A Brazilian martial art founded more than 300 years ago by African slaves and banned by the government for most of its history. Capoeira encompasses back flips, cartwheels, sweeping movements, and spectacular kicks.
Most of its defensive techniques are elusive and devoid of blocking motions. Capoeira practitioners are extremely adept at evading an opponentís attack then countering with any number of hand or foot movements. Many of the foot motions entail leg sweeps, leg blocks, and kicks performed while in a handstand position.
Although 90% of Capoeira consists of leg movements the hands must also be trained, especially since they were often used to help the practitionerís balance while upside down.
Capoeira is believed to have been originated by locals in Angola, who performed the movements as a religious dance. During the 16th century, slave traders brought many of these people to Brazil, where they continued to practice their “dance.” Because of the brutality of many slave traders, the slaves soon transformed the Capoeira moves into a system of self-defense. Since their hands were often chained, they placed emphasis on leg and head-butting techniques.
In the 17th Century a large number of slaves escaped to cities and villages around Brazil, disseminating the practice of Capoeira wherever they settled. The art reached its height in the 19th Century, when many Capoeira practitioners roamed the streets in criminal pursuits. At one point in the early 1800ís, fines were levied against those who practiced Capoeira.
In 1928 the Brazilian government formally recognized the art and in 1972 it became an official Brazilian sport.