Capoeira is an Afro-Brazillian martial art which combines fighting with performance art. It's a very recognizable style with its emphasis on acrobatics, ground combat, and spinning kicks frequently all at the same time. Its usage dates back at least to the 18th century. Capoeira as practiced today stems primarily from two Mestres in the 20th century and their respective schools: Mestre Bimba, founder of the modernized Capoeira Regional in the 1930s, and Mestre Pastinha, founder of the more traditionalist Capoeira Angola that strove to keep closer to the art's roots.
Its origins are hazy and debated, but it emerged as a fighting style among the slaves of Brazil
. The elements of dance existed partly so that the slaves could mask it as a cultural activity unrelated to fighting. It evolved to be a favored fighting style among criminals, and at various times in Brazilian history, it has been declared illegal to practice. As a result, much of the known history is based on stories and legends.
The art spread first throughout Brazil, from poor blacks to wealthier classes, and throughout the world in the later part of the 20th century.
Tropes associated with capoeira
- Action Girl: Though not in a mainstream way, capoeira had female practitioners since ancient times. For example, Mestre Bimba's mother was described as lethal with the legs.
- Armed Legs: A common misrepresentation is that some early capoeiristas performed with razor blades clenched between their toes as a hidden weapon. In actuality, razors were used, but generally in the user's hands. There are videos on YouTube showing people playing with razors held in their feet, but these games are very slow and cautious.
- Arsenal Attire: Back in the old times, some capoeiristas were Genre Savvy enough to conceal knifes in their hats and play while wearing them, as random stabbings in street rodas weren't unheard. More interestingly, the berimbau instrument could be used to conceal knifes inside and even to turn into a weapon by attaching a blade to its tip, and Mestre Bimba was said to own an umbrella equipped with hidden blades.
- Awesome but Impractical: How it is seen among many people, at least those who don't see it as Difficult but Awesome. The reality is that capoeira is a legitimately versatile fighting style, but requires an unusually long time and effort to master compared with other martial arts.
- Badass Grandpa: Some of the founding mestres are still around and at the age of 70-80, they're still happily flipping around the roda and schooling students at the promotion ceremonies.
- Combat Pragmatist: Capoeiristas outside the roda or other sanctioned fights can easily become this with techniques like Telefone ("Telephone"), in which you clap your hands on either of the opponent's ears to disorient them and potentially permanently ruin their hearing, or Arpão de Cabeça ("Head Spear"), in which you throw your whole body into a headbutt aimed at the enemy's head, chest, or groin. When in the Roda never accept if the other person offers you a "blessing". Just to elaborate, the Blessing (or, in portuguese, "Benção") is an unbalancing pushing kick that is one of the most basic (and effective) moves in capoeira.
- Confusion Fu: Part being constantly in motion and the dance-like movement is to make you hard to predict.
- Dance Battler: A traditional capoeira roda (sparring circle) is performed to music, and is as much about looking impressive and showing off how clever you are as it is about landing blows.
- Dangerous Forbidden Technique: An obscure capoeira style was taught by Mestre Sinhozinho in the 1920s, and it was called Capoeira Carioca. It worked without music and involved a heavy emphasis in street fighting, with weapons training and krav maga-like hand techniques. Traditional capoeristas deemed it as brutal and immoral, and as unfortunately Sinhozinho never created a teaching system, his capoeira was lost when he died. However, Mestre Bimba was Genre Savvy enough to integrate some of its techniques in his own style after seeing two of his students getting made crap by Carioca alumns, so Sinhozinho's style is not completely forgotten.
- Disguised in Drag: An interesting strategy, used back when capoeira was forbidden in Brazil, involved several capoeiristas disguised as women standing around the rodas to act as camouflaged watchmen. If their pals didn't evacuate the roda in time, they sometimes even pretended to plead with the soldiers to attack them off guard.
- Dueling Dojos: In a place like Brazil, this was somewhat common, and capoeira was not an exception.
- Averted with Mestre Bimba and Pastinha's schools, which were mostly friendly to each other. It's said, however, that this friendship was a tense one, and that Bimba secretly instructed his students to beat up Pastinha's ones during shared rodas.
- Until the popularization of judo in Brazil (the future Brazilian jiu-jitsu), capoeira fighters were the toughest guys on the vale tudo rings, and in fact it used to be a "rite of passage" for a jiu-jitsu guy to defeat a capoeirista in order to be considered a dangerous martial artist. When further adaptation by the BJJ rendered capoeira obsolete for the rings, the luta livre inherited the torch (see Odd Friendship below).
- Even today, though not to the extent of the early 20th century, there is some friction between some capoeira groups which differ in philosophy or techniques.
- Escalating Brawl: A legendary one happened in 1917 at the Rio de Janeiro location of Curva Grande when a military police squad tried to arrest a full roda of capoeiristas. As soon as the police sergeant drew his gun, he was disarmed by one of the fighters and a monumental chaos broke on the place. Both sides received reinforcements when the fight attracted more police forces and thugs and it soon become a battlefield truly a la The Raid Redemption, with the aditional similarity that some of the policemen were capoeristas as well. At the end, according to sources, the battle (which was called "El Barulho" or "the great brawl") ended in destroyed urban furniture and dozens of dead people.
- Everything's Better with Spinning: Multiple spinning kicks are frequently linked together, building up momentum and, again, looking impressive. The spinning kick exchanges may also be used by one player to lull the other into a false sense of security before dumping him or her on his butt with a sudden sweep. All part of the fun of the game.
- Extremity Extremist: The basic dozen or so kicks are pretty much always the first thing new students will learn, and probably 80% of the attacks in the roda are kicks. Takedowns account for another 10% or so, and the remaining 10% is left to acrobatics and feints. Hand strikes are usually reserved for illustrating to your opponent that they're conspicuously dropping their guard. Elbow strikes and full-force takedowns are generally reserved to more experienced practitioners, but can become fairly frequent in games between skilled capoeiristas.
- Genius Bruiser: Cisnando Lima, who helped Mestre Bimba to found his capoeira academy and get it legalized, was a renowned psychiatrist. He was just a puny medical student when he met Bimba, so the mestre naturally thought of him as unsuitable to master the art, but Lima turned out to be a hardworking apprentice and ended reaching the rank of contra-mestre later in his life. He was also an avid practitioner of other arts, and also learned primitive Brazilian jiu-jitsu from a Mitsuyo Maeda colleague.
- Knife Nut: In old times, capoeiristas used to carry knifes and straight razors, as stabbings in street rodas were a real posibility. Mestre Pastinha was said to never forget his knife when going to play.
- Kung-Fu Clairvoyance: Despite the many flips and acrobatics, a capoeirista is instructed to never take his eyes from his opponent(s) and maintain the situational awareness at his maximum, all while doing its complicated moves. True capoeira is not called one of the most difficult martial arts for nothing.
- It Will Never Catch On: Back when Only the Strong came out, a film critic called capoeira "the lambada of martial arts". That critic turned out to be very wrong.
- Martial Pacifist: According to Mestre Bimba, "The best way of self-defense is not getting into fights at all". Facing off in the roda is referred to as "playing" rather than "fighting", and it is always the duty of a more skilled player to look out for the safety of the less skilled opponent.
- Mood Motif: The music played during the roda determines how the game is played. Slower music results in a slower, more strategic game, typically with a lot of ground fighting, close fighting, and elaborate reversals. Faster music results in a more acrobatic and high-flying match and usually involves more distance so as to not harm your partner.
- Odd Friendship: In the old vale tudo scene, capoeira was commonly associated with Brazilian luta livre, to the point that most of the greatest lutadores (Euclides Pereira, Eugenio Tadeu and Marco Ruas, among others) were capoeristas as well. This was mostly due to an Enemy Mine situation against the jiu-jitsu boom in Brazil, along with the luta livre's eagerness to assimilate new styles like capoeira and muay thai.
- However, there was a surprising exception in the famous Mestre Neyder, who was close friends with Carlson Gracie of all people. If you know about MMA history, you will know how freaking odd was a friendship between a Gracie and a capoerista at the time.
- One-Hit Kill: Mestre Bimba once defeated fellow martial artist Henrique Bahia with a single, devastating kick to the chest. He was also known as "Tres Pancadas" ("Three Hits") because that was how many he needed to knock out his opponents. It can be argued that the motions of capoeira itself are oriented to confuse the opponent in order to land knockout kicks or sweeps, as opposed to other striking arts which favour a more Gradual Grinder offensive.
- One-Man Army: Capoeira was conceived to fight in extreme conditions, as evidenced in its emphasis on moving unceasingly and using wide attacks. There are stories about capoeristas who fought overwhelming numbers of opponents at once, and while many of them are probably exaggerated, some have historical records.
- A bohemian capoeirista named Madame Satã was said in police reports to have once battled twenty-four policemen in a street brawl, hospitalizing seven of them and forcing the rest to fly away. Coincidentally, Satã was a homosexual who often dressed in drag. Badass Gay indeed.
- Again Mestre Bimba has a crazy story about his badassery. Supposedly, he was once ambushed in the strets by six men armed with sabers and led by a rival capoeirista, who also carried a gun. Bimba then disarmed and knocked all them out, dumped the gunman into a nearby garbage container, and finally left in the streetcar, all without losing his straw hat.
- Roundhouse Kick: The style actually focuses more on the less practical full spin roundhouses, especially to chain spinning kicks, but the shorter arc ones are also used. Unlike taekwondo and other kick-based arts, in capoeira emphasis is made in not to leave the ground while kicking, and thus jumping kicks are rare.
- Rule of Cool: The roda where capoeiristas play is not so much about beating your opponent as both practicing and showing off your own techniques as well as giving the opponent opportunity to show his own. Also, did we mention that it looks really impressive?
- Technical Pacifist: As said in Martial Pacifist above, rodas are focused in showing skill instead of beating the opponent, which is the reason they are rodas and not fights. However, the martial connotations of the art are always present, and the grade of "aliveness" of the techniques can vary between modern groups. Some of the more martial-oriented ones, like Muzenza and Topázio, can host especially violent rodas.
- Use Your Head: A fairly standard move. Unlike most martial arts, headbutts are almost always done with the top of the head in a spearing movement.
- With My Hands Tied: Capoeira was developed to fight effectively while handcuffed or in shackles. This is the reason that it comprises techniques which involve the lower body and can be performed without separating the hands.
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Anime and Manga
- L in Death Note, as well as the Action Girl who taught him in the manga, Naomi Misora. Actually, the capoeira element was accidental, as Takeshi Obata did not know it when he created the character. It was the fandom who identified a particularly twisty kick which L throws in the anime as capoeira, and Obata was happy to make it Ascended Fanon (yes, that single kick is all the capoeira L shows in the anime).
- Kilik Lunge from Soul Eater has a pair of Weapons named Pot of Fire and Pot of Thunder that practice capoeira.
- Fabiola Iglesias in Black Lagoon uses it in conjunction with gunplay.
- Mugen of Samurai Champloo uses this on top of the rest of his anachronistic character.
- In Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, Syaoran's kicking based fighting style (taught by Seishiro, who uses it as well) is very clearly influenced by capoeira, even featuring distinctive moves like negativas and martelos do chao. Same can be said of Fei's fighting style, as seen in his gracile kicks and twists.
- Drossel from Fireball practices capoeira, even though she insists it's karate.
- Shijō Saikyō no Deshi Ken'ichi features a team of capoeiristas.
- In Tenjho Tenge, Bob Makihara uses capoeira.
- Kayna from Battle Angel Alita also uses it as her fighting style.
- Some fighting styles from Naruto strongly resemble capoeira. The most notable is Rock Lee, who uses kick combos and handstand kicking with frequency. Also Sasuke uses some capoeira-like kicks early in the series, as well as the anime original character Chen.
- Captain America's fighting style is mentioned to be based in capoeira, among many other arts.
- The Guardians of Kandrakar in W.I.T.C.H. learned the basics in the New Power arc as part of their attuning to the titular power-up.
- Only the Strong, generally the movie most U.S. capoeiristras cite as their introduction to capoeira.
- The natives in The Rundown employ capoeira in their fight against Dwayne Johnson.
- In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the attackers in the graveyard use several capoeira techniques in their hit-and-run attacks.
- Cordão de Ouro is a film is about the history of capoeira.
- Naturally, Eddy Gordo in the Tekken movie. Christie Montero's style is listed as Mixed Martial Arts, but she still uses some capoeira moves.
- Andriago Silva, the Brazilian fighter in Undisputed III: Redemption, played by well known capoerista Lateef Crowder. While his part was fairly minor, both of his fights are arguably among the highlights of the movie and, among other things, avert the Extremity Extremist aspect hard by knocking a kickboxer with two-fisted ground and pound.
- The Tom Yum Goong (known as The Protector in the United States) features a darkish capoeira thug again played by Lateef Crowder. His fight against Tony Jaa was cut short due to an injury on-set, but it was still one of the coolest-looking fight scenes in the whole movie.
- In Hellboy II, Abe employs some capoeira evasions, among them a negativa/rolê combination, to evade Wink's attacks.
- The Night Fox from Oceans Twelve uses capoeira to get past a laser security system, as seen here.
- In the Chocolate, Tourette's boy Thomas uses many capoeira moves as part of his Confusion Fu. His tough fight against the protagonist girl, who is able to read and copy her opponent's moves, features highlights like a martelo do chao exchange which results in a Double Knockout and a beautiful mariposa executed by her to finish him.
- In the direct-to-DVD sequel of Never Back Down, boxer Zack learns capoeira in a surprising little time and beats a guy in a MMA cage with a meia lua de compasso.
- Jean-Claude Van Damme's The Quest features a capoeira fighter who shows some skill defeating a savateur before being himself worfed by a wild kung fu fighter.
- The Harry Potter film based on the Goblet of Fire features the intimidating Durmstrang students (played by Mestre Ponciano and a few of his apprentices) performing a few moves during the Bulgarians' Hogwarts introduction.
Live Action TV
- Força of the Whateley Universe is a capoeira practitioner. As noted by several characters, using a fighting style employing handstands makes less sense when your hands are the only point from which you can discharge your energy blasts.
- "Kothifiran street fighting" in Chronicles of the Kencyrath has been confirmed by the author to be capoeira in all but name.
- John Morrison and Kofi Kingston have training in capoeira, and the former uses it during his matches.
- K-1 entertainer turned pro wrestler Yuichiro Nagashima occasionally throws capoeira kicks.
- Mexican luchador Zumbi's wrestling style is 90% based in capoeira.
- Eddy Gordo and Christie Monteiro of the Tekken series, possibly the best reproduced example in non-Brazilian media.
- The Pokémon Hitmontop, known as Kapoerer in the original Japanese, was inspired by a capoeirista. Of note is that is the only Pokémon to learn the unique move Triple Kick, a flashy but unreliable attack that may be a nod to some of the less practical maneuvers in capoeira.
- Fatal Fury and The King of Fighters feature several: Soiree Meira, Momoko, Richard Meyer, and Bob Wilson. Yashiro has some acrobatic kicks that resemble capoeira, and while Duck King's style is stated as "Breakdance Martial Arts", he uses several capoeira moves.
- In Street Fighter, Elena uses capoeira as her style, being an Extremity Extremist who did kicks even when the punch buttons were pressed. Also, Blanka occasionally had capoeira listed as his fighting style, but it was in name only.
- In Eternal Champions, Trident uses capoeira despite its existence being an anachronism in his given time period.
- Echidna in The Bouncer uses capoeira.
- Capoeira Fighter is a Flash-based fighting game which has had at least two sequels.
- Capoeira Legends is an Indie Game for Windows which features capoeira as an exploration of Brazilian culture.
- Male trolls in World of Warcraft have capoeira as their dance emote. Few players are any good at replicating it.
- Martial Arts: Capoeira for the PC and Wii, rather obviously, features the style.
- In Rage Of The Dragons, Pupa Salgueiro, one of the playable characters, uses this style in conjunction with her wrench.
- Copperhead, in Batman: Arkham Origins, is explicitly noted by the producers to have many Capoeira moves mixed into her "acrobatic fight style".
- The enemy captain of Episode 2 of Mercs employs capoeira in his fighting style.
- Deadpool pulls off several moves ripped straight from Tekken's Eddy Gordo during his fight with Deathstroke on Death Battle.
- In Iron Kid, Shadow's hand-to-hand fighting style resembles capoeira. At the very opening of the series he is shown striking an aú batido/chapa de costa/piao de mao combination against Lightning.
- Combo Ninos features capoeira.
- An episode of Bob's Burgers focused on Tina trying to learn capoeira. "Capoeira" in this instance consisted primarily of the dreamy instructor hitting people in the face with his ponytail while yelling "Ponytail! and tripping people while saying "Brazil."
- The dance between Aang and Katara in the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Headband" shows major inspiration from it.
- In Xiaolin Showdown, if Raimundo isn't using Shen Gong Wu, expect him to be using this fighting style.