By Justin Miller
“Menino quem te fez?
Quem te deu tanta guarida,
Quem te mostrou a beleza
De dançar dentro da briga?
Boy, who made you?
Who gave you such support,
Who revealed to you the beauty
Of dancing within the fight?”
Capoeira can be very effective as a martial art. Mestres Bimba and Pastinha were well known for their fighting capabilities. Almost 70 years ago Bimba fought "Luta Livre" matches (free fighting) against fighters from other styles, and Pastinha was such a good fighter by the age of 12 that he was employed as a bouncer in a brothel! The now-extinct Capoeira Carioca style was also famous for its deadly effectiveness when used for street-fighting by Rio gangsters, analogous to Kung-fu in Hong Kong.
Capoeira Carioca (an extinct style of Capoeira from Rio De Janeiro) was reknown for its lethal techniques. With many gangsters involved in its practice and training, Rio Capoeira was the real deal for real street-fights, with none of the elegant movements seen in Angola or Regional. There was no singing or instruments, no acrobatics, nothing that wasn´t considered combat-effective. The masters invented various techniques and applications that resembled traditional Asian martial arts. Kicks were aimed at the body and legs of the opponent rather than the head. The hands were used in various ways to trap/feint, allowing the attacker to strike the sensitive areas like the eyes, throat or joints.
Carioca (slang for "native of Rio de Janeiro") also included weapons training. Usually straight razors known as "Santo Christo" (Holy Christ) and wooden sticks that were called "Petropolis"(Greek for "City of Peter" which is a neighbourhood in Rio, perhaps where the technique originated). Rio gangsters wore red silk scarves around their necks to advertise their underground connections. This also served the more functional purpose of protecting their necks against razors blades, which have difficulty penetrating silk.
Capoeira Carioca was also the first style of Capoeira recorded in a military training handbook. Written in 1907 by a naval officer, entitled "The Guide to Capoeira - Brazilian Gymnastics" perhaps to popularise the national martial art, such as the Koreans did with Tae Kwon Do, Thailand with Muay Thai, France with Savate, the Japanese with Karate/Judo/Jiu-Jitsu and the English with Boxing.
During the 1950s, Regional and Angola expanded as Carioca slowly died out. As Bimba's students moved south from Bahia, they brought the newer form of Capoeira to Rio where it came to be established and popular amongst the wider community. Carioca kept its underground crime affiliations and slowly dwindled away. By the 1950s there was only one public Carioca school in Brazil. It was headed by Mestre Sinhozinho (Agenor Moreira Ferreira) at Ipanema Beach in Rio. Sinhozinho, born in Santos in 1891 and the son of an army officer, learned Capoeira on the docks of Santos and Rio. He also learned Greco-Roman wrestling.
The Capoeira he taught had no music and emphasized combat-effectiveness rather than folkloric traditions. He taught mostly middle-class students (as Bimba did), some of whom were quite famous, including Pan-American judo champion Rudolf Hermany and Bossa Nova song-writer and musician Tom Jobim.
Unfortunately Sinhozinho´s Carioca was never systematized like Bimba´s Regional and this made it hard for his students to pass it on. Sinhozinho never employed a standardized methodolgy, instead teaching his students individually. Thus in the 1960s when Sinhozinho passed away, the style died too. But by all accounts, it was the most effective Capoeira style in terms of fighting. Bimba once took his two best fighters to challege Sinhozinho’s school. Very quickly after the bout started both of them required hospitalization, defeated easily by Sinhozinho´s Carioca style. Bimba himself didn´t compete, but he incorporated what he observed into Regional.
Bimba liked to emphasis the combat movements to his students but maintained many cultural elements of Capoeira Angola. Regional is therefore a mixture of fighting and folklore. He himself was a talented player of the traditional instruments like the berimbau and kept the prayers and rituals from the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé present in Capoeira Angola, stressing Capoeira's Brazilian rather than African origins. Bimba also incorporated techniques from boxing and karate into Regional as well as hip throws and arm locks from judo. These are techniques not seen in Angola. When he opened his first school Bimba couldn't say he was teaching Capoeira as it was still illegal. One of Bimba's students, who was a lawyer, suggested that Bimba call it something else. So Bimba came up with the name "Luta Regional Bahiana" (Bahian Regional Fighting). The systemization of Capoeira was Bimba's greatest modification. This is what transformed Capoeira from an outlawed folk tradition into a nationally accepted artform and sport.
During the 20th century there have been many fights between Capoeira players and martial artists from other styles. There is the legendary fight that occured between a Capoeirista named Ciriaco and a Japanese jiu-jitsu champion named Sada Myako. According to the song, the Japanese was knocked unconcious by a "meia-lua de compasso" (a powerful spinning kick). In Bahia, even before Bimba´s time, fights between different styles would definately have taken place. The visiting merchant ships would have had boxers and wrestlers on board and many Brazilian dock workers and longshoremen were skilled Capoeiristas. Bimba is reputed to have fought many times and never lost a fight. The only Brazilian to ever beat the famous Jiu-Jitsu master Helio Gracie was Waldemar Santana. He studied Jiu-Jitsu with Gracie himself and Capoeira in Rio de Janeiro with Mestre Bimba’s student Arthur Emidio.
Capoeirstas still fight in the many worldwide fighting tournaments with some success. In 1995, during an "Ultimate Fighting" event, a Capoeirista called Mestre Hulk vanquished Amauri Biteti, a Gracie Jiu Jitsu champion. Biteti had defeated all his other opponents that evening but during the final he decided to fight in an upright boxing stance (instead of wrestling on the ground where he had a huge advantage). He was finally knocked out by a punch, after Mestre Hulk first employed a series of capoeira techniques (a martelo cruzado, followed by a chapa and then a meia-lua) to disorientate his opponent. When the fight ended, Meste Hulk felt that he had achieved a significant victory for Capoeira. He was later quoted as saying:
"Eu atribuo a minha vitória à capoeira. Foi ela que me deu disposição de entrar lá, porque eu não fui para o ringue contando com um pouquinho do boxe, do karatê e da luta livre que eu domino. Entrei contando com a capoeira, ela que me deu confiança". - "I attribute my victory to Capoeira. It was Capoeira that gave me the courage to enter the ring. Because I didn´t go into the fight just trusting the bit of Boxing or Karate or Mixed Martial Art that I know. I entered the ring trusting in Capoeira and it was this that gave me confidence!"
Many of the most successful fighters in these ultimate fighting matches have more than a passing contact with Capoeira. These include famous Brazilian Mixed Martial artists Marcos Ruas and Pedro Rizzo, who use Capoeira in their training approach as well as Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, boxing and other styles to fight in tournaments around the world.