Oct 26 2011

Disfigurations of capoeira

Source: Capoeira do Brasil
Translation by Shayna McHugh

To discuss the proposed theme – the disfigurations of capoeira – we will begin by making it very clear that we agree with the statements of the mestres Suassuna and Acordeon, according to whom “Capoeira’s strength and beauty are in its diversity, as a dynamic art that assumed many forms and appearances throughout the times, continually ‘inventing’ new traditions. This has been one of the most important factors for its survival.” This is what we mean when we refer to capoeira’s “chameleon character.”

So when we refer to “disfigurations,” we are not defending anything like a homogenization or making everything the same. “Capoeira is a multidimensional art. Its interpretation must not be the privilege of only one individual, only one school, only one train of thought. No style can represent Capoeira as a whole and no mestre can be considered the owner of capoeiragem. Capoeira is the collection of all of us, with our interpretations, truths, and differences.”

We understand and accept these ecumenical thoughts of Mestre Acordeon; however, once in a while various “tendencies” appear in capoeira, some so strange, that they end up requiring some type of “corrective action” from the more conscientious and active mestres.

I remember hearing, in São José dos Campos in August 1996, a lecture in which Mestre Itapoan warned against a troubling phenomenon that was spreading within the practice of capoeira: the trend of the “bullies.” It was a stereotype that, sadly, came to be cultivated and encouraged by some of the most well-known groups in Brazil: the stereotype of the “tough guy,” the generally powerful and aggressive “steroid-pumped” fighter, the “heavyweight,” who invariably transformed capoeira rodas into rings of vale-tudo (free-fighting).

Well then: during that time, which was not very long ago, certain “mestres” encouraged their students to “play” an extremely aggressive and violent “game.” These mestres ended up losing control of their students, and all hell broke loose in the rodas, which were characterized by free combat. It was an ugly, limited, and grotesque capoeira, in which only the intention to hit and to break were seen. It is obvious that capoeira’s artistic aspect disappeared completely in those “cock-fights.”

There were even some deaths in those lamentable episodes, and the news was spread by the press; this clearly resulted in great damage to the image of Capoeira as a whole. With a general outcry (and also some judicial processes), the mestres responsible for such a deviation had to quickly intervene and change the art’s direction.

We have always believed that this mixture of “pit-bull” with capoeirista would not end well. The great mestres are unanimous in condemning the cultivation of violence, because they know the potential of capoeira as a fight: “It is one of the most violent and dangerous.”

Mestre Suassuna speaks repeatedly of that which he calls “cloned capoeira,” which he criticizes, defending instead spontaneity and diversity. In this aspect, he shares the position of Mestre Acordeon, according to whom each mestre and each capoeirista has their own style, and it is the diversity itself that is important.

The Great Mestres are unanimous in explicitly pointing out the fact that a certain way of “playing” was too widespread, in which the partners don’t interact, but instead play alone, with exaggeratedly wide steps, attacks unleashed absolutely out of context, such as, for example, those “kicking the moon” movements that appear in photographs on some covers and articles of capoeira magazines…

I once asked Mestre Suassuna what he thought of this exotic capoeira, which is unfortunately very widespread. He told me, in his scathing style: “Well, today, these guys remove capoeira from capoeira, and all that’s left is that movement there!”… What is this thing that Mestre Suassuna calls “cloned capoeira”?

He himself explained it to us during an informal chat: Some unscrupulous or badly-trained mestres, trying to make a fortune, developed a “methodology” of teaching capoeira in “mass-production” to huge crowds. This has really limited the capoeira of these practitioners, making it very equal, homogenous, repetitive, and lacking in movement and creativity. Also, that type of “game” with explicit aggression and violence abandons or neglects one of the basic historical hallmarks of capoeira’s movement – the disguise of its bellicosity.

Mestre Suassuna can say that with all the authority given him by the fact that he has, during his forty-plus years of activity, formed innumerous generations of great capoeira experts, each of them exhibiting an individual, characteristic, and personal style.

Examples? It’s easy: just remember the games of Luís Medicina, Miguel, Almir das Areias, Aberrê, Lobão, Esdrinhas, Tarzan, Belisco, Risadinha, Tihane, Biriba, Dal, Zé Carlos, Quebrinha, Flávio Tucano, Marcelo “Caveirinha,” Sarará, Urubu Malandro, Zé Antônio, Ponciano, Canguru, Espirro-Mirim, Tião, Xavier, Sampaio, and so many others…

We must cite the most respected among the Great Mestres, known as the greatest world authority about Mestre Bimba’s Capoeira, author of a series of titles (the São Salomão Collection) that is considered to be “the Bible of Capoeira,” Dr. Ângelo Augusto Decânio Filho (Mestre Decânio) who maintains one of the most interesting pages on the Internet about Capoeira:


Mestre Decânio has much to say about the subject. For example:


Not just the oldest ones such as myself, Itapoan, Cobrinha Mansa, Jelon, Lua Rasta,
Moraes, Jerônimo, Suassuna, and Squisito are concerned with violence that is
devastating the practice of capoeira, notably in that capoeira inappropriately called

The young generation has also joined our appeal to reason and call to
return to the playful roots of the Bahian capoeira game… Here and there we receive
messages that protest violence and support our campaign to recover capoeira’s
original values, among which we highlight the one below written in the simple and
sincere language of a young apprentice.

Dear Mestre Decânio

I wanted to inform you – you who are one of the great ones responsible for
capoeira being what it is today and for a future of pure and traditional capoeira – that a
small mediocre capoeira group (if I remember correctly it was from Porto Seguro) claims to have modernized capoeira by putting movements of jiu-jitsu in
it. It is ridiculous – and until a certain point funny – to see two capoeiristas suddenly
attacking each other on the ground and rolling around until one gives up (expressed by
tapping the other player).

What’s incredible is that the mestre who implanted jiu-jitsu in the roda, and all the
members of the group, state that it was not a discharacterization of capoeira, but even an
improvement of it, forming a player who now with jiu-jitsu can be seen as a champion of

I ask you who are my idol; I ask you to inform Mestre Itapoan; and since I believe that
you fight to preserve this marvelous art, I ask that you take some measures, whatever
they are. Please, I am angry.

Thank you for your time.

“Grappling is, as it always was, prohibited during the practice of capoeira,
especially since it impedes the synchrony with the musical rhythm, a condition
without which we cannot conceive Bahian capoeira.” – Mestre Decânio

“We only do not train grappling, because that gives capoeiristas bad habits. They
get used to not bothering to play or to dodge the attacks, which ends up inhibiting
the development of their capoeira.” – Mestre Suassuna

It is easy to conclude with the mestres that grappling is incompatible with Capoeira.