The Most Dangerous Kicks in Capoeira

If you’ve ever seen a game of capoeira, you probably want to know what would happen if these kicks were used in a real fight. Many martial arts use kicks, but capoeira is so unusual that some call into question how effective these kicks actually are. The fact is that getting kicked in the head would hurt no matter how contact is made, but the kicks below are some of the most deadly in Capoeira and been proven to be dangerous and effective. 

So which kicks are the most deadly in capoeira? 


Advantage from being tricky and fast

Gancho is very difficult kick to defend against. It’s fast, hits hard, and comes from a weird angle. Gancho means hook in Portuguese and the name describes the trajectory that the kick from from. 

When you raise the knee up to your hip, most people would anticipate a forward push kick or a kick with the shin. However, as the leg comes forward it quickly switches direction and the heel aims for the side of the head. This kick is even more deadly if you are able to convince your opponent that your strike is going to come with the shin. If this happens, they may block or dodge in the wrong direction. The ambiguous trajectory is one of the kicks strengths and makes Gancho a difficult kick to defend against. 

Disadvantages: too technically demanding

Gancho required a lot of practice because it is a technically demanding kick to throw. Someone who throws this kick is most likely aiming for the temple, meaning that your flexibility and precision needs to be drilled non stop to execute this kick correctly. The switch in direction can be difficult for most people to do and if you don’t practice enough, can cause you to lose balance. 

Here’s an example of Gancho. 

In Capoeira, this kick is feared because even if you expect it, it’s hard to respond to. The best you can do it cover up, dodge, and hope your instincts lead you through the situation.

CABEÇADA (headbutt)

So technically speaking, a headbutt is not a kick… but I’m going to put it into this list because it has an interesting application to MMA and is widely used in Capoeira.

Headbutts in MMA

When most people think of a fight, they don’t usually think of headbutts, but the UFC definitely does. Enough so that they decided to make headbuts illegal for use in their professional bouts.  According to the “Unified rules of Mixed Martial Arts”, head butts are an illegal move, along with eye gouges, fish hooks and groin kicks. Serious damage can be done to somebody’s nose for example if hit with the hard part of your head. It’s not transparent exactly what the reasoning behind this decision was, but it’s possible that the commission was worried about brain damage induced via headbutting opponents. 

MMA did include headbutts for a short stint, but this was quickly turned over. The headbutt is not seen in many competitions today, but burmese kickboxing is one arena where the headbutt has developed with the rest of the martial arts toolset. The headbutt is executed mainly by crouching into the ground and charging the hard part of your skull into the face of your opponent. It looks devastating when someone takes a headbutt to the face and the attack can be used as a means of attack, but also defense, and counter-attack. The youtuber, Modern Martial Artists did a full analysis of the headbutt on his youtube channel. It goes into its specific use in Burmese kickboxing and is fascinating for those interested in mixed martial arts. It’s not clear how headbutts would fare as a technique in modern MMA, but it is definitely a deadly tool that can be used in a fight and is commonly found in Capoeira.  

Headbutts in Capoeira: Illegal to Tekken 3

Headbutts are a staple move of Capoeira. During the time that Capoeira was outlawed the police had signs letting people know that doing Capoeira and movements related to Capoeira were illegal. One of the movements mentioned is cabeada. Indeed the move is considered very dangerous by Capoeiristas and is used in the roda (where the game of Capoeira is played). 

Fun fact. While doing the motion capture for Eddy Gordo in the fighting game Tekken 3, Mestre Marcelo Caverinha wanted to include Cabeçada as one of the strongest attacks available. It never made it into Tekken, however Capoeiristas definitely use head-butts in their arsenal of moves. 


Part of Capoeira’s strength is being able to use momentum from the entire body and hurl it at the opponent. Chapeu de couro is a perfect example of this. This strike starts from a crouch. The Capoeirista will place one hand on the floor and use it as a base of support as they launch their leg towards their opponent like a baseball bat. There are a lot of ways to perform this kick and the idea is to cause as much damage as possible to the ribs or head of your opponent. 

Chapeu de Couro in a street fight

I’ve never seen this move in any MMA/fight scenario until about two days ago when a reddit thread showed two people fighting and the fight ending with chapeu de couro. This is not a UFC fight or any other professional bout. That being said, it’s pretty incredible how the kick was able to drop the opponent even though it was performed with fairly poor technique and not landing flush. You can take this for what it is, a random youtube video, but the outlier always opens the question of how applicable this technique can be in a professional setting. MMA has seen people running on the walls, flying knees, superman punches, etc. All of it looked ridiculous until it worked. I say this with a healthy amount of speculation, but I would love to see someone run with this technique in a mixed martial arts setting.

The most powerful kick in all martial arts?

People often debate about what martial art has the most effective or deadly techniques. The debate has definitely had some weird moments with certain martial artists declaring that they can manipulate their opponents with their minds and blowing them away with energy blasts. I prefer things you can measure. I got my wish when National Geographic conducted a test between Capoeira, Muay Thai, Taekwondo, and Karate. Each practitioner chose a kick that would be measured against each other kick. 

In the video, the martial artists are measured in three ways. The speed of the kick, the force produced, and the efficiency of the kick. Lateef Crowder represented Capoeira and performed a Chapeu de Couro on the test bag. The computer read the kick speed at 99mph and produced 1,800lbs of force. This is a disgusting amount of force – almost a ton! As is said in the video, you can definitely break ribs and cause some serious injuries with this kick. 

The only person who beat the chapeu de couro was a leg kick by the taekwondo practitioner. The kick was also super impressive because it was faster and stronger than the chapeu de couro. The speed clocked in at 136mph and the amount of force was 2,300lbs! Taekwondo was the strongest be a large margin, but with a second place, Capoeira proved itself a formidable force. Not only that but interestingly, Lateef was able to produce the higher amount of force to velocity, making the kick more efficient than the Taekwondo kick. This is interesting because it speaks to the style of Capoeira. We gather momentum using our whole bodies and then put it into our kicks. This allows capoeiristas  to produce much more force than should be possible. 


This kick is a hallmark of Capoeira and is widely used by all of its practitioners. In the Capoeira world, It’s considered a safe and deadly kick, albeit, difficult to execute.

How to execute the Meia lua de Compasso

Similar to the Gancho, Meia Lua de Compasso is a kick that hits with the heel of the foot. The kick starts from a low position with one or two hands on the floor. The upper body twists like a spring, creating potential energy that is released with the kick. The Back leg rotates around and uses the force of the kicker’s body to generate power into the heel. When I first started doing Capoeira, I had the hardest time figuring out how to avoid getting hit by this kick. I had done Taekwondo before, but found myself feeling very unprepared. 

Meia lua de compasso in MMA

I enjoy seeing elements of Capoeira being used in MMA. You can some instances of fighters using it, but this is very infrequent. There are a few MMA fighters who’ve tried to use meia lua de compasso in their professional bouts, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear blueprint as to when the kick is most useful. Like with chapeu de couro, meia lua is on the periphery of what fighters are willing to use. It looks risky and might not have enough up sides to warrant the risk. Even though some high level practitioners experiment with this movement, it may be many years (or even never) that we see its practical application in MMA. I’m glad to see that people have not been deterred by the unknown and here are a few of my favorite examples of meia lua de compasso in MMA.

Those some of the deadliest kicks in Capoeira. All these kicks have their own unique flavor and add to the mystique of Capoeira. Capoeira as an art form is still being explored, and it’s fun to watch people in the world of MMA experiment with it. I’m curious to see what they find, and how they hope to apply the martial art. Maybe one day Capoeira kicks will be common and we’ll start seeing more and more use in professional bouts.