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What is Capoeira, the Brazilian martial art?

Is Capoeira a dance, a fight, or a game?

A group of Capoeira students

You may have seen some people playing Capoeira at your local park, or a sign on a business as you drove to work one day. It looks like a mix between dancing and fighting, but which one is it? For those new to martial arts, Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics, music, and self-defense. So the answer to your question of which one is it, is yes to both. Capoeira, the Brazilian martial art is known for its fluid and rhythmic movements. Practitioners will play-fight-dance to the accompaniment of traditional instruments like the berimbau, pandeiro, and atabaque. The rhythms of the music dictate the style and approach within the games.

One of the biggest keys to success in Capoeira, is consistency. Go to class, and keep going to class. Honestly, it's really that simple.

Capoeira is unique in that it incorporates both physical and cultural aspects. It is practiced as a form of self-expression, a game, and a conversation between participants. I say that capoeira practitioners, or Capoeiristas, play because we focus on agility, evasion, and distraction to trap our opponents in a 1-v-1 encounter. Our stance is always moving, our kicks can include knockout blows, but also traps to trigger dodges and counters by our opponents. Capoeiristas are always reading, acting, and reacting. We think about the next move, the next response, a continuous series of options based on goals, actions, and the opponents responses.

Is Capoeira choreographed?

Students playing Capoeira

To many, Capoeira seems to be choreographed, and historically there are specific sequences some schools will teach. However, to the experienced Capoeirista we use awareness of intricate details to anticipate what our opponents are plotting. The possibilities are narrowed down in split second decisions. That is the fun! It's like aggressive, physical chess with the potential to take or deliver a kick to the face.

To support the physicality required to act on quick decisions in Capoeira, we work out, hard. Do we dodge, cartwheel, kick, or attempt a take down? So many options, but if we're not physically able to do the moves, that limits what the responses could entail. In our Capoeira school, we have dedicated warm up time at the beginning of every class that gets people loosened up. The training in class helps build strength and flexibility. Playing games of Capoeira takes the drilling and sequences learned in class and allows you to apply the techniques in the roda, where Capoeiristas play.

What kind of a workout is Capoeira, the Brazilian martial art?

Students playing Capoeira

Keep in mind, playing Capoeira games is an intense workout. I've measured my calorie burn from a 75 minute class and burned over 700 calories. We also have dedicated, but optional, fitness classes to support the types of movements we do in class. However, there is no threshold of how fit you need to be, there is no ideal shape to be in to start training. Capoeiristas are so fit because they train the art. The more one practices the fitter they become.

Interestingly, many in the martial arts community believe that Capoeira is non-contact. I disagree, our objectives are to kick, take-down, or confuse our opponents, but always in a way that will allow us to continue the game. It is your job as a Capoeirista to dodge, evade, and counter attack, with the same intention of keeping the game going. These abilities are learned and honed just by taking classes. One of the biggest keys to success in Capoeira, is consistency. Go to class, and keep going to class. Honestly, it's really that simple. You'll get fitter, you'll build your knowledge base. You'll be a better Capoeirista.

Is it true that Capoeiristas learn to sing and play instruments?

Beyond the physical martial arts knowledge and skills in Capoeira, there is also true artistry. We sing, we play instruments, we have rhythm. We don't start out as stars and by no means is Capoeira a stage for your next hit single. We're not expected to be classically trained singers. It's basic call and response, almost chanting. Even early in your Capoeira journey, you won't be expected to lead songs. Maybe clap a little and sound out some words in the response. Our energy supports the people playing the game, and we all contribute whether we've just started or have played for 20 years.

Training Capoeira is an amazing opportunity to advance your fitness, build unique and awesome skills, and push yourself through discomfort to achieve great, difficult things.

Check out your local Capoeira school. If you're in the Sacramento area, stop by and see us some time.

Axe' and cartwheels!

Instrutora Felina


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