“I'm Your Teacher, I’m Brazilian!”

In what follows we can see how, in Bourdieu’s terms, the creation of social cohesion is one way in which Achilles creates a field in which students can acquire the embodied habitus of capoeira. Discipulos will only be able to acquire that embodied habitus if they train and they are more likely to train hard if they are well-integrated into a group. In that group Achilles hopes the students will themselves feel ‘totally capoeira’, and be fully involved with the capoeira way. The habitus of capoeira is, for Achilles, quintessentially Brazilian. Brazilians are born into that aspect of the habitus, but others are not. In the section below on Brazilian-ness the need for non-Brazilians be offered opportunities to experience a different culture is apparent. Here again, discipulos need to be assimilated into a Brazilian attitude to the body, to hedonism and to certain cultural manifestations if they are to be fully socialised into the embodied and the cultural habitus of capoeira. The core elements of the capoeira habitus as Achilles conceptualises it are playing with skill and style, while both creating and benefiting from its (axe). In the third and fourth sections the ways in which Achilles aims to change the embodied habitus of his students, and empower them to play with axe are described. The four interlocking themes show Achilles’s goals and strategies for enculturating discipulos into a new, embodied habitus.

Next we use Achilles’s own words to explore his aims and objectives, and his teaching strategies, analysed through Achilles’s own reflections, and those of Trovao, who has been a core member of the Tolnbridge club for five years, amplified by Bruxa’s 54 month ethnography. Achilles spoke at length about his teaching strategies and philosophies in four interviews with Bruxa, tape recorded and transcribed, plus conversations during classes. Bruxa and Trovao then discussed the interview transcripts several times, focusing on how Achilles’s aims came across to an enthusiastic student who is also a social scientist. The first goal is social cohesion: one Achilles shares with Reis (2003, 2005).


Social Cohesion

Reis’s (2005) autoethnography of teaching capoeira in Warsaw focuses on the growth of social cohesion between him and the students, and among the students. Achilles, confirmed that creating social cohesion was one of his goals.

Achilles: I think capoeira is a really nice way to make social cohesion. Because in capoeira people feel a strong desire to come to the lesson because they want to see their friends – their new friends and and that’s why I think it is a really good way. Not only capoeira – but the relationships people start to have in capoeira: when we go out as well to the pubs, when you do performances in different places, when you travel together, that’s a really nice way to make cohesion.

Bruxa: What are the signs?

Achilles: Ahh, the signs are when they start being involved with the capoeira way. When they start coming to performances and follow me, loyally follow me – where I’m going. And that’s – I start thinking my work is going really well and they start believing in me. And they start building that relationship with me and with their new friends in capoeira as well.


He explains the mechanisms that establish social cohesion as follows: the nicknaming, the Batizado ceremony, the regular switching of practice partners in class, going out together after class, travelling to events together. Trovao added to this list: supporting Achilles in his work, students offering sleeping space to capoeiristas from other cities after classes, events and parties, discipulos ‘helping each other out’, and capoeira friends moving in to shared houses – reporting Achilles’s comments ‘oh a capoeira house – man – capoeira strong in this house’ whenever he heard of club members moving in together. Trovao and close capoeira friends equipped themselves to present an evening of Brazilian music commercially, and now do so both for Achilles’s events and independently. The second time they hired a club to present their ‘Batucada Basics’ evening, Achilles came to Tolnbridge with a car load of his best Cloisterham students, and put on an impromptu capoeira display: de facto giving Trovao’s efforts his approval. Ever since Achilles has supported Trovao’s Brazilian musical events.


Achilles argues that nicknames are one vital step in building cohesion, and that is their main function in the UK today.

The nicknames are awarded by the teacher, at the Batizado. When you get your nickname you are part of a new society of capoeira. People know each other in capoeira with a different name. That makes people more of a social group. That’s why we give the nickname.

Achilles gave Bruxa a capoeira nickname as a symbol of her incorporation into his group, and his students call her by it routinely.


In the summer of 2006 the Cloisterham and Tolnbridge capoeira clubs had shared a seaside camping trip with Achilles, mixing capoeira with surfing, swimming and beach parties. About thirty people went, and Bruxa asked if a turnout of that size was a measure of the social cohesion he had achieved. He answered:

Achilles: Definitely, definitely because you can see that’s not really normal in other groups of capoeira. I did one capoeira camping thing in 2004, that was only for Cloisterham students [i.e. not the Tolnbridge students] but they came from everywhere – from London – there were old students who came back – and you can see that’s social cohesion.