Responses to attacks in capoeira rely heavily on Dodge’s rather than blocks. Although there are some blocks in the capoeira repertoire, it is much more common to see a Dodge than a block. One of the main reasons for this is the number of kicks to punches being thrown. In capoeira there are way more kicks than there are punches and generally you do not want to block a kick with your hands. Instead of capoeira practitioner will choose to dodge kick and respond with a strike of their own. The majority of the Dodges in capoeira focus on moving below a Kick, however there are others that move inwards, laterally, and away.
Esquivas are integral to the game of capoeira. Not only do they serve to avoid kicks, but they also help set up attacks and allow for fluid movement around the roda. Capoeira as a martial art depends on constant movement, so it’s only natural that when you esquiva, you are also moving and setting up your attack. Whereas other martial arts might seek to stop someone’s attack with a block, in capoeira the idea is to continue the flow of the game with a dodge and counter-attack. Here are some of the most commonly used esquivas in capoeira, as well as some that are less often used.
Pêndulo: Pronounced “pen-doo-loo”
The name of this kick is derived from the movement that it imitates. A pêndulo is the weighted device that helps maintain a precise interval of time for clocks. When an attack comes, the pêndulo is used to move under and laterally away from Danger. The same concept can be seen in boxing where the concept of bobbing and weaving use the same movement pattern. pêndulo is a great defensive option because it moves you away from the kick and also brings you into an angle where your attack will be harder to defend.
pêndulo is done from the parallel position, meaning that both legs are slightly wider than hip with and you’re in a slight squat. If the attack is coming from your left side then you’ll want to move your left leg outwards, anticipating the pendulum motion. The next part is to squat down even further and slowly bring your body down and around to the other side to imitate the pêndulo motion. Pêndulo can be done by moving laterally, or it can also be used to move in, towards the other person. Moving diagonally towards your opponent is a way to improve the angle of your kick and make it more difficult for the other person to respond. If done successfully you should be almost perpendicular to the person you’re playing with – with your chest facing their shoulder.
Personally I used this technique a lot especially against beginners who have very little control over their kicks. Doing a pêndulo is a great way to avoid kicks but also move completely out of the vicinity. It’s a great defensive option and also allows for a lot of creativity while exiting out of the movement.
Esquiva Lateral (lateral dodge)
Esquiva latera: pronounced “es-keeva Lah-terahl”
Esquiva lateral will probably be one of the first capoeira esquiva that you learn when you first go to a capoeira class. The reason is that the esquiva lateral is very simple and is a natural extension of the ginga. From the lateral position with both legs slightly more than hip width and your knees bent, you want to squat all the way down as if you were sitting on a chair. There you can bring your chest to either your left knee or your right knee and cover your head with one of your hands. If there is an attack coming from your left side then you would bring your chest to your right knee. If the attack is coming from your right side, then you would bring your head to the left knee. If you do esquiva lateral to the left side, then it will be your right hand that covers your chin and the side of your face.
In capoeira it’s very common to “go with the kick”. “Going with the kick”, implies dodging in the same direction as the kick is coming to you. A very common mistake that beginners will do is that they will esquiva into the direction of the kick. This of course brings you into danger as you are putting your face in the path of the attack. Esquiva lateral is a great for beginners because it is a very easy esquiva to understand, and also follows the principle of dodging in the same direction of the attack.
Esquiva de Frente/baixa (Front Dodge)
Esquiva de Frente: Pronounced “es-kee-va gee fren-chee”
Esquiva baixa: Pronounced “es-kee-va bai-sha”
Another esquiva that stems from the ginga is esquiva baixa. From the base position, all you need to do is extend the back leg a little farther back, and bring the hand that is at your side, down to the ground. A common mistake that beginners will do is immediately reach for the ground bringing their upper bodies forward and their butts up. What you want to do instead is squat down towards the floor, then reach for the ground. Squatting down first will bring your body down vertically, allowing your to easily place your hand on the floor.
This is another esquiva that you might learn in your first or second capoeira class. At the same time it also reinforces the lesson that you should generally dodge in the direction of the attacks that are coming towards you. If there is an attack coming towards you from your left, then you want to make sure to esquiva to the right, making sure to get out of the path of the attack.
A common way followup for negativa baixa is rolê. A rolê is a movement that naturally comes out of this esquiva and is a practical movement option that you can use to avoid staying in place. Another common mistake that beginners will make is that they will do their esquiva and return to the ginga. Although there’s nothing wrong with this, one of the main disadvantages is that it keeps you stuck in place. This is not great for a martial art that emphasizes movement. A way to avoid this, is to tie in different movements together with one another. Doing a rolê after doing an esquiva is one simple way of accomplishing this goal.
cocorinha: Pronounced “ko-ko-ree-nya”
Cocorinhas is one of the most straightforward esquivas in Capoeira. Cocorinhas is just a squat with one of your hands covering your face. The idea is very simple. An attack directed at your sides or the head is dodged by dropping down to a squat position. The way the cocorinha is done can differ group to group, however the majority of groups perform cocorinha in one of two ways. The first is with the balls of the foot on the ground, and the other is with the whole foot on the floor. Either way works to avoid an attack.
One of the main reasons people opt for the cocorinha is that you can do this dodge very close to your opponent. This ensures that you stay engaged with the person you’re playing with. As you’ll see with other dodges, such as esquiva atras (below), when you move too far away from your opponent you disengage from the game of capoeira. Meaning that neither you nor your opponent can hit each other. You’re both out of range and if you want the game to continue you’ll both have to move within range again. Using cocorinha is a great way to stay close and continue exchanging attacks and esquivas with the person you’re playing with.
A common follow up for the cocorinha is armada. This attack can be seen in a lot of Master bimba’s sequences (such as the first one) and can be done from the cocorinha position. A guide on doing armada can be found here. Although it’s not necessary to follow up with an attack, this is one movement option you can choose for your game.
Esquiva Atras (Backward Dodge)
Esquiva Atras: Pronounced “es-kee-va ah-tras”
Esquiva atras can be a very useful dodge because it feels very natural to do. If you’re being attacked your natural instinct will be to move away and that is what this esquiva does. A lot of beginners tend to overuse this Dodge. As I mentioned, it’s very natural to move away from your opponent if you feel pressure from their attack. However this can become very predictable, and a lot of times beginners will be called out for using the movement too many times. More experienced players will understand this, and take advantage.
Esquiva atras is done from the base position of the ginga. From this position you’ll turn your body towards the back leg, lean backwards, and squat as if you are sitting in a chair. The hand that is closest to your opponent will cover your face and the goal of this dodge is to create space between you and attack coming towards you. One of the main advantages of this esquiva is that it works for the majority of attacks. If there’s a kick coming towards you, you can move in backwards and out of range.
One of the main disadvantages of this esquiva is that you will most likely be disengaging with the person that you’re playing with. This means that you will both be out of range of each other’s attacks and will have to close the distance once again to continue the game. Although this is a solid defensive option, it can lend itself poorly to continuing the flow of the capoeira game.
Negativa de Angola (Angola Dodge)
Negativa de Angola: pronounced “ne-gah-chee-va gee an-goal-ah”
The name of this dodge gives away the origins and inspiration for its creation. Angola is one of the three major schools of Capoeira created in the 20th century (Angola, Regional, and Contemporânea). Negativa de Angola is an esquiva that is as close to the ground as you can get. Despite gaining inspiration from Angola, the esquiva can be used in any type of game where a low kick is used against you.
From the parallel position, bring both hands to the ground, perpendicular to your legs. Once you place your hands on the ground, you should resemble a sprinter’s starting position. Here, the torso will be parallel with the ground. Next, twist the chest towards your opponent and lower the body further, with the right elbow sliding past the ribs as if to do a push-up. At the bottom of the movement, you should have only your hands and feet touching the floor.
A common problem most people have with this movement is the push-up part. If you have difficulty doing push-ups, then this will likewise feel difficult. The best thing to do in this case, feel free to use your knee or butt as added support. This is a regression of the movement in the same way that knee push-ups are a regression of normal pushups.
Passo a Frente (Step Forward)
Passo a Frente: Pronounced “Pa-soo a frenchy”
Passo a frente is not a new esquivas, but was popularized in the last 50 years by the group Cordão de Ouro. The game of miudinho, a staple of Cordão de Ouro includes many creative esquivas that encourage staying close to your opponent. Passo a frente translates to step forward and that perfectly describes the set up for the movement.
You can start from either the parallel or base position. As the strike comes from the front or the sides, you step towards the attack, bringing your feet together and lowering down to the floor. As you lower, make sure to keep the hips up and keep the core tight. Bring the hand closest to the person you’re playing with down to the ground. Once the hand is on the floor, and the attack passes over your head, you can rolê out back into the ginga, or another movement.
Most people who are new to this movement tend to lower the hips as a way to compensate for weak leg and core muscles. This is very common as the movement works at an extreme ranges of motion. The bodybuilder equivalent is the sissy squat; and many strong looking people really struggle with this movement. Another common complaint is pain in the knees. Although passo a frente is not inherently dangerous to the knees, it is something that needs to be practiced. If you don’t work up to doing passo a frente, you can risk getting sprains, tears, or other common injuries.
Negativa de Bimba
Negativa de Bimba: Pronounced “Neg-a-chee-va gee Beem-ba”
Negativa de Bimba is a move widely seen in the sequences of Mestre Bimba. He uses the esquiva as a dual purpose move. The first reason is to escape an oncoming kick, such as bençao. The second reason is to sweep the base leg of the person kicking to take them down. Although this esquiva can be applied in many different ways, the most popular way can be scene in the first sequence by Mestre Bimba.
After a small exchange of kicks illustrated here, both players find themselves in the base position, facing each other with the same leg back. Person B will then throw a bençao with the back foot. At the same time, person A will perform negative de Bimba to pass under the strike and hook the heel of the base leg. As person A’s body comes down towards the ground, the hands will come down similar to negativa de angola (seen above). A common mistake people do is to flair out the elbows when at the bottom of the movement. This bad habit is usual a sign that you need more strength training. You can train negative de bimba as you would pushups. For example, 10 reps and 3 sets on each side is a great upper body workout.
Fun fact: Mestre Bimba used this movement as pat of his eight sequences. These sequences were a method to train up people who were new in a way that was structured and quick to learn.
Queda de Quatro
Queda de Quatro: Pronounced “Ke-da gee heens”
If you are familiar with crab walks, then you understand how queda de quatro works. The only parts of the body that touch the ground are the feet and the hands. The position is very simple and I would consider this one of the more passive defenses available to a capoeiristas. Why is this esquiva passive? Although queda de quatro does allow you to move down and away from any attack, you are in a position that is difficult to generate force. This not the case with the majority of other esquivas on this list. For example, in a negativa, the body and weight is more forward; there is more power and movement options available to the position. In queda de quatro, there are less movement options available and the power you can generate is far less.
Like many esquivas, using the movement depends heavily on what you are trying to achieve in the moment. There are some situations where this esquiva works perfectly. Knowing when to use this esquiva will take some thinking and creativity to understand that and then apply it.
Esquiva Quebrada (Broken Dodge)
Esquiva Quebrada: Pronounced “Es-kee-va Ke-brah-da”
This is another stylized esquiva that resembles esquiva baixa, but with an added bend at the hip to drop the body even lower. Just as with the esquiva baixa, esquiva quebrada starts from the base position. The back leg then moves further back and the hips drop down. The hips lower, and so far the movement is the same as esquiva baixa. From here, you will: 1) place the hand that touches the ground by the hips and away from the body, and 2) the upper body, is free to bend to the side.
This movement can be a huge test of your hip flexor mobility. Not only is the movement a challenge to your flexibility, but you will also need to come back up, requiring some strength in this range of motion. A very simple way to make this esquiva easier is to get a yoga block and put it where you would land your hand. By dong this you’re decreasing the amount your body will bend, making it easier to train the movement.
A common follow up with this esquiva, is meia lua de compasso. Once the upper body bends to the side to avoid the attack, the upper body will come up and move into the entrance for meia lua de compasso. Another possible exit is to fall and drop down even further and enter into negativa de angola. Despite the awkward position, esquiva quebara is a cool dodge encourages you to be creative order to use it.
Vale Meu Deus/Negativa Avançada (Oh my god!/ advanced negativa)
Vale meu Deus: pronounced “Va-lee mew Day-oos”
The first name of this esquiva, “vale meu deus” is a pretty good explanation of how this esquiva is used – in emergencies. when you’re trapped, you can use this esquiva to get out of attacks that would otherwise find their mark. Another big reason to use this esquiva is to stay close. Similar to passo a frente, vale meu deus is a esquiva popularized by Cordão de Ouro and is used maintain a close quarters game with rapid exchanges.
This esquiva is very dynamic and can be difficult to do correctly. Vale meu deus can be done either the parallel or the base position. When an attack comes from your left side (for example), your right leg shoots into the direction of the attack, landing close to your opponent. At the same time, the hips go up, and the upper body bends backwards away from the kick. Then the right hand reaching backwards reaching towards the ground. With the hand planted on the floor, the hips need to keep high and the free hand, covering the face.
Similar to passo a frente, this movement can be taxing on the knees, especially when done from a standing position. Another thing that makes this movement difficult is gently dropping the hand to the floor. If you don’t have a strong enough core strength, this can be difficult for you. A way to train the move for newbies is to start from esquiva lateral. From here, bring the hand down to the floor and then shoot the leg out towards the direction of the attack. This way you can practice the technique with putting less strain on your joints.
Cutila: pronounced “ku-chi-lah”
This is a great option for straight kicks. Chapa, martelo, or benção are examples of straight kicks that can be countered with cutila. Cutila means knife, and refers to the arm that deflects the kick coming towards you. Unlike the previous defensive options listed, cutila redirects kicks away from you or traps them with cruz (explained further in the next section).
The cutila deflects the attack away and makes room for a response. In order to do this, you’ll need to step forward with either foot and make contact with the attacking leg with your straightened arm. The free arm is used protect the face. Cutila is not a block so much as a deflection of the kick. For example, if benção is thrown towards you, you will need to step to the side, turn the chest to avoid the attack and use cutila to throw the kick off to the side. Contact is ideally made with the upper part of the leg and your forearm.
The reason cutia is used instead of a doge can be for several reasons. The first reason is that cutila ensures that you’re very close to the person you’re paying. This allows you to strike with a variety of attacks including elbows, palm strikes, or take downs. The other reason is if an attack is coming very fast and doesn’t allow for a dodge. In these cases, it can be easier to deflect the attack instead of avoiding it outright. The last reason is personal preference. In some cases, it may simply make more sense to use cutila instead of an esquiva.
Cruz” Pronounced “crooz”
Cruz is a natural extension of cutila. Similar to cutila, this is not a dodge. Instead, the idea is to catch the kick and take advantage of your better position to attack your opponent. The entrance for cruz is identical to cutila. Instead of deflecting the kick away with the forearm, the goal of cruz is to catch the kick above the knee with the bicep and forearm. Although it can be difficult to reach this position – the timing is really tight! – if you do, it’s a lot easier for you than for the other person.
From cruz you can choose a wide array of takedowns or attacks. In fact, many people who are not flexible enough will simply fall over after you catch their leg and stand up. If they’re flexible enough, they’ll stay up, but in this position, it’s a question of how to get out and get back on their feet.
Now that I’ve run through many esquivas, it’s a good time to ask the question, what exactly counts as an esquiva. I said earlier, that esquiva translates into a dodge, but in reality anything that gets you out of harm’s way can count as an esquiva. It CAN be a dodge. But it can also be a kick or a movement. Au can be used as an esquiva if used correctly, and in fact many people do use it as such. Kicks like meia lua de compasso or queixada are commonly used as esquivas and counter-attacks all in one. If the movement helps you avoid danger, then that’s an esquiva. Falling to the floor could count as a esquiva if it gets you out of the way of a kick. It might not be the best one to use, but if it works, it works!