Looking for a good book about capoeira? Look no further! This book list is a compilation of every philosophical / historical / theoretical / academic / anecdotal (English) capoeira book in publication right now. I haven’t included “practical guides” to learning capoeira because I still don’t know how much use people would get out of them in general (tiny bit of elaboration here or here). I’ve included links to more information (reviews, publication details, page previews) at the bottom of each entry, and will continue adding to this list as new capoeira books come out, and may nevertheless expand it to include the practical capoeira books as well.
Please note that unless otherwise stated, all “Descriptions” are from the books/book publishers themselves.
Capoeira: A Brazilian Art Form [Recommended]
by Bira Almeida / Mestre Acordeon
Capoeira weaves fighting, music, dance, prayer, and ritual into an urgent strategy by which people live, struggle, celebrate, and survive together. In this book Bira Almeida—or Mestre Acordeon as he is respectfully called in capoeira circles—documents his own tradition with both the panoramic eye of the historian and the passionate heart of the capoeirista. He transports the reader from the damn of New World history in Brazil to the streets of twentieth-century Bahia (the spiritual home of capoeira) to the giant urban centers of North America (where capoeira is now spreading in new lineages from the old masters).
This book is valuable for anyone interested in ethnocultural traditions, martial arts, and music, as well as for those who want to listen to the words of an actual mestre dedicated to preserving his Afro-Brazilian legacy.
Learning Capoeira: Lessons in Cunning from an
Afro-Brazilian Art [Recommended]
by Greg Downey
Learning Capoeira: Lessons in Cunning from an Afro-Brazilian Art is a provocative look at capoeira, a demanding acrobatic art that combines dance, ritual, music, and fighting style. First created by slaves, freemen, and gang members, capoeira is a study in contrasts that integrates African-descended rhythms and flowing dance steps with hard lessons from the street. According to veteran teachers, capoeira will transform novices, instilling in them a sense of malicia, or “cunning,” and changing how they walk, hear, and interact.
Learning Capoeira is an ethnographic study based on author Greg Downey’s extensive research about capoeira and more than ten years of apprenticeship. It looks at lessons from traditional capoeira teachers in Salvador, Brazil, capturing the spoken and unspoken ways in which they pass on the art to future generations. Downey explores how bodily training can affect players’ perceptions and social interactions, both within the circular roda, the “ring” where the game takes place, as well as outside it, in their daily lives. He brings together an experience-centered, phenomenological analysis of the art with recent discoveries in psychology and the neurosciences about the effects of physical education on perception. The text is enhanced by more than twenty photos of capoeira sessions, many taken by veteran teacher, Mestre Cobra Mansa.
Learning Capoeira breaks from many contemporary trends in cultural studies of all sorts, looking at practice, education, music, nonverbal communication, perception, and interaction. It will be of interest to students of African Diaspora culture, performance, sport, and anthropology. For anyone who has wondered how physical training affects our perceptions, this close study of capoeira will open new avenues for understanding how culture shapes the ways we carry ourselves and see the world.
Capoeira: The History of an Afro-Brazilian Martial Art
by Matthias Röhrig Assunção
Description (from The American Historical Review):
This is by a wide margin the best book yet published on the history of capoeira, in any language. Matthias Röhrig Assunção has done the archival digging that most previous authors have been unable or unwilling to undertake, and has avoided the essentialism and willful invention of tradition that pervade the most popular accounts. Instead, he makes the competing and overlapping accounts of capoeira’s origins part of his subject, emerging with a rich account not only of the game itself but of the ways in which it has been understood and its place in larger debates on the meanings of Afro-Brazilian culture.
He also incorporates and builds on exciting recent Brazilian scholarship on capoeira and nineteenth-century social history more generally, and he connects these inquiries to capoeira’s globalization over the past two decades. The result, as they say in capoeira, is a compelling and authoritative volta do mundo—a trip around the capoeira ring that is at the same time a trip around the world.
The Little Capoeira Book
by Nestor Capoeira
The book starts off by giving an in-depth history of the Brazilian art of Capoeira. The last half of the book deals with the movements and techniques of Capoeira, including: offensive and defensive movements, basic kicks, takedowns, advanced kicks and movements, head butts, hand strikes, and knee and elbow strikes. Each of the techniques and maneuvers are vividly depicted by drawings that are very easy to understand and learn from. There is also an explanation of both Angolan and Regional versions of most of the techniques.
This book gives a very good description of the history, game, and philosophy of Capoeira. The book contains diagrams showing various positions and movements and discusses attacking and defending strategies and the critical aspects of feinting. Over 100 photographs and illustrations are included.
The Little Capoeira Book, Second Edition
by Nestor Capoeira
Nestor Capoeira, a long-time teacher of capoeira and noted mestre (master), begins this revised edition of his bestseller with an in-depth history of the Brazilian art, giving the most popular theories for the origins and purposes of this movement that combines the grace of dance with lethal self-defense techniques in a unique game-song structure. He discusses some of the most famous capoeristas and their influence on the art. In addition, he describes how the two major branches of capoeira (Angola and Regional) came about and the differences between them.
The Little Capoeira Book’s clear descriptions of the game, or jogo, explain the actual application of capoeira, vaguely similar to sparring but very different in purpose and style. The music of capoeira, which is played during all jogo, is also examined, along with its main instrument, the berimbau.
The author includes a how-to guide with photographs showing basic moves for beginners, with offensive and defensive applications for simple kicks, takedowns, advanced kicks and movements, head butts, hand strikes, and knee and elbow strikes. Each technique is vividly depicted with drawings that are easy to understand and learn from, and Nestor Capoeira includes an explanation of both Angola and Regional versions.
Capoeira: Roots of the Dance-Fight-Game [Recommended]
by Nestor Capoeira
Capoeira is simultaneously a dance, a fight, and a game. Created by the Africans brought to Brazil as slaves beginning in 1500, capoeira was forbidden by law but survived underground. When open practice was allowed in the 1930s it soon became very popular. Capoeira came to America around 1975, and has become widely recognized by dancers and martial artists. The author discusses capoeira’s evolution from Brazilian street play into a way of life. The philosophy of capoeira, and the practical and spiritual benefits of that philosophy, are also discussed. Instructions and exercises in intermediate and advanced skills take up where the author’s previous book left off. The book includes 100 black-and-white photos and illustrations.
A Street-Smart Song: Capoeira Philosophy and Inner Life
by Nestor Capoeira
A Street-Smart Song delves into the boundless philosophical depths of capoeira, the fascinating synthesis of Brazilian dance and self-defense. Drawing from a wide range of sources—the streets of Salvador and Rio de Janeiro, the teachings of the old masters Pastinha, Bimba, and Leopoldina, and the brutal economic realities inflicted on the poorest of Brazil—Nestor Capoeira paints an indelible portrait of this living art, its spiritual heritage, and its vital place in a world hypnotized by media and crushed by poverty.
The traditional poems and songs of capoeira are here, along with the author’s lively discussions of everything from the space age and television’s impact on third world culture to Candomble and capoeira’s life-changing lessons. Rounding out this absorbing cultural survey are historical photos, sketches of weapons and instruments, and fully illustrated fighting movements, taught step by step.
Capoeira: The Jogo de Angola from Luanda to Cyberspace
by Gerard Taylor
The first in a two-volume series on capoeira, Volume One traces the origins of the popular martial art and dance form from the beginning of the slave trade in the Americas in the 1500s to the early years of the Brazilian Republic in the 20th century. Focusing on the people and events that shaped the art form in Brazil prior to the “academy” period of the last century, Capoeira: The Jogo de Angola from Luanda to Cyberspace explores the subject from many vantage points.
Author Gerard Taylor explains how the fighting techniques of African forces laid the groundwork for capoeira movements. He shows how work songs, religion, and various percussive traditions and instruments shaped capoeira music over the years. Drawing on archival sources and historical accounts, the book paints a vivid picture of capoeira’s dramatic evolution from the sugar plantations of Pernambuco through the brutal backstreets of Rio and the Minas Gerais goldmines on its way to becoming a world-class practice.
Capoeira: The Jogo de Angola from Luanda to Cyberspace, Volume Two
by Gerard Taylor
Capoeira evolved as a Brazilian martial art developed initially by that country’s African slaves. Marked by deft, deceptive movements played on the ground or completely inverted, the form started gaining worldwide popularity in the early 20th century, when this second volume of Gerard Taylor’s wide-ranging history begins.
The book opens with a study of the capoeira “Bamba,” Mestre Bimba, who became renowned as a fighting champion in Bahia and opened the first legal academy during the dictatorship of Getulio Vargas. Taylor investigates the dramatic development of the schism that resulted in the competing styles of Regional and Angola. Moving into contemporary capoeira, the author provides an overview of new trends, such as international encounters, long distance “mail-order mestres,” mass membership capoeira associations, cyber-capoeira, and grading systems.
The book features the wisdom of a number of important mestres recounting their experiences teaching capoeira professionally around the world. In frank, inspiring interviews they talk about the highs and lows of the capoeira life, and how its lessons can enrich people’s lives.
Photographs, illustrations, and an extensive glossary of terms illuminate the complex history of this fighting art.
Capoeira Beyond Brazil
by Aniefre Essien
Note: This book doesn’t come out until October 2008!
Until recently, Brazilians dominated the market on capoeira books, yet the form has spread across the globe over the last four decades. This expansion from the favellas (slums) to the world stage has introduced a host of new capoeira practitioners with varied lineages, techniques, and traditions. In Capoeira Beyond Brazil, Aniefre Essien brings an international, political perspective to capoeira, speaking to both the novice and aficionado, as well as to historians, martial artists, social justice organizers, and youth development professionals.
Essien shows capoeira in its complete historical context, providing not only technical instruction but a critical history that highlights the political milestones of the form. Author Essien doesn’t shy away from the realities of the capoeira community, directly illustrating principles that should be embraced, as well as established norms in practice and instruction worth questioning.
Capoeira Beyond Brazil expands the meaning of capoeira with a sociocultural consideration of the effects internalization has had on the form. Showcasing Essien’s own experiences using capoeira training at-risk youth, the book articulates the form’s empowering aspects with strategies for using martial arts to foster individual self-reliance and confidence, as well as a commitment to community development.
Ring of Liberation: Deceptive Discourse in Brazilian Capoeira
by J. Lowell Lewis
Based on eighteen months of intensive participant-observation, Ring of Liberation offers both an in-depth description of capoeira—a complex Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines feats of great strength and athleticism with music and poetry—and a pioneering synthetic approach to the analysis of complex cultural performance.
Capoeira originated in early slave culture and is practiced widely today by urban Brazilians and others. At once game, sport, mock combat, and ritualized performance, it involves two players who dance and “battle” within a ring of musicians and singers. Stunning physical performances combine with music and poetry in a form as expressive in movement as it is in word.
J. Lowell Lewis explores the convergence of form and content in capoeira. The many components and characteristics of this elaborate black art form—for example, competing genre frameworks and the necessary fusion of multiple modes of expression—demand, Lewis feels, to be given “body” as well as “voice.” In response, he uses Peircean semiotics and recent work in discourse and performance theory to map the connections between physical, musical, and linguistic play in capoeira and to reflect on the general relations between semiotic systems and the creation and recording of cultural meaning.
The Hidden History of Capoeira: A Collision of Cultures in the Brazilian Battle Dance
by Maya Talmon-Chvaicer
Capoeira, a Brazilian battle dance and national sport, has become popular all over the world. First brought to Brazil by African slaves and first documented in the late eighteenth century, capoeira has undergone many transformations as it has diffused throughout Brazilian society and beyond, taking on a multiplicity of meanings for those who participate in it and for the societies in which it is practiced. In this book, Maya Talmon-Chvaicer combines cultural history with anthropological research to offer an in-depth study of the development and meaning of capoeira, starting with the African cultures in which it originated and continuing up to the present day.
Using a wealth of primary sources, Talmon-Chvaicer analyzes the outlooks on life, symbols, and rituals of the three major cultures that inspired capoeira—the Congolese (the historic area known today as Congo-Angola), the Yoruban, and the Catholic Portuguese cultures. As she traces the evolution of capoeira through successive historical eras, Talmon-Chvaicer maintains a dual perspective, depicting capoeira as it was experienced, observed, and understood by both Europeans and Africans, as well as by their descendants. This dual perspective uncovers many covert aspects of capoeira that have been repressed by the dominant Brazilian culture.
This rich study reclaims the African origins and meanings of capoeira, while also acknowledging the many ways in which Catholic-Christian culture has contributed to it. The book will be fascinating reading not only for scholars but also for capoeira participants who may not know the deeper spiritual meanings of the customs, amulets, and rituals of this jogo da vida, “game of life.”
Capoeira and Condomblé: Conformity and Resistance through Afro-Brazilian Experience
by Floyd Merrell
Note: This book got a couple of pretty bad reviews on Amazon, in addition to good ones. I haven’t read it before so I can’t really comment, but you might want to check them out first if you’re considering getting this book.
Capoeira is a unique music-dance-sport-play activity created by African slaves in Brazil, and Candomblé is a hybrid religion combining Catholic and African beliefs and practices. The two are closely interconnected. Capoeira and Candomblé have for centuries made up a coherent form of Brazilian life, despite having been suppressed by the dominant cultures. Now they are not only widely recognized in Brazil, but have become popular in North America and Europe as a new blend of sports, dance, and holistic approach to many facets of life.
For Western audiences, Capoeira performance and Candomblé services are fun to watch and participate in, but difficult to understand. Both have apparently familiar elements, but this seeming conformity with the dominant cultures was for 400 years a strategy of resistance by Brazilian slaves. The author offers his own reflections about Capoeira and Candomblé, combining personal experiences with anecdotes, historical facts, and research as well as religious and philosophical interpretations, both Western and non-Western. The result is informative and entertaining, a description and analysis that allows readers to get a feeling, understanding, and even experience of the spirit of Capoeira and Candomblé.
Capoeira: A Martial Art and a Cultural Tradition
by Jane Atwood
Note: This one’s for the kids! Why should us adult capoeiristas have all the fun? Caveat: another so-so review.
Description (from School Library Journal):
Grade 5-8 | Few Americans have heard of capoeira, though it is rising in popularity and will be featured at the 2004 Olympic Games [sic?]. Atwood offers an enthusiastic if flawed presentation to fill in the information gap. The full-color photographs are energetic, showing players of both genders, a variety of ethnic backgrounds, and a broad range of ages. The format is colorful and vibrant but it is sometimes confusing. Several pictures at the tops of the pages have captions buried under paragraphs of type. Sidebars are set off only by a change of background color that varies randomly from page to page; therefore, children are likely to continue reading the mainstream text directly into a side topic and wonder what happened.
The author does a thorough job of explaining capoeira’s background; this same thoroughness in introducing the sport’s unique vocabulary leads to frustration. So many foreign terms are presented that not even the glossary is of use in keeping them straight. Despite its shortcomings, this book would be a better purchase than yet another karate or judo title. (-Laura Santoro, Coventry Library, Cleveland Heights, OH)
Fighting on the Beaches: A Year of Capoeira in Brazil
by Neil Gleadall
Many people have dreams but few have the guts to follow them. This is the story of a young Englishman whose passion for Capoeira took him on an incredible journey from the sedate surroundings of the English Home Counties to the heart of Rio de Janeiro’s toughest shanty towns. This book is a must for anyone who wants to study Capoeira in Brazil, and any martial arts student will admire Gleadall’s dedication to Capoeira – his enthusiasm fizzes off every paragraph. His tenacity in the face of a brutal training regime, injuries and the gun violence of the Favelas is a lesson in focus for any aspiring martial artist. And the book has an appeal far beyond the world of martial arts. It is also a wake up call to anyone who has a passion and is afraid to take the leap of faith to pursue it. Above all this tale is a testament to the power of following your heart.
Capoeira: A Tale of Martial Arts Mastery, Mysticism, and Love
by Khafra K. Om-Ra-Seti
Note: I saved the best for last! This is supposed to be a novel about capoeira, and though I don’t know about the story/plotline itself, based on some of the reviews and a brief excerpt I read…pick this one up when you get tired of laughing at lines from Only the Strong.
In his first novel, Khafra Om-Ra-Seti flows with the spirit of ancient African wisdom and martial arts mastership. This book brings together many of his beliefs and visions regarding the search for a true meaning in life. The saga of the Dogon family, and the ancient beauty and spirit of Capoeira, moves the reader into the realms of msyticism, power and deceit, love and hate, freedom and redemption, and the burning passion to reach the highest level of self-mastery in one’s lifetime.
Ptah, a versatile and highly confident martial artist, has been the welterweight champion of his division for the past five years. His prowess in the ring is near legendary and he is popularly known as Ptah the Wizard. As a member of the Dogon clan, Ptah’s family has been instrumental in establishing the multi-million dollar earnings for fighters that truly proved themselves in the arena.
But lying just below the competitive struggles in the arena is a universal struggle of good vs. evil, of revenge and deception, of mysticism and history, and of the ultimate test to achieve mastership in one’s life. Ptah’s confrontation with the ancient beauty and brilliance of Capoeira is the ultimate test to discover the true master in himself.