Tilak Punn
Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian art form that combines elements of martial arts, games, music, and dance. It was created in Brazil by slaves brought from Africa, especially from present day Angola some time after the 16th century. It was developed in the regions known as Bahia, Pernambuco and Rio de Janeiro. Participants form a roda, or circle, and take turns either playing musical instruments (such as the Berimbau), singing, or ritually sparring in pairs in the center of the circle.
The sparring is marked by fluid acrobatic play, feints, and extensive use of sweeps, kicks, and headbutts. Less frequently used techniques include elbow strikes, slaps, punches, and body throws. Its origins and purpose are a matter of debate, with theories ranging from views of Capoeira as a uniquely Brazilian folk dance with improvised fighting movements to claims that it is a battle-ready fighting form directly descended from ancient African techniques.

Historians are divided between those who believe it is a direct descendant of African fighting styles and those who believe it is a uniquely Brazilian dance form distilled from various African and Brazilian influences. One popular explanation holds that it is an African fighting style that was developed in Brazil, as expressed by a proponent named Salvano, who said, "Capoeira cannot exist without black men but its birthplace is Brazil".

Even the etymology of the word capoeira is debated. The Portuguese word capão means "capon", or a castrated rooster, and could mean that the style appears similar to two roosters fighting. Kongo scholar K. Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau also suggested capoeira could be derived from the Kikongo word kipura, which describes a rooster's movements in a fight.[citation needed]Afro-Brazilian scholar Carlos Eugenio has suggested that the sport took its name from a large round basket called a "capa" commonly worn on the head by urban slaves.[citation needed] Others claim the term derives from the Tupi-Guarani words kaá ("leaf", "plant") and puéra (past aspect marker), meaning "formerly a forest". Another claim is that given that capoeira in Portuguese literally means "chicken coop", it could simply be a derisive term used by slave owners to refer to the displays as chicken fights.

The History of Capoeira
Capoeira is a 400-year-old martial art that blends music, dance, singing, and acrobatics to create a holistic approach to teaching self-defense. Originating in Africa, Capoeira was brought to Brazil by captured slaves from Angola. In this foreign land the Angolan people developed their practice into a method of defending themselves against their violent overlords. Because of their predicament, these enslaved people had to disguise their training as recreational song and dance.

The slaves from Angola, like slaves brought to the United States, blended their familiar call-and-response song forms with the regional dialect to create songs that glorified their homeland, deities, and future freedom. These songs were accompanied by a number of percussion instruments like the tambourine (pandeiro), bells (agogo), and, most importantly, the one-stringed instrument brought from Africa, the berimbau.

The ginga, roughly translated as swing, was created as the basic movement of Capoeira, so that two people practicing Capoeira appeared to be dancing together rather than fighting. The ginga is set to the rhythm of the berimbau and other instruments(bateria) to enhance the notion of dance and also to teach timing, a critical element in Capoeira.

Another characteristic of Capoeira that helped to mask its purpose of defense is the avoidance of direct contact and threatening movements against an opponent. Since a slave was obviously not allowed to show direct aggression or even opposition to his master, he had to learn the art of trickiness or malandro. For this reason, modern capoeiristas still prize sneakiness and cunning over strength and aggression. The goal of Capoeira is not to defend oneself through violence but by redirecting and avoiding violence. Although Capoeira was originally conceived as a non-aggressive practice, it was later used as a violent weapon by street gangs in Rio de Janeiro. With the emancipation of all slaves in Brazil in 1888, many former slaves, lacking jobs and social status, formed Capoeira gangs and took to crime. As a result of the terror caused by these gangs, Capoeira was outlawed in Brazil in 1892. Capoeiristas found teaching, practicing, or using Capoeira were punished severely. The price was a slashed achilles' tendon, knee, or even throat. Capoeira, however, has always been a resilient phenomenon, and it practitioners continued to hand down their beloved way of life to the next generations.

In response to the outlawing of their art, capoeiristas moved even further underground in their practice. They adopted nicknames to identify each other as capoeiristas without revealing their real identities. This practice continues to this day with nicknames, usually descriptive of the capoeirista's style or body type, being given to a newly "baptized" student of Capoeira. They also held their rodas in places that offered concealment or convenient escape routes if the cavalaria (police) showed up.

It wasn't until 1937 that Capoeira was legalized for practice in registered areas. This development was thanks to the nationalistic president Getulio Vargas, who wished to promote Capoeira as a Brazilian sport.

Today Capoeira is practiced all over the world. With the addition of Mestre Bimba's newer, faster style, Capoeira Regional and various attempts to blend Regional with its ancestor Capoeira Angola, Capoeira has seen some interesting developments since its liberation in the early 1900's. It is a renewed source of pride for Brazilians and an adopted way of life for Capoeiristas across the globe.

The law that prohibited the practice of capoeira was still effect until 1920, and its practice disguised as a "folk dance." In their hidden places, capoeiristas did their best to keep the tradition alive, and by presenting it as a folk art, they made the practice of capoeira more acceptable to the society.

In those years it was very common for a capoeirista to have two or three nicknames. The police knew all the capoeiristas by these names and not by their real identity, so it made it much more difficult to arrest them. (This tradition is continued today. When a person is "baptized" into the practice of capoeira, they are given a nickname.)

In 1937, Mestre Bimba, one of the most important masters of capoeira, received an invitation from the president to demonstrate his art in the capital. After a successful performance he went back to his home state and with the government's permission, opened the first capoeira school in Brazil. It was the first step towards a more open development, and years later the senate passed a bill establishing capoeira as a national sport.

Today capoeira is all over the world. In Brazil, as part of the culture, there is capoeira everywhere - in elementary schools, universities, clubs, and in military academies.
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