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Violence in Capoeira


A.A. Decânio Filho

Translation by Shayna McHugh




            Violence is the field in which the social manifestations in this historical cycle of globalization, expansionism, and capitalist/military/technological imperialism, repeating the decadence of the Roman Empire, are developed. Capoeira transplanted from its origin, alienated from its maternal culture, comes to be transformed into an instrument of return to the Roman circus, in its full lawless barbarity, devoid of the most rudimentary principles of civility, without governing and without mercy.

            We bring up the subject, opening a space for democratic debate, without prejudices, without bitterness, without seeking to attack a companion, keeping ethics and etiquette, to relieve the seriousness of the moment, to establish a pause for meditation about its true causes, and to decide the best path to avoid the facts that are growing in our community.




            The style of capoeira depends mainly, by the very nature of this game, on the toque of the berimbau, on the songs, on the chorus and on the accompaniment of clapping by the audience, as well as on the state of spirit of the partners in the roda.

            In the current state of evolution of “regional,” the accelerated rhythm, the heat of the clapping and of the chorus, drive the partners to an extremely fast game, which does not permit the correct ginga, makes it difficult to see the blows, and impedes the safe execution of movements and the visualization of the objective of attack, not permitting safe dodges and defenses.

            The preoccupation in freeing the blows to the detriment of the dodges, the ginga, and the synchrony with the toque of the berimbau, comes to corrupt the fundamentals of the capoeira game and generate a violent style that is potentially very dangerous for its practitioners. Besides the accidents of greater or lesser gravity during the practice of “regional,” unfortunately so frequent today, we find some associated faults of technical character, which we will try to enumerate and discuss.

The excessive separation between the feet, the massive swinging movement of the trunk, and the backwards retreat, impede the distribution of the body’s weight between the two points of support, impeding the turns of the waist in the dodges and defensive descents during the ginga. The lack of the low dodging movements, negativa and cocorinha, makes the use of attack and counter-attack movements of the upper limbs (punches, galopantes, asfixiantes, bochechos, telefone, etc.), easier and more violent, but contrary to the nature and to the ethical principles of capoeira.

The violence is a result of the faulty ginga, the attack mentality, and the excessively rapid rhythm of the berimbau toques, which drives the game to extreme aggressiveness, impeding the floreio and the typical dodges of capoeira.

Among the dodging movements we highlight the lack of the cocorinha, a very appropriate movement for the practice of the rasteira, another element seldom found in today’s games. One defect that we are observing in the cocorinha is that of support on the balls of the feet, as opposed to settling with the soles on the ground, as Bimba recommended. Besides better support, this latter cocorinha produces stretching of the muscles, improving agility and the flexibility of movements.

Another defect is falling backwards during the cocorinha, in “queda de quatro” (fall on four [limbs]) or “movimento de aranha” (spider movement), always condemned by the Mestre. Besides turning the dodging movements slow, these expose the vulnerable chest and belly to the most violent attacks of the partner.

Defense by blocking, acquired from karate and jiu-jitsu, in place of defense by dodging along with the direction of attack and protection of the target by the hand in movement, tenses the body, diminishes the agility and leads to a greater impact upon receiving a traumatic blow.

The excessive separation between the partners permits violent, uncontrolled, pointless movements, harmless because they cannot reach the target given the distance, however if they do reach vital points accidentally, they could cause serious injuries or death. We thus lose the festive character of the old capoeira and evolve towards a morbid style, capable of causing the deaths of partners who should be linked as brothers by such a beautiful and peaceful sport.

Regarding the prevention of accidents and deaths, we must remember the advice found in “A herança de Pastinha” (The Heritage of Pastinha) that we transcribe below.


1.4.21 - ... “to learn thoroughly the rules of capoeira”...

“... all those who want to dedicate themselves to this sport as capoeiristas; who do they want as a referee? They must seek to learn thoroughly the rules of capoeira of angola so that they can speak or decide with authority. Unfortunately a large part of our capoeiristas have very incomplete knowledge of the rules of capoeira,  because it is the control of the game that protects those who practice it that does not tilt towards the excess of vale tudo,”...



Pastinha wisely reiterates the fact that the code of honor must be obeyed by capoeiristas. “It is control of the game” by a referee, by the rules, regulations, and by the rhythm of the orchestra, “that avoids violence and accidents” …it is worth the repetition!

1.4.22 - ... “capoeira comes to be reduced, atrophied”...

... “and capoeira comes to be reduced, atrophied; when in the past it was violent, many mestres, and others called us to attention when it was not in rhythm. They explained with decency, and gave us education in the sport of capoeira; this is the reason that all those who came from the past have a game of the body and rhythm.”... (9a,1-9)


The insistence continues on the presence of a referee, arbiter, or mestre of ceremony...

-         To accompany the evolution of the game;

-         To warn or interrupt the practice before forbidden, dangerous maneuvers, disobedience to the rhythm of the toque, when the athlete tires;

-         To guarantee physical safety of the practitioners and audience;

-         To ensure the beauty of the spectacle


1.4.38 - ... “all capoeiristas are bad”?!...

... “all capoeiristas are bad for their companions? But it is not all, indeed, in my Center I have, and I know many who are educated and who do not try to irritate their companions: yes, it is because the mestre does not take interest in irritation, and procures the way that favors learning, the desire to learn rapidly, and not to have bad influence.” (11b, 6-13)


In capoeira as in all other social groups we find those that sow discord, violence, some because of lack of education, others because of mental sickness… or spiritual sickness?! Wretched! The majority, youth, is always good, generous, does not suffer the “influences” of the bad guys, said the Mestre!

 1.4.39 - ... “It is not permitted”...

“By any mestre, if he is a mestre knowledgeable in the rules of capoeira, to agree to playing in a roda or group without a supervisor. If there is no one who can have control, who helps the field? One cannot enter in combat without it being one’s turn. All capoeiristas by duty must obey the rules of their sport, cooperating to valorize, because we are responsible for errors. In the case of dispute or challenge, seek the authority of a referee.”

(11b, 13-23;12a,1)


The insistence of the old mestre on obedience to regulations and rules, on submission to the arbiter during the unfolding of the game, restraining abuses – fruits of enthusiasm, of the heat of the dispute, of personal differences – attains here its highest point.

1.4.40 - ... “Must not be applied”...

“<Forbidden movements> must not be applied, nor must you force your partner to obtain benefits <advantages>; these are extremely grave errors. This subjects the supervisor to suspend the game.” (12a, 1-4)


The reinforcement of the authority of the referee, here called supervisor, permitting the interruption of the game to protect the physical integrity of the participants. “It is an infraction.”

1.4.41- ... “It is prohibited in the game...”

... “It is prohibited in the game and mainly in the low game, the use of hits, or tricks. [1] Do not use them, it is an infraction. The hits that cannot be applied in Demonstrations: hits of the neck, fingers in the eyes, free headbutt, low meia lua, balão açoitado, rabo de arraia, closed tesoura, chibata of the heel, chibata of the sole of the foot, turning meia lua, two meia luas in one place, pulo mortal, turn of the body with a blow of the heel, blow of the waist, balão na boca de calça, hits of the knee, nor tricks.” (12a, 4-16)


List of prohibited hits, especially in demonstrations or public games, because of the risk of the enthusiasm of the opponents, or because of tradition.


1.4.42 - ... “it is a fault to use the hands”...

“All the mestres have as a duty to make people aware that it is a fault to use the hands on one’s adversary; if one does not do this, one does not prove oneself to be a mestre. Those who have education prove their decency by playing with their comrade and not seeking conquest to dishonor one’s comrade. It is already time to understand, to help one’s sport, it is the duty to moralize; to raise capoeira, which was already diminishing.”

(12b, 1-10)


The only difference between the styles of Bimba and Pastinha appears here. Bimba, upon creating a system of teaching capoeira, instrument of fight, abandoned the tradition of not using traumatic blows of the hands. Permission was extended to throws, well-accepted and esteemed by the diffusion of Oriental techniques in the social environment in which capoeira existed.


1.4.31 - ... “for toughness”...

“Do not desire to intend capoeira for toughness, but instead, for the defense of your physical integrity, because one day, there could be the necessity to use it for your defense. Its defense is against any aggressor who comes to the encounter with razor, knife, scythe and other weapons.” (10b,17-23)


The personal defense results from the reflexes developed alongside daily trainings, depending on time and persistence. As the wisdom of the oldest, which is hidden under the whiteness of their hair, arises from those who know where, or how, and surprises us in the right moments! Do not learn with violence and lack of control; hurrying is the enemy of perfection.


1.5.6 - ... “capoeira is divided in three parts”...

“note well, friend... capoeira is divided in three parts, the first is the common, it is that which the public sees, the second and the third, is reserved in the self of whoever learned, and is reserved with secrecy, and depends on time to learn. The proof is in the knowledge of the capoeira of the past and of the present: that of the past was violent, because of malandragem, and that of today is as everyone sees, we praise marvelousness, because of Democracy, we want enjoyment. And everything else depends on the race of who learns capoeira; and my race has already grown old, I am also traditional, I live in the History of capoeira; and I love it,” (14b,8-23)


The three phases of capoeira here referenced are the exterior manifestation – apparent, exposed to all present, the game, visible in trainings, the same in the secret callings, in the exhibitions, in the demonstrations, the physical part, corporeal. Yin, as the Orientals would say. The remaining two are invisible, subtle, subjective, hidden in the self of whoever learned.” Yang in Oriental terminology, the capoeira unconscious and subconscious, “instinct” in the words of Bimba, the secret parts, are “reserved” said Pastinha, and thus should be preserved! One is more superficial, psychomotor, the reflexes of defense, the cleverness, malícia. The second is deeper, philosophical, mystical, the modification of the way of living. The Ialorixá Bebé would say the Axé of Capoeira! LaoTsé would say Taoist!


2.2.4 - ... “to destroy false principles”...

“…I accept nothing that makes me destroy architected theories; it is a duty to destroy the false principles that do not constitute teaching: ...” (69a, 6-10)


Wise warning to those who aim to innovate without respecting the traditions, without knowing the reason for the rituals, without knowing the culture of the people who brought the musical and mystic fundamentals of capoeira. It is indispensable to study the evolution of capoeira – from the African oral traditions preserved in our culture by their descendents until our days – to protect their precious value.

2.2.5 - ... “seek the good mestres”...

“All must be wise, seek the good mestres, and go become equal to them, because they are not apprentices of false teachings; they do not possess vanity or pride, because everything that they teach is not erroneous: they have experience and they are observing.”



Seek good mestres in order not to learn false principles nor serve the pride and the vanity of the false mestres!

[1] Floreio, movement simulating attack or flight to confuse the partner