Traditions Field Note

Capoeira: A Game of Skill


When I traveled to different communities in the northeastern regions of of Brazil, community members greeted guests by putting on a show of Capoeira. Capoeira is a traditional Brazilian form of martial arts that combines music and dance with fighting moves. Read and learn more about it in this Traditions Field Note!, Maybe you’ll even want to try it yourself! They have Capoeira classes in the U.S., where you can learn his Brazilian tradition!


This week, I lived in and learned about a small community. It has about about 250 families in it and it is located in a rural area of Brazil. During the week, we learned about many traditional activities community members regularly do like fishing, planting fruits and vegetables, making flour and making  home medicines. The community is located next to a river, so we also learned to row boats. After all of this hard work, people in this  community like to have fun! They taught us how to dance forró, a traditional dance from the northeastern region of Brazil that is similar to American square dancing. On the last night, we got a lesson on an activity that is traditional in many communities all over Brazil. It is a game called Capoeira. Have you ever heard of it?

What tradition did I learn about?

Capoeira is a tradition that was created in Brazil by African slaves hundreds of years ago. It is a form of martial arts, and uses many kicks and flips. Players that are very good at Capoeira move very quickly and it is beautiful to watch. You play against one other person, but you are never supposed to kick or hit the other person. The players make martial arts moves and dodge the other player. Since they’re always just missing each other, it looks like a dance. Skill is very important so you don’t actually hit another player!

There is special music that is played when people play Capoeria, and it is always played live. The instruments used are drums, tambourines and a traditional Brazilian instrument called the berimbau. The berimbau is a percussion instrument. It looks like a bow with a round wooden attachment that looks like a coconut. You hit a stick on different parts of the string to create different sounds.  Can you name any other percussion instruments?

The musicians play a rhythm and chant songs to accompany the game. Many songs are in the form of call and response, so the crowd sings along as well. The players move to the beat of music, which makes it look like a dance.

To play the game, everyone gets into a circle, or roda. The musicians also stand in the circle. Two people go into the circle, shake hands, and begin to play Capoeira. The next player goes in when they decide there has been a winner. Winning is based on skill and how you move. The game moves with people facing one another and moving in and out of the circle. The game stops when the music stops, and everybody claps and cheers. Take a look at the video to see what this looks like!

Why does the community have this tradition?

This tradition is good for the community in many ways. First, Capoeira brings everybody together. Anybody can play the game, no matter how old he or she are or what their skill level is. Kids can play against adults, and even I tried playing for a bit! Everybody comes to watch and listen to the music, so it always turns into a fun event. The best kind of tradition is one where everybody is included!

Capoeira is also a great activity for kids in the community. Kids can start to learn at any age. It is very good exercise, because you must use your whole body. It is also a game where you learn good sportsmanship and how to think quickly. It is a great activity for kids to do after school, instead of watching TV. It is important for kids to know the traditions of their community, so that they can teach their own kids in the future! What games do you like to play?

Is this tradition connected to its environment? How?

While Capoeira is not really connected to its environment, it is a great tradition because it can be practiced anywhere. I have seen Capoeira being played at school, inside homes  and outside on the sidewalk. Capoeira originated in Brazil, but it is now popular all over the world. Many places in the U.S. offer classes for kids and adults. Many people also travel to Brazil just to learn and practice Capoeira in the place where it originated.

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