“I'm Your Teacher, I’m Brazilian!”

In any class where beginners are present a routine feature is calling on students to repeat the Portuguese names of moves, or the instruments, as well as teaching the words of songs. In one class in the Autumn of 2007 Achilles made everyone chorus ginga, martelo, esciva, frontale and meia lua as he taught the basic step, a kick, an escape, a second escape, and a second kick. When it was time for the roda Achilles made everyone repeat the names of all the instruments, choruses of three songs in Portuguese, and at the end of class made everyone say ‘samba’. Not every lesson contains as much emphasis on the basic vocabulary, but we found nothing unusual.

Applying Bourdieu’s concepts we can see in his emphasis on embedding capoeira in a wider Brazilian cultural context, Achilles is giving the students a second set of cultural capital, to supplement the one they acquired in their primary socialisation. He wants them to be enculturated into a Brazilian habitus, not just to learn a few kicks. Bourdieu’s (1977: 72) classic definition of habitus as ‘systems of durable…….structured structures’, when applied to capoeira allows us to see why Achilles places such emphasis on it as Brazilian: Brazil is the durable, structured structure, that functions as a structuring structure.

Beauty and Axe

Although capoeira is often described as a martial art, and it can be violent, Achilles has a clear and explicit ambition for his students: they should play beautifully and his classes, performances and rodas should be characterised by powerful axe.(8) When Trovao and Bruxa read Achilles’s interview transcripts together, Trovao emphasised:

There’s something about a kind of beauty in what Achilles wants too….the Brazilian identity of beauty, or a bodily beauty, and he also talks about social cohesion in terms of beauty coming together and doing shows and things. And for some reason I’m thinking about the fruit we put out at The Maldives.(9) Achilles talked about setting out all the fresh fruit on the table for the guest masters and teachers to eat –about “setting out beautiful fruits for everyone to come and enjoy”.

Bruxa: Right – ok – yes

Trovao: The sharing of food is important – and actually, as well – the food should look aesthetically pleasing.

Bruxa: And the capoeira itself.

Trovao: For sure: when we illustrated that seminar, with the DVD from the Belchester Batizado that Achilles and his Cloisterham people went to, I said that the film maker emphasised the beauty of the play, and the humour and trickery: and that’s typical of capoeira films: emphasis on beautiful play, and I’m sure that’s what Achilles wants from us.

Achilles stresses that capoeira should be beautiful. When asked why British students like capoeira he listed

‘music, fighting, acrobatic movements and social cohesion – in capoeira you can mix acrobatics with music….. It looks beautiful as well. And so that’s why people come to capoeira. It’s visually beautiful, its beautiful to listen to, its beautiful to practice’.


One repeated motif in the fieldnotes is Achilles urging the discipulos to ‘put style in your ginga’. In nearly every lesson Achilles can be heard urging the more advanced students to work on playing beautifully, playing with style, doing their basic moves elegantly. He coaches people to move smoothly, not jerkily; to extend their limbs; to get close to the ground; to move in time to the music; to develop ways of building sequences of moves so their game flows. He routinely demonstrates what an elegant game looks like, and publically praises people who achieve ‘style’.


Again applying Bourdieu’s key concepts to Achilles’s aims, style in capoeira, axe and beauty are all indeterminate qualities, that can only be recognised by those who have some knowledge of the habitus, like Trovao. When a person enlists with a capoeira teacher like Achilles he or she may not realise that technical mastery of moves and instruments is only a small step into the habitus of the art. Beyond and behind the technical skills Achilles teaches explicitly, there are the implicit aspects of the habitus: recognising and developing style, axe and beauty. Treating capoeira in the UK as a field, in Bourdieu’s sense, the extent to which Achilles’s advanced students play with style and axe is one way in which he can gain status in the contested field as their teacher, and display his qualities as an instructor to his mestres in Beribazu. The symbolic capital Achilles has in capoeira is made visible to other experts if his advanced students have become properly enculturated into an elegant capoeira style.

Allied to beauty is the most enjoyable part of social cohesion and Brazilian-ness: parties and dancing.