The Game of Capoeira

The Capoeira | What is Capoeira | Capoeira Description | Capoeira History | Styles of Capoeira | Capoeira Basics | Capoeira Angola | The Game of Capoeira | Capoeira Music | Capoeira in Popular Culture

Capoeira does not focus on injuring the opponent. Rather, it emphasizes skill. Capoeiristas often prefer to show the movement without completing it, enforcing their superiority in the roda. If an opponent cannot dodge a slow attack, there is no reason to use a faster one. Each attack that comes in gives players a chance to practice an evasive technique.

Ginga: The ginga (literally: rocking back and forth; to swing) is the fundamental movement in capoeira. Capoeira Angola and capoeira regional have distinctive forms of ginga. Both are accomplished by maintaining both feet approximately shoulder-width apart and then moving one foot backwards and then back to the base, describing a triangular ‘step’ on the ground. This movement is done to prepare the body for other movements.

The rest of the body is also involved in the ginga: coordination of the arms (in such a way as to prevent the body from being kicked), torso (many core muscles may be engaged depending on the player’s style), and the leaning of the body (forward and back in relation to the position of the feet; the body leans back to avoid kicks, and forward to create opportunities to show attacks). The overall movement should match the rhythm being played by the bateria.

Attacks: Capoeira primarily attacks with kicks, sweeps, and head strikes. Some schools teach punches and hand strikes, but they are not as common. 

Some scholars have speculated that this is because the art was originally developed by handcuffed slaves fighting against their guards but this is highly unlikely as slaves were just as often restrained by the feet and/or neck. 

Another, more probable explanation for the primary use of feet is the common West African belief that hands are for creation and feet for destruction.

Elbow strikes are commonly used in place of hand strikes. “Cabeçada” or Headbutts are common- as they are in many of the fighting arts of the African Diaspora.

Knee strikes are sometimes seen. Capoeira also uses acrobatic and athletic movements to maneuver around the opponent. Cartwheels called “aú” (a very common acrobatic movement), handstands (bananeira), headspins (pião de cabeça), hand-spins (pião de mão), hand-springs (gato), sitting movements, turns, jumps, flips (Mortal), and large dodges are all very common in capoeira though vary greatly depending on the form and rhythm. Fakes and feints are also an extremely important element in capoeira games and the setting of “traps” or illusory movements are very common.

Defenses: Capoeira defenses consists of evasive moves and rolls. A series of ducks called esquivas, which literally means “escape”, are also staple of a capoeiristas’ defensive vocabulary. There are typically different esquivas for every step of the Ginga, depending on the direction of the kick and intention of the defender. A common defense is the rolê, which is a rolling move that combines a duck and a low movement. This move allows the defensive player to quickly evade an attack and position themselves around the aggressor in order to lay up for an attack. It is this combination of attacks and defense which gives a game of capoeira its perceived ‘fluidity’ and choreography.

Other evasive moves such as rasteira, vingativa, tesoura de mão or queda allow the capoeirista to move away or dangerously close in an attempt to trip up the aggressor in the briefest moment of vulnerability (usually in a mid-kick.)

Combinations: There are also styles of moves that combine both elements of attack and defense. An example is the au batido. The move begins as an evasive cartwheel which then turns into a blocking/kick, either as a reflexive response to a blocking move from the opposing player or when an opportunity to do so presents itself, eg. at an opponent’s drop of guard. Two kicks called meia lua de frente and armada are usually combined to create a double spinning kick.

Chamada: The Chamada is a ritual that takes place within the game of Capoeira Angola. Chamada means ‘call’, and consists of one player ‘calling’ their opponent to participate in the ritual. There is an understood dialogue of gestures of the body that are used to call the opponent, and to signal the end of the ritual. The ritual consists of one player signalling, or calling the opponent, who then approaches the player and meets the player to walk side by side within the roda. The player who initiated the ritual then decides when to signal an end to the ritual, whereby the two players return to normal play. 

The critical points of the chamada occur during the approach, and the chamada is considered a ‘life lesson’, communicating the fact that the approach is a dangerous situation. Approaching people, animals, or life situations is always a critical moment when one must be aware of the danger of the situation. The purpose of the chamada is to communicate this lesson, and to enhance the awareness of people participating in the ritual.

During the ritual, after the opposing player has appropriately approached the caller of the chamada, the players walk side by side inside the circle in which the game is played. This is another critical situation, because both players are now very vulnerable due to the close proximity and potential for surprise attack.

Experienced practitioners and masters of the art will sometimes test a student’s awareness by suggesting strikes, head-butts, or trips during a chamada to demonstrate when the student left themselves open to attack. The end of a chamada is called by the player that initiated the ritual, and consists of a gesture inviting the player to return to normal play. This is another critical moment when both players are vulnerable to surprise attack.

The chamada can result in a highly developed sense of awareness and helps practitioners learn the subtleties of anticipating another person’s intentions. The chamada can be very simple, consisting solely of the basic elements, or the ritual can be quite elaborate including a competitive dialogue of trickery, or even theatric embellishments.

Volta ao mundo: Volta ao mundo means ‘around the world’. The volta ao mundo takes place after an exchange of movements has reached a conclusion, or after there has been a disruption in the harmony of the game. In either of these situations, one player will begin walking around the perimeter of the circle, and the other player will join the ‘around the world’ before returning to the normal game.

Malandragem: As students master the basic moves, their game naturally acquires a more cunning slant as they begin to perfect the art of trickery, or malandragem. This involves a lot of improvisation and modifications of basic moves into a flurry of feints and fakes to trick the opponent into responding wrongly. These attempts can be blatant or subtle at discretion of the players. 

Effective malandragem lies in the development of sharp observation skills and a keen innate ability to anticipate the moves of the opponent and prepare an appropriate response. Some capoeiristas take this aspect of the art to heights akin to the guile of theatrics and drama. Games displaying elaborate performances and even staging skits reenacting historic cultural aspects of capoeira are commonly demonstrated amongst the most learned of the arts.