Issue 084

January 2012

FO navigates the twists and turns of Brazil’s deadly dancing martial art.

1. Freedom fighting

Capoeira originated from the African slaves of Brazil and was used as a tool for survival in times of great oppression. The slaves geared the martial art towards defending themselves against their oppressors, who often would have been armed and mounted on horses.

2. Undeniable skills

With the flexibility, agility, and balance that can be learned from capoeira, it would be foolish for any fighter to discount the usefulness of this fighting style. Some of the moves themselves can be deceptively devastating. Not convinced? Check out Brian Ebersole’s spectacularly bizarre cartwheel kick KO of Shannon Forrester.

3. Crouching Brazilian, hidden head kick

Capoeira is divided into two main types: Angola and Regional. Angola is slower, more theatrical and practiced low down in an almost crouching position. Regional is faster and more upright, more like the fighting style known to the world as ‘capoeira.’ 

4. The ginga

The ginga is to capoeira what the shuffle step is to boxing; it is the art’s basic and fundamental movement. Rocking back and forth, the aim is to keep the capoeirista in constant motion, making them a difficult target for their opponent. Think Dominick Cruz plus back flips.

5. Acrobatic attack

Counter striking is the name of the game with this deadly dance. Most of capoeira’s attacks are performed with the legs, such as swirling kicks and leg sweeps. Punches and elbow strikes are also on the attack menu, and all strikes are aimed at the face or other vital body parts. Now you know where ‘break dancing’ gets its name from.

6. Evasive maneuvers

The defensive principles of this art are based on avoiding attacks using evasive movements, rather than by blocking an opponent’s strikes. This style allows for a fighter to make swift and decisive counter attacks and also makes it easier to defend one’s self against multiple opponents simultaneously.

7. King of kicks

In an experiment conducted on the National Geographic show Fight Science, capoeira’s primary kick, Martelo-de-Negativa, was found to have the highest ratio of force to velocity when tested against the kicks of Muay Thai, taekwondo and karate, making it statistically the most efficient kicking technique.

8. Grooving up the ranks

Unlike many traditional martial arts, capoeira does not employ a strict universal ranking system. Some schools do not have any ranking system at all, and those that do use colored cordas (strings) instead of belts. As if that wasn’t unusual enough, the highest ranking color is white! Those crazy dancing Brazilians.

9. More than just a martial art

Capoeira is almost an entire culture unto itself. So much more than simply a form of fighting, this art incorporates songs, music and even entire festivals into its practice. Capoeira music is quite unique, the lead instrument being the berimbau. The songs vary in style and can be about a wide variety of subjects, such as tales from history or famous capoeiristas.

10. Play the game

A capoeira game is usually played in a roda (a circle of people) between two or more capoeiristas. The aim of the game is to demonstrate skill level rather than to simply defeat one’s opponent. These games are usually tame and friendly, although games between high-level practitioners can become very competitive and even dangerous.

Pro tip

It sounds like just plain common sense, but find a good teacher. Many of the moves in capoeira require very subtle shifts in position or distribution of weight in order to be performed successfully. These intricate movements can’t be mastered by simply watching clips on YouTube. Finding a high level instructor may be tricky outside of the art’s native Brazil, but, with the right tutoring, your technique will improve leaps and bounds.