What is this… copacana? Copacabana? Co…thing that you’re doing? The thing I did was a Capoeira, Afro-Brazilian martial art with elements of dance.

But it doesn’t make sense! It’s neither dance nor a fight! It’s a sect; you’re standing in the circle and singing! Is it ok to do it for Catholics? I’ve heard those and many other questions while practising for two years. Was it a sect? No, I left without any problem. Did it make me incredibly happy and filled me with endorphins and positive adrenaline? Totally. I was addicted, that was what I wanted to do and what I wanted to talk about the entire time. Why?

Roda de capoeira no Parque da Redenção, Porto Alegre, Brasil Credit: Ricardo André Frantz on Wikipedia
Roda de capoeira no Parque da Redenção, Porto Alegre, Brasil
Credit: Ricardo André Frantz on Wikipedia

What is Capoeira?

Capoeira is, as stated before, a martial art with elements of dance, started by African slaves in Brasil. Mestre Bimba and Mestre Pastinha are considered fathers of this sport. While doing Capoeira, you’re dancing, playing, cooperating with the other person, listening to the rhythm of the playing arch, the berimbau. When the rhythm of the berimbau goes aggressive, you also go more aggressive, and the play turns into a friendly fight.

How does the training look?

The regular training lasted for an hour and a half and was divided into three sections: warm-up, practise in pairs and roda. Warm-up was an excellent opportunity to learn Portuguese numbers as while doing sit-ups, everyone had to count to ten in Portuguese and usually, we did a hundred of them.

After the warm-up, we were either learning basics of self-defence or different figures, useful in the roda. The last half an hour was saved for the roda itself: everyone was standing in the circle, clapping their hands in the rhythm of the berimbau. The coach was playing berimbau and singing straightforward songs about Brazil, a Parana river, our group, or Belo Horizonte because our group originated there, the team was repeating the chorus of the song. Sometimes we had an atabaque at the training, a kind of drum that was my favourite instrument. Two people were standing at the front of the coach, waiting for his signal to start playing.

Elements of culture

Obviously, the basic language wasn’t the only thing that we could learn at the training. During batizado and

Maculele in New York Credit: Rodrigo Cavassoni and Bruno Freitas on WordPress
Maculele in New York
Credit: Rodrigo Cavassoni and Bruno Freitas on WordPress

graduation, when the first-timers were receiving an apelido (a nickname) and people were getting their ropes (there are no belts in Capoeira, just ropes), we were learning the samba and maculele. Those two dances, so much different from each other, were helping us to get a better feeling of rhythm, be more aware of our bodies and learn about the culture of African slaves in Brazil. Maculele is a dance with wooden sticks (originally with machetes). I’ve painted my sticks in the colours of my group and was crazy proud of them.

How did it start?

I just saw a poster, saying: self-defence, dance, play, music, hanging in my school. I came back home, and without going to even one training, asked my parents, if they will give me 50 zł (12 euros) every month. They’ve agreed, and that’s how my two-years long adventure started.


Not only the understanding of simple songs but also a willingness to talk to our Brazilian Mestre and other guests, who came from Belo Horizonte, were strong motivators for me to learn Portuguese.

Also, there were workshops at the Mestre’s house in Brazil every year, so I wanted to be able to communicate in their language. I stopped Capoeira while I left my hometown to study in a different city but I kept learning the language – first on my own, then at the course, on Duolingo, and, finally, with my Brazilian friend who comes from the same region as did the Mestre.

Now I don’t do Capoeira anymore, I switched to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but I still have fond memories of my times at the gym. If I didn’t practise Capoeira, I’d never put my foot on the BJJ mat. But that’s an entirely different adventure.

What about you? Have you ever been to Brazil? What is your motivation for learning Portuguese?  Is there a story behind it? If so, let us know in the comments!

Author: Adriana Lipa

Adriana is trying to do the impossible: join her passion for cooking, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, writing and photography. She’s curious about people, loves reading and crazy long walks.

Author: Zoe Ford

Zoe is an intern at SPEAK from England, who loves learning languages and dancing salsa.

One Reply to “Capoeira: My first adventure”

  1. Hi Adriana,
    Nice article, Capoeira is phantastic, I like it also very well. First I thougt that it is only traditional in Brazil. But I had to learn that you can find this tradition also near Europe. During my trip to Cape Verde I saw a lot of young people doing this. Maybe it’s an idea for you if you’ll find some other roots of Capoeira.

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