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16.5) Capoeira


This article is from the Martial Arts FAQ, by Matthew Weigel faq@idempot.net with numerous contributions by others.

16.5) Capoeira

(Contributors: Daniel C. Sobral - e8917523@linf.unb.br,
"Lagartixa" (Gecko) - nworthin@rohan.sdsu.edu )


This is a very acrobatic, very energetic Brazilian martial art.

Origin: Angola and Brazil


Capoeira is the common name for the group of African martial arts that
came out of west Africa and were modifed and mixed in Brazil. These
orginal stlyes inculded weapons, grappling and striking as well as
animal forms that became incorpated into different components and sub
styles of the popular art.

In the 1500's, black slaves from Africa were used in Brazil to build

he empire of the sugar cane. These slaves lacked a form of
self-defense, and in a way quite parallel to Karate, they developed a
martial-art with the things they had in hand, namely, sugar cane
knives and 3/4 staffs. Being slaves, they had to disguise the study of
the art, and that is how the dance came into it.

In the early 1800's Capoeira was outlawed in Brazil, especially in its
"home state" of Bahia, where gangs utilized it as their personal
fighting style against police.

Capoeira was born in the "senzalas", the places where the slaves were
kept, and developed in the "quilombos", the places where they used to
run to when they fled from their enslavers.


Capoeira consists of a stylized dance, practiced in a circle called
the "roda", with sound background provided by percussion instruments,
like the "agogo", the "atabaqui", etc. The "Berimbau" is a
percussion instrument that is always used on rodas.

Capoeira relies heavily on kicks and leg sweeps for attacks and dodges
for defenses. Is not uncommon to not be taught any kind of hand
strike of parry, though arm positioning for blocks is taught.

The "ginga" (meaning "swing"_, the footwork of Capoeira, consists in
changing the basic stance (body facing the adversary, front leg flexed
with body weight over it, the other leg strechted back) from the right
leg to the left leg again and again.

Capoeira also puts a heavy emphasis on ground fighting, but not
grappling and locks. Instead, it uses a ground stance (from the basic
stance, you just fall over your leg stretched back, flexing it, and
leaving the front leg stretched ahead), from which you make feints,
dodges, kicks, leg sweeps, acrobatics, etc.

Hand positioning is important but it's used only to block attacks and
ensure balance, though street fighting "capoeiristas" use the hands
for punches.

When fighting, it is rare to stop in one stance, and in this case, you
just "follow" your opponent with your legs, preventing him from
getting close, or preparing a fast acrobatic move to take advantage
when he attacks. The rest of the time, you just keep changing stances,
feinting, and doing the equivalent of boxing "jabs".


After a through warm-up, standing exercises are done, with emphasis on
the "ginga", the footwork characteristic of the art, and on the basic
kicks: "bencao", a front-stomping kick, "martelo", a roundhouse kick,
"chapa", a side-kick, "meia-lua de frente", a low turning kick, "armada",
a high turning kick, "queixada", an outside-inside crescent kick. Then
walking sequences are done, with the introduction of sommersaults,
backflips and headstands, in couples and individual. Some more
technical training follows, with couples beginning a basic and slow
"jogo", and then the whole class forms and goes for "roda" game for at
least 30 minutes.

Capoeira conditions and develops the muscles, especially the abdominal


Regional: Capoeira in a more artistic, open form, giving more way to
athletic prowess and training. The newer, faster, more popular style
created by mestre Bimba (the guy who was responsible for the legalization
of capoeira and the founder of the first academy). Breakdancing evolved
from this style, and 90% of all breakdancing moves come directly from
capoeira. This is a faster game, less a fight and more of a showing off.
Flourishes, high
kicks, and aerial, acrobatic maneuvers are the hallmark
of the regional game, which is usually played to the beat of the berimbau
known as Sao Bento Grande.

Angola: a more closed, harder style that is closest to the original
African systems that came to Brazil. The "traditional" capoeira, the game
is accompanied by a specific beat of the berimbau by the same name. Angola
games are generally slow and low to the ground, and incorporate a lot of
trickery, sweeps
and takedowns, and physically grueling movements that
require great strength and balance.

Iuna: Iuna is not really a style of capoeira. Rather, it refers to a
rhythm of the berimbau that is played when somebody dies or when mestres
(masters) play alone. There is no singing when iuna is played, and only
masters are allowed to play during iuna.


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