Basics of Capoeira

By Frederick S. Blackmon

Capoeira is a Brazilian martial arts form that is heavily steeped in cultural identity. It is about more than just fighting. Capoiera tells the story of a people in constant motion. Capoeira was formed between the 16th and 19th centuries by African slaves imported to the Brazilian east coast. Through music and dance, these early slaves were able to communicate to one another during a period of fierce oppression. Over the years, capoeira has grown into a worldwide martial art form that dazzles crowds all over.

Roda (The Circle)

Capoeira is filled with history and etiquette, with traditions that are highly respected yet often debated. The roda, or circle, is one of the pillars of capoeira tradition, displaying the African and Portuguese roots of the martial art. People gather in a circle, clapping, singing and playing ethnic instruments. Opponents meet in the center of the circle and play the game of capoeira. The pace and style of the music dictates the pace and style of the capoeira match being played. The roda is not just about fighting; it represents the entire cultural foundation of capoeira.

Jogo de Capoeira (The Game)

The fighting aspect of capoeira is highlighted by the game, or jogo de capoeira. The game is steeped in customs and formalities. There are certain ways that a capoeirista can enter the game and certain ways to know if your opponent has been bested. It is about two players communicating style and prowess to each other without causing physical harm. Outside onlookers might be confused when watching a game of capoeira. You might not know if they are fighting or simply dancing. The game was designed that way, to help conceal fighting expertise from slave owners during Brazil's colonial period.


The ginga is a basic capoeira move that is the foundation for nearly all other attack and defense techniques. It is a hypnotic, perpetual motion dance that keeps opponents off balance. You rock back and forth, transferring your center of gravity to the left and to the right. Just when your opponent thinks he can predict the next step in the ginga sequence, that is when a swirling leg or cartwheel kick catches him in the head.


On occasion, an elbow or slap will be thrown by a capoeirista, but never a closed fist attack. The hands are used primarily for setting up attacks out of the cartwheel or handstand positions. Capoeira kicks can be classified as straight or spinning, with many variations in between. The armada is a basic capoeira spinning kick that has tricky timing and rhythm. An opponent is led to believe that a straight right kick is approaching when in actuality the left foot is thrown in a forward circular motion instead.


Defensive moves in capoeira are often collectively called esquivas, or escapes. However, there are many different types of defensive moves in capoeira, not just the esquiva itself. In the esquiva, you dip your body into a deep lunge position. One hand is placed on the ground for support while the other hand protects the upper body. The cocorinha is a simpler escape move in which you squat down by bending at the knees. Effectively, the goal of capoeira defense is to remove yourself from the opponent's striking range.

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