As a beginner in the world of Capoeira, you’re likely to feel a little out of place as you play. You might wonder what is the most efficient way of improving. When you’re beginning, you want to be like a sponge, absorbing as much information as you can. Many younger capoeiristas have asked me for beginner tips or what they should do to improve. As a result I made this list to help all the Capoeira noobs out there. Here are my top 10 Capoeira tips for beginners.
By far the most important tip on this list. When you play Capoeira, you are playing a game. Even if you see Capoeira as the ultimate form of self defense, you want to play in the roda, not fight. Why? If Capoeira were a fight, it would be over once the first kick reached someone’s chin. Instead of doing this, we play. We play because it encourages learning and allows us more experience. In thailand this is a very common practice. Thai fighters will often play fight as a way to train. Play fighting lets you simulate a fight without the dangers of of a fight. This allows you to learn from your mistakes and make small adjustments without the fear of getting knocked out. That being said, Capoeira is still a martial art and you need to be careful always.
Another reason to have fun is that your attitude dramatically changes your ability to learn. Even the simple act of smiling provides a positive feedback loop, letting your body know that it’s doing something that you enjoy. If instead you have a snarl as you play Capoeira, the brain create friction within the learning process.
In other words, if you really want to improve your Capoeira, the best way to do so is to have fun. Capoeira is a game and if we’re not enjoying ourselves as we play a game, then we’re probably doing it wrong.
Listen to the Bateria, the berimbau and the person leading the roda.
The “bateria” refers to the group of instruments playing music for a roda. The instruments are things to be respected in a Capoeira roda. This means you shouldn’t stand in front of them, obstructing their view of the roda. The leader of the bateria is always the Gunga, the symbolic head and most prestigious instrument in the bateria. Actually, the leader of the bateria is usually the oldest mestre attending the roda or the host of the roda, and they usually pick up the gunga to play.
This is a difficult lesson to learn because it requires a lot of sensitivity. A common problem people have is not knowing when the berimbau calls you to end the game. A lot of teachers get annoyed by this because, you’re effectively ignoring (even if it’s out of ignorance) the person commanding the roda. Learn to identify when the game is being called to end.
Another thing that can be difficult for beginners is to know the rhythm being played. Is the rhythm Angola, Regional de Bimba, Sao Bento Pequeno? You should be able to identify these rhythms and play to them accordingly. Again, this is something that will develop over time, but one way to practice this is to go on YouTube and look up the following rhythms. Next time you’re in a roda, your goal will be to listen to the rhythm and see if you can correctly identify what is being played. You can ask someone else to confirm and see if you got it right.
Here are some rhythms you should become familiar with…
- Sao Bento Pequeno
- Sao Bento Grande de Angola
- Sao Bento Grande de Regional / Regional de Bimba
Eyes on your opponent (friend)
A common mistake that a lot of beginner make is to not look at their opponent. The pressure to look at someone’s feet, where the danger is coming from, is very understandable. This is one of the most common mistakes I see people make and that I used to make when I started.
Probably the best place to look at the person you’re playing with is the eyes and the shoulders. This seems counter intuitive because again, the danger in Capoeira usually comes from the legs. However, the legs can only go where the eyes have looked and the shoulders allow. In other words, the shoulders have to move first for the legs to move. This also applies for the hips, and some people do keep track of the hips, but there is a major advantage to looking at the shoulders and especially the eyes.
Reading someone’s intentions is critical. The more you understand the person you’re playing with, the better you’ll get an idea of what they’re going to do. The only way to understand is to look at someone in the eyes. The eyes will tell you everything about a person’s intentions, so pay close attention to them. It might be scary at first and intimidating, but the more you get used to it, the more you will benefit in the long term.
Don’t forget to breathe
An obvious point that doesn’t get attention is breathing. Capoeira is a very intense martial art and requires a lot of movement. It’s very easy to get tired while playing Capoeira and one of the best ways to stave off fatigue is knowing how and when to breathe.
Image for a second that you’re running a marathon and your just finished, how do you image yourself breathing. Most likely, huge gasps of breathe through the mouth, desperately trying to get as much air in as possible. The best method is almost the complete opposite of this. As you play Capoeira, it’s very important to develop a rhythm for your breathing. For example, 2.5 second exhale, 1 second pause, 1.5 second inhale, repeat. Why the longer exhale? The longer exhale is there to ensure you’re expelling all the CO2 out of your body. And breathe into your belly! Not into your lungs – this is a very important detail. Play around with the time inhaling and exhaling to get a combination that works for you.
The most common problem people have in terms of their stamina is not breathing. If this is you, and you want to break the habit, the best thing to keep in mind is to exhale. If you simply remember to exhale, your body will naturally inhale to replenish O2 levels.
When we’re scared, our natural instinct is to curl up into the fetal position. The fetal position means safety to us; so whenever we feel threatened, we naturally gravitate towards this small and curled up position. In the roda, we see this as well. Kicks are coming from all angles and in reaction to this, new capoeiristas will start moving in a very timid way. The ginga gets smaller, the movements are hesitant, and there is a general lack of confidence in one’s movement.
We want to move BIG. Meaning, the ginga needs to take up space and our movements need to take us across different parts of the roda. Doing a small ginga in the same space is no good! The more we feel fear and anxiety, the more we will be prone to moving in very small ways. This kind of movement is easy to take advantage of, which is why you see so many new people struggling. They start to doubt themselves and move in very small fidgety ways, or they lock up entirely.
Doing a big ginga is a sign of confidence… BUT doing a big ginga will also build confidence. So if you’re nervous or afraid, one of the best things you can do is to exaggerate your movements. Make your ginga bigger and your movements take up more space. This is a very basic but effective way of building your confidence in the roda. The big ginga and large movements is how you want to move in the roda, so practice it as much as you can. This is a big step for some people as it requires you to get out o your comfort zone.
Kick and move
In practice, you often times finish a sequence and then immediately turn your brain off. This is a big pet peeve that I see in students. Obviously the point of training is not to hurt you, but to teach you something. However, that does not mean that you should relax after finishing a movement sequence with your partner. Continue the ginga and move onto the next sequence or do the same one again.
Once you become more comfortable and confident in your movement try to add something to the sequence you’re training. Think about what else you want to see and throw it in there. It might work, and it might not work. The point is that the game of Capoeira does not end at the end of your kick or someone else’s kick. It doesn’t even end after you shake someone’s hand at the end of the game. The game of Capoeira only ends when you’re completely outside of the roda. Until then, keep your wits about you and don’t forget to kick and move.
Most people think that in order to be more efficient with their energy, they need to kick slower or avoid big spectacular movement. In fact, one of the main ways to preserve your stamina in Capoeira is to stay calm. If you’re nervous, then your heart rate will begin to increase. The demands on the body start to increase as you tense up, breathe faster, and pump more blood around the body. All these things quickly add up and fatigue you. First off, there is nothing wrong with you if this happens. In fact, you’re body is doing exactly what it was meant to do.
This response is known as the fight or flight response. The anxious feeling makes your body start producing adrenaline and prepares you for a life or death scenario. When playing Capoeira, we need a little of this fear to keep us sharp, but too much and we risk blowing out all our energy to the feeling fear. My best advice is to stay calm as much as you can. If you’re about to play Capoeira, remember that this is a game. Is it a dangerous game. Sure. Just like any other sport, you can get hurt, but go in having fun. A trick many people do is to focus on the music and vibe the bateria is putting out. This is a way to get in the groove and get in a good head space before you play.
How to play with higher level Capoeiristas
If you’re someone who’s already at a higher level, then you better believe that people will push you. They might do some stuff that is out of control because they’re nervous or new. If you’re the advanced person, your goal is to elevate the game of that new person. Help them play their game, because they still don’t have the instincts needed to play as they’d like.
On the other hand, if you are that new person, if you’re playing with someone that you feel safe with. For example, a higher ranked student or the teacher that you enjoy playing with, then express the movements as well as you can. If you are doing an Armada kick, you should make that abundantly clear to the other person as you are setting up the kick. This might seem counter intuitive, but the other person will read this and play with you on the same level. If you communicate your game to the other person, then they’ll do the same – allowing for a much more instructional game. Again, this works best with people who are not overly aggressive and you feel comfortable playing with.
If you throw kicks in a spastic way, then you make the other person nervous, and you give them the impression that you’re in a fight or flight scenario. Higher level Capoeirsitas don’t usually push new students hard unless that student pushes them first. Now if you don’t feel comfortable playing with someone there’s nothing wrong with doing a quick ginga and shaking their hand to end the game.
Don’t forget to esquiva (dodge)
The most important tip in terms of keeping you safe in a Capoeira game. And if you don’t know what esquiva to do, do cocorinha. This move is essentially a full range of motion squats with your hands protecting your face. Not doing a esquiva is how you get kicked in the head. Granted, the majority of people you play with will be gentle because you’re new and because they don’t really want to hurt you, but that will not always be the case. When we train a martial art, we train to be prepared. As a martial artist I need to always be ready. It doesn’t matter the scenario, I should have the reflexes to keep myself safe. This is what training your esquivas are all about. If you train the esquivas well enough you won’t feel fear when you’re getting kicked, your instincts will kick in and you’ll know how to react.
Repetition is the mother of skill
If you ask an old school teacher, and most new school teachers how to get better, they will undoubtedly tell you to “train”. And they’re right, you need to train to improve. Training, however is not so straight forward for a lot of people. You might wonder what you can do at home to improve and what kinds of things will unlock new skills for you. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. The only thing you can do to ensure your improvement is to repeat the thing you want to get good at. If you’re kicks are not smooth, straight legged, or feel wobbly, then you need to throw thousands of those kicks. Bruce Lee said, “I do not fear the man who knows 10,000 kicks, but I fear the man who’s training 1 kick 10,000 times”. This phrase sums up perfectly what your teacher is telling you. If you want to get good, you need to grind, and that grind has to be consistent for a long amount of time. There is no getting around it.
This is the part where I might lose you, because it’s much easier to go on youtube where someone will tell you all you need is their 15 minute calorie incinerator workout. Do this three times a week and you’ll get shredded… If this sounds attractive to you, be weary, there are lots of people who will sell you a lie to make a quick buck knowing that others will tell you the truth you don’t want to hear.
Here’s one last pro tip. Be humble. If you can’t do a movement, then do a regressed/simplified version of that movement. Do that regression like a madman or woman, until you get it down. Then step it up and try the movement you want to do.
If you’re still interested in Capoeira, come try out a class, or feel free to browse our many articles. Good luck on your journey!