Capoeira – Traditionally an Intercultural Practice

Carnaval - Carybé

Capoeira – The Brazilian People’s Wisdom post received some interesting comments on the role of traditions, as well as the invention of traditions1. A few of our counterparts shared their experience regarding these issues and dropped me some questions.

I do not think anyone is in position to point out what is right or wrong in Capoeira, or what cultural practices we should adopt or vanish from the art. However, it is one of my main goals in writing 4 Capoeira Thoughts, to share with you a few of my insights from nearly 20 years of practice, a lot of my still remaining questions, and invite you to come along in my quest; hopefully, weaving our paths.

Capoeira – Traditionally an Intercultural Practice

Given the nature of some comments and e-mails, I decided to compare some of my philosophical believes with some important statements made by Mestres to whom I owe a great deal of my approach to Capoeira today. In pointing out how I confront all these intricate concepts and tensions present in our ever spreading Art-form, I hope to provide important philosophical input that may support your own personal quest, as well as reinforcing mine.

To begin with, I need to state that I am not at all against traditions, including ‘invented ones’. Rather, I am only standing against those sets of dogmatic rules invented by a clique of “mestres” of predominantly pecuniary2 interests and reproduced, consciously or not, by a large number of practitioners. Whenever these practices diverge from the egalitarian inner principles of Capoeira, in my view, they are diverging from the Art-form in itself. Conversely, whenever traditions (including invented ones) play an empowering and social libertarian role, I believe they are upholding the core principles of the Art, even throughout during the constant natural changes over time.

To clarify on the danger of not knowing where traditions (invented or not) come from I will tell you about an encounter I had not long ago with an experienced Mestre, head of a big group based in several different countries, from whom I took several classes and attended several workshops over 10 years ago. He is calm and discrete man, not at all like those ‘Capoeira stars’. Above all this, he is a skilful capoeirista, with impressive musicality, and a great teacher, at least concerning technical aspects.

As you probably realise, it at this stage, this man is quite famous and has inspired many, many young capoeiristas in pursuing their Capoeira path, to one day, achieve his level of skill and success in the Art. Personally, I was very inspired by his teachings during the years when, mistakenly, I made honing my technical skill the sole core of my quest. We were talking about teaching abroad, and I shared how difficult it seemed to delegate responsibilities while letting young instructors take their time learning from their mistakes, understanding the value of some of my advice, and come to an agreement in conducting our group.

We had not met for many years, and while I listened to his responses, the high esteem I had for his teachings as a Mestre de Capoeira begun to collapse. He was lecturing me about how mistaken I was, advising me to prevent this loss of time from letting them try things in their own way; furthermore, how easy it is to set rules, for non-Brazilian/European students, on event production, salary and annual membership fees as a ‘solution’ for my difficulties as a group leader. Specifically, what he said was: “ – If you already coordinate groups abroad its too easy. All you have to do is to present the rules. These folks loves rules, if possible give them a handout, manual sort of thing, and they’ll follow it. If by any chance someone argues why, you tell them that this is your group’s tradition…” The conversation continued along these lines while I felt one of my youth’s greatest inspirations fading inside me. Afterwards, my current believe became crystal clear to me: that great techniques should serve equally great and noble purposes.

Now, for those who feel safer with a set of dogmatic rules, and there are plenty of us capoeiras who feel the same way, I would like to ask a rhetorical question: How keen are you to step out of your comfort zone? Because a ‘good’ set of rules, said to be traditions and taught as Capoeira universal truths, may very well ‘save’ us from having to decide what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong'; when such rules are passed down, we do not have to think as much, just accept them. In addition, the traditionalistic approach also provides an illusion of authenticity, of being ‘more traditional’, giving its participants ‘an important role’ upholding values of a mythical past when, most of the times, we are in fact fostering a hidden agenda of a few ‘self made’ “mestres”. Now, if you chose to be in a comfort zone, if you think Portuguese language is not that important to your Capoeira practice, if Brazilian culture remains as an exotic mystery to you, such illusion may sound very attractive.

However, if you seek for the inner principles of Capoeira, the ones transcending pecuniary interests of a few, your quest will teach you about your strengths, limitations, and how to overcome your weaknesses. The process will be similar to the way in which you learned how to spot your mistakes in a Capoeira game and to hone the necessary techniques for solving that problem. This may seem too philosophical for most of you, and it is! Although, it begins gradually and naturally as soon as one decides to learn about the peculiarities of Brazilian culture and history and how our practice is related to both. Capoeira, as well as a great deal of Brazilian culture, is about joy, beauty and wisdom expressed as efficient tools surpassing unspeakable and unbearable injustices. Such knowledge is available to all! It’s just a matter of setting yourself in motion towards such a path.

In order to share these core principles of Brazilian culture and Capoeira, and how they relate with traditions, I would like you to get in contact with Mestres I consider to be true philosophers of our Art-form. Coming to grips with traditions and intercultural concepts again, I would like you to visit Mestre Acordeon’s Blog – . In two different posts – A New Year’s Resolution and Um Berimbau e Dois Pandeiros.

From a personal perspective, Mestre Acordeon shares his experience teaching under the legacy of a legend like Mestre Bimba. As he puts it Bimba inspired my own [Mestre Acordeon’s] attempt to develop new approaches and postures of teaching. This initiative proved essential to my personal development, both in the capoeiragem and in real life. Yet I have never ceased to draw on the joyful, challenging ways of Mestre Bimba’s teaching.” In fact, Mestre Acordeon is renowned for being one of the main guardians of Mestre Bimba’s teachings, and yet, he became famous by developing his unique style.

As these postings are seen by more people seeking for the core principles of Capoeira, we certainly will revisit thes concepts and great Mestres in depth drinking from their wisdom. But my own quest and years teaching Capoeira as a tool towards social inclusion, indicates to me (and the above mentioned material supports it as well) that Capoeira, traditionally, is a practice set upon an intercultural paradigm, upon alterity3, not as a practice based on dogmas.

For the next posting I reserved 2 video clips featuring Mestre Acordeon and Mestre Cláudio Danadinho with statements regarding both the role of traditions and the intercultural concepts inherent to Capoeira and Brazilian culture. In addition, I’ll address some of the questions and comments made here and elsewhere, so, if this post as well as the previous one, or some specific comment called your attention, drop your comments and e-mails and I’ll try to answer it next time.


1– For an interesting discussion in Portuguese about it, please check – Later on, given the demand for a Portuguese version, I posted a translated version at – to which interesting comments inspired this text’s content as well.

2Relating to money; monetary; as, a pecuniary penalty; a pecuniary reward. –Burke. [1913 Webster]

3– Alterity Al*ter”i*ty, n. [F. alt[‘e]rit[‘e].] The state or quality of being other; a being otherwise. [R.]
[1913 Webster]
For outness is but the feeling of otherness (alterity) rendered intuitive, or alterity visually represented.
–Coleridge. [1913 Webster]
— From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48

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