Even though this practice dates from the 16th century, until this day there is a controversy about whether Capoeira is a martial art or a dance. Combining elements of both, as well as music and acrobatics, it is commonly referred to as a game. It is known for quick and complex moves, using mainly power, speed, and leverage for a wide variety of kicks, spins, and highly mobile techniques.
Its history goes back to the beginning of African slavery in Brazil. Since the 17th century, Portugal began exporting African citizens to their colonies to work as slaves, mainly from West Africa. Brazil received most of the slaves: around 40% of all slaves sent through the Atlantic Ocean were brought there. The name capoeira is believed to derivate from the Tupi words ka'a ("jungle") e pûer ("it was"), referring to the areas of in the Brazilian interior where fugitive slaves would hide.
This game (or dance or martial art) is known for being historically focused on fighting outnumbered or in technological disadvantage. It was created to be a form of defense for the slaves, who had no weapons and were definitely outnumbered by their masters and taskmasters.
The major part of capoeira is using the lower body to kick, sweep and take down the adversary and using the upper body to support those movements (and occasionally attack).
The ginga is the main movement in capoeira, important both for attack and defense. It has two main goals: to keep the capoeirista in constant moving, preventing him/her from becoming an easy target, and to mislead, leaving them open for an attack or a counter-attack.
The ginga will determine the best time to attack and the capoeirista should be able to recognize when the opportunity arises. The strike must be precise and decisive, like a direct kick to the head, face or a vital body part, or a strong takedown. Most capoeira attacks are made with the legs, like direct or swirling kicks, leg sweeps, scissors or knee strikes. Elbow strikes, punches and other forms of takedowns complete the main list.
The defense is based on the principle of non-resistance, meaning avoiding an attack using evasive moves instead of blocking it. A movement meant to avoid attacks is called esquiva, and can be done standing or with a hand leaning on the floor. A block should only be made when the esquiva is not possible due to the opponent’s position. This fighting strategy allows quick and unpredictable counterattacks, the ability to focus on more than one adversary and to face empty-handed an armed adversary.
Music is fundamental to capoeira. It determines the game's timing and style that is to be played within the roda. Usually, the music is made using instruments and singing. A typical instrument called berimbau controls the rhythm, and can differ from very slow to very fast, depending on the style of the roda.
The instruments are normally disposed in a row called bacteria. Traditionally, it will consist on three berimbaus, two pandeiros, one atabaque, one agogô and one ganzá, but this format may vary depending on the capoeira group's traditions or the roda style. Those instruments have deep influence in Brazilian music and can be used to compose different styles such as samba, maracatú and axé (the last two typical music styles from Bahia).
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