General

The ultimate capoeira book collection: Part 1

UPDATE 2: Part 2 of the series, containing a list of Portuguese books, is now available!

UPDATE: I just discovered (during a re-read) that the second volume of The Jogo De Angola From Luanda To Cyberspace has an excellent book list, with better reviews than mine. The bibliography of both volumes is also worth checking out if you are interested in doing some research yourself.

Over the years I have collected quite a few books, articles and research papers on capoeira. The first book I got was “The Little Capoeira Book” by Nestor Capoeira. It was the only book about capoeira which had been translated in my language. Back then I was lucky enough to stumble upon it in a regular bookstore. Finding a second book was a lot harder: local bookstores couldn’t help me and online shopping wasn’t what it is today. After browsing eBay for a while, I came across a copy of “Roots Of The Dance-fight Game” (also by Nestor Capoeira) which could be shipped to my country and didn’t charge ridiculous fees.

As the internet grew, so did the presence of capoeira on the web. it became easier to find and order material online. Nowadays you can get your hands on most English books through sites such as Amazon (Portuguese books are still somewhat harder to come by). But where do you start? How many books on capoeira are there? Choosing the right book to read is not always easy and as a die hard you probably want to know if you are missing any must haves in your collection. There was one list on the blog of Mandingueira, but it had become outdated and since a few weeks, the website is offline. There’s also a small reading list on the blog of Lelé. So, I decided to create an updated list of books that discuss capoeira or are related to capoeira.

In this first post I am listing all books written in English. There are some children’s books available as well, but I’ve excluded them for now. In the next post I’ll list books which are written in Portuguese. And in a third post I am going to share a list of research papers and essays. With the combination of these three lists I hope to provide a good reference on reading material for any capoeirista.

The list is ordered alphabetically. For every book I added a difficulty, this is an indication of the minimum level of capoeira experience that is required to fully understand it. That doesn’t mean that a book which I think is suited for beginners won’t be interesting for more advanced capoeiristas.

The list

Side note: I started out writing the descriptions myself but somewhere halfway through I got lazy and started copying summaries from other sites.

A Refuge in Thunder: Candomblé and Alternative Spaces of Blackness

A Refuge in Thunder: Candomblé and Alternative Spaces of Blackness
author: Rachel E. Harding
pages: 272
publication date: February 2003
ISBN: 9780253216106
difficulty: advanced
description: This book is actually not about capoeira, and therefore not relevant for the average player. But more advanced students know that capoeira has always had tight connections with candomblé. The history of the religion is similar to that of capoeira’s: they both traveled along the same paths and encountered the same difficulties. If you want to better understand where candomblé came from and why it is so closely coupled to capoeira, then this book should give you the necessary insights.

 A Street-Smart Song: Capoeira Philosophy and Inner Life

A Street-Smart Song: Capoeira Philosophy and Inner Life
author: Nestor Capoeira
pages: 344
publication date: June 2006
ISBN: 9781583941553
difficulty: intermediate to advanced
description: As the title says, this book is more about the philosophy of capoeira, and not about historic facts or how-to’s. You need to know a thing or two about capoeira before trying to understand its philosophical depths. In this book Nestor Capoeira talks about a capoeirista’s way of life, the meaning of songs, the wise words of old Mestres and capoeira’s place in modern society. It’s a great book for anyone who wants to understand why capoeira is more than just a sport.

African Legends Of The Orishas

African Legends Of The Orishas
author:  Pierre Fatumbi Verger & Carybé
pages: 151
publication date: 1985 / June 2006
ISBN: 9788586551260
difficulty: advanced
description: Just as the first book in this list, this one is more interesting for the experienced capoeirista who wants to learn more about the link between candomblé and capoeira. In this book you’ll find a collection of tales about the orixás with were annotated by Pierre Verger. Knowing the legends of the orixás will give you insights in the deeper meaning of many capoeira songs and traditions. A book written by Verger and with drawings from Carybé is a must have for the collector.

Capoeira 100: An Illustrated Guide to the Essential Movements and Techniques

Capoeira 100: An Illustrated Guide to the Essential Movements and Techniques
author: Gerard Taylor
pages: 336
publication date: January 2007
ISBN: 9781583941768
difficulty: beginner
description: This book is exactly what it promises: an essential guide on movements, techniques and terms. With high quality photos and clear descriptions, almost all subjects are made easy to understand. Aside from single movements, the book also features sequences and combinations to practice in pairs. It’s a great guide for beginning students who want to familiarize themselves with the most common techniques in modern capoeira. But I do not recommend (nor does the author) to try to learn capoeira from just a book. Apart from that, Capoeira 100 can also be a great reference on the bookshelf of a beginning teacher. By just browsing through the movements and sequences, you’ll quickly get inspiration for your next class.

Capoeira Africana

Capoeira Africana
author: Kevin Jackson
pages: 124
publication date: November 2013
ISBN: 9781493711307
difficulty: beginner
description: Jackson talks about all the capoeira fundamentals every new capoeirista should know about. He shares his own opinions and views while talking about capoeira’s roots, its history, the music, and the different styles. He also explains his own passion for the art and what implications it’s had on his life. The book isn’t very long, which makes it great for reading on a Sunday afternoon, or while you’re traveling.

Capoeira and Candomblé: Conformity And Resistance In Brazil

Capoeira and Candomblé: Conformity And Resistance In Brazil
author: Floyd Merrell
pages: 315
publication date: March 2005
ISBN: 9781558763500
difficulty: advanced
description: Merrell’s book covers a subject which hasn’t been discussed a lot in other (English) books: the connection between candomblé, capoeira and Brazilian culture. The book gets some good reviews for his choice of the subject. While sometimes being a bit too academical or philosophical, it can be a good starting point for anyone wanting to dive deeper into candomblé. On the downside, another scholar wrote a negative review about Merrell’s work, criticizing almost every aspect of the book: read the review here.

Capoeira and Religiosity (Spirituality)

Capoeira and Religiosity (Spirituality)
author: Dolf van der Schoot
pages: 70
publication date: April 2014
ISBN: 9781534852693
difficulty: intermediate to advanced
description: Anyone who has been playing capoeira for some years can’t deny the strong connections the art has with spirituality. Van der Schoot studies the connection between capoeira and spirituality which goes much further than the obvious things we notice in a roda. Using his research on the subject he tries to understand capoeira’s success in the world.

Capoeira Angola Movements: Basic and intermediate movements for Capoeira Angola

Capoeira Angola Movements: Basic and intermediate movements for Capoeira Angola
author: Curtis Pierre
pages: 326
publication date: May 2015
ISBN: 9781512266870
difficulty: beginner
description: This book serves as a reference on movements in Capoeira Angola. Every movement or sequence is accompanied with drawings which explain how the exercise should be executed. The book is divided in different chapters which resemble categories of movements: basic kicks, defensive moves, escapes and maneuvers, … Just like Mestre Poncianinho’s book I think this book is especially useful for beginners who want to practice on their own after class. The book won’t hold much secrets for advanced players but having a reference of movements and sequences can be useful from time to time.

Capoeira Beyond Brazil: From A Slave Tradition To An International Way Of Life

Capoeira Beyond Brazil: From A Slave Tradition To An International Way Of Life
author: Aniefre Essien
pages: 136
publication date: October 2008
ISBN: 9781583942550
difficulty: beginner to intermediate
description: Essien’s book is an easy read, perfect for when you’re traveling or on vacation. Essien talks about capoeira’s origins and the basics of the history like most books do. Even though Essien shares his own opinions and experiences, this chapter feels like an obligatory part of a capoeira book. What I found most interesting were the chapters “Attitude and Etiquette”, “Capoeira and Commercialism” and “Capoeira: Brazil vs USA”. His chapter about etiquette feels honest and real, and I could easily relate to my own experiences. I wouldn’t recommend the book to learn more about the history of capoeira, but it’s interesting to read about his experiences and views as an American capoeira.

Capoeira Conditioning: How to Build Strength, Agility, and Cardiovascular Fitness Using Capoeira Movements

Capoeira Conditioning: How to Build Strength, Agility, and Cardiovascular Fitness Using Capoeira Movements
author: Gerard Taylor
pages: 144
publication date: December 2005
ISBN: 9781583941416
difficulty: beginner
description: The popularity of capoeira continues to rise as more people discover how useful—and fun—it can be for increasing agility and flexibility, as well as strength and endurance. Capoeira Conditioning is an illustrated guide to whole-body training based on this increasingly popular Brazilian martial art. Designed for all ages and all levels of experience, the book is a step-by-step training manual with photographs that guide users through every movement and sequence. Accompanying text gives special pointers and describes the fitness benefits of each individual technique. Capoeira Conditioning offers no-frills advice about nutrition, regularity of training, capoeira in relation to other sports, and capoeira conditioning for children, along with a simple Q&A section. – Google Books

Capoeira: A Brazilian Art Form: History, Philosophy, and Practice

Capoeira: A Brazilian Art Form: History, Philosophy, and Practice
author: Bira Almeida (Mestre Acordeon)
pages: 192
publication date: February 1993
ISBN: 9780938190295
difficulty: beginner to intermediate
description: This is a must read for every capoeirista, whether you’re experienced or not. Mestre Acordeon’s book has become a reference in the capoeira world. Other authors often base their ideas on the contents of this book. Even though the book was written more than twenty years ago, almost all of Mestre Acordeon’s words are still relevant. Even experienced capoeiristas should (re)read this gem, because there is always something new to be discovered.

Capoeira: Basic Techniques

Capoeira: Basic Techniques
author: Mestre Paulinho Sabiá
pages: 191
publication date: November 2006
ISBN: 9782353950003
difficulty: beginner
description: A very impressive book for Capoeira beginners. Perfect for me. I had a couple of lessons, and I needed to “read-up” and orient myself about the art at home. This book is big, with big pictures. Hardbound, very well made; high quality paper and pictures. Quality is so good, it can double as a coffee table book. Comes with a DVD that demos techniques pictured in the book; a perfect complement. If you can buy only 1 Capoeira resource, I would wholeheartedly recommend starting with this book, and get the beginner DVD free with it. The DVD is very helpful, even if the video quality (production value) is less than stellar. – Review on Amazon

Capoeira: Martial Art of Brazil

Capoeira: Martial Art of Brazil
author: Lloyd Howell
pages: 200
publication date: September 1998
ISBN: 9781902267005
difficulty: beginner
description: I couldn’t find any information or recent reviews and don’t own the book myself.

Capoeira: Roots of the Dance-Fight-Game

Capoeira: Roots of the Dance-Fight-Game
author: Nestor Capoeira
pages: 346
publication date: July 2002
ISBN: 9781556434044
difficulty: intermediate to advanced
description: This book is great if you’ve read an introductory book on capoeira (like The Little Capoeira Book) and you want to dive deeper into the history of the art. Some theories that are explained in the book have become outdated, but nonetheless it still serves as a great starting point to learn more about the history and evolvement of capoeira. I found it somewhat dry to read with a lot of quotes and facts and few narratives.

Capoeira: The Fighting Dance

Capoeira: The Fighting Dance
author: Rob Waring
pages: 24
publication date: November 2008
ISBN: 9781424044719
difficulty: beginner
summary: Capoeira is a Brazilian art that involves dancing and fighting. Capoeira was invented in the 1800s and it has become a popular activity today. Capoeira is now being used to help street children in Brazil to stay away from trouble. How does it help these children? What do they learn from capoeira? – from Amazon

Capoeira: The History of an Afro-Brazilian Martial Art

Capoeira: The History of an Afro-Brazilian Martial Art
author: Matthias Röhrig Assunção
pages: 284
publication date: October 2002
ISBN: 9780714680866
difficulty: intermediate to advanced
description: The book is known for its insight into the far-reaching history of the Brazilian martial art known as Capoeira, and its complex cultural significance to Brazilian identity. It provides a series of in-depth debates on Capoeira, including what it actually is (a fight, sport, dance, or art), where its true origins lie (African, Afro-Brazilian, or Brazilian), and what it exemplifies (resistance, or acceptance). Additionally, it describes the evolution of Capoeira from its roots as it spread to different regions of Brazil in the 19th and 20th Centuries, and the rest of the world in the 21st Century, accepting a multitude of beliefs into a single divers culture. Throughout the book, Capoeira is also seen as a mechanism for racial desegregation. – Wikipedia

Capoeira: The Jogo de Angola from Luanda to Cyberspace, Volume 1

Capoeira: The Jogo de Angola from Luanda to Cyberspace, Volume 1
author: Gerard Taylor
pages: 539
publication date: October 2005
ISBN: 9781556436017
difficulty: advanced
description: If you really want a step-by-step analysis of the evolution of slavery in Brazil, together with all its consequences then this might be the book for you. But I recommend using this book as a source of reference when studying a specific subject or timeframe. The book is so great in detail, that you probably won’t remember exactly what was in it after finishing it. I recommend this only for advanced students who already know a lot about capoeira’s history and want to connect the dots.

Capoeira: The Jogo de Angola from Luanda to Cyberspace, Volume 2

Capoeira: The Jogo de Angola from Luanda to Cyberspace, Volume 2
author: Gerard Taylor
pages: 531
publication date: April 2007
ISBN: 9781583941836
difficulty: advanced
description: This second volume of Taylor’s work is more concrete and less dry. I found it a lot easier (and interesting) to read, since it primarily discusses capoeira itself. When you’ve read the most common books on capoeira, this book is great to help you detect common theories, mistakes and assumptions other authors made. If you want to know the complete history of capoeira, you could just read these two volumes and never open another history book because Taylor’s work is so complete.

Essential Capoeira: The Guide to Mastering the Art

Essential Capoeira: The Guide to Mastering the Art
author: Ponciano Almeida (Mestre Poncianinho)
pages: 128
publication date: January 2008
ISBN: 9781583941966
difficulty: beginner
description: Mestre Poncianinho’s book is great for it’s high quality photographs of movements and his step-by-step explanations on how to perform them. His book also features very concise chapters on the history of Mestres Bimba and Pastinha, their work and on the role of music in capoeira. Since the book was published when Ponciano was still officially with Cordão De Ouro, you’ll also find a brief history of the group and an overview of the grading system. I recommend this book for anyone new in capoeira, or for those who would like to know a little bit more about Cordão De Ouro.

Fighting on the Beaches, A Year of Capoeira in Brazil

Fighting on the Beaches, A Year of Capoeira in Brazil
author: Neil Gleadall
pages: 228
publication date: September 2007
ISBN: 9781847281104
difficulty: beginner
description: […] This is the story of a young Englishman whose passion for Capoeira took him on an incredible journey from the sedate surroundings of the English Home Counties to the heart of Rio de Janeiro’s toughest shanty towns. This book is a must for anyone who wants to study Capoeira in Brazil, and any martial arts student will admire Gleadall’s dedication to Capoeira – his enthusiasm fizzes off every paragraph. His tenacity in the face of a brutal training regime, injuries and the gun violence of the Favelas is a lesson in focus for any aspiring martial artist. And the book has an appeal far beyond the world of Martial arts. It is also a wake up call to anyone who has a passion and is afraid to take the leap of faith to pursue it. […] – Amazon

Jinga: A Capoeira Tale

Jinga: A Capoeira Tale
author: T.L. Bryant
pages: 564
publication date: November 2015
ISBN: 9781519175311
difficulty: beginner
description: As far as I know, this is the only novel that was written about capoeira (in English). The story follows the life of an African man who is enslaved and brought to Brazil. Once in Brazil, he tries to escape and struggles for survival. The story roughly follows the path of capoeira from the history books, but gives you another perspective as a novel. If you want to read about capoeira without diving into an academic work, this is for you.

Learning Capoeira: Lessons in Cunning from an Afro-Brazilian Art

Learning Capoeira: Lessons in Cunning from an Afro-Brazilian Art
author: Greg Downey
pages: 288
publication date: March 2005
ISBN: 9780195176971
difficulty: intermediate to advanced
description: Learning Capoeira is an ethnographic study based on author Greg Downey’s extensive research about capoeira and more than ten years of apprenticeship. It looks at lessons from traditional capoeira teachers in Salvador, Brazil, capturing the spoken and unspoken ways in which they pass on the art to future generations. […] He brings together an experience-centered, phenomenological analysis of the art with recent discoveries in psychology and the neurosciences about the effects of physical education on perception. […] – Amazon.

Manipulating the Sacred: Yorùbá Art, Ritual, and Resistance in Brazilian Candomblé

Manipulating the Sacred: Yorùbá Art, Ritual, and Resistance in Brazilian Candomblé
author: Mikelle S. Omari-Tunkara
pages: 208
publication date: January 2006
ISBN: 9780814328521
difficulty: advanced
description: At a time when the art of the African diaspora has aroused much general interest for its multicultural dimensions, Mikelle Smith Omari-Tunkara  contributes strikingly rich insights as a participant/observer in the African-based religions of Brazil. She focuses on the symbolism and function of ritual objects and costumes used in the Brazilian Candomblé (miniature “African” environments or temples) of the Bahia region. An initiate herself with more than twenty years of study, the author is considered an insider, and has witnessed how practitioners manipulate the “sacred” to encode, in art and ritual, vital knowledge about meaning, values, epistemologies, and history. – ADAN

Rhythms of Resistance: African Musical Heritage in Brazil

Rhythms of Resistance: African Musical Heritage in Brazil
author: Peter Fryer
pages: 281
publication date: June 2000
ISBN: 9780819564184
difficulty: advanced
description: Fryer examines how the rhythms and beats of Africa were combined with European popular music to create a unique sound and dance tradition. He focuses on the political nature of this musical crossover and the role of African heritage in the cultural identity of black Brazilians today. The result is an absorbing account of a theme in global music that is rich in fascinating historical detail. – Amazon

Even though this book doesn’t talk about capoeira directly, it’s an interesting read for the capoeira researcher or advanced student who wants to learn more about the history and heritage of the musical part of capoeira.

Ring of Liberation: Deceptive Discourse in Brazilian Capoeira

Ring of Liberation: Deceptive Discourse in Brazilian Capoeira
author: J. Lowell Lewis
pages: 294
publication date: September 1992
ISBN: 9780226476834
difficulty: beginner to intermediate
description: This is another classic, a must-have for every capoeira practicioner. The book is over 25 years old, so expect some information to be outdated. Nonetheless it’s still a great read.

Based on eighteen months of intensive participant-observation, Ring of Liberation offers both an in-depth description of capoeira—a complex Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines feats of great strength and athleticism with music and poetry—and a pioneering synthetic approach to the analysis of complex cultural performance. – Amazon

Secrets, Gossip, and Gods: The Transformation of Brazilian Candomblé

Secrets, Gossip, and Gods: The Transformation of Brazilian Candomblé
author: Paul Christopher Johnson
pages: 240
publication date: November 2005
ISBN: 9780195188226
difficulty: advanced
description: Just as the other books on candomblé in this list, Johnson’s work has nothing to do with capoeira. But again, a deeper understanding of candomblé will help you better understand capoeira on another level.

In this wide-ranging book Paul Christopher Johnson explores the changing, hidden face of the Afro-Brazilian indigenous religion of Candomblé. Despite its importance in Brazilian society, Candomblé has received far less attention than its sister religions Vodou and Santeria. Johnson seeks to fill this void by offering a comprehensive look at the development, beliefs, and practices of Candomblé and exploring its transformation from a secret society of slaves–hidden, persecuted, and marginalized–to a public religion that is very much a part of Brazilian culture. Johnson traces this historical shift and locates the turning point in the creation of Brazilian national identity and a public sphere in the first half of the twentieth century. – Amazon

The Berimbau: Soul of Brazilian Music

The Berimbau: Soul of Brazilian Music
author: Eric A. Galm
pages: 224
publication date: September 2011
ISBN: 9781617031953
difficulty: intermediate to advanced
description: Galm’s work is the first study on the berimbau that goes beyond the context of capoeira and explores the instrument’s status as a national symbol. There is no other work of this length and depth available which solely discusses the berimbau, and being written in English it is surely unique. Galm explores the role of the berimbau in Brazilian culture starting from the 1950s, the ability of the instrument to cross social and racial boundaries, and it’s influence on musical genres. People interested in music or musical history will surely enjoy this work.

The Capoeira Guidebook: Investigations into the Culture, History, and Philosophy of the Afro-Brazilian Art

The Capoeira Guidebook: Investigations into the Culture, History, and Philosophy of the Afro-Brazilian Art
author: Evan Wedsworth
pages: 114
publication date: February 2016
ISBN: 9781523827381
difficulty: beginner to intermediate
description: The Guidebook serves as a reference on several subjects for students who want a clear and concise explanation of things. Don’t expect any advanced or groundbreaking research, as that is beyond the scope of this book. As the summary states, “[…] With a little bit of everything—history, culture, philosophy, practice, and evolution […]”, the book has information on a variety of subjects, but everything stays somewhat superficial. Reviews are positive, complimenting the clarity of the chapters.

The Hidden History of Capoeira: A Collision of Cultures in the Brazilian Battle Dance

The Hidden History of Capoeira: A Collision of Cultures in the Brazilian Battle Dance
author: Maya Talmon-Chvaicer
pages: 249
publication date: December 2007
ISBN: 9780292717244
difficulty: intermediate to advanced
description: Talmon-Chvaicer’s research is well known within the capoeira community. As an academic work it is one of the best books available. The book isn’t too hard or too dry to read as opposed to other academic works. I’d recommend it to the capoeirista who read most of the introductory books and wants to take his knowledge a step further. Read a full review here.

The Little Capoeira Book, Revised Edition

The Little Capoeira Book, Revised Edition
author: Nestor Capoeira
pages: 240
publication date: December 2007 (original from 1998)
ISBN: 9781583941980
difficulty: beginner
description: This is the absolute must-have for every capoeirista. Even though the book is quite old, it is still a record holding capoeira book: it has been translated to more languages than any other capoeira book and holds the most sales worldwide. As is the case with other books which are 15+ years old, the chapters on the history of capoeira are dated. But after all these years Nestor Capoeira’s work is still a great reference and should be the first book every capoeirista reads. In 2017, Nestor Capoeira released a completely new edition of the book.

The Taste of Blood: Spirit Possession in Brazilian Candomblé

The Taste of Blood: Spirit Possession in Brazilian Candomblé
author: Jim Wafer
pages: 240
publication date: May 1991
ISBN: 9780812213416
difficulty: advanced
description: This is another book I find interesting to mention even though there is no direct link to capoeira. Due to the strong connection between candomblé and capoeira, knowledge of the first will help you better understand the latter. “Well written and rich in ethnographic detail, the book makes an engaging story with sometimes touching accounts of personal experiences with fellow initiates who have “tasted the blood” of a religion that traces its roots to Africa and Brazilian folk traditions” – Amazon

Unknown Capoeira: Secret Techniques of the Original Brazilian Martial Art

Unknown Capoeira: Secret Techniques of the Original Brazilian Martial Art
author: Ricardo Cachorro (Mestre Ricardo)
pages: 256
publication date: December 2009
ISBN: 9781583942314
difficulty: intermediate
description: This is more of a reference than a guidebook. I picked this one up from the local library, intrigued by the idea of “secret techniques”. There really are no secrets involved. Rather, it’s a listing (alphabetical!) of movements used in capoeira with notes on how to train them, when to use them, and how to defend. It was a fascinating read, but not something I would recommend to a beginner, and I suspect that experts will already know what’s being discussed here. Intermediate readers will probably find the most to enjoy in this book. One, of course, cannot learn Capoeira from a book, but reading through the suggestions in the book on when and how to use the technique will provide some valuable pointers on things to try in the roda, which can then be refined with suggestions from the mestre. – Review on Goodreads

Unknown Capoeira, Volume Two: A History of the Brazilian Martial Art

Unknown Capoeira, Volume Two: A History of the Brazilian Martial Art
author: Ricardo Cachorro (Mestre Ricardo)
pages: 224
publication date: December 2012
ISBN: 9781583942345
difficulty: intermediate
description: […] For volume two of his “Unknown Capoeira” series, Mestre Ricardo Cachorro has done extensive archival research to shed light on these shadowy areas. Reaching back as far as the year 1415, Cachorro documents the cultures and individuals that gave birth to and helped alter and redefine capoeira. He uncovers its beginnings in the dramatic saga of the Akindele family, who lived in a storied Yoruba kingdom in pre-Colonial Africa, and in the vibrant culture of newly explored Bahia de Todos os Santos in 1531. […] He explores the historical and cultural aspects of each significant period of the discipline s development from ancient Africa to present-day Brazil, in the process profiling its key contemporary players and answering such longstanding questions as why capoeira did not emerge in other enslaved countries of the New World. – Amazon

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