Capoeira is an afro-brazilian martial art with a massive list of movements. There are many strikes, defenses, take downs, and acrobatics that make it very different from any other form of self defense. Here is a list of the most fundamental Capoeira movements that any beginner will want to learn. This guide provides a small description of what each movement is called with translation, how to perform the movement, and why the movement is performed. If you’re interested in the art, then this is the definitive list of the most fundamental Capoeira movements you should learn. Future lists will be created to encompass as many movements as possible, so look forward to those!
Table of Contents
Ginga: Pronounced “Jinga”
Ginga in Portuguese means to swing. The ginga differs greatly between groups and practitioners, the same way an accent changes depending on what region you are in. The most widely used ginga is performed by standing in a lunged position with the opposite arm raised to protect the chin. The other hand stays at the ready, by the side of the body. The capoeiristas then moves the back leg laterally in parallel with the hips. The other leg then steps back to lunge on the other side. This essentially mirrors the first position with the opposite leg back and opposite forearm up protecting the chin.
The ginga is the base of almost all Capoeira techniques and is used to set up kicks, sweep, dodges, take downs, and other movements. The ginga is also a marker of someone’s skill, with many experienced Capoeiristas being able to gauge the strength or ability of other capoeirista based on their ginga.
The rhythmic back and forth of this movement is one of the reasons people see Capoeira as a choreography or a dance. Although the origins of the ginga is not known, during the time when Capoeira was deemed illegal, it was used to fool authorities into believing a group of people were enjoying a dance in the streets, rather than settling a dispute with Capoeira. Capoeira was illegal in Brazil from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s, with severe punishment to those seen practicing the art.
The “standard” or “normal” ginga was a creation of Mestre Bimba. In order to make capoeira more accessible to a wider audience in Brazil, Mestre Bimba created the ginga that we see in almost every capoeira game out there.
The “normal” ginga is the ginga described above and has two position: Parallel, with both feet more than hip’s width and a bend at the knees to imitate sitting on a chair. And Base, which refers to the lunge positions at either end of the ginga. The normal ginga is a staple of Capoeira Regional, a style created by mestre Bimba, which emphasized Capoeira as a practical form of self-defense. Today, many groups stem from the teachings of Mestre Bimba, and many use the ginga that he popularized.
The traditional ginga looks very different from the normal ginga popularized by Mestre Bimba. The traditional ginga can be seen in videos of old Capoeira mestres in the 1900’s. There is no set in stone steps or rhythm. The Capoeirista improvises steps that try to mislead and trick their opponent. Although many traditional martial arts have very defined bases, such as karate, kung fu, and others, having a rhythmic stance can be seen in many martial arts. Boxing for examples are rarely flat footed and many MMA fighters have a small bounce to the way they move in front of their opponent. Capoeira, however, does take this concept to an extreme, moving back in a very dynamic way.
The “steps” the traditional ginga are less defined. See below for a video of Mestre Dunga, from Belo Horizonte, Brazil. There is a theatricality to the ginga as you can see. A playfulness that serves as a base to the game of Capoeira. Although the “normal” ginga has been widely adopted because of its ease to learn and apply, many modern Capoeiristas gain inspiration from the old timers in the way they swing with their ginga.
Ginga quebradas (breaks)
Quebradas: pronounced “ke-bradas”.
Quebradas break the rhythm, the cadence, and direction of the “normal” ginga. Some quebradas are meant to throw off the timing of the ginga, while others are used to gain position in the roda. There is no set list of quebradas, many being invented in the moment.
There is a nice moment in the video below where both Mestre Esquilo and Contra Mestre Gugu Quilombola find themselves in a stalemate of sorts. Both looking for advantage, they break their ginga back and forth, similar to a staring contest to see who “blinks” first. The quebradas start at about 00:34 and end at 00:51, when Gugu throws a kick. Quebradas are meant to add a layer of deception to the normal ginga, as well as showmanship to the Capoeira game.
Au: Pronounced “a-oo”.
The capoeira cartwheel is done differently than a cartwheel in gymnastics. The gymnastics cartwheel starts in a forward facing lunge position. The Capoeira au starts with the toes pointing forward and the body performing the cartwheel to the side. The head stays in line with the shoulders, looking forward towards the person you are playing Capoeira with. You should always have your chest facing the other person as you do a cartwheel.
There are many variations to doing a cartwheel, however the most fundamental variation is with the legs and arms fully extended throughout the movement. The au can be done for many reasons, including evading kicks and gaining a better position in the roda.
Rolê: pronounced “hole-ay”.
Rolê can be thought of as a cartwheel with the legs sweeping the floor instead of lifting over the body. Similar to the Capoeira au (cartwheel), the movement starts with the toes pointing forwards and the body moving laterally with the hands coming down to the floor first and sweeping the legs around the front of the body.
Rolê can be done differently depending on the situation. A smaller rolê may help evade an attack while preparing one of your own. A larger Rolê may be more beneficial for repositioning in the roda, for example. Rolê, like many other moves in Capoeira, has many different functions and its use depends greatly on the situation in the roda.
Negativa: Pronounced “nega-cheeva”
Negativa can be thought of a fundamental position while on the ground. The position itself is low and meant to avoid kicks to the chest or head. At the same time the position is meant to allow for easy movement. While in this position you can transfer into an attack and other esquivas that bring you even closer to the ground. Something unique about Capoeira is that although it is a standing martial art there is a lot of movement on the ground.
To do negativa first you have to squat down on the ball of your first foot. The other leg sits in front of you with the same side hand planted on the floor. For example, if your left leg is extended then place your left hand on the floor. To do a negativa a properly, you need to keep your weight forward, which allows you to move more easily. A very common mistake that beginners will make is that they will place their hand behind themselves. This not only brings their body weight backwards, but it also makes it very difficult for them to produce any force that is needed for kicks and other movements.
If you enjoy learning different ground movements, then negativa is a fundamental prerequisite. Make sure that you have plenty of balance in this position and that you’re comfortable switching legs without any knee pain. If you do have pain, then consider a thorough warm up before doing the movement. If the pain is severe then you might want to consult with a professional before doing this movement as some people do complain about pain in the knee while doing negativa.
Bananeira: Pronounced “bah-na-nera”.
Fundamentally, doing a handstand in Capoeira is no different from doing one in any other hand balancing art. The difference stems from the way bananeira is used in Capoeira. Bananeiras are generally used for two things: challenging the other person to see who can hold their handstand longer, and using the bananeira to escape or attack.
It’s not uncommon to see capoeiristas enter in the Roda and hold a handstand position, as if to challenge the other person. The other person might take on the challenge and get into a handstand themselves. If both people can hold a solid handstand, then both people have the choice of exiting the handstand to start the Capoeira game, or they will increase the difficulty of the bananeira. At this point, we enter a game of horse, where one capoeirista tries to outdo the other until one person can’t top the other and they fall over. If your handstand game is better than the other person, it’s a small win.
Bananeiras can also be used to get out of the way of an attack and counter with a kick of their own. While upside-down, a Capoeirista is free to throw kicks from unpredictable angles. Attacks such as Beija-flor and others are common in a Capoeira game.
Queda de rins (Fall on the kidneys)
Queda de rins: pronounced “Keda-jee-heens”.
Similar to a handstand, this movement is another hand balancing technique that can be used to move around the ground. Queda de rins is done by placing both hands and head on the floor as if you were going to do a headstand. Twist the hips perpendicular to the hands and rest them on one of your elbows. Example: twist to the right and rest the right hip on the right elbow. With enough strength and balance, you should be able to bring your legs off the ground.
Queda de rins has many progressions, and can really challenge your balance, coordination and strength. Queda de rins is also the basis for many movements on the ground as well as many floreios(beautiful movements/acrobatics) that look awesome and are fun to do. If you want to be a master of ground movements, you won’t be complete with a grasp of queda de rins.
Ponte: pronounced “pohn-chi”.
Like the handstand, ponte is another fundamental movement that is found in many other movement arts. Gymnastics is one example of a movement art that uses bridges. The way to achieve this pose has been well documented by many movement artists. Flexible shoulders, a supple back, and mobile hips are all part of creating a good ponte. However, Capoeira is not only concerned with the pose, but also moving in and out of ponte in interesting ways.
Today, the repertoire of movements that stem from ponte are many. There are always new innovations and ways to incorporate ponte into your Capoeira game. One of the most basic ways to incorporate ponte is to rotate in and out of ponte. For example, starting from a quadruped position, start by stepping one leg over the other. Once the foot is planted, take the hand from the same side, and bring it around your head to bring your chest towards the ceiling. At this point, you should be in a ponte position. To rotate out of the ponte, start with the hands. Bring the hand around the head to return the quadruped position. Lastly bring the leg around the body to return to the starting position.
cabeçada: pronounced “Ka-beh-sada”.
Although Capoeira is known for its fantastic kicks, cabeçada is one of the most fundamental attacks in Capoeira. Many of the older Capoeiristas tell stories about how dangerous cabeçadas were, and that it was an attack you had to respect. Interestingly, MMA currently outlaws the use of headbutts, however Lithway, which is similar to Thai Boxing, does allow its use. Headbutts have been proven to change a lot regarding how a fighter spaces their attacks and what is considered safe to do.
cabeçadas in Capoeira are most often aimed at the face and the stomach. When attacking either the face or the stomach, the cabeçada is done with the shoehorn of the head. This is the hardest part of the skull and the part that delivers the most impact to your opponent while minimizing the amount of damage to your brain. The best targets to aim for when doing cabeçada, is the solar plexus and the nose.
An interesting fact is that when Mestre Marcelo was doing the motion capture for Eddy Gordo, he suggested that Eddy should have a deadly headbutt attack. The attack would be one of his most powerful, however the people at Tekken didn’t like the idea and removed it from the game.