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Disfigurations of Capoeira

Disfigurations of Capoeira – Part 1



Translation by Shayna McHugh


            To develop the proposed theme, that of the disfigurations of capoeira, we will begin by making it very clear that we agree with the declarations of the mestres Suassuna and Acordeon, according to whom “it is in the diversity that the strength and beauty of Capoeira reside, being 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.” It is this that we want to say when we refer to the “chameleon character” of capoeira. Therefore, when we refer to “disfigurations,” we are not defending anything that seems 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 varied “tendencies” appear in capoeira, some so strange, that they end by requiring some type of “corrective action” from the more conscientious and active mestres. I remember having heard, in August of 1996, in São José dos Campos, a lecture in which Mestre Itapoan warned against a phenomenon that was spreading within the practice of capoeira, and that began to be troubling: that of the “bullies,”(“porradeiros”; porrada = a beating) expression created by that mestre to designate a stereotype that, sadly, came to be cultivated and encouraged by some of the most well-known groups in Brazil: the stereotype of “tough guy,” generally powerful and aggressive “bombing” fighters, “pullers of weight,” who invariably transformed capoeira rodas into rings of vale-tudo (free-fighting).


            Well then: in that time, which was not very long ago, there was the stimulus of certain “mestres” in the sense that their students “played” an extremely aggressive and violent “game.” It happened that such mestres ended up losing the control over their students, and all hell broke loose in the rodas, which were characterized by free combat, an ugly, limited, and grotesque capoeira, in which only the intention to hit and to break were seen. It is obvious that the artistic aspect of capoeira 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 a great prejudice for the image of Capoeira as a whole. With a general outcry (and also some judicial processes that were instituted), the mestres responsible for such a deviation had to quickly intervene, changing the “orientation” of the art.


            We always held the opinion that this mixture of “pitbull” with capoeirista would not end in a good thing. 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, in defense of the spontaneity, the diversity, the difference. In this he shares the position of Mestre Acordeon, according to whom each mestre, each capoeirista, has their own style, and it is the diversity itself that is important.


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


            Once, I 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 boys remove capoeira from capoeira, and leave that movement there!”…


            What comes to be “cloned capoeira,” to which Mestre Suassuna refers?


            He himself explained to us, in an informal chat: Some unscrupulous or badly-oriented mestres, in the effort of making a fortune, developed a “methodology” of teaching capoeira in “mass-production,” to great crowds, which has much limited the capoeira of these practitioners, turning it very equal, homogenous, repetitive, poor in movement and creativity. Besides this, that type of “game” came to make aggression and violence explicit, abandoning or neglecting one of the basic historical hallmarks of capoeira’s movement – the disguise of the bellicosity.


            Mestre Suassuna can say that with all the authority given him by the fact that he has, in his over forty years of activity, formed innumerous generations of great capoeira experts, each of them exhibiting an individual style, the characteristic, unmistakable, personal mark. Examples? It is 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 cannot cease to cite the most respected among the Great Mestres, known as the greatest world authority about the Capoeira of Mestre Bimba, author of a series of titles (São Salomão Collection) that is considered as “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. We see:




Not just the oldest ones such as myself, Itapoan, Cobrinha Mansa, Jelon, Lua Rasta, Moraes, Jerônimo, Suassuna, Squisito… are concerned with violence that is devastating the practice of capoeira, notably in that capoeira inappropriately called “regional.” The youth has also come to join themselves with our appeal to reason and return to the playful roots of the Bahian game of capoeira… Here and there we receive messages that protest violence and support our campaign of recuperation of 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 am Tiago Graziano, a few months ago I wrote to you, remember?

It doesn’t matter, I come now to inform you, you who are one of the great ones responsible for capoeira being what it is today and for a future of capoeira without discharacterization; that a small mediocre capoeira group – if I remember correctly it was from Porto Seguro – called Grupo Topázio, claims to have modernized capoeira by putting movements of jiu-jitsu in it. It is ridiculous to see two capoeiristas suddenly attacking each other on the ground and rolling around until one gives up (expressed by tapping the other player), and until a certain point funny. The incredible thing was what happened yesterday in the program of Bandeirantes called H as a marvelous novelty, no one had the notion of such barbary as was occurring there.

What is 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, making a player who now with jiu-jitsu can be seen as a champion of fighting, or in other words, who which finishes first.

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. I am angry, please.

Thank you for the attention,

Tiago Graziano.”


“Holds are, as they always were, prohibited during the practice of capoeira, especially since they impede the synchrony with the musical rhythm, a condition without which we cannot conceive Bahian capoeira.” – Mestre Decânio


“We only do not train holds, because that leaves the capoeiristas with bad habits, not concerning themselves with playing or dodging the attacks, which ends up inhibiting the development of their capoeira.” – Mestre Suassuna



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


Disfigurations of Capoeira – Part 2


Once, in the 1990s, Mestre Nenel, son of Mestre Bimba, asked Mestre Decânio:


“What is your opinion about the evolution of Regional?”


Here is Mestre Decânio’s answer:


“ – I believe that the style predominant today in the rodas of capoeira regional escapes from the traditional teachings of the Mestre in the following points:


-         Disobedience to the toque of the orchestra.

-         Ginga out of the rhythm.

-         Leaping ginga.

-         Failure to see the attacks.

-         Inopportune and violent attacks.

-         Excessive separation between the competitors.

-         Purposeless, harmless movements, detached from the rhythm of the berimbau.

-         Exposure of the vital areas of the body during the movements of attack, defense, dodge, and floreio.

-         Ginga with the guard open.

-         Lack of the low game.

-         Ginga lacking floreio movements.

-         Poverty of sequences, floreio, and ‘throws.’

-         Tense and tight musculature.


Since my time, the precept of ‘fight’ brought about violence, the wearing down of the true capoeira by the practice of brutality, although curbed by the authority and discipline of the Mestre! Violence generates sudden, hard movements detached from the rhythm of the berimbau, they damage the ginga, and impede the technical progress of the apprentice! The students fearfully distance themselves during the game, and they lose the ability to see the attacks, which is essential to the body-to-body game, the inside game. Secure in the uselessness of the attacks, protected by the distance, the practitioners end up hopping around spastically, while they await the chance to unleash a fast, violent, treacherous – but scared! – blow. Out of the reach of their partner, they feel authorized to do leaps, spins, and other purposeless, awkward, un-rhythmed movements. The efficiency is lost… the elegance is lost… the beauty is lost… the ability to see the attacks is lost… the agility is lost… the elasticity is lost… the self-confidence is lost… the best of capoeira is lost!


This process is highlighted by the instructor’s lack of authority. The greater the separation between the partners, the worse the qualification of the leader of the training! Only a good mestre transmits self-confidence, the only force capable of bringing two opponents near to each other, in attack movements and defense maneuvers!


When two fighters distance themselves from each other, fear separates them!


The separation of the fighters transforms an exhibition of ability and courage into a grotesque spectacle: two isolated players, practicing pointless individual contortions and acrobatics that are not linked to the toque of the berimbau, which is the conductor of the spectacle… “Circus acrobatics!” – the Mestre would say.


We cannot even conceive an evolution in the direction of the oriental martial arts. Orientated by technique, ability, persistence, loyalty, discipline, above all by courage! “Death before Flight” determines the law of Bushido! By the very definition of capoeira, we can accept any name for this practice… except GAME OF CAPOEIRA!”


Text extracted from “A Herança de Mestre Bimba – Lógica e Filosofia Africanas da Capoeira,” from the São Salomão Collection, written and edited by the author – Doctor Angelo Decânio Filho, Mestre Decânio. This book, the true Bible of Capoeira, should be known and read by all the capoeiristas of the world.


Mestre Decânio maintains a page on the Internet:

one of the sites of the best content about capoeira.