Capoeira academies in Rio de Janeiro

By Matthias Röhrig Assunção.

The disbanding of the carioca gangs (maltas) at the beginning of the republican regime, in 1989-90, was followed by a period where no significant capoeira organisations existed in Rio de Janeiro. Capoeira had to reconfigure itself, and its modernised version first appeared in the space of the “academias” (capoeira training spaces).

If the mestres are the custodians of ancestral knowledge, and the roda is the place where capoeira takes place, the groups were and are responsible for the growth in the number of practitioners and their organisational framework.  

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about capoeira groups in Rio de Janeiro

Since the 1930s, at least, some pioneers like Jaime Ferreira and Sinhozinho offered capoeira training to their students in Rio de Janeiro. But capoeira was only one aspect of the martial arts they taught, fostering a process that would result in the emergence of mixed martial arts (vale-tudo). Capoeira, moreover, was practiced here in a way far removed from its Afro-Brazilian roots, without drums, traditional rituals or ” foundations” (fundamentos).

Thus, one cannot yet speak of capoeira groups for that period. I use the word “group” here in its broadest sense, as a group or association of people working toward a specific end. Beginning in the 1960s, the term “grupo” (group) became widespread in capoeira, with a very specific meaning, referring to an association, usually led by the oldest and founding mestre, with a pyramidal structure and almost always a centralised command.

The first modern capoeira groups emerged, as we know, in Salvador with Mestre Bimba and the Centro de Cultura Física Regional (CCFR), in the 1930s, and the Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola (CECA), led from 1941 by Mestre Pastinha. Other mestres, such as Canjiquinha and Caiçara, also created groups, often with the intention of organising presentations for tourists. It was in Rio de Janeiro, however, that a new set of groups emerged and new organisational models were developed. Some capoeira groups in Rio and São Paulo managed to reach a new threshold in terms of numbers of practitioners and organisational structure, making it easier for capoeira to expand into other Brazilian states, and later around the world.
In addition to the groups, since the days of Getúlio Vargas, the State has been framing capoeira associations. When the Vargas dictatorship (called Estado Novo, or New State, 1937-45) created the National Sports Council in 1941, it incorporated into that body the Confederação Brasileira de Pugilismo (CBP), created in 1933 in Rio de Janeiro. The CBP was the first organisation to represent capoeira by means of a specific capoeira department. In the 1970s, capoeira federations were established, in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Bahia, which tried to bring together the groups in an attempt to make the practice more sportive, standardise graduations and create regulations for competitions. The Federations and the subsequent Brazilian Confederation of Capoeira (created in 1992) played an important role in institutionalising the art. They were able to incorporate a considerable number of groups, but many refused to become part of the Federations, seeking to preserve their independence. As Luiz Renato Vieira pointed out: “It is clear that the groups were the organisational form that capoeira chose [for its expansion].1 For this reason, it is important to understand the process of creation and development of the groups during the formative years of the 1960s and 1970s in Rio de Janeiro. This thematic axis is being developed by the project with the intention of retrieving material, primary sources and testimonials that may help to better establish the history of these entities and of the Federation. This trajectory has been little told so far, but it is essential to understand the great expansion of the art from the 1990s onwards, with Rio de Janeiro as one of the main centres of its propagation.

1  M. Luiz Renato Vieira, Praticando Capoeira, II, No. 17, pp. 33 and conferred by the author, 09.3.2021.

Capoeira groups in Rio de Janeiro, 1974

My starting point was a survey André Lacé did in 1974 of groups in the city’s Northern Zone and a few in the distant suburbs (known as Baixada Fluminense). If we add to that list groups from the Southern Zone, Niterói and the Baixada, we can say that there were around 25 capoeira groups at that time, active in more than 40 training places.  

One interesting aspect is that at that time there were already several núcleos that graduated students, who in turn created their own groups. It is important to make several caveats.

First, the genealogies of the groups — as, indeed, also that of the masters — are not as simple as digital chart hierarchies. They can only serve as a starting point for further analysis. Secondly, this scheme is still flawed, because we have not yet been able to identify well some groups. However, this provisional list already allows one observation: besides the four lineages identified by Master Levi, as being at the origin of the current groups, there is a set of smaller groups that were not necessarily affiliated to these four matrixes.

For this reason we ask for everyone’s collaboration to find out more about the existence of all these groups. Please contact us at capoeirahistory at if you have more information.

I am grateful to Mestre Luiz Renato Vieira’s comments on an earlier version of this text.