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Last summer, I attended the Axe Capoeira Extravaganza at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
This was quite entertaining and a great exposure to different types of martial arts that I am used to. Believe me, these guys (and gals) are in shape!
The show was divided in two parts. The first half was the history and celebration of Capoeira, and the after the intermission, a graduation ceremony for the entire school.
Capoeira was formed by African slaves that were forced into immigration by Portugal into South America between the 16th and 19th centuries. The most popular destination for these African captives was Brazil, and with them, the slaves brought their music, traditions and religions. The oppression caused by slavery was a huge mechanism for Capoeira, and the martial art was mainly developed as a way to escape and resist the domination that governed their everyday lives. The music was one of the most important factors in Capoeira not only did it serve as a rhythm for the players to “fight” to, it helped lift the captives’ spirits and gave them joy when there was little other joy to be found.
Unfortunately, Capoeira took a turn for the worse in 1888 when slavery was eradicated. The now free Africans had no homes and nowhere to go, and sadly many of them created or joined unlawful gangs. Many of these gangs continued to uphold their traditions and practiced Capoeira within themselves, thus giving the art form a terrible reputation by associating it with illegal activities and crimes. It was for this reason that the British government outlawed Capoeira in 1890, and if any African was found practicing Capoeira, the government would slice the backs of their feet and completely severed the tendon, thus making it extremely difficult to continue practicing Capoeira.
Of course, the outlaw of Capoeira only served to fuel the Africans to play the game more often; however, they were quite careful when the game was played. The ring, or roda was only held in an area where escapes could be made quickly the bataria developed a type of rhythm that they would use to warn the players and bystanders that the police were on their way. Players of Capoeira even attributed themselves nicknames so that the police would not easily find out their true character. Fortunately, the ban on Capoeira was short-lived and the persecution of the martial art faded around 1918 and the Africans were free to practice their unique art once again.
Around the year 1937, a man by the name of Mastre Bimba opened the first school of Capoeira which led to its eventual legalization by the British government. However, not only did Mastre Bimba coerce Capoeira to be legalized, he performed the art in front of Getulio Vargas, the President of Brazil during that time, and the President became so enthralled by the art that he proclaimed Capoeira the National Sport of Brazil. Unfortunately, this upset many people that had practiced Capoeira during the years when it was banned and suffered greatly for it. To them, the sudden popularity and legalization was unfair to the people who had to endure the severity of the outlaw in earlier years.
The popularity of Capoeira spread and almost every continent on the globe has a school for Capoeira. Although this martial art may not be as well known as some of its counterparts, it is one of the few that is so steeped in culture.