There are many philosophies that guide the movements, music, and rituals of capoeira. Some of the art’s underlying principles are understanding the complexities of human interaction, the importance of being ready for anything, the value of cleverness, and the strength of indirect resistance. These fundamentals are useful not only in capoeira, but also in day-to-day life.
Capoeira is a jogo – a game. This means it can be playful and cooperative, intense and competitive, or anywhere in between. A good way to think of capoeira is as a conversation – it could range from a friendly chat to a heated argument. A key element of capoeira is interaction; you can’t have a conversation by yourself! The capoeira game is like a series of physical “questions” and “answers,” and one player ‘wins’ when he asks a question that his partner cannot answer.
Movement and versatility
Capoeira places a high value on movement and versatility. The basic “stance” of capoeira is not a rigid and immobile one as in some other martial arts, but instead a fluid, swinging movement called the ginga (meaning to swing or to sway). Capoeiristas should always be moving, and strikes in capoeira are dodged rather than blocked. Capoeira teaches one to attack and defend from any position – while standing, while on the ground, while upside down – and with any part of the body, including the head. It is a three-dimensional art; its players practice moving in all directions in many different ways. A good capoeirista is adaptable and ready for anything.
Deception and trickery
Deception, trickery, and cleverness are encouraged in capoeira. It is better to be smart than strong; a good capoeirista is skilled at fooling the other player. Some strategies include faking one kick but doing another, or pretending to be hurt so that the opponent lets down his guard. Floreios (fancy movements) are used to trick the other player into thinking that one is vulnerable, when in reality one is fully prepared for defense and attack. Players may also distract their partner by looking at or pointing to something outside the roda… the tricks one can use are limited only by one’s imagination. Capoeira songs praise players who play with malandragem (cunning).
Finally, capoeira’s philosophy retains roots in the goal of survival at all costs and in surprising ways. The art was created by slaves and developed on the streets by the poor and “undesirable” people living at the margins of Brazilian society. These people battled their oppressors through a resistance that was necessarily indirect, since it was the fight of the weak against the strong. Thus, the capoeirista understands the futility of fighting force with force; instead, he uses his creativity to get around the ‘established rules of the system’ and win.