Capoeira is played as a game, or jôgo, in a ring, which is called a roda. The formation of the roda is part of the ritual of capoeira. If you just learn how to do handstands to evade an opponent or how to punch or kick, you haven’t really participated in capoeira. These techniques are merely movements. In the roda you will blend these movements with spectators, music and another capoeirista.
Before the jôgo begins, players and spectators come together and form a circle. The circular shape holds a special meaning in capoeira. All participants feed off the energy of the game, which is contained within the roda. A master, who is called a “mestre,” usually leads the roda, infusing it with good energy. An ensemble of musicians, or the bateria, is positioned at the head of the circle. Of special significance is the berimbau, a bow made of wood. Its location in the roda is known as the pé do berimbau, or the foot of the berimbau. To begin the game, two players first kneel before each other and enact a private ritual, such as making the sign of the cross. Next, they kneel before the berimbau. The mestre or one of the two players launches into a ladainha, a ritual song that signals the beginning of the game.
The Essential Berimbau
The berimbau is made of wood that bends to the pull of a steel string. Its wooden body is called a verga and extends about 56-inches long, according to Jane Atwood’s book “Capoeira: A Martial Art and a Cultural Tradition.” The musician holds the bow in his left hand, using a stone or a coin to change the tension and vibration of the string. If you pluck the string, the berimbau emits a buzzing sound. A hollow gourd is attached to the end of the berimbau, which magnifies and echoes the sound. You use a baqueta, or thin stick, to strike the string and produce a rhythmic sound. There are three types of berimbaus: the high-pitched viola, medium-pitched media and the deep-pitched gunga. They all vary in size, which is what causes the pitch to change, with the viola having the smallest gourd.
How It Works
The musician playing the gunga is typically the mestre or one of the most experienced capoeiristas. He sets the style, pace and starting and end points of the game. Responsible for the roda, he initiates and fuels the energy of the ritual. Once the game begins and the two players face off, the circle of people recites songs and clap in a back-and-forth commentary on the game. The songs might deride players for being too aggressive or taunt them for not showing enough aggression. They may also encourage the capoeiristas to boost their game play.
The Role of the Player
The players move according to the music in a game of nonverbal dialogue. The way they move should match the rhythms established by the berimbau. There are several types of rhythms used in capoeira. For example, the São Bento Grande rhythm is one of the most common rhythms heard in capoeira rodas and the games are usually played quicker and involve less floor movements compared to games played to the Angola rhythm. In contrast to traditional dance, the moves are not choreographed but improvised and spontaneous. There is no right or wrong response by one player to the other player’s attack. As long as you move with good timing and react suitably to the circumstances, anything goes. Because the martial arts moves employ rhythm to, for example, throwing a kick or avoiding one, you can develop better timing by participating in a capoeira roda.
- Capoeira: A Martial Art and a Cultural Tradition; Jane Atwood
- Capoeira Beyond Brazil; Aniefre Essien
- Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia; Thomas A. Green
- Photo Credit George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images
- Capoeira: Fusing Dance and Martial Arts; Liz Goggerly
- Capoeira: The History of an Afro-Brazilian Martial Art; Matthias Röhrig Assunçào