What is Capoeira?
Capoeira in its simplest form is a martial art known for its impressive cadenced movements, inversions and kicks. You'll recognise it by the way the players flow with each other, exchanging attacks yet always keeping in rhythm. If you were born in the 80's or 90's you'll likely know Capoeira from Eddy Gordo of the video game Tekken.
Its beginnings are of contentious debate, on the whole due to poor historical evidence and the covert nature of its origins. Nobody can tell us with absolute certitude. It's implied that Capoeira first emerged in the 1600's - by slaves who were taken to Brazil from Africa by Portuguese colonialists. Strictly banned from their traditional cultural practices, not to mentioned any form of combat or martial art, it's said that Capoeira developed as a result of circumventing both these rigid restrictions. It's true intentions were disguised beneath a veil of music and rhythm - a brutal kick or strike camouflaged as an enthusiastic dance move. It's thought that due to the mixed cultural backgrounds of the slave population, no single tradition stood out, which protected Capoeira from being perceived as an endeavour to uphold traditional practices. Eventually Capoeira became a significant cultural practice in of itself - not just for physical survival, but mental and spiritual. The history of Capoeira is incredibly rich, mysterious and compelling - I suggest checking out the recommended reading at the end of this article.
I'm Sam and I started practicing Capoeira when I was only 8 years old. 15 years later I'm still in love with this profound art-form and my daily practice. I teach workshops and classes in The Netherlands and regularly visit workshops and festivals internationally. Having played hundreds if not thousands of Capoeira games, I know which movements are essential for beginners just getting started.
Here's my top 10 movements that will provide you with the fundamentals required to play a game of Capoeria.
10 Capoeira Movements for Beginners
First things first. Before you dive into any movements you need to know where to start. The ginga is the foundation of Capoeira, a never-ending step that forms all Capoeira movements. It stimulates the entire body and is therefore a great warmup as well.
The ginga starts from the paralelo - a strong squat position where the arms defend the face and body. Stand in your deepest flat-footed squat, then raise your hips until you're horizontal, lift your arms and imagine holding a beach ball in front of your face.
Step back with your right foot, ending in a lunge position. Keep your right hand up near your face and use the left arm like a wing to maintain balance. The second ginga position is called básica.
To complete the ginga as a whole, step into the paralelo and then step back with your left leg and reverse the hands. You're now in the básica again, only on the opposite side. Repeat this flow whilst maintaining a sense of control and balance.
This movement is a variation on the paralelo, part of the ginga, but is considered a movement in it's own right. When practiced frequently, you'll develop strong legs and core, which gives you the ability to move freely in low positions. This form of strength will benefit you in all movement disciplines - particularly Capoeira.
Negacia means to negotiate - which makes complete sense - this movement is often used in order to wait for the other player to make their move. It's the same stance as the paralelo, except you flow from one side to the other, switching you arms and waving your head.
This position strengthens your legs in a more dynamic way, giving you what we consider bamboo legs. Bamboo bends instead of breaking, yet it's incredibly strong. Negativa gives you flexible knees and, if practiced correctly, can protect you against knee injuries in all movement disciplines and everyday life.
Start from the básica, drop down onto your back leg and the arm on the opposite side for support.
The rôlé is a smart move to learn at the beginning of your practice. It's used to transition between from one movement into another. It basically 'glues' your movements together which enables you to effortlessly flow in and out of movements. You can begin from either a deep squat or the previous transition, the negativa.
5. Bananeira (Handstand)
Acrobatics can be defined by somehow inverting your body. That's why they're appealing to the eye - inversions are impressive feats of strength, proprioception and not something you see often in everyday life. The Bananeira or handstand is the absolute fundamental movement for all acrobatics. You'll see kids all over the world attempting (and succeeding) with handstands - just kicking up into the air and seeing what happens with no fear.
In Capoeira, we call the handstand Bananeria which means banana tree. There are numerous interpretations of why this is so, but my personal favourite relates to the dynamic (rather than static) nature of a Capoeirista handstand - your legs move like the leaves of a banana tree!
Attempting a handstand using a children's approach is the most straightforward. Place your hands on the ground and kick your legs up in the air. It will likely be a combination of fear and some strength and mobility issues that will hold you back (check out: Top 5 Tips For Mastering Yoga Hand Balances for advice). If you want to hold your handstand for more than a few seconds, it's critical you keep your arms straight, push the ground away and keep your entire body active and engaged. But that's not the most important part of bananeira - once you found your balance you need to keep looking between your arms at the other player! Practice makes perfect.
6. Aú (Cartwheel)
The aú can be seen as a handstand variation and gives you experience entering and exiting your bananeira in a basic manner - sideways. I recommend playing with the aú until you are totally comfortable before you move onto more advanced acrobatic movements such as the macaco.
In this movement you travel from one side to another while supporting yourself on your arms. The legs swing to the other side. It's helpful to imagine a gap on the floor to visualise the distance you need to travel with your legs.
7. Meia Lua de Frente (Front ‘Half Moon’ Kick)
Kicks in Capoeira, unlike other martial arts, are often used to start a 'movement conversation' rather than inflicting damage to the opponent. That's also why your opponent is called your camarada (friend) or player instead of opponent or enemy.
Meia lua de frente improves balance in your legs which translates to all kicks in Capoeira. It's a basic kick and one of the best for beginners. Start in the paralelo position and shift your weight onto your left leg. Now kick your right leg into the air from outside to inside. End in your deep squatted paralelo to regain your stability. From here you can make another kick with your right leg.
The armada is a complex movement but feels so good that it had to be included. It looks a little like a roundhouse kick, performed with fluidity in an upright position. Before you attempt the armada kick, get used to twisting and lifting your leg. Start hopping on one leg and make slow turns. Now do this with one leg raised in the air. This is great preparation for the full movement.
To perform the full expression, begin in the paralelo position. Step in with your left foot, twisting all the way until you can look over your right shoulder. After swinging your arms, lift your right leg as you twist. End in paralelo.
Kicks and flips would be nothing in Capoeria without defensive movements. Defence primarily consists of dynamic movements which evade kicks. This allows you to flow in and out of movements without blocking or breaking the rhythm of the game.
The cocorinha is a very simple movement, effectively a well-balanced and protected deep squat. From here you can evade high kicks and are able to seamlessly flow into low movements.
10. The Smile
Capoeira is know for it's moves, but we mustn't forget an important ingredient for a beautiful game of Capoeira - smiling! A smile may come last but it's definitely not least. Having a smile on your face keeps both yourself and the other player relaxed. Games can become tense as you navigate complex and surprising movements. When you slip, fall or get caught out you must laugh! Trust me - it is just as important as any fancy movement, and players will respect you for your positive attitude.
Have fun practicing these 10 capoeira movements for beginners. Find a capoeira group near you and start playing with others!
Sam's Capoeira Classes & Online Resources
Sam teaches classes and workshops in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. You can check out his class timetable if you live nearby or you're visiting the area.
You can find regular content on Sam's Instagram where you can check out his personal movement journey including many Capoeira movements and variations.
To learn more about the philosophy of Capoeira and quality online content, Sam recommends the Youtube channel of Mestre Poncianinho, one of his greatest inspirations.
Essential reading includes:
Let us know how you get on with these movements and be sure to tag us @SoWeFlow and #SoWeFlow