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
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 between their toes but these games are very slow and cautious.
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 known 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.
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 90% of the attacks in the roda are kicks. Headbutts and takedowns account for another 9% or so. Hand strikes are usually reserved for illustrating to your opponent that they're conspicuously dropping their guard. Hand or elbow strikes and takedowns are generally reserved to more experienced practitioners, but can become fairly frequent in games between skilled Capoeiristas.
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.
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 drug dealing capoerista named Madame Satã was said in police reports to have once beaten up twenty-four policemen in a street brawl. Coincidentally, Madame Satã was a gay man who often dressed in drag. Badass Gay indeed.
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.
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?
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.
Only the Strong, generally the movie most U.S. capoeiristras cite as their introduction to Capoeira.
Eddy Gordo and Christie Monteiro of the Tekken series, possibly the best reproduced example in non-Brazilian media.
In Hellboy II, Abe employs a negativa/rolê combination to evade attacks at one point in the film.
The enemy captain of Episode 2 of Mercs employs Capoeira in his fighting style.
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.
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."