“I'm Your Teacher, I’m Brazilian!”

 Authenticity and Authority in European Capoeira

Claudio de Campos Rosario(a), Neil Stephens(b), and Sara Delamont(b*)
(a) Bristol, UK, (b) Cardiff University, UK, (b*) Corresponding author:


Capoeira, the Brazilian dance and martial art is now globalised and taught widely outside Brazil. Instruction is provided by Brazilians who are living in self-imposed exile from their homeland. The authentic capoeira that such teachers provide is a major attraction for non-Brazilian students. However there is little research available on the motivations and strategies of overseas capoeira instructors. Building on a long term ethnographic study, this paper showcases the goals and strategies of one successful Brazilian teacher, from the Beribazu Group of Capoeira, working in the UK. This teacher reflects upon his four interlocking aims for his students and the strategies for achieving them. They should develop social cohesion, appreciate Brazilian culture, play good capoeira, and learn to move their bodies acrobatically, flexibly and beautifully. Two sociologists embed the teacher’s perspective on his work in an analytic framework derived from Bourdieu.


Key words: Capoeira; social cohesion; Brazilian culture; flexibility; habitus, embodiment.


Preface: Authorship and Voice


This paper fits into a series derived from a long term ethnography. All three authors normally appear in their texts with pseudonymous capoeira nicknames (rather than their real names or their real capoeira nicknames). We have decided to retain these identities here, as a rhetorical device or stylistic flourish of the type we have dicussed elsewhere (Delamont and Stephens, 2007). Professor Claudio de Campos Rosario; of the Beribazu Group, appears below as Achilles; Dr Neil Stephens as Trovao and Dr Sara Delamont as Bruxa. Claudio’s capoeira teachers have their real names, everyone else is carefully protected by pseudonyms (1)





A student enters the capoeira world by grace of the master, and the mestre/discipulo relationship is a complex one (Lewis, 1992: 77)


Contemporary teachers claim that training in capoeira transforms the novice. During apprenticeship, the discipline takes hold of devoted students. (Downey, 2005: ix)


These quotes, from anthropologists who apprenticed themselves to capoeira masters (mestres) in Brazil, focus on the ways in which the novices’ experience of the martial art are mediated by their teachers. As capoeira has become global, Brazilians have spread across the world teaching it, yet there is little research on their motivations, strategies and philosophy. This paper presents a polyvocal account of the strategies and motivation of Achilles, a successful Brazilian capoeira teacher in Britain, who has been the central focus of, and an active participant in, an ethnographic research project for five years. This paper explores what propels a young man to leave his home and travel across the world to teach a martial art and to understand what his aims and tactics are, set in a sociological context deriving from Bourdieu (1977).

The focus of this paper is specifically on Achilles; his motivation, his goals, his philosophy and his teaching strategies. We have written about the embodied habitus of UK capoeira, (Stephens and Delamont, 2006b), its pedagogy (Stephens and Delamont, forthcoming) and the ways in which teachers establish their authority Dr Sara Delamont as Bruxa. Claudio’s capoeira teachers have their real names, everyone else is carefully protected by pseudonyms (1).

Capoeira is the Brazilian martial art, which is not only a fighting sport, but also a dance, a game, and an embodiment of many aspects of Brazilian identity. The title ‘I’m your teacher, I’m Brazilian’ was an emphatic dictat from Achilles in Tolnbridge in May 2004. It encapsulated two central tenets of capoeira teaching: the importance of the instructor – student relationship and the Brazilian nature of the dance-fight-game. The statement ‘I’m your teacher’, with its implications of fidelity and authority, could have been made in Brazil, as the quotes at the head of the paper make clear, or anywhere else in the world. Serious teachers of capoeira require their students to choose one instructor and then be loyal to him. Attending other instructors’ classes, except with explicit permission, is disloyal, and sanctioned. Downey (2005) reports being ‘caught’ attending two different sets of classes, and being expelled from the second: this is typical both in Brazil and in the UK. The second statement ‘I’m Brazilian’ has particular resonance outside Brazil where the authenticity of capoeira teachers is valued by students and stressed by instructors such as Achilles.
There are scholarly accounts of capoeira in Brazil (Lewis, 1992, Browning, 1985, Downey, 2005, Assuncao, 2005) and practitioner reflections (Almeida, 1996, Capoeira 1995, 2002, 2006), which this paper does not recapitulate. Achilles’s teaching philosophy and practices are explored in a reflexive way. The paper has parallels with Reis’s (2003, 2005) auto-ethnographic account of teaching capoeira in Warsaw, although the data collection and analytic processes are different.