Capoeira as a Vehicle for Social Change

Students in Ginga Arts’ programs learn the rich history of Capoeira and become part of the continuing tradition. By learning to play together, students develop both socially and physically in this way we use Capoeira as a vehicle for social change. In an ever-widening sphere, from the individual or family level to the block, neighborhood, city, and state, participants in Ginga Arts’ Capoeira programs take an active role in shaping the future of their communities. We aim to transform children who in turn will act as agents of change within their own communities. Capoeira has a rich tradition of being used to enact change. One of Capoeira’s modern founders Mestre Bimba used Capoeira to bring Brazil’s disparate socio-economic classes closer together. His story shows Capoeira’s individual and communal transformative power. 

Mestre Bimba (Manuel dos Reis Machado) was born in 1900 He began studying Capoeira at twelve years old under Mestre Bentinhoi in Liberdade, Salvador, at the time Capoeira was outlawed. Mestre Bimba’s main contributions to the art of Capoeira were the creation of Capoeira Reigonal and his performance for the governor of Bahia. At 18, Bimba opened his own school where he began to teach Capoeira Regional. He thought that Capoeira had lost its efficacy as a form self-defense and his new style reflected his move towards an effective martial art. His style combined Capoeira with kicks and take-downs from the African martial art Batuque. Mestre Bimba himself was an accomplished Capoerista, earning the nick-name “Tres Pancadas” meaning three blows or the maximum number of shots an opponent could take from him. After the founding of his school and new style, Bimba sought out fights with other masters in order to prove his style’s potential and Bimba defeated all challengers. 

Later, in 1928, came Bimba’s second greatest contribution to Capoeira. Bimba’s performance for the governor of Bahia at the time convinced the governor and, in turn, all of Brazil, that Capoeira was not just an activity of the delinquent but a valuable cultural asset. Soon after Bimba’s performance Capoeira was once again made legal. 

Despite the legalization of Capoeira, Brazil’s middle and upper classes remained prejudiced against Capoeira. Bimba saw the need to create a standard for his capoeristas to improve Capoeira’s image. Towards this end Bimba created the following rules:

  • To stop smoking and drinking since it interferes with the players' performance;

  • To avoid demonstrating one's progression as a Capoeira player outside the academy (the "surprise" factor is crucial);

  • Avoid conversation during training, instead observe and learn from watching;

  • Practice daily the basic fundamentals;

  • Do not be afraid to come close to your opponent – the closer that you get, the more you will learn;

  • Keep your body relaxed;

  • It is better to get beat up in the roda than on the streets;

  • Students must maintain good grades in school;

These rules brought the upper and middle classes to his studio and into the Capoeira community. Bringing the socio-economic classes together into Bimba’s studio was a major revelation. Previously capoeira had been maligned and used to demonize Brazil’s lower class. Bimba, by bringing Capoeira to mainstream Brazil, undid negative stereotypes and at the same time gave Brazilians a cultural treasure to share.