Capoeira is a cultural practice that is organized in the form of a system and as a system, it has methods and structures that ultimately define the sport. A typical capoeira game takes place in the interior of a circle of some 5m in diameter. It is a circle formed by capoeiristas and capoeira musical instruments, where every participant sings the typical songs and claps their hands following the music. This circle is known as a "roda" and within it happens the Capoeira game between two players, surrounded by a crowd of other participants who cheer and sway to the sound of the berimbau, the main musical instrument.
Every cultural aspect of Capoeira is present in a roda, not only the martial arts side of the sport. In a roda, the participants can perform a lot of high flying kicks and other aerial acrobatics during presentations but a lot of take downs also happen on more serious roda fights. This reflects how Capoeira can both be an entertainment feat and a lethal martial art. The roda (circle) is a symbol of concentration to not stay scattered in the roda is the main motive of its formation.
The ritual of the roda consists of the number of rules that organise the behaviour of the players inside the roda and rules of the dispute itself. When two capoeiristas enter the roda and play the game, they should maintain the rules of the capoeira style played for and at the same time follow through the style required by the rythm of the music played. A typical capoeira game in a roda finishes when one of the musicians holding a berimbau (musical instrument) determine it, when one of the capoeiristas decide to leave or call the end of the game or when another capoeirista interrupts the game to start playing, either with one of the current players or with another one from the crowd around.
The Capoeira mestre is in charge of the roda and usually starts the game within the roda versus another graduate student. If a student wants to be received well, he has to present himself to the mestre owning the roda. After observing the game and playing an instrument, the participant can then ask for permission for a round of a game with another participant.
Two Capoeiristas squat down in front of the musical orchestra. One of them begins to sing a litany (laidanha) the lyrics of which generally contain a challenge to the partner of the game. The other participant may then answer with another laidanha and with the permission of the mestre, they prepare to fight. They bless themselves by the hand touching the ground (and sometimes also touching the berimbau) and finish with a sign of the cross or a quick salute of a hand to forehead and nape. This is a ritual to ask for a protection in the game and depends on the religiosity of each player. They then shake hands and stare on each other, waiting for the cue from the person with the berimbau (usually the student with the highest rank).
The berimbau then leads the rythm of the game and it determines the end of the game too as it is the leading instrument of the orchestra. The order for the entrance and exit is also given by the person with the berimbau as he is the person with the highest authority, next to the mestre.
The capoeiristas then enter the circle through the boca-da-roda, the space of the circle in front of the instruments. They stop at the opening and then simultaneously cartwheel to the center of the roda. This starts the game itself and when two mestres are playing, no one but another mestre is allowed to interrupt them. When one of the players wishes to end the game, he extends his hand to the adversary and together they leave through the same gap in the circle from which they entered. A participant can also buy his way into the game to interrupt or play with one of the present players. He must squat at the boca-da-roda and when he thinks it is time, he can interrupt the game and place himself in front of the person he wishes to challenge. Generally, the game in the roda finishes with farewell songs from the orchestra.
There is an interesting connection between a roda and the world. According to the verses of the ladainhas, to enter the roda is like going around the world. This possibly refers to the antics of aerial flips and cartwheels during a game wherein a participant connects with the ground with his hands, similar to the traditions in Africa where they consider soil to be as precious as the sky. There is a significance in this analogy between the roda of a capoeira and the world by the fact that these movements, gestures, music and all the system could be considered as witnesses to the history and tradition that brought about capoeira itself. The roda of capoeira is formed therefore by grouping of all the characteristics that make up the ritual experience that is capoeira. Through watching a game in the roda, anyone can bear witness to how rich capoeira is in both the traditional and the social aspects.