The Concept of Capoeira
Capoeira contains elements of a martial-art, dance, music, acrobatics and play amongst several other things, all embedded in Afro-Brazilian Culture.
The Brazilian expression for doing capoeira is "jogar capoeira" meaning to play capoeira. So practitioners play capoeira and don't merely fight or dance capoeira. Although capoeira has playfull elements and the art has not the focus of taking others down as fast as possible, one discovers it is an art that teaches serious lessons, when one develops within capoeira
The important focus lies on the martial-arts elements of capoeira. This implies you limit the amount of time you are vulnerable to attacks and pay contstant attention when doing capoeira with another person. You adapt your attacks and defenses to the other ones attacks and defenses, applying strategies, including fake movements and train yourself in speed, strenght and flexibility to aid you in the development of reflexes necessary to deal with attacks. Training the art with others develops your speed and distance estimation of attacks and after a certain level of skill one generally starts to learn attacks of more impact, including takedowns, blows with the hands and head and more difficult to avoid kicking combinations. Since one tries to avoid all attacks of the other person while attacking, and the other person tries the same thing, one might look at a capoeira show and see the kicks graze along the bodies not inflicting damage and think that this is what capoeira is about. There is however a big difference between a capoeira show where usually estetics of kicks and acrobatics are emphasized and a real capoeira game, where one tries to catch the other person.
The dance element is what gives capoeira it's grace. Capoeira is generally done to the sound of music including a rhythm made by a musical bow of one string, called the berimbau. The berimbau dictates what kind of game is played and rhythms have their own characteristic game. Some rhythms include more combined interaction, others are empasizing more martial arts aspects, or the development of a game on the ground. The speed of the rhythm also influences the speed of the basic steps of capoeira: the ginga, which practitioners perform inbetween attacking and defending. This means there are several rhythms and styles of capoeira and the music has an influence on how the game is played.
The acrobatic elements in capoeira have grown to be more prominent within capoeira from the 60s on, when in Brazil capoeira was included in folcloric shows for audiences. The purpose of applied acrobatics within capoeira was originally to lure people into an attack, to transform a movement to avoid an attack or to transform a movement into an acrobatic attack. The rhythms played within capoeira can also influence the type of game and acrobatics. An example is the rhythm and game of Iuna, developed by Mestre Bimba. Here the two players display their technique and while originally throwing eachother and always landing on their feet during so called "cintura desprezada" sequences.
The musical instruments and rhythms used in capoeira are influenced by African roots. In several African countries including Angola, musical bows, drums and other instruments are found including cow bells and rattles. During times of slavery the knowledge of these instruments was brought by African people to Brazil. Although the conjuction of instruments was established over time in Brazil introducing the tambourine into the capoeira circle and singing songs in Portuguese language, several key elements of African origin remain, including rhythms and words within the songs of African origin, the singing style of call and response, the creation of a rhythms by combining several different rhythms, the influence music has on the physical game and several other references. The songs sung within capoeira, describe the game, alert or command players, interact with participants in the roda (the capoeira circle in which capoeira is performed) and can pass old tales on of times of slavery or of famous masters from the past. This way the bateria (the capoeira music section) can teach and inspire people while conducting the roda.
The combination of these elements above is unique in the world and of great cultural and developmental value. The appreciation of capoeira has been spreading throughout the world, and it is now practiced in the majority of countries. The roda of capoeira was declared Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO on the 26th of November 2015