History of Capoeira Dance Fighting

Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that has deep roots in the history of the country. It powerfully combines the art of dance and fighting in one and involves very quick and complex moves, speed, and leverage for high leg sweeps.

Capoeira was first developed in the 15th century by African slaves in the country. It all began with slaves who were forced to live and work in inhumane and humiliating living conditions on sugar cane farms in the 16th. Slaves actually outnumbered the Portuguese colonists, however due to the slaves having no weapons, disagreements between slaves of different countries and backgrounds, and a lack of understanding of their surroundings, the idea of rebellion was a notion that was generally discouraged. Capoeira was developed more as a means to survival for the enslaved than a means of fighting. The importance of this fighting style was that it could be deadly, but easily disguised as a dance if seen by the slave owners. Capoeira became a vital tool if a slave wished to escape because he needed a way to survive the hostile and unknown land and fight back against colonial agents whose sole job it was to find escapees and kill them or bring them back to the plantations.

The Portuguese court escaped from Brazil fleeing the invasion of Napoleons troops in 1808, which effectively left a much freer Brazil. With this, Capoeira became more urbanized and spread throughout the country. The colonial government in Rio attempted to suppress it as they considered it “subversive to their control”, and during this time many individuals were imprisoned for practicing the martial art. One police record from the 1800’s states:

“From 288 slaves that entered the Calabouço jail during the years 1857 and 1858, 80 (31%) were arrested for capoeira, and only 28 (10.7%) for running away. Out of 4,303 arrests in Rio police jail in 1862, 404 detainees—nearly 10%—had been arrested for capoeira.”

In the 19th century, slavery was abolished, and many slaves found themselves without work or any place to live. To make things worse during this time, many Europeans began immigrating to Brazil, thus making it harder for ex-slaves to find jobs. Those skilled in Capoeira, however, were able to find unconventional jobs as body guards, mercenaries, hitmen, and henchmen. Due to chaotic social conditions in Brazil and the police feeling that Capoeira was an unfair advantage in fighting, Capoeira was abolished. Those caught practicing the martial art were arrested and often tortured and mutilated by the police.

After the Capoeira repression began declining, an experienced fighter from Salvador named Mestre Bimba opened up the first ever Capoeira school. He developed the first systematic training method for the martial art, and even began teaching the social elite. Eventually in 1940 Capoeira was removed from the penal code in Brazil.

Today, Capoeira is a source of Pride for Brazilians and attracts thousands of students to study the martial art every year. The dance fighting still resembles that of the original – focused, subtle, disguised, and full of tricks.