Capoeira is a 400-year-old martial art that blends music, dance, singing, and acrobatics to create a holistic approach to teaching self-defense. Originating in Africa, Capoeira was brought to Brazil by captured slaves from Angola. In this foreign land the Angolan people developed their practice into a method of defending themselves against their violent overlords. Because of their predicament, these enslaved people had to disguise their training as recreational song and dance.

The slaves from Angola, like slaves brought to the United States, blended their familiar call-and-response song forms with the regional dialect to create songs that glorified their homeland, deities, and future freedom. These songs were accompanied by a number of percussion instruments like the tambourine (pandeiro), bells (agogo), and, most importantly, the one-stringed instrument brought from Africa, the berimbau.

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The ginga, roughly translated as swing, was created as the basic movement of Capoeira, so that two people practicing Capoeira appeared to be dancing together rather than fighting. The ginga is set to the rhythm of the berimbau and other instruments(bateria) to enhance the notion of dance and also to teach timing, a critical element in Capoeira.

Another characteristic of Capoeira that helped to mask its purpose of defense is the avoidance of direct contact and threatening movements against an opponent. Since a slave was obviously not allowed to show direct aggression or even opposition to his master, he had to learn the art of trickiness or malandro. For this reason, modern capoeiristas still prize sneakiness and cunning over strength and aggression.

The goal of Capoeira is not to defend oneself through violence but by redirecting and avoiding violence. Although Capoeira was originally conceived as a non-aggressive practice, it was later used as a violent weapon by street gangs in Rio de Janeiro. With the emancipation of all slaves in Brazil in 1888, many former slaves, lacking jobs and social status, formed Capoeira gangs and took to crime. As a result of the terror caused by these gangs, Capoeira was outlawed in Brazil in 1892.