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Doninha's Guide to Capoeira

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    Doninha's Guide to Capoeira

    Well, since most people on this board like to shit on Capoeira without having any experience with it (you bastards), allow me to add my expertise and give you a reasonably accurate portrayal of what Capoeira is and is not.

    (Disclaimer: I have been playing Capoeira for more than ten years, and teaching for almost eight. I am not a Mestre, but I have enough experience with Capoeira and other martial arts to know what works effectively and what doesn't. My views are solely my own and will probably get me into plenty of fights in the rodas of other Capoeiristas that disagree. But they most likely won't be trying to fight me with Capoeira. Cause it don't work all that well when you're just trying to beat someone up. And this guide only refers to Capoeira Contemporanea)

    First, let me portray the basic combat techniques of Capoeira. I'll see if I can scrounge up some specific videos later.

    Meia Lua de Compasso (aka Rabo de Arraia) - A spinning heel kick supported by one hand on the ground. This kick is exclusively a head kick, as solid contact with the body would knock the practitioner over or damage the knee joint. The kicking leg is kept completely straight throughout the technique and power is generated primarily through the spinning of the hips. Low percentage move, especially against a trained fighter, even if you're VERY good at it.

    Meia Lua de Frente (aka Meia Lua) - An outside to inside front crescent kick. Not much to say here. Again, straight leg (usually) and only to the head. Lacks any sort of meaningful power, even when done very well. I consider it a guiding kick and nothing more.

    Quiexada - An inside to outside crescent kick, usually thrown from a side dodge. More power than the previous kick, but same rules apply. Kick to the head only, straight leg, power comes from turning the hips.

    Armada - A standing spinning crescent kick. Exactly like Quiexada, but with a spin involved. Head only. Body = damaged knee and loss of balance. More power than Quiexada, but that doesn't mean much realistically.

    Martelo - A type of round kick. Very effective if trained well. Many different ways this is done is Capoeira circles. All the good ways are influenced by other martial arts. Traditionally, it is done loosely and at a slight angle compared to the full pivot hip turn seen in TKD. Very little emphasis on power generation, as I've never heard a Capoeira instrutor talk about pushing from the ground to generate power like in Muay Thai.

    Bencao - Front push kick. Very effective. See opponent. Kick them. With the heel. Push from the hips as hard as you can.

    Ponteira - Front striking kick. Very effective. This is the one that tends to kill people in the roda (no joke). Kick hard with the ball of the foot at any of your opponents weak points.

    These are your basic kicks. They are rarely, if ever, trained for use in actual combat amongst Capoeiristas. Those that do tend to only use Martelo and Bencao/Ponteira regularly, and even these start to look like sloppy Muay Thai or TKD.

    Next: Hand techniques, then footwork

    I look forward to reading more.


      I have an actual question:

      What is the difference between Angola Cap, Regional(e?) Cap, and "Street" Cap? Excuse me for horribly misspelling anything. I mean difference as in "Well group X does more acrobatics while group Y focuses more on fighting with group Z doing more dance flavor" or whatever.


        I love Capoeira and have taken classes when my schedule allows, but I still look forward to what you have to say. I love learning the game and considering possible fight applications.


          Is Capoeira applicable to fighting/sparring scenerios? Do you spar in Capoeira classes? I'm not trying to troll, I just don't know much about it.


            The majority of Capoeira classes tend to be the same ol' game. Most people don't fight, we "play" Capoeira. It's become more of a game over the years.

            However, there are movements to bring Capoeira to MMA as well as create full contact Capoeira.

            Here are a few examples, not the best, but I'm in class and need to pay attention.

            YouTube - Capoeira Fight

            The following vid shows a Capoeirista getting his ass handed to him, but it's still evidence of those who are bringing it to the mat.
            YouTube - MMA - Capoeira vs. Kickboxer


              Originally posted by MrBadGuy
              I have an actual question:

              What is the difference between Angola Cap, Regional(e?) Cap, and "Street" Cap? Excuse me for horribly misspelling anything. I mean difference as in "Well group X does more acrobatics while group Y focuses more on fighting with group Z doing more dance flavor" or whatever.
              Angola Capoeira is considered the old school traditional style (pre-Regional). It is much looser, trickier and more emphasis is placed on expression and "bumming around." Capoeira Regional was developed around the 30's and 40's, and became more codified and "martially oriented." But not much more than Angola. Other smaller traditions within Regional differentiate the two, especially the music and training methods. Contemporanea was developed in the 60's and 70's and became VERY influenced by eastern martial art traditions. This is where we see the colored cords and ranks, the white uniform (abadas at least), the acrobatics and faster more dangerous kicks. This was, in the opinions of many traditionalists, when Capoeira lost it's trickery and "soul."

              "Street" Capoeira is just that. Capoeira practiced in the streets. But it is really no different than any other style. These rodas tend to be less regulated though, so you get more fights and dudes with bad attitudes "expressing" themselves.

              Most of this all depends on the influence of the instructors and students themselves though. I've seen students within the same group that have wildly different interpretations of the game. Your personality REALLY shows when you play Capoeira. If you're an asshole, you'll be an asshole in the roda. If you're a pushover, same thing.


                Originally posted by Valiss
                Is Capoeira applicable to fighting/sparring scenerios? Do you spar in Capoeira classes? I'm not trying to troll, I just don't know much about it.
                In my experience, not really. We "spar" all the time, but it is in the context of the Capoeira game. Jogo Duro (Hard Game) is usually very aggressive, but pales in comparison to real full-contact sparring. But the mechanics of the game are more realistic, in a certain sense, than point sparring. There are takedowns and body shots, and some groups don't care if people get KTFO. Again, it goes back to the personalities of those playing the game and those in charge.

                To put a purely Capoeira player against a trained fighter is a recipe for an ass kicking. Usually. Keep in mind though, most good capoeiristas are extremely athletic and adaptable to weird situations. They can counter kicks and do solid takedowns. The biggest problem is the lack of good fighting footwork and really lacking hand techniques. But if they approach the fight as a fight and not as a game, you might have some trouble on your hands. Capoeirstas can be pretty scary brawlers. And if they have an old school Capoeira "malandro" mentality, the situation would never become a fight anyhow. They'd cut your throat after they smile and offer to buy you a beer.
                Last edited by doninha; 5/13/2008 2:58am, .


                  Part Two - Capoeira Hand Techniques

                  Now this is where Capoeira is lacking. The philosophy and development of Capoeira is largely based on Angolan (that's in Africa kids) beliefs. One of which that the hands are meant to heal and create, while the feet are meant to reprimand or destroy. That philosophy was VERY present in classical Capoeira, where you weren't allowed to touch your opponent with your hands at all.

                  Here are the basics. Keep in mind that these are VERY RARELY used, and when they are, they are 99% of the time illustrative (trick based) only.

                  BTW, I come from a group that has more hand techniques than most, so I will only get into those techniques that I know are more universally accepted as the norm.

                  Galopante - Open hand slap to the head. Old school = wide swinging slap, akin to the Meia Lua de Frente in that is was meant to be responded to rather than to harm someone. New school = like Bas Rutten's "bang, bang, boom" thing I saw a few times. Pretty dangerous if they know how to throw punches and use full force.

                  Dedeira - Eye poke. Not eye gouge. Eye poke. That's right. Three Stooges style. Exactly. Always shown, rarely done for real and useless in combat.

                  Cotovelada - Elbow strikes. Usually shown, almost never done. Super effective at close range if you know what you're doing.

                  That's about it for the arms. No jab, no cross, no uppercut. Very lacking if viewed as a combat art, but hey, Capoeira has certain rules. No hands is one of them. TKD has more hand techniques and Capoeira. Enough said.
                  Last edited by doninha; 5/13/2008 3:00am, .


                    I used to play Capoeira with a profesor who learned down in Miami and he would point out when in the ginga your friend would be open to a hook punch, slap, or elbow. I always thought that was more "street" cap. We had a good balance of Angola and Regional techniques though. I was always more impressed by the strength it takes to make the slow movements of Angola rather than the flips of Regional. Of course, I'm also gravitationally challenged and can't actually DO most of the Regional advanced techniques I was introducted to.


                      Part 3 - Other notable techniques

                      Cabecada - The old school bread and butter of the game. Capoeiristas were feared far and wide for this technique. The headbutt. Today, it is used most often like a battering ram, used to knock opponents out of handstand positions. However, it is also used often against the face as a trick when the opponent isn't paying attention. Or to get revenge. I've seen a few broken noses from well placed Cabecadas. Very dangerous and super effective if used right. There's a reason they don't allow it in the UFC.

                      Rasteira/Banda - Sweeps. Very particular to Capoeira. Unlike similar movements I've seen in Muay Thai and San Da, these sweeps are more of a pulling motion rather than kicking out an opponents leg, although it can be hard to tell sometimes. Exclusively aimed at the ankles/calf. VERY effective and damn frustrating when used well. Here is a clip from a guy in my group at my rank owning some poor kid with repeated Rasteiras.


                      They start at about 20 sec.

                      Oops. I forgot two more important kicks:

                      Chapa/Chapa giratoria - Sidekick/Spinning sidekick. Used often by more contemporary players to send the other player out of the roda. Very effective. And it hurts like hell. I caught one in Colombia from Mestre King in a street roda. It sent me off my feet, out of the roda and into the crowd. I could eventually breathe again, but I had a size 14 footprint right across my solar plexus for the rest of the night. Cut me some slack. He's got one foot and 130 lbs on me.

                      Gancho - Hook kick. Slappy kick, not super dangerous, but great for putting your foot on someones forehead when they aren't expecting it. Spinning hooks kicks are rarely used in Capoeira, but it is present in some rodas. Then it becomes a different creature altogether. Damn dangerous if used well. It's like armada, but the leg is chambered and the hips aren't turned over when the kick is thrown. I've seen it used well in Muay Thai matches, and it is exactly the same.
                      Last edited by doninha; 5/13/2008 3:04am, .


                        Part 4 - Takedowns and counters

                        This is where Contemporary Capoeira has taken off. These are not considered traditional Capoeira by any means, as they usually involve grabbing the opponent in some fashion. I don't know all of the names for these, as they are relatively new and vary wildly from group to group. So I'll just give those I don't know in English.

                        Double Leg - Standard double leg. Some people know how, some people don't. Very effective, especially when used within a sequence. Countered with a sprawl.

                        Arrastao (don't know an English equivalent) - Traditional. Butt facing your opponent, reach between your legs and grab his leg, leveraging his thighs/knees against your ass. Pull and sit at the same time. Surprisingly effective if timed right.

                        Vingativa - Person A stands normally. Person B stands beside person A. B steps wide behind both of A's legs, with the leading arm in FRONT of A's torso. A is now essentially sitting on B's leg, B pushes A off balance and to the ground. Many variations, including adding a headbutt to the chest, etc. Crazy number of counters for this one. Too many to mention.

                        Tesoura de Joelho - Forward scissor takedown against one knee. I've seen this one used in Sambo. Without getting too specific, A ends up crouching by B's knees (hehe. B's knees......What? Shut up. It was funny.) A sweeps one leg around the back of B's ankle, and "hugs" the knee and ankle between his legs. Kick/twist the hips and B goes down. Very effective, super hard to pull off though. My instructor actually destroyed my knee with this one. Tore my ACL, MCL and meniscus. Surgery and no training for six months. I'm still recovering. This one can be a bitch.

                        Tesoura de Cintura - Reverse takedown against the hips. Also seen in Sambo, MMA and Jiu Jitsu. Standard scissor takedown, front leg on the hip, back leg behind the knees. Twist, rinse and repeat. Effective. To the point of being cheesy.

                        Cruz - Used against a straight kick like Bencao. Dodge kick, drop one arm under the kicking leg and throw them backward off balance.

                        Multiple One Leg counters - Almost every kick counter you've ever seen in San Da, Muay Thai or Judo can be used. WAY too many to list. The line here can blur. It is VERY easy to go from Capoeira to standing grappling if you aren't careful.

                        Rule of thumb: If you have to force the takedown, you aren't playing Capoeira anymore. It is there, or it isn't. If you have to adjust too much or muscle the takedown, you suck and should go home.
                        Last edited by doninha; 5/13/2008 3:05am, .


                          Final notes - Footwork and other stuff

                          Here are the principles and movements that make Capoeira unique.

                          Ginga - Swing and footwork. More than a movement, it is the attitude that encompasses all of Capoeira. It is, at first glance, a fairly simple back and forth step. However, it encompasses a whole range of quick steps, switches, angles and breaks. Controlling your ginga means controlling the game. I've seen Mestres shut down students without throwing a single kick, hell, without even touching them. Capoeira IS ginga. If you aren't doing ginga, you aren't doing Capoeira. Period.

                          Esquiva - Dodging. Capoeiristas don't block. We don't train to block. We train to dodge, while keeping protected, of course. Many groups don't really emphasize the need to keep your hands up while dodging. Not a good idea, IMO. Old school Capoeira didn't really have esquivas per se, rather using simple movements and good ginga to avoid attacks. And they kept their hands down. All the time. Not so good.

                          Negativa, Queda de Rins, Queda de Quatro, Role, etc - These are the movements that make up the ground game of Capoeira. Not as in grappling, as in moving well with your hands on the floor. Like BBOYing, but nothing like BBOYing. Ground movement is one of the hallmarks of Capoeira, and is WAY too complex to get into here. If trained appropriately, I would wager that someone who could move on the ground well like a Capoeirista and had extensive leg-lock knowledge would be a force to be reckoned with.

                          Floreios and acrobacias - Flourishes and acrobatics. These are movements that make up the other 80% of Capoeira. These are the movements that have no other purpose but to add style to the game and show your skill. Sometimes that can be used strategically, but that isn't point of the movements. It is an expression of the player and is VERY much like BBOYing in that sense.

                          Music and philosophy - Unlike most asian martial arts that glance over these points, and definitely unlike MMA, students are IMBUED with the history and philosophy of the art from the first day they walk in the door. Students are required to play all of the instruments, sing the songs (in Portuguese, no less) understand the songs and their meanings, and have a very in depth knowledge of what they are doing and why they are doing it. At least they should. Unless they are just hobbyists. That's alright too, I guess. But I wouldn't consider them Capoeiristas.

                          I'll leave you with this. Like other arts, there are wildly different interpretations and styles of Capoeira. Some groups don't emphasize floor movements. Some groups don't approve of takedowns. Still others don't allow contact at all. It is very hard to generalize what Capoeira is and isn't. Here are some clips that illustrate the spectrum.


                          YouTube - mestre Joao Grande and Joao Pequeno 1968

                          YouTube - Capoeira Mar de Itapu√£ 4

                          YouTube - Chuvisquinho - O menino é bom, bate palma pare ele

                          YouTube - Mestre Cobra Mansa and Mestre Poncianinho

                          YouTube - Mandigueiros Dos Palmares night roda

                          YouTube - Union Square Street Roda, Omi, Soneca, Andre, Carlos

                          YouTube - Capoeira clip: Cueca

                          Lots of videos, I know. There would be more, but I don't want to be banned.

                          That's about all. Feel free to ask if you have any specific questions. I hope this helps clear up some of the confusion.
                          Last edited by doninha; 5/13/2008 3:09am, .


                            I'm curious- how can footwork be used to 'out play' an opponent? You suggested that some Mestres are able to simply out-footwork someone in a roda, but the bit I don't get is why they don't get attacked. Is it simply that they're evasive enough to avoid attacks whilst pushing their opponent out of the roda?

                            Also, what are the rules of a roda? Are there any general ground rules that don't change? If not, what rules do you go by?


                              Originally posted by socratic
                              I'm curious- how can footwork be used to 'out play' an opponent? You suggested that some Mestres are able to simply out-footwork someone in a roda, but the bit I don't get is why they don't get attacked. Is it simply that they're evasive enough to avoid attacks whilst pushing their opponent out of the roda?

                              Also, what are the rules of a roda? Are there any general ground rules that don't change? If not, what rules do you go by?
                              How do I put this simply? Since we tend to dodge instead of block, many players, especially newer players, tend to over-dodge. Imagine flinching if someone feints a punch that you aren't expecting. Now imagine this on a much larger scale while in constant motion.

                              Then mix in the concept of partner dancing. One person leads and one follows. This is kind of what happens in Capoeira. You learn to recognize when one person is initiating a technique, and your job then is to respond to it (usually by dodging, sometimes by countering). Two people can't "lead" at the same time (usually), or else you get crossed kicks and nasty collisions. This takes a long time to learn, and the player with the most experience tends to "lead" the other player around most of the time.

                              It doesn't happen often (and I don't have it on video, so it might as well be a moot point) but I've seen Mestres stutter step or feint a kick against a student at just the right time, which causes them to trip over themselves. Sometimes they fall, sometimes they just spend the rest of the game trying to find their bearings. This doesn't really happen between two experienced Capoeiristas.

                              I think I forgot to mention the point of the game, huh? That's pretty important...

                              Appendix 1 - The Games of Capoeira (or, what's the point?)

                              First, a concept that is pretty hard to understand for most people. There are no winners or losers in Capoeira, per se. Nobody is keeping score. Nobody should get knocked out (usually). The point is just to have a good game and have fun.

                              This is where the differences in styles, groups and instructors are REALLY obvious. Within each style of Capoeira, there are different sub-games. Again, I can only speak from my own point of view here. Here are the games that my Mestre and other instructors have taught me, and the ones I teach to my students:

                              Games within Capoeira Contemporanea Style (aka Modern Regional)

                              Sao Bento Grande de Bimba - Faster paced, kick oriented game. This one is played 80% standing with an emphasis on placing kicks and counter kicks. Not a good idea to flip in this game, since it is very "combat" oriented. Takedowns are allowed.

                              Sao Bento Grande de Angola - A sort-of blend of Capoeira Angola with the above game. Techniques tend to be looser, more "traditional," with an emphasis on playfulness and trickery. A very theatrical style of play. Only traditional takedowns are allowed (no grabbing).

                              Benguela - The dance oriented game of Capoeira. 80% on the ground. There is no competition in this game. No contact at all! Kicks in this game are not meant as attacks. This game is meant to illustrate the movements and beauty of the game; almost like showing a choreographed routine, but completely on the fly. It has been compared to jazz by many players. Lots of floreios and ground acrobatics. The polar opposite of Sao Bento Grande de Bimba.

                              Sao Bento Pequeno - This is the game our group is known for. It is primarily a ground game, maybe 70%, but with all of the elements listed above. Takedowns are HIGHLY encouraged in this game, and counters for those takedowns are a necessity. You can't just fall and leave it at that. Also, kicks can be used and it can get pretty heated. However, you CANNOT forget the movements and flourishes that make Benguela look so pretty. If you are just out to get the other person, you fail. You need to hide the attacks behind a veil of innocuous movement and spring traps at the right time. This is a very hard game to play well.

                              Iuna - Game reserved for instructors and high level students. This is like Benguela on steroids. Skilled players show off their best, most difficult movements. Almost like a BBOY battle. Many schools also will perform "balao" during this game, which are basically partner acrobatics. Person A throws Person B, who proceeds to land on his feet.

                              Games within Capoeira Angola

                              I'm no expert in Angola, but I know that there are distinct sub-games here as well. I can't get into them with any sense of confidence though, so I won't.

                              These games are all underscored by the philosophies of particular groups. Our group frowns upon excessive contact, especially regarding kicks. Our takedowns MUST be controlled, but done effectively and at full force. Kicks are usually only shown and very rarely connected, since landing a martelo will hurt and sometimes take a player out of the game. We want to keep players in the game, so we can keep playing. It isn't a "last man standing" sort of situation.

                              Last note here, that each of these games are dictated by the person playing the lead berimbau, which is the bowed stringed instrument playing in the background. That person is almost always the leader of the game, and what he says goes. His gives direction by playing certain rhythms that call for certain games, and sometimes singing specific songs to give direction to the players or the roda in general. The keys to these games are all encoded in the music.



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