When most of us begin to learn Capoeira, we see only the kicks, the acrobatics, etc. and that’s what we study.
However, the movements and music only make up one aspect of Capoeira. Remembrance, the spirit of rebellion, tradition and mischief… form an integral part of Capoeira and give it its unique and authentic aspect. It is important to understand the philosophy of Capoeira and to understand the art as a whole, because without these, there would be no Capoeira.
What is the philosophy of capoeira?
Malandragem is characterized in the Brazilian popular imagination as a tool for individual justice. Facing the forces of oppressive institutions, the individualist malandro survives by manipulating people, fooling authorities and sidestepping laws in a way which guarantees his well-being. In this way, the malandro is a typical Brazilian hero. Literary examples include Pedro Malasarte and João Grilo.
Like jeitinho, malandragem is an intellectual resource utilized by individuals of little social influence or by the socially disadvantaged. This does not stop the equal use of malandragem by those of better social positions. Through malandragem, one gains illicit advantages in gambling, business, and in the totality of their social life.
And, I created this small video playlist so you can all see this concept in action, in capoeira games, and in other martial arts.
Kinda like this game between Mestre Poncianinho, and Professora Magia.
At Mestre Aranha’s event in Italy.
Under that amazing video, he writes,
“Mandinga is to find magic in life”
This beautiful game, has many subtle gestures and movements that enhance the connection and helps to tell a story.
Here’s a small description of Capoeira’s basic philosophy from Mestre Moraes:
“The capoeira ring, whose geometric form facilitates the propagation of energy, is one of the symbolic representations of the ‘macro’ world. The movements we make inside this ring symbolise the adversities we encounter in life, which we often don’t know how to deal with. In the game of life, our opponents, in most cases, know nothing of capoeira, but have movements peculiar to their own game, which we should be able to interpret and understand in their context, taking the capoeira ring as a point of reference. Playing in the ring, we succeed in establishing a fusion between playful elements and respect for the other person. But the ring isn’t reality: the world is. If we win in this ring, we can take the other one too!”
Now, allow me to add on to this a little bit.
First of all, Capoeira is a jogo – a game. This means it can be playful and cooperative, intense and competitive, or anywhere in between. A good way to think of capoeira is as a conversation – it could range from a friendly chat to a heated argument. A key element of capoeira is interaction; you can’t have a conversation by yourself! The capoeira game is like a series of physical “questions” and “answers,” and one player ‘wins’ the exchange when he asks a question that his partner cannot answer.
Also, although capoeiristas are not required to practice a certain religion or any religion at all, it can take on religious significance.
Capoeira is loosely connected to CATHOLICISM…
And to CANDOMBLE.
References to both orixás (the deities of candomblé) and Catholic saints appear in capoeira songs…
Quando chego no Terreiro
trato logo de louvar
louvo a Deus primeiramente
louvo meu pai Oxalá
também louvo o pai Xangó
e a rainha do mar
peço licença Deus de Angola
me dê o salão prá eu vadiar
Now, I would like to share with you a little bit of information about the ORIXÁS, (also spelled ORISHAS).
The Orixas are the deities worshipped in the Candomblé religion and brought to Brazil by captured slaves, especially the YORUBA people. In Africa, these were kings, queens, mythical heroes and other ancestors raised to the status of gods.
“The Orixás are revelations of the spiritual power of the highest-ranking deity Olorun (Oludumare). They are the mediators between the Supreme Being of Olorun and believers. The Orixás are ancestors as well as forces of nature.”
“Originally every group worshipped its own ancestors in Africa, and every town or city-state was bound to a specific local deity, often an ancestor of the local ruling dynasty, a leader of one’s own clan, or a person who somehow uniquely helped and supported the group.
For example, this video documents a special pilgrimage to the city of osogbo, which is dedicated to the Orixa of OSUN(Also spelled OSHUN).
Because of the changed conditions in the Diaspora, there developed a genuine pantheon of deities, in which a large number of Orixás were concentrated in the same terreiro (like a church) as a mythical space. First and foremost was the maintaining of a symbolic heritage that supported all responsibility for the continuity of the African view of the world in exile.
The Orixás clearly have their weakness and can make errors and mistakes. In his book Orixas Pierre Verger compares the Yoruba deities in Africa and the New World, and he assigns human archetypes to them. Every believer lives his entire life under the protection of his individually chosen Orixá.
The Orixás are closely connected to forces of nature such as air and water, as well as to mountains and animals. In addition, each deity has a specific attribute: a color, a metal, a day of the week, a favorite dish, a certain drumbeat, etc… Several Orixás also have concrete tasks and social functions, for example Xango’s as a warrior, Oxossi’s as a hunter, and Ogun’s as a blacksmith.
In Brazil and other nations of the Americas – as in Cuba with the Santería – the African deities were disguised through their association with Catholic saints in order to practice the religion in spite of it being forbidden.
You see, They were forced by the European slave masters to adopt Catholic practices; however, they used Catholicism as a façade behind which to practice their own religious practices.
For example, each orixá of candomblé was associated with a Catholic saint, so that a slave could say a prayer to a Catholic saint but in reality be praying to an Orixia.
- Oxalá (supreme father and creator of the world) – Jesus
- Iemanjá (goddess of the sea and mother of other orixás) – the Virgin Mary
- Oxóssi (hunter god) – Saint George and Saint Sebastian
- Xangô (king, god of thunder and justice) – Saint Peter, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Francis of Assisi
- Oxumaré (god of duality, movement, perpetual renovation) – Saint Bartholomew
- Ogum (explorer of paths) – Saint Anthony
- Nanã (old goddess, co-creator of the world) – Saint Anna, mother of Mary
- Iansã (warrior goddess) – Saint Barbara
- Obá (goddess of suffering) – Saint Catherine, Saint Joan of Arc, Saint Martha
- Obaluaiê (god of life, death, sickness, health) – Saint Lazarus
- Ibeji (twin gods representing dualities) – Saints Cosme and Damien
And in reference to how the orixas relate to Capoeira, well…
I found this post that was posted a few years ago on a facebook group named CAPOEIRA: JOGO DE BOCA.
IFA and CAPOEIRA ORI – Your own personal style. (Expression)
ORUNMILA- The infinite wisdom of the game.(Intuition)
ESU-Your ability to be unpredictable and tricky.(Infinite choices)
OGUN- Your ability to cut through your opponents defense without hesitation. (Strength & explosion)
OSOOSI – Your ability to find your target with speed and accuracy. (Stealth, stalking, persistence)
SANGO – Your ability to lead and aggressively control the game. (Extreme confidence)
OYA – Your ability to adapt to sudden unexpected change. (Adaptive change)
OSUN – Your ability to refine and beautify the game. (Technical perfection)
YEMOJA – Your ability to nurture & develop your game. (Birth of movement)
OBATALA – The wisdom, maturity and ethics of the game. Coolness in the heat of the battle. (Creativity)
EGUN – The collective spirit of those who have come before you. The creators, custodians, teachers. (Innovators)
By Awo Fasegun
Now, there is a lot more to it than this very basic understanding, but I think it’s good for us all to start with.
Now one mestre who is known for his elaborate philosophy derived out of African spirituality is Mestre Moraes. If you want to read a small example of his philosophy, check out the interview translated by Shayna McHugh on her website, Capoeira Cpnnection. Just click HERE to read it.
And Now, I want to show you all this symbol.
This symbol represents a living system of the BAKONGO people that recognizes, embodies and utilizes the universal vital force and it’s relation to nature, man, and ancestors.
This cosmogram was a core symbol of the KONGO CULTURE, which was taken to the americas by enslaved africans during the slave trade. An ideographic religious symbol, the cosmogram was called dikenga dia Kongo or tendwa kia nza-n’ Kongo in the KIKONGO LANGUAGE. Ethnohistorical sources and material culture demonstrate that the Kongo cosmogram existed as a long-standing symbolic tradition within the BaKongo culture before European contact in 1482, and that it continued in use in West Central Africa through the early twentieth century. In its fullest embellishment, this symbol served as an emblematic representation of the Kongo people and summarized a broad array of ideas and metaphoric messages that comprised their sense of identity within the cosmos. It was, and still is a complete science, much of what we study in school today.
Below, I posted a playlist which shows some of the history of the cosmogram, and how it’s used.
Now y’all might be wondering right now, “What does this pattern have to do with capoeira?” Well, you can always go out, LEARN THIS ART, and find out for yourself.
Now, About Mandinga…
Solta mandinga e
solta mandinga e capoeira, solta mandinga
Solta mandinga e
solta mandinga e capoeira, solta mandinga
Se voçe năo tem mandinga
entăo năo sabe jogar
é preciso tem malícia
é preciso improvisar
Solta mandinga e
solta mandinga e capoeira, solta mandinga
Brincar leve, jogar solto
ou tambem saber entrar
enganhar o jogo do outro
e saber movimentar
Solta mandinga e
“All advanced forms of martial art have their magical aspect. The Taoist practitioners are deeply involved with magic, Shinto has its sophisticated magical aspect as does Islam. The Animists practice ritual magical martial arts, the Hindu and the Buddhist cultures have practices and traditions of martial magic. All the European arts have long ties to magical practice, pre and post Christian era. Everybody does magic ….”
“The individual warrior has his own personal magic. He may ‘quest’ or seek visions or dreams. He will make sacrifice, perform personal rituals and take on his talismans of power. He will appeal to his personal guardians, familiars, ancestors or such. The private practice of the warrior is the purest preparation for meeting God that there is in any spiritual practice.”
“The spiritual study of the warrior is more important than the physical in many ways. Combat is far past the physical abilities of any man; he acts in exhaustion, deafness, pain and privation. The cultivation of the indomitable intention is done in a posture of effecting magic. He ‘calls the tiger’ or eats the heart of his enemy or of the Bear, collects the heads of defeated enemy or his weapons and artifacts, in order to subjugate his opponents spirit. He pursues the ritual combat in times of peace; gaming, caravan or expedition, hunting, arts and letters, and imbues them with the same importance as the combat experience.
The warrior will weaken his enemy by magical projections and ritual against him. He will seek to understand the intention of the enemy and confuse it, to break his timing and focus. The warrior seeks to control the weather and the environment against the enemy, to cause him sickness, foul his supplies and sabotage him. He will seek to dominate the enemy with a cloud of despair.”
“All through the ages and in all cultures, people have practiced martial magic; magic in aid of prevailing over enemies, magic of healing, magic of preparation for death of ourselves. How much was pointless and how much was a manipulation of power not yet understood by Science is conjecture, but what is not conjecture is that the field of study may yield something that saves your life some day.If you choose to fight with only science, you will ignore a body of knowledge garnered over millennia by people whose lives depended on it. If you wait for Science to explain it, you may wait for a long time. How do you measure Taiji Quan, how does Pa Qua work? Is the Ketchak dancer heavier or lighter during the trance, what’s a trance? Does mushin mind cause synapses to fire more quickly, then why isn’t cha-no-yu done ‘quickly’? Obviously, martial magic has answers for which Science has no questions and questions for which Science has no arbiter.”
FROM KUNTAOSILAT.COM – Click HERE to read the whole article.
Patua are only one example of the ritual incantations of the mandingueiros (spiritu-ally protected capoeira Angola fighters).
These patuas were commonly made by sorcerors called feiteceiros, some of whom were capoeira masters themselves.
The use of mandinga and patua are enshrined in a popular line found in a number of capoeira Angola songs, “Quem nao pode com mandinga, nao carrega patua” (Who cannot make with incantations doesn’t carry a patua).
The importance of charms and conjure in capoeira can also be seen in the case of Besouro Manganga, a historic capoeira fighter from the city of Santa Amaro who has been elevated to almost mythic status. He is considered the greatest capoeira adept of all time and is called Besouro Manganga because people believed he was unbeatable due to his charms.
“Manganga” means a powerful medicine man and appears to derive from nganga, the Kongo-Angolan term for a ritual specialist.ao It is believed that Besouro’s powers allowed him to best all his enemies, other capoeira fighters as well as armed policemen. He was finally killed by a knife made of ticum wood, believed to have been specially treated with certain rituals to counteract his charms.
If you look up his story, you’ll find an incredible story involving the Orishas and all sort of magic, and messages confronting systems of oppression. The video I posted below, is for a trailer for a brazilian movie about Besouro that came out a few years ago.
(of course this recent MOVIE about him says very little about his actual life. Click HERE to watch this documentary with actual facts about his life, the trailer of which I posted below)
Now I said that there is no one philosophy when it comes to Capoeira. It’s different things to different people. I once read somewhere that Capoeira is like a vast sea, and everyone steps into it’s waters from a different spot on the beach.
There ARE some basic things that are part and parcel to capoeira philosophical ideas which I presented to you above, but beyond that, just like the physical skills, everything is left for the individual capoeirista to interpret for him/herself how this philosophy impacts their lives, and how they choose to impact others.
To Illustrate this, I have posted some videos here of capoeiristas of different styles, who have dedicated their lives to this way of life, and live this philosophy in their daily lives.
Click HERE to watch a playlist of the full interview.
And check out his web sites:
next up, we have one of the world’s most renowned Capoeira Angola practicioners, MESTRE COBRA MANSA, along with a couple of his students, explaining a bit of their journey in Capoeira Angola, and how it has impacted their lives.
Check out his main website at ficamundo.org
Next up, we have a talk about capoeira and philosophy of life between Mestre Agostinho and Mestre Jacob. It covers some of the core values in capoeira, that are emphasized and practised in the teaching in their capoeira group, Grupo Ginga. It was recorded in november 2014 during their 10th annual batizado and graduation ceremony in Copenhagen. The event also celebrated Mestre Jacob’s 20th anniversary in teaching capoeira.
You can find them here at their websites:
Next, we have for you this TED talk called Renegotiating Body Politics via Capoeira, where Mestre Poncianinho and his student Beatrice, will play Capoeira in a very small space, which we call Jogo de Dentro (Inside-Outside Game), and then Beatrice will share some of her ideas on how to tackle the challenges of sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism and ageism, through capoeira…
Ponciano Almeida was born and raised in Guaratinguetá, Sao Paulo, Brazil where he was completely immersed in the capoeira life and community. He is the son of MESTRE ZE ANTONIO, and started his studies in capoeira and Brazilian dances at an early age. In 2000 he moved to the UK and began work on his capoeira school, now called Mojuba capoeira. This venture has thrived and celebrated its 10 year anniversary in 2010. for more information about Mestre Poncianinho and his work, please go to his website @
Dr. Beatrice Allegranti is an award winning dance movement psychotherapist (UKCP reg.), choreographer, capoeira practitioner, feminist researcher, writer and educator. You can find her here @ www.beatriceallegranti.com
Next up, we have Dr. Ọbádélé Kambon being interviewed by Dr. Juan Diego Diaz Meneses on his personal philosophy of Capoeira.
And last, but certainly not least, we have Mestre Xuxo.
Mestre Xuxo is a bodyweight movement specialist with a background in capoeira. In this video clip, he discusses capoeira, body weight movement, breakdancing and his current works.
You can check him out here @https://www.facebook.com/Enjoyyourself.movementCulture/
Like I said in the beginning of this page, There is no one philosophy in Capoeira. Of course, there are commonalities that everyone has in philosophical ideas in Capoeira, which I tried to convey to you. But beyond that, there are differences in each person’s interpretation of Capoeira’s philosophy, which is why I posted the videos above, to show you that, though you may see some… philosophical differences, they’re all doing Capoeira, and all of their philosophical ideas are valid.
So, what have I learned walking down this path so far?
I don’t know when, but sometime on this path, I realized that there is so much more to life than I ever thought there was. During training, sometimes what I believe I can do and what I can’t do gets tested, and I get that graphic reminder that we are not bound by anything else but our own beliefs. And those times when we do fall short, that doesn’t mean that you cannot get up and try again. And again.
When I’m under the berimbau about to play a game, even though it seems that the whole world is raging around me, I find peace and serenity deep within.
While I watch a video of old Mestres like Curio, Joao Grande, Acordeon, etc. I see that age is nothing but a number… that this art is timeless, as we are. what you feel is what you bring to your reality.
By learning, and being a part of the history of Capoeira, I see that no matter what happens… You WILL feel whole again. It is in our nature, in our DNA to regenerate, replenish, and restructure our lives, even when the damage is almost absolute.
Today… right here… RIGHT NOW is the Time.
Truly, there realistically is no tomorrow. You are Alive. Now.
Well, these are some of the things floating in my head now when I think of Capoeria. Most likely, what I think of this art, and what I learn from it will change in time. However, this is where I’m at with it right now.