“I'm Your Teacher, I’m Brazilian!”

Once captivated by capoeira a student finds a teacher and becomes a novice member of a group. After a few months of training, most groups ‘baptise’ novices into membership with a ceremony (batizado) and the award of the first belt (corda). This ties the student to capoeira and to the particular group.


So I got my first belt – the blue belt – in the Beribazu Group in 1992 and that was my Batizado so after a year, after a year I got my first belt.


Getting that belt, at the symbolic baptism into a capoeira group, is intended to be motivating: Achilles reminisced:

It happened with me. When I received my first belt, I always wanted to come to class wearing it, and I wanted to show my belt to everybody. I felt more capoeira. I felt more capoeira when I received my belt because that’s really amazing. And after you get that belt you go home, and you want to sleep with your belt. Quite crazy – it definitely helps a lot to motivate students.

So too with British students, such as Lunghri who hung his on the back of his bedroom door so he could see it last thing at night and first thing in the morning. Students have to buy white trousers and a Club T shirt for their Batizado so after it they dress in the same way as more established discipulos.

Achilles was awarded the purple corda of a contra-mestre in July 2009. Above purple is thepurple and red belt, and then the red of the full mestre. Within Beribazu Achilles’s primary ties of discipleship are to Mestre Luiz Renato Viera, a professor at the University of Brasilia and to three other teachers (Mestres Jorge, Danilo and Igor) who were students when he began capoeira, and are now masters. Mestre Jorge visits regularly, others come for festivals. The Tolnbridge and Cloisterham students are regularly reminded that they are part of the Beribazu group. Beribazu is invoked in every class, by clothing, by the ceremonial ending of the lesson, and in regular comments by Achilles. Achilles wears T shirts and trousers with the Beribazu logo on them, and so too do all the serious students. The kit not only celebrates capoeira: it celebrates Beribazu capoeira. The roda ends with a celebratory shout of ‘Beribazu’. Routinely, Achilles tells the classes that the Beribazu Group does things in a specific way – ‘our way’.


In the rest of the paper the four closely intertwined goals that Achilles has: of social cohesion, of understanding Brazilian culture, of producing students who play capoeira with beauty and axe, and of making students not only skilled in capoeira but comfortable in their bodies: are discussed, after the relevant work of Bourdieu is briefly outlined



Scholars of bodily practices and embodiment interested in phenomena as different as ballet (Wainwright and Turner, 2004a, and boxing (Wacquant, 2004) have drawn on Bourdieu’s theoretical concepts of habitus, capital and field to explore and theorise their data. Crossley (2004, 2006a, 2006b, 2007) drawing on observation and participation has explored the utility of Bourdieu’s ideas in his writing on circuit training and more recently Muay Thai. Brown (2005), focusing on the occupational socialisation of a male student training to be a PE teacher, uses the ‘practical, relational constructs of habitus, field, and capital’ to examine what he terms ‘a cultural economy’ of British school PE.

Diasporic capoeira is a field in Bourdieu’s sense. It has a structure based on the power relations and the struggle between the agents and institutions: the teachers and the capoeira groups such as Senzala, Corda de Ouro (6), and Beribazu. Teachers have capital in their field, which does not travel outside capoeira. Capoeira is a social practice which reproduces and legitimises certain orientations, leading to acquisition of a habitus. The habitus is both a state of mind and a bodily state of being. At the individual level, a person’s biology, and biography, gives him or her a unique habitus. Simultaneously however, that person is also shaped by the collective history of any group(s) to which he or she belongs. Thus education and socialisation contribute to the individual habitus (Reed-Danahay, 2005).


Brown (2005) stresses that towards the end of his life Bourdieu was explicitly concerned to deny the regularly made criticism that the ‘field-habitus-capital-practice relation’ (p17) was over-determined and over-determining. Bourdieu’s (1999: 340) clear statement that mastering an art, any art ‘offers the only durable form of freedom’ had convinced Brown to draw on that cycle to illuminate the socialisation of a male PE teacher, Peter. Our position is similar to Brown’s. We see Achilles as engaged in a triple project. He is working on his own capoeira habitus with the goal of being moved to a higher corda within Beribazu; he is developing his abilities as a teacher of diasporic capoeira; and he is committed to enculturating over a hundred students in three British cities (7) into Beribazu capoeira. Bourdieu’s (1999, 340) statement that the mastery of an art ‘is acquired, paradoxically, by the obligated or elective submission to the conditionings of training’ captures these three projects. Each project could be examined to show that the concepts of habitus, field, and cultural capital are not over determining. In this paper our focus is the third project: changing the habitus of the discipulos.