A Comprehensive List of Capoeira Kicks

Capoeira kicks are famous if not Infamous for being very flashy, Dynamic, and intense. A lot of the kicks use the momentum of the body to its fullest capacity in order to deal the most damage possible. One of the best examples of this chapeu de couro (described below). This is a kick that was made famous on the National Geographic show called fight science where different martial artists measured up their most powerful kicks against each other. One of the interesting facts about this scientific experiment was that the capoeira kick was not only one of the most powerful but it was also the most efficient. Meaning that for the amount of velocity that was put into the kick, it generated the most force.

It’s interesting to see these kicks being utilized in other martial arts as well. Mixed martial arts for example has some instances of capoeira kicks being used in the Octagon. Although these examples are very rare there are some martial artists who practice capoeira and use some of it’s strikes in this sport. No one would have thought to use a jumping snap kick until athletes like Lyoto Machida used it against Randy Couture. At the same time other less common kicks such as the Meia Lua de Compasso have seen some action in mixed martial arts. Whether the use of these strikes in the Octagon translates to use in a self-defense setting is up in the air, however you can’t deny the power and physicality that is involved in doing these kicks.

Meia Lua de Frente (half moon in front)

Meia lua de Frente: pronounced “may-ah loo-ah gee Fren-chee”

Many people who come for their first class learn this kick first. Meia lua de Frente is a simple kick that teaches some of the basic principles of capoeira. One such principle is using your momentum to throw a kick. The step forward generates force and gives power to your kick. Another concept is constant motion. Meia lua de frente can be performed from the ginga “swing”, and can also return to the ginga. There is no break in movement, and the transitions are smooth.

Meia lua de Frente is seen in other martial arts such as Kung Fu and is sometimes called a crescent kick. The name Meia lua  comes from the fact that the the kick follows an arcing pattern from the outside to the inside passing in front of you. The Arc resembles a crescent moon or a half moon and the kick is done in front of you.

Mystic can be performed from the parallel position where both feet are little more than shoulder with distance. The kick is then thrown from one of the feet and Lupe’s from the outside to the inside in a half moon shape. The goal of this kick is to hit the opponent’s chin or side of the face. in some cases you can also use the kick to attack the abdomen of the opponent.

Armada (armada)

Armada: Pronounced “Ahr-Mah-dah”

Armada is one of the most widely seen kicks in capoeira. It is a very flashy kick that draws a lot of attention and is very cool to see in a Capoeira game. In the world of capoeira, Armada is one of the most complicated kicks to throw for beginners. The reason is the great demand on balance, coordination, and flexibility to perform the kick correctly. You’ll start the kick from the parallel position and step one foot diagonally in front of the other one, crossing your legs. At this point you want to make sure that you have eyes on your opponent and are twisting in the same direction as the step taken. Once you can’t twist any further, and you have your eyes locked on the target, the opposite leg lifts to kick.

Here are some pointers for beginners. Armada is uses the outside blade of the foot or the heel to hit the target. Make sure to keep your core tight throughout the movement, spot your target as you spin, keep your legs straight as you kick, keep your arms extended outwards for added balance, and point your hip towards your target before you kick. If that sounds like a lot it’s because this kick can take a long time to master.

One of the best ways to improve this cake is to do it repeatedly. As with many kicks in capoeira they is a high demand for technique, and can take months to perfect. On a practical level Armada is not one of the most safe kicks to do. Armada leaves you very open. However, armada is a very beautiful, interesting, and fun kick to do in the roda. Armada generates a lot of momentum, making for a strong kick that can transition well to many different movements.

Benção & ponteira (blessing/tip)

Benção: Pronounced “Ben-sao”

Ponteira: Pronounced “Pone-tey-ra”

Hilariously, Benção means blessing. The kick is performed from either the base position or the parallel position and uses the heel to push the target away. This differs from other kicks (like martelo) which are meant to deal damage. Instead, Benção functions to give you space and can set up your opponent for another attack or takedown.

Ponteira is similar to benção. Just like Benção, Ponteira is done by raising the knee and striking the target in the abdomen. The difference between the two kicks is that Ponteira is done by strikes with the ball of the foot rather than the heel of the foot. Ponteira is meant to deal damage and teachers describe the movement as a knife. The goal of ponteira is to cut deep into the abdomen, causing damage to organs.

Queixada (Jawbone)

Queixada: Pronounced “Kay-sha-da”

As opposed to other kicks, Queixada is named after its intended target. Queixada aims at the jaw bone to cause as much damage as possible. The kick is performed either from the parallel position or the base position. In the case of the parallel position, Queixada can be thought of as a reverse Meia lua de Frente. The kick starts lifting inwards and outwards as it reaches the crescent.

Queixada can also be performed from the base position. From the base position, twist the body and go down into a slight squat. From here your side should be pointing towards your target. The back leg will step forward, and as it lands, the opposite leg will swing up for the kick. The kick will move from the inside of your body and outwards, similarly to the parallel position.

Meia Lua de Compasso (Compact Half-Moon Kick)

Meia Lua de Compasso: Pronounced “May-ah Loo-ah jee Com-pa-soo”

Meia Lua de compasso is one of the most iconic kicks in capoeira. The movement has been featured in movies, videogames, and even in mixed martial arts. Interestingly, this movement has gained interest in some parts of the mixed martial arts world. Some mixed martial artists have used this kick in the octagon, such as Marcus Aurelio to some success.

One of the simplest ways of Performing Meia Lua de compasso is from the base position. Turn the chest towards the back leg and reach the hands through the two legs. Squat on the leg closest to the target and look between the legs to spot the target. With the back leg straightened out, lift the back leg and spin it so that the heel strikes the target. Similarly to Armada, this kick is very technical and has a large set up. However, the damage that you can deal with tremendous given the momentum that you were generating with your entire body. Capoeiristas consider this kick very safe and is used very often because of its versatility.

Some tips for beginners attempting to try this kick out: Make sure that the core is tight throughout the entirety of the kick. Also, make sure the your heel and hip are aimed towards your target before you kick. Look at the Target that you aim to kick at, and make sure that the ark of your kick is where your target is. When kicking you want to make sure to aim either for the head or the ribs.

Martelo (roundhouse kick)

Martelo: pronounced “Mahr-teloo” 

There are many martial arts with their own version of a roundhouse kick. The Capoeira version is very similar to the others with a few particularities that make it unique. Martelo starts from the same starting point as Benção, with the knee raised up high in front of the chest. Once the knee is up and facing forward, you want to pivot the heel and turn the hips towards the target. The set up with a high knee is meant to make it ambiguous whether the kick is coming straight or from the side. Once the kick is set up, you snap the kick to the side to perform the Martelo. If done correctly, this kick can do a lot of damage to the legs, the stomach, or the head.

Here are some tips for beginners. There’s a natural tendency to swing the kick as a scene in Muay Thai. Though this may make an effective kick, loses a lot of the ambiguity that makes the capoeira Martelo effective. You don’t want somebody to know where you’re attacking from. Second thing that beginners need to work on this to pivot the base foot. It is very common for beginners to keep the base foot in place or not pivot the foot enough. Make sure that when you pivot your foot, your heel starts facing away from your target after you pivot, ends facing your target. Not pivoting the foot you’re standing on leads to the last major mistake. If you don’t pivot your foot, you won’t be able to turn the hips. If you don’t turn your hips, then your kick won’t be as strong as you want it to be. Turning over your hips mean that the hip bone of your kicking leg will be facing straight up while the hip bone of your base leg will be pointing down.

Chapa / Pisão (Side Kick)

Chapa: Pronounced “Sha-pah”

Another kick with the same beginning as martelo. This kick starts by bringing the knee up towards the chest. Similar to martelo, the standing leg pivots so the heel faces the target. As the foot pivots, the kicking leg rotates so the foot hovers parallel to the ground. There are many ways to perform a side kick, however in Capoeira, this set up is used to make the technique and direction used ambiguous.

Chapa (or pisão as it is also called) is performed with the heel of the foot. Similar to Benção, chapa can be used as a pushing kick. However, because of the great power you can produce from a side kick, the move can also be used to deliver damage to your target. Beginners should make sure to practice their lateral leg raises to improve their range of motion, making it easier to deliver chapa.

Gancho (Hook)

Gancho: Pronounced “Gahn-shoo”

Gancho is one of the most tricky kicks in Capoeira not only to perform but also to dodge. It starts out the same way as Martelo, with the knee up. Gancho even includes a turning of the hips and pivot of the base leg. The way these moves differ is the direction the kick is coming from. If I raise my right leg to do Martelo I’ll be kicking from my right side to your left side. However, if I am kicking Gancho I will be raising my right leg up and kicking from my left side to your right side. Although the setups are nearly identical that kicks come from different angles.

The main differentiator between Gancho and Martelo is that Gancho kicks with the heel while Martelo kicks with the shin or with the base of the foot. Gancho usually aims for the head or the chin. If this kicks lands it sure to be devastating for the person receiving it.

A common question about this movement is how they can make the kick higher. Gancho is a very tricky kick and one of the most difficult things to grasp is the coordination that is required. The most effective way to train this kick is to start kicking low and slowly increase the height of your kicks as you get more comfortable. Be humble, and don’t worry about kicking high when you start. Because this kick is very awkward to do, you will often find yourself losing balance, and drilling this kick will be the best way to solve that problem.

Martelo no Chão (Hammer from the Ground)

Martelo no Chão: pronounced “Mah-teloo noo shaow”

Martelo no Chão is when you combine a negativa, rolê, and a martelo. Starting from the negativa position, bring your weight forward and pull your hips up off of the floor. Once your hips are up I the leg that you were sitting on will come around like a roundhouse kick to strike at either the legs, stomach, or head of your target. This kick can be very difficult to do because it does come from a very awkward position. For this reason a requires a lot of practice and comfort with moving on the floor. It’s also very important to practice some of the more fundamental movements that were mentioned (ie. Rolê, , and Martelo). The kick finishes in the base position of the Ginga where you can transition into any other movement.

Chapeau de couro (Leather Hat)


Chapeu de Couro: Pronounced “sha-pe-oo gee Couroo”

Chapeu de Couro can be thought of a more advanced version of Martelo no Chão. The main difference is the set of that allows you to lift the body up into the air and aim a lot higher. For example if you wanted to aim at your opponent’s head you might be a lot easier if you opt for this instead of Martelo no Chão.

Chapeu de Couro is set up in many different ways, however I will run through one of the more basic setups. From the negativa, position with the left foot forward, and move the foot inward so that the left foot is now facing towards your right side. The base foot then helps you lift not only your hips but you are entire body into the air. The jumping to the air brings your left leg to the other side of your body as the base leg comes around to do a roundhouse kick. If that sounds complicated, that’s because there are a lot of moving parts involved. They require a lot of coordination and sometimes have a little higher learning curve than strikes from standing.

This strike was made famous by a fight science video that was put up on YouTube many years ago. The representative of capoeira Lateef Crowder use this kick to demonstrate the power that capoeira can generate. The kick was proven to be not only the most efficient out of the other martial arts represented, but also the most powerful in terms of pounds per square inch delivered.

Martelo rodado/parafuso (Spinning Hammer/Screw)

Martelo Rodado: pronounced “Mah-teloo hoe-da-doo”

Parafuso: pronounced “Pa-ra-foo-sow”

Flying Hammer can be thought of level 2 of Armada plus Martelo. The thing that makes it more complex is the jump that is included in the strike. As you’re doing Armada, you jump with the base leg and deliver Martelo with the base leg. This is a strike that is seen in many martial arts including Taekwondo. In Capoeira, you can use this kick to deceive your opponent and make them guess whether you will be delivering one kick or two. If they guess wrong, it could mean lights out. Meaning that if you see this kick coming towards you you should approach it with respect. Although the initial Armada kick can be dangerous, the majority of the impact will be in the Martelo. This kick will be directed towards the head or towards the ribs. It will hurt regardless.

Chibata (Cane)

Chibata: pronounced “shi-bah-tah”

Chibata can be thought of an attacking variation of the cartwheel. The Chibata can be done either laterally or in the forward Direction. In order to do the Chibata, you need to start with a cartwheel. Bring your first hand on the ground as you would in a normal cartwheel. The first leg will drop down folded to land on the ground, while the second leg is straightened out and aimed at your target. Both legs will land at the same time, leaving you in the Negativa position. The main idea of this attack is to land on top of your opponent with your heel.

Chibata like many other movements and Capoeira can be mechanically difficult to perform. One of the biggest problems people have is being able to reliably aim while they’re in their cartwheel position. In order to do this move correctly, you should have a strong understanding of cartwheels, including the one handed cartwheel.

Escorpiao (scorpion)

Escorpião: pronounced “es-core-pee-ow”

Escorpião is a sneaky attack that starts from the Queda de Rins position. As the name describes the kick imitates a scorpions tail.

While in queda de rins, extend the bottom leg in front of you while the top leg whips behind you. The leg extended in front of you acts  as a counter balance while the other leg whips around to strike.

It might look like a contortion act of, but the bend is performed with the entire body. The hips, back, and legs all contribute to the bend in the strike. If you are particularly stiff in the back, shoulders, or hips, this movement will be more challenging.

Voo de morcego (Flight of the Bat)

Vôo do Morcego: pronounced “Voe-oo-du More-se-go”

Voô do Morcego is an attack straight out of the WWE. Although this is not where the move comes from, it is essentially a drop kick. Difference between a wrestling dropkick and one done in capoeira, is that the capoeira version requires you to land on your feet. This move relies heavily on the shock value as generally the movement is very easy to see and counter. Vôo do morçego usually aims for the body, however you can just as easily aim for the face with this attack.

Most of the strikes in this list are scene in this one video!

Joelhada (knee hit)

Joelhada: Pronounced “joe-el-yada”

The knee is a common attack in Capoeira. Although knee attacks can be seen in other martial arts such as Muay Thai, in Capoeira these strikes are more rare. In Muay Thai there are many examples of knees being used as a way to attack while standing or while grappling with your opponent. Capoeira usually uses knees in a more situational way. For example, if somebody ducts under your kick it’s common to use knees as a way to attack the face. Knees are generally used when the opponent’s head lower to the ground, which makes sense because most kicks in Capoeira are ducted under.

If the person you are playing with ducks their head close to your knee, the strike to knee is almost a way of saying, “look at how silly your response was. You ducked under a kick only to expose yourself to greater danger”. It is not clear why knees are used to attack the face and not other parts of the body such as the abdomen. This could have something to do with the nature of Capoeira. There is very limited grappling, which would make the use of a close range knee ineffective.

Strikes to the head with the knee are one of the reasons why capoeiristas have to be careful as they move on the ground. Just because you’re moving on the ground doesn’t mean that you are invulnerable to attack. You always want to have at least one hand protecting your face and make sure to be aware of the other person positioning.