Breaking Down a Capoeira Curriculum: The Path to Mastery
Capoeira is an endless, ever evolving universe of movements and ideas. I do not believe there is a “correct” way to teach it, so much of the fun is in the exploration and discovery. Regardless of how a person chooses to navigate this odyssey, there are some guideposts that I feel are fundamentally helpful. My Capoeira curriculum is very simple- successive foundation building concepts that I feel will free a student up to discover their own joy and individuality.
From the first class to Graduado it is divided into four brackets: Novice, Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. Each bracket has five belts. Twenty belts to Graduado can seem like an imposing amount, but in reality I have this system in place as a means to promote all types of students. Some people train once or twice a week, and some students train twice a day. Everyone deserves to be rewarded for their work. With this in mind, I frequently skip a few belts with the really committed students.
The foundation of Capoeira is our moving stance, Ginga. The details behind this moving stance are complex, so we will study them in a series of separate posts. Check out Ginga Part I here. Additionally, music is also such an essential part of Capoeira that it deserves its own textbook. Keep checking back to find new and upcoming posts about Capoeira music.
There are four main student brackets in my Capoeira curriculum. They correspond to my belt system. This makes it very clear for students and teachers where to place to students and allow flexibility for students with different talents, skills, and effort. Here is a brief overview of my system.
Four basic kicks,
Flow with partners,
Posture I selected four kicks in the novice Capoeira curriculum that I think make sense to understand first: Meia Lua de Frente, Queixada, Armada, and Meia Lua de Compasso. It’s not that I believe these kicks are the easiest to learn, it’s that I think they lend themselves well to the flowing exchange of movements that is uniquely Capoeira. With this in mind, form is extremely important.
Being able to exchange these kicks with a partner is a major goal of this bracket. When we chain several moves together, the form starts to deteriorate. This is because of fatigue, confusion in positioning, and distraction. There’s a lot going on in Capoeira, and making sure my students start with a small core of quality kicks is important.
Posture is also key, as it prevents injuries over time and also leads to more effective Ginga and kicks.
General milestones for Novices:
Four basic kicks form and posture
Using kicks as dodges
Playing a game with the Four Basic Kicks
Controlling space with movement,
Moving relevant to an opponent’s movement Because the Novice bracket is very stationary (flowing kicks are typically done from one spot), this group of belts focuses on seamlessly moving through as much roda space as possible as is relevant to an opponent’s positioning. Form in motion is a tricky thing to teach, and the Beginner bracket has that in spades. This requires that things are slowed down and divided into digestible chunks. First, I want to use single movements to reposition. There is a lot of Negativa and Guarda Baixa here, as these positions will be useful in combination later.
Combining these movement is the next phase. Here, I look to chain movements together in a circular fashion, i.e. traveling around a stationary point.
Two students being able to combine a series of non-kicking movements together is a major milestone of this bracket, and requires a lot of vision. This is typically a fairly cooperative exercise, so we want to make sure students are moving at a reasonable pace. At this point, I want the form to be solid enough that the student doesn’t have to be preoccupied with it, and can focus on their opponent. Frequently for Beginner bracket belt tests I’ll bring a list of positions and ask for two or three ways into and out of them. To me, this demonstrates an ability to recognize options, a key skill when a partner is leading a two person movement drill.
General Milestones for Beginners:
Simple relocation from Point A to Point B
Chaining movements together to circle a point
Using non-kicking movements to interact with an opponent who is also not kicking
Multiple entries and exits from specific positions
Quebradas This is the “Gotcha!” bracket, where students start applying basic takedowns and also kicks like Martelo, Gancho, and Chapa to really ramp up the intensity of the game. For some, this is when Capoeira really starts to feel more like a martial art.
Timing becomes very important, as the window to effectively apply a counter kick against a skilled practitioner is quite small. Many drills focus on starting a counter before the opponent has completed their kick to fit into that small window. This creates a dangerous training space, and must be treated as such. Because of the risk, I tend to focus on counter-kicks that are easier to control at first (Martelo is generally considered a simpler kick than Gancho, for example).
Takedowns are also a big part of this bracket. While I do touch on several takedowns in previous brackets, I do a much deeper dive for Intermediate. Here, I’m looking for not just the entrance (as the majority of takedown training is done before this level), but the complete follow through. This is not easy to manage as a teacher, because aside from the obvious injury risk, there is also quite a lot of fatigue associated with hitting the ground and getting back up over and over again. Takedown heavy classes must be balanced with lighter workouts.
Lastly, due to the “gotcha” nature of this bracket, I do focus a bit on Quebradas and generally disguising your initial kicks so that they are not so easy to counter. This is usually an eye opening moment for students, who prior to this just kind of did Ginga and kicks without much repercussion. Weaving Quebradas and Fintas (fakes) into your Ginga adds a layer of disguise that gives the initiator a little extra time to escape a counter attack. This is largely used as a setup for the Advanced bracket.
General Milestones for Intermediates:
Being able to apply counterkicks, with a focus on Martelo, Gancho, Chapa, and sometimes Bencao.
The ability to apply basic takedowns in a game situation.
Using Quebradas and Fintas to disguise the Four Basic Kicks.
Reading and reacting (branching sequences),
Basic Takedown escapes,
Balanca in all movements,
Advanced posture (through all moves),
The fifth and final cord of the Advanced bracket is the Graduado level. Because of this, there is a great deal of review and combining of review concepts. This is very time consuming, but the Advanced bracket also has some new ideas.
At this level, the game happens so fast that the ability to diagnosis what’s happening in real time is paramount. Reading and reacting to an opponent is aided by learning basic strategies of the sport. This knowledge helps the practitioner by giving them direction, and potentially revealing their opponent’s plans. The student is frequently presented with branching sequences that force quick decisions (if I do A you do B; but if I do C you do D, and so on). These sequences can become slightly complex, which is why I generally reserve them for advanced students.
In this bracket, the student spends some time practicing escapes from takedowns. This is fairly straightforward in execution, but supports the overall reading and vision approach to this bracket, as the student will be at an advantage if they can predict the takedown. I typically use Balanca as kind of a blanket term for several types of movements. We touch on it in the advanced bracket, with the goal of incorporating more body movement as we flow between Ginga and the myriad other Capoeira movements.
This is always paired with a more complex look at posture. Where Balanca represents more of a flow and a loosing up of the body, posture ensures that we are always in optimal alignment to be as foundationally strong as possible. We especially examine posture in the transitions between movements, and in motion itself.
General Milestones for the Advanced:
Reading and reacting to layers of input (branching sequences)
The ability to diagnose a takedown and choose an appropriate escape
Using balanca to enhance flow in and out of all movements
Constantly incorporating strong posture
Thirty Thousand Foot View:
Novice- Flowing with circular kicks Beginner- Moving around the roda Intermediate- Counter-kicks and takedowns Advanced- Vision and control of the game
If you have questions or just want to talk shop, feel free to email me at Aranhalives@gmail.com .