Capoeira as a clinical intervention: addressing adolescent aggression with Brazilian martial arts

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Authors: Isaac Burt and S. Kent Butler
Date: Jan. 2011
From: Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development(Vol. 39, Issue 1)
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Document Type: Author abstract; Report
Length: 3,969 words

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Aggression in adolescents is harmful and emotionally devastating to youth and surrounding communities. This article integrates martial arts and therapeutic principles into a culturally sensitive model that cultivates change in the aggressive behaviors of disenfranchised adolescents. The art form of Capoeira is proposed for promoting positive behavioral change.

La agresion en los adolescentes es danina y emocionalmente devastadora para los jovenes y sus comunidades. Este articulo integra artes marciales y principios terapeuticos en un modelo culturalmente sensible que cultiva el cambio de los comportamientos agresivos de los adolescentes marginalizados. Se propone el arte de la Capoeira para promover un cambio positivo en el comportamiento.


Violence is an increasing aspect of life in modern-day society that is emotionally devastating to youth, neighborhoods, communities, and educational institutions (U.S. Department of Justice, 2001). During the past 10 years, aggression has expanded exponentially, resulting in some adolescents bringing guns to schools (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). After committing violent acts, troubled youth spend valuable time in detention centers, jails, or residential institutions (Small, Kennedy, & Bender, 1991). Many of these establishments are ineffective in resolving behavioral problems of aggressive adolescents (Wells, 1991). In addition, ethnic minority adolescents, who are overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic, suffer from unfair placement into correctional facilities as a result of racism and implicitly negative social practices (Piquero, 2008).

Literature indicates that, once released into mainstream society, many poorly rehabilitated youth relapse into aggressive behaviors because of poor self-efficacy and socialization skills (Bandura, 1997). Coupled with convenience and limited access to mental health care, placement of aggressive adolescents into residential facilities is rapidly becoming standard procedure (Twemlow, Sacco, & Fonagy, 2008). However, many correctional facilities have not been shown to be an effective intervention for aggressive youth. Furthermore, correctional institutions are costly to taxpayers and are a strain on governmental resources (Twemlow & Sacco, 1998).

According to Twemlow and Sacco (1998), recidivism is high when a residential facility is the sole intervention for aggressive behaviors in adolescents. There is need for culturally sensitive, effective, and affordable programs to augment residential treatments. Twemlow and Sacco proposed that a traditional martial art, when integrated with clinical components, is a viable addendum to correctional facilities. Twemlow and Sacco's work draws on research conducted by Kurian, Caterinio, and Kulhavy (1993) and substantiated by Law (2004) and Parmigiani et al. (2006).

Martial arts represent a paradigm shift from talk therapies to more interactive, socially involving group methods of treatment (Nosanchuk, 1981). A martial art that is culturally responsive, concrete, and easy to use is required to support the therapeutic process (Lamarre & Nosanchuk, 1999). Twemlow, Sacco, and Fonagy (2008) stated that aggressive adolescents normally do not respond well to traditional therapies alone. Combining the active movement of martial arts with therapeutic principles can make a significant difference in drawing these challenging adolescents into considering changing lifestyles.

Capoeira, originating in Brazil, may serve as a pragmatic martial art/clinical model that promotes cultural sensitivity for marginalized youth, collective action in performance, self-efficacy in individual youth, and positive perceptions...

Source Citation

Source Citation
Burt, Isaac, and S. Kent Butler. "Capoeira as a clinical intervention: addressing adolescent aggression with Brazilian martial arts." Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, vol. 39, no. 1, 2011, p. 48+. Accessed 14 May 2021.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A244559547