Born out of chains, bred into history

From the shackles of oppression, two options may often manifest themselves in the minds of the oppressed. With slavery, the first and very obvious option is to lose the will to live and perhaps commit suicide. The other is to keep one’s spirit alive by spreading the culture from whence one came.

Sometime around the 16th century, the slaves imported from Africa to Brazil faced this very dilemma and decided to come up with a solution to the problem: Capoeria.

Some Capoeiran historians believe the hybrid martial art and dance style originated in Africa and was imported to Brazil, where its captives continued it. Another school of thought says it was used to fend off slave drivers. With the emphasis on lower body attacks and sweeps all involving the legs, this is highly possible, especially considering the slave’s hands would have been bound.

The history of Capoeira is difficult to discern because all records of slavery in Brazil are now gone. An accepted idea is that traditional African dances and rituals shaped the art of Capoeira into what it is because they were forbidden to practice any kind of martial art. As a result, they practiced it under the guise of cultural norms.

Capoeira is accompanied by music and song. The participants are responsible for making this music. As Capoeiristas progress in the martial art, they not only learn more about the combative side, but they also learn about the musical side.

According to, the main instrument of Capoeira is the berimbau. An instrument that looks like a traditional bow, it has one steel string that is struck with a stick to make a resonant sound. The berimbau is accompanied by the atabaque, a large wooden drum that serves as the bass in the music.

The combination of these instruments serves as the framework for the songs, which may be about the history of Capoeira, a story of an old fisherman or even just vocal noises designed to raise energy.

Professor Girino of the Volta Ao Mundo-Tampa Academy suggests those who are just starting Capoeira should first learn the instruments. He explains it as a good way to observe what is going on before jumping into it.

Initially, the art could be a bit intimidating. Watching Capoeira is akin to observing fluid human energy. Those advanced in the art move seamlessly together in a dance that is at once dangerous and captivating.

A typical game, or jogo, involves a variety of acrobatic twists, kicks and sweeps based out of a crouched dance-like movement known as the ginga. According to the Capoeira dictionary, ginga literally translates to back-and-forth movement. All of the movements in Capoeira are based out of this stance.

According to Luke “Brooklyn” Gittens, a former break dancer who now teaches Capoeira, the ginga is what makes Capoeira fair. Since all movements are based on the ginga, it makes combatants use skill rather than force to beat an opponent.

“There are no pads, so if you don’t move, you are going to get hit,” Gittens said.

Gittens said for him, Capoeira is a liberating experience.

“It’s a way to express myself more freely,” he said. “There is a spiritual aspect, but for me it is just a sport.”

Gittens also went on to describe its popularity in Brazil and likened it to how in America, basketball courts on driveways are prominent – but in Brazil, people practice Capoeira.

Gittens’ teaches classes at the USF Recreation Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Additional classes are availible at the Volta Ao Mundo-Tampa Academy located on Bearss Avenue.

If a student decides to get serious with the class, one would wind up learning the Portuguese language and a history of the sport just by taking the classes. Further information on classes around the Tampa area can be obtained at