimbau play beautiful has never heard a good Capoeirista play the Berimbau. What I am gonna do is learn to play the Berimbau. Training it as regularly as your Capoeira skills is something most people do not do – and when your teacher doesn’t give music lessons (or only rarely) than your music will be horrible. Until you start learning it yourself. We should understand that the Berimbau is as important as the Ginga in Capoeira. When you are a longterm Capoeirista and you have no Berimbau, the question is: why? Get yourself a Berimbau, start playing it till there is no feeling in your pinky and then: play more!


Filed under African Roots, Philosophy

Today is Carybé Day

É argentino, é brasileiro, é quichua,

é asteca, é inca, é carioca por bossa

mas baiano por fé.

É amigo do mundo inteiro

menos de quem náo dá pé.

Canta cantigas de Cuzco

da Havana e do Tremenbé.

É um sambista milongueiro

Bate um violáo de terreiro.

E é santo de cadomblé.

–Vincius de Moraes


On the 1nd of October 1997 a guy named Hector Julio Paride Bernabó died while attending a Candomblé ceremony in the city of Salvador, Bahia. With his dead Salvador lost one of its big recent artists. Capoeiristas, Brazilians and artists around the world know him more under his name Carybé.

First of all, I have to admit, I am illiterate in terms of art. You cant possibly walk through a museum faster than I do. It’s not a lack of interest, I am usually not even aware of arts – as long as it is not Capoeira-related. So you can guess now why this guy fills a whole post in this blog? Well, because this guy had a unique ability to capture the beauty of Salvador, of Afrobrazilian culture and, of all, of Capoeira (Angola) in his pictures. I had one of his pictures on my shirts before I knew who this guy was. And as such, and as it is now 11 years ago that he died, I thought it would be great to acknowledge his life and art on this blog!

The person


At the 7th of February, 1911 in the city of Lanús a boy named Hector Julio Páride Bernabó was born. Lanús is a city in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentine. In Rio de Janeiro he worked as an errand boy and earned his name Carybé, which is a type of a piranha. When he was 14 he started engaging in artwork in his elder brother’s atelier in Rio and 2 years later he started studying in the Escola National de Belas Artes. After his studies Carybé did work as graphic artist for different journals and eventually visited Salvador for the first time. This was in the year of 1938. Only after many other travels and jobs he had, visiting all over South America, he was invited to stay in Bahia in the year 1950. And there he stayed till his death in the year of 1997. Here he produced his greatest artworks, like As Três Mulheres da Xângo and worked together with great contemporary artists like Pierre Verger or Jorge Amado. But Carybé was not only a famous artist, but he was also an Oba de Xângo, a Candomblé priest till his very end. At the 1st of October 1997 he died during a ceremony.

His art


Carybé was priest, painter, graphics artist and sculptor. His most known artswork does picture Afrobrazilian culture as he has seen it in his 47 years of Salvador, Bahia – and thus, is one of the most valuable sources of information on life in late 20 centuries Bahia. Of special mentioning are his pictures about Candomblé and of Orixás, which does leave us insight into a culture most non-Candomblistas won’t see much (especially us Gringos who are not even living in Bahia, let alone in Brazil!). Beautiful examples are his sculptures of Orixás, like the one of Oxun you see below.


Carybé did also visit Rodas de Capoeira Angola, like Mestre Waldemar’s Roda in the Liberdade neighbourhood. Here he was in the 60’s and made his drawings, which are nowadays known in the whole Capoeira Community. I have seen a lot of them without noticing that it was actually Carybé. But next time one of you sees one of these pictures, or one which does look alike, maybe you will remember one of the few artists who was able to capture Capoeira’s beauty with only a few lines on paper. And now I will leave you alone with a couple of Carybé’s Capoeira pictures. Sit back and enjoy!


So, that’s it. No, it’s for sure not all the artwork you can find of Carybé. On the site of Capoeira-Info.org you can also read and see one of his booklets “A jogo da capoeira” with many beautiful drawings of Capoeira. Carybé was extremely active and I leave it to you people to look further and jump into this tiny, but strong, bits of Afrobrazilian culture Carybé is presenting us with his artwork.


In memoriam:

Carybé, 1911-1997




http://www.pinturabrasileira.com/artistas_bio.asp?cod=81&in=1 (Portuguese)













Filed under Capoeira Today

African Roots IV – Fight

The slaves who were transported to the Americas were not weak. At least the probability was high that weak people were not bought on the coast of Africa. Young men were interesting, especially the strong ones. Of course they were in chains and of course they did not have much to resist against European firearms, at least not in the beginning. But their martial arts came with them. And they made use of them.

The first thing to know is that Martial Arts seem to have evolved everywhere on the world. Most people are quite ignorant of this fact, mainly because East Asian arts like Kung Fu or Judo come into our minds when we hear the word Martial Arts. But French fencing, Turkish oil-wrestling, Zulu stick fighting and Indian Kalarippayat are martial arts, too. Martial arts evolve efficient fighting patterns, rules and rituals, because most of the martial arts are meant to be practised and you cant practise a martial art when your partner gets severely injured or killed every time. That’s what makes them arts, apart from pure violence. Also in Africa martial arts exist,and someof them belong to the most ancient fighting systems there are on Earth.

African Martial Arts

Sadly there is one problem when researching about African martial arts: they are very poorly documented. To find written information is about as simple as to nail a pudding to a wall, and finding video footage is about impossible. The best way to find information would be: go there and see it. That is what TJ Desh Obi did and does and his new book which came out this year (“Fighting for honour”) should give some new insights into this not-so-clear chapter of African history. In this post I just want to spotlight some martial arts of Africa and show that a) there are actually a lot of African martial arts out there and b) that these did influence several martial arts in the Western Hemisphere. This would then be the last thing I want to do for this African roots series. Yes, people, although there is a lot more African’s did contribute to the Americas, after having described the people, their believes and their music I will finish with this, describing the martial arts of the African Ancestors.

The first martial art I want to mention is Nubian wrestling. That is because it is so unbelievably old. The picture above is, as you might have recognized, Egyptian, showing men who engage in a clearly martial art. The picture is to be found in the temple of Ramses III. in Medinet Habu and is, yes, over 3100 years old. That is older than East Asian Martial arts, which are only just above 2200 years old, by the way. A modern historical view of Ancient sports does see Nubian wrestling as a predecessor of Graeco-Roman wrestling, eventually, of modern wrestling. Why is that? The Nubian people had times when they were pretty dominant in Africa.

Nubia was home of various empires and states as early as 3500 BC and was for long times under the rule of Egypt, but there were also times when the Nubians did rule over the Egyptians (during the times of the Kush Empire, which existed between 1000 BC till 300 BC). So there was a 3000 year long cultural interdependence and cultural exchange. So Nubian wrestling started to get known to the Egyptians. And the influence of the Egyptian culture on Ancient Greek culture was quite strong and is well documented… But is Nubian wrestling just history? No, as the picture above shows clearly, Nubian wrestling is still a tradition among some people in Nubia. The Nuba people for example still practise it. Some hardcore readers will now say “So, but that’s clearly not Capoeira’s predecessor, right?”. There you might be right, but look at this description and try to imagine it and then try to find similarities to Capoeira. The description is from Oskar and Horst Luz and their article “Proud primitives” (National Geographics Magazine 130, 5: 672-699; published 1966):

A wrestler dances into the ring, looks challengingly around, assumes a fighting
stance, elbows on his knees-and waits. Whoever accepts the summons enters the
ring. . . . Now the two men take measure of each other, crouching, wary, flexing
bulging biceps. To over awe the opponent, they whirl with springy steps, shake
arms and shoulders, limber up, and ripple their muscles. One wrestler darts
forward, taps his head, feints probingly, backs away, flicks his tongue in and out,
advances again. The easy graceful movements resemble advance. The adversary
springs forward, reaches down, tries to seize his opponent’s legs. The two
grapple, arms coiled around each other. One lifts his opponent and attempts to
throw him to the ground, but the other, catlike, lands on his feet. It is only a
momentary reprieve. A quick fake, a rush, another clinch, another lift-and this
victim is slammed on his buttocks to the ground. Next match!

But there are other martial arts, all over Africa. Let’s go closer to the origins of most Afrobrazilian people, for example the Congo. For the Congo I found the mentioning of at least 3 martial arts, although most of them are poorly described (as always). There is Kipura, Mousondi and Gwindulumutu. There are already people saying that the word Capoeira comes from the Kipura martial art. As I am not an etymologist I won’t comment on that. Much more interesting is Gwindulumutu which is only described as a “headbashing martial art” (and I didnt find anything else on this martial art except this 3-word-description, would come in handy if somebody knows more details about it). I am kind of interested in that because there was the mentioning of Rugendas when he was describing Capoeira in the early 19th century where he write “Much more violent is another war game of the Negroes, Jogar capoeira, which consists in trying to knock one another down with headbutts in the chest, which one dodges which skilful side jumps and parrying. While they are throwing themselves against one another, more or less like rams, sometime heads run terribly into each other. Thus not infrequently the prank turns real fight and a bloody head or blade put an end to the game.” For the German original of that text click on this link.

And then there is the N’Golo or Engolo, which is often cited by Angoleiros as being a direct ancestor of Capoeira. This theory came up in the sixties where the Angolan Neves e Souza stated that the N’Golo is Capoeira. The N’Golo is a dance ritual of the Mucupe people in Southern Angola. It is a passage to adulthood and the champion of the N’Golo ceremony is allowed to marry the girl he wants, without paying the prize for her. The dance is believed to be derived from the way Zebras fight, it is also called the Zebra dance. In memory of this history a lot of Angola groups do have a Zebra in their logo and the one or other mestre does wear a zebra belt while playing in the Roda.

There is still a lot of doubts considering this version, especially as there are only few people who have seen this N’Golo. As far as I know Mr. Desh Obi does have video footage of the N’Golo and it is said to be very similar to Capoeira Angola. But this is only hearsay. If somebody can come up with some solid information, he/she would make me a very happy man 🙂


Capoeira d’Angola, Ladja and Jailhouse Rock

Now we are going over the Atlantic Ocean and try to see if there are African Martial arts and since when they are there. The problem here, as everywhere, is that the documentation is poor and that the African people (or those of African descent) were able to hide parts of their martial arts as ritual or dance. On the other side, the European slave masters were not stupid, so they found out. And when they found out, sometimes they documented. And one of the earliest documents I found about an African martial art in the Americas is actually about Capoeira. I found this document on two pages, on the Capoeira Connection page (who by the way just posted some brand new info on the Capoeira community!) and on the French Capoeira Palmares site. This document is from the year 1789 and the first documented evidence of Capoeira. Of course we dont know if there are older ones or if they were all burnt after the abolition. That is something we will see in the future. What this document shows is that Capoeira seems to be a known phenomenon back then. So it didnt just come up in 1789, but was around for a while already. How many years was that? Nobody knows. Here the text I copied from the Capoeira Connection site:

The capoeira

Adam, the mulatto boy that master Manoel Cardoso Fontes had bought a young lad, grew into a robust, hard-working and very obedient slave in household duties.

Manoel decided to rent him out as a mason assistant, a porter, or for any other hard labor. So Adam turned out to be a major source of income for his master.

With time, the shy slave who used to be fairly domesticated became more off-handed and independent and began to come back late, much later than the end of his working hours. Manoel asked repeatedly what was it that made Adam change so much — but his answers were weak and inconsistent. Until one day, fulfilling Manoel’s fears, Adam did not come home at all. He had certainly fled to one of the villages [quilombos] around the town.

To his surprise, Manoel found Adam behind the bars of the regional jail. He had been arrested with a gang of ruffians who practiced capoeira. A quarrel had broken out that day and one of them got killed in the action. These were extremely grave crimes under the laws of the time: practicing capoeira, and what’s more, causing a death.

The trial found Adam not guilty of the homicide, but confirmed his guilt on the charge of capoeira, and condemned him to 500 lashes and two years hard labor in public service.

After Adam had suffered the lashes in public and laboured some months in the public works, his master sent the king a plea in the name of the Passion of Christ, asking that his slave be released from the rest of his term, on the grounds that himself was a poor man and depended on the income that his slave brought him. He promised to take care that Adam would not join the capoeiras again. His plea was granted by the Regional Judge on April 25, 1789.

But Capoeira is by far not the only African martial art which came and developed in the Americas. There is for example Ladja. Ladja (or also Danmye or Ag’Ya) is a martial art which is practised on Martinique. Also here, drums and singing do give the competitors the energy they need for the fight. And like in Capoeira there is no easy distinction between fight and dance here. Just watch the video beneath and you will see what I mean. Capoeira and Ladja might be brothers, or at least cousins, coming from the same region or even from the same ritual. But there is no evidence for that. So maybe Ladja did develop it’s dance properties and it’s delusiveness because of the same needs Brazilian slaves had: Deception. There is no proof for both arguments, so this is the point where you believe this or believe that. For me the video footage clearly shows a martial art which is related to Capoeira and might have come from the same people.


But there are also other martial arts, also in the U.S. Here you’ll find the mentioning of Jailhouse Rock. Interestingly there is also very poor information on this martial art. Jailhouse Rock does go under many different names like 52 Blocks, peek-a-boo or Stato. It is believed to have been developed in the American penal system, spreading from jail to jail and – due to the very special circumstances in jails – quickly developing into “regional” styles (the regions were the different jails). Oral tradition says that Jailhouse rocks originates in the 17th and 18th centuries when first African people were put into jail. Today Jailhouse Rock is more a collective term trying to summarize very different Fighting Systems which are nowadays strongly influenced by boxing. Only few people believe that Jailhouse Rock does still have much of its old traditions in it. So the videos you find for that are oviously not that flashy or dance-like as Capoeira is. But the agility and dance-like stance of African martial arts does come through sometimes. For example in the following video footage, showing the martial art called 52 blocks.



So…that’s it. This was the last post of the African roots series. That does not mean that I wont come back to these topics once I have some nice things to share with you (for example an N’Golo video footage!), but for now I think everybody has enough overview over the African influences on the Americas, especially on Brazil. And maybe I have convinced some people to see that Capoeira does have so many African features, that you can call it an African martial art. Yes, it did evolve in Brazil for the last 500 years and that’s something which has to be recognized. But even there the influence of Africans did dominate till the 19th century.

But as you also have seen, documents about the African Diaspora are extremely hard to find, especially documents which are not biased. I hope together with these posts I can persuade other people to research about African diasporic culture and make them publicly available.



Some Sources used for this post:

Journal of Sport History 15, No.2, Summer 1988 – Ancient Nubian Wrestling



Library of Congress for an interview on Ladja

An article about Ladja/Danmye (how reliable this is I dont know)

Capoeira – A Game-Dance-Fight for Life by Edward L.Brough Luna

Picture sources:

San Diego County Office for Education


Capoeira – A Game-Dance-Fight for Life by Edward L.Brough Luna


Filed under African Roots