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Ethics in Capoeira



Patricia Morais – João Pessoa/PB – October 1997

Part VI of “Ethics in Capoeira”

Translation by Shayna McHugh



“As soon as the roots are cut, how will the species perpetuate itself?” – Mestre Nô


The study of Ethics in capoeira is made necessary having in view the purpose that Capoeira Palmares is introducing in Paraíba, Brazil. Starting from this concept of ethics as being “the study of actions or habits, or the actual enactment of a type of behavior,” we can make a study of the ethical content in capoeira by means of a historical and modern analysis.


The capoeirista, as we know, was always the target of marginalization, since capoeira was a crime prohibited by the Penal Code of the Republic; its simple exercise in the street gave up to six months in prison. To escape from this concept, the Bahian Manoel dos Reis Machado, known as Mestre Bimba, innovated capoeira and also created a rigid code of ethics that required even the act of personal hygiene.


Not just Bimba, but also capoeiristas in general who worked for the growth and valorization of the art, always sought efficient methods to develop it well. One of the main fundamentals, common to capoeira Angola and Regional, starts with who plays. The player has to greet the partner “at the foot of the berimbau,” that is to say, crouched near the instrument that will give the rhythm of the moves. Both should be clean, “properly clothed,” and never shirtless. They must seek harmony, in which a movement of defense is already the start of another of attack, without injuring the companion. The opponents do not grapple, but fight “by approximation,” respecting the time to enter and leave the roda. And no one should learn capoeira to go around hitting others. Mestre Pastinha said that “capoeira Angola is, before everything, a fight and a violent fight.” With that the tactic of the good capoeirista was always to make himself look weak before the opponent, turning into violent fight in the right moment, but always dangerous.


With the passage of years, the Brazilian martial art became a little more “respected”; it was recognized by the authorities and spread through the world, innovative in its expression. Many groups discharacterized capoeira, separating its game or fight from the roots, and in little time classified it as a folkloric manifestation. But this whole scene left capoeira in an unequaled situation of conflict: maintained and taught only as a cultural manifestation, without anything to add, capoeira would probably stagnate and not have its merited diffusion; but if it evolved in a wild manner it could be discharacterized.


There still exist some mestres who teach their students the fight and assert discipline, their teaching as a manifestation of our culture. Still, many followers of capoeira seek it only to cultivate their physical form or because it is in fashion. They forget, and we believe that some mestres do as well, that “capoeira is a dialogue of bodies, I win when my partner does not have any more answers for my questions” (Mestre Moraes).


The result of this new identity of capoeira, disassociated from its roots, is the championships of “vale-tudo.” They trigger an enormous flight from the academies, since the academies end up discouraging the student who seeks to train only fight and endurance in the Brazilian martial art. Capoeira is unique, but in these competitions it lost the style of the fight itself. The lack of teaching methodology and the disinterest in perfecting knowledge about the art are the main motives pointed out by professors and mestres of the group Palmares. According to the president of the Associação Brasileira de Capoeira Palmares, mestre Nô, the “ethical question in capoeira is a self-service,” in which each one does what he wants, leaving behind all the culture that capoeira carries.


Another weighty factor in the development of capoeira is its spreading in the media. With this capoeira received new followers, was introduced to those who did not know it, and won a little more respect and trust. On the other hand, this growth disorganized a whole structure of work. That which was previously turned towards the awareness and preservation of customs, is today driven towards performance and/or vale-tudo. Even with all this transformation, society’s prejudice about those who practice capoeira was still not extinguished. Agreeing with the professor Henrique (Kiluangi de Palmares) “we can have access to the media, this is not negative, but to manage to remove this marginal image it is necessary to show that capoeira really changed, that it is an art unified with the social layers, that it is an art of the world and not of one region, city or neighborhood. And for this, the professors, the instructors and the mestres, all have to pass information by means of a teaching methodology that seeks to discipline and shape their students, without losing space in the society or burying this over 300-year-old culture.”


The ingress of capoeira in the Olympic Games is another great victory, but very worrisome. In the research done with mestres of both angola and regional, at the 5th batizado and troca de cordéis of the Grupo Cultural de Capoeira Badauê de Palmares in March 1997, we verify that all those interviewed are in favor of that new step but, at the same time, concerned with the rules that will prevail and, mainly, with the training of the capoeirista. Many professors are against it and allege that “from the moment that capoeira enters into competition, its followers stop doing the historical and cultural part of capoeira” to develop the aggressive side, which can bring about “one companion wanting to destroy the other because of a medal,” as mestre Naldinho states.


After conquering its space and becoming recognized by the greater part of Brazilian society, capoeira reached one of the basic areas of human and social necessity – education. Capoeira makes up part of the curriculum in various schools and universities of the country and the world. This point is fundamental and generates many debates in groups, in which to teach capoeira is much more than to do an aú or give a chapa of angola. The experienced professors and mestres believe that the schools and universities, upon selecting their instructors, must seek in them quality, training, methodology, responsibility and fundamentals, because these are basic elements to minister a true capoeira class. Nevertheless, we hope that this new historical-social context is analyzed and directed for the legitimate fulfillment of the activities of capoeira and that its followers know to distinguish ethic from aesthetic, as well as the responsibility of another social fad. Ethics will become real starting from the moment that the capoeiristas are aware of and striving for the valorization and preservation of the art that enchanted the whole world.