What is Capoeira?

Anyone who has ever witnessed a demonstration of Capoeira will immediately recognize that this martial art is unlike any other they have ever seen. It possesses a blend of dance, mental balance, physical power, music, and an overwhelming sense of art and finesse. The Capoeirista defends himself through the use of dancing movements and acrobatic techniques.

The martial art of Capoeira was originally developed by the African slaves in Brazil. Slaves were not allowed to practice any form of martial arts, so they developed a way to hide their techniques within a collaboration of music, dance, and exotic movements - and even calling it a game. When watching the games played for the first time, spectators are normally in awe of the movements.

Those who witness the games will first note the music. Both the music and the lyrics play a big part in the way that the game is conducted. The game consists of a circle, called a Roda, with the players in the middle and musicians at the foot of the circle. Typically the music is performed by using simple traditional instruments and singing. Different rhythms determine the mood and the speed of the game to be played.

Capoeira Games

Players often enter into the circle with a spring, cartwheel, or other type of visually stunning movement. Upon entering the circle, players will spar with various combinations of fluid movements and breathtaking aerial displays.

The ginga (literally: to swing), the fundamental movement of rocking back and forth, is important both for attack and defense purposes. The objective is to keep the capoeirista in a state of constant motion, preventing him from being an easy target, using also fakes and feints to trick the opponent.

Most attacks are made with the legs, like direct or swirling kicks, leg sweeps, or knee strikes. Elbow strikes, punches and other forms of takedowns are also used.

Defense is based mainly on the principle of avoiding an attack using evasive moves instead of blocking them. This strategy allows quick and unpredictable counterattacks, and to face an armed adversary empty-handed. It is this combination of attacks, defense and mobility which gives Capoeira its perceived 'fluidity' and choreography-like style.

The game usually does not focus on knocking down or destroying the opponent, rather it emphasizes skill. For example, it is common to slow down a kick inches before hitting the target. This is done so that the techniques may be practiced without injury. Training is mainly focused on attack, dodging and counter-attack, giving high importance to precision and discipline.

Pros and Cons

From a defensive standpoint, Capoeira is very flashy and may seem impractical. However, the wild movements may be an advantage, as the techniques seem to come out of nowhere and can be very hard to defend against. The problem is it takes years of practice and hard work to become proficient at the game, as it requires precision, fast movement, and flawless application of the techniques. Capoeira requires a high degree of athletic ability.

Capoeira games are really big in Brazil, where the style is more than a martial art, but also a social event that is rich in tradition and history. In South America it is more of a lifestyle, with games being played on a daily basis. Since the 1970s Capoeira masters began to emigrate and teach it in other countries. Renowned Masters are often invited to teach abroad or even establish their own schools. As time continues to pass, you can count on more and more competitions and schools to surface - introducing this truly impressive martial art to newer generations.