Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art which combines fighting with performance art. It's a very recognizable style with its emphasis on acrobatics, attacks from the ground, feints, 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 held 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 smart enough to conceal knives 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 knives inside and even to turn into a weapon by attaching a blade to its tip; there were also SwordCanes called tira-teima; and Mestre Bimba himself was said to own an umbrella equipped with hidden blades.
- Artistic License – Martial Arts: Even although capoeira is a popular martial art in media, it rarely gets portrayed in a accurate way. Chances are that if a work is going to feature capoeira, it inevitably will show only the most difficult and flippy moves (the classic handstand tornado kick, based in the pião de mão, is pretty much ubiquitous despite barely existing in real life, as well as some backflips and even breakdance moves thrown to the mix) and it will make it seem that capoeira is just composed of those. Part of the fault goes to authors like Ikki Kajiwara, who wrongly believed that capoeira was entirely fought in handstand position and lacked arm techniques for that reason.
- 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.
- Beat Them at Their Own Game: Hélio Vigio, an apprentice of the submission-specialized Gracie Jiu Jitsu academy, was submitted by the capoerista Adão in a vale tudo match. As dictated by the opportunistic nature of capoeira, Adão saw his chance in a takedown by Vigio and caught him in a guillotine choke, which was strong enough to make the guy tap out.
- 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. Unlike monkey kung fu or Drunken Boxing, which utilize feints and fakes to set up the real attacks, capoeira's feints are actually its very attacking dynamics in disguise, taking advantage less on the freaking out effect of the hits and more on the ability to charge a torqued strike while preventing the opponent from realizing it is actually an attack until it's too late.
- 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. Some groups, however, will want to be sure that you do land (and receive) some 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 smart enough to integrate some of its techniques in his own style after seeing two of his students being schooled by Carioca alumns, so Sinhozinho's style is not completely forgotten.
- Deadly Graduation: Downplayed (but not very much). During the Regional graduation ceremonies, newly graduated students were awarded with a medal pinned on their shirt and were obliged to play a tira-medalha, a roda in which they fought more experimented players who would try to rip off their medals. In this game everything would be allowed, from hand strikes to throws, and if the veterans managed to rip off your medal, you would be degraded and returned to rookie state, which is considered something shameful.
- 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 fighter. 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 brawl broke on the place. Both sides received reinforcements when the fight attracted more police forces and thugs, and the place soon become a battlefield truly a la The Raid Redemption, with the additional similarity that some of the policemen were capoeristas as well. At the end, according to sources, the battle (which was called "O Barulho" or "the great brawl") ended with 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 70% of the attacks in the roda are kicks. Takedowns account for another 20% 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.
- Handicapped Badass:
- During the era of the challenges to capoeristas by the Gracie family, the matches (originally of the vale tudo kind) were always stipulated with some restrictive rules against the capoeira practitioners: they had to wear a gi top and could only kick, without striking with the arms or any other body part. Still, some of them led the jiu-jitsu fighters to stalemates and draws.
- And for a literal example there is this guy who, well, demonstrates that humans have no limits.
- Heroes Fight Barehanded: Subverted. While Mestre Bimba believed a good capoerista did not need weapons, he knew it was useful to know how to use them. He taught the use of all kind of weapons, like machete, long knife, straight razor, scythe, club, stick, chanfolo (double-edged dagger) and disguised weapons, and also taught how to disarm an opponent.
- Knife Nut: In old times, capoeiristas used to carry knives and straight razors, as stabbings in street rodas were a real possibility. 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.
- Initiation Ceremony: In capoeira regional, a new student had to pass an entry test in which he was put in a guillotine choke or neck crank by an experimented member for three minutes. If he resisted without complaining or tapping out, he was accepted. Intuitively, Bimba ended changing this test for a more mundane one, in which the student simply had to do some body positions to see how flexible he was.
- 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.
- Machete Mayhem: Old capoeira school taught armed combat, in which the main weapon was the facão or machete.
- 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.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Usually inverted; apelidos o nicknames given to capoeristas tend to be unimpressing or just plain silly sounding, as they always came from a physical characteristic, an habit or any remarkable element of the person. However, this is not obstacle for the nicknamed to be real badasses. Perhaps the most known example of this inversion was the capoerista Passarito (literally, "little bird"), real name Wilson Oliveira, who had a legendary feud with Carlson Gracie, and who some sources say as well to be a judo, boxing and/or wrestling champion.
- 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 streets 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.
- Radial Asskicking: Capoeira has some of the most complex full body evasion mechanics in the martial arts world, and with the proper application, it can turn a many-on-one scenario into a cleaner series of one-on-one fights simply by moving the body to the correct position to prevent opponents from surrounding the practitioner. The unpredictability factor thrown in also can make the opponents to fall in a forced Mook Chivalry, as they have it difficult to anticipate which of the strange moves the capoeirista is directed to them individually.
- 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 losing contact with the ground (either by a foot or a hand) while kicking, and thus jumping kicks are rare. Unless, of course, they're showing off.
- 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?
- Scarf of Asskicking: Street capoeristas used to wear esguiãos de seda or silk scarves around their necks as a way to add some protection against razor cut attacks to the throat. It became a sign of rank in established schools after the legalization.
- Stone Wall: Back when capoeristas fought jiu-jitsu fighters in vale tudo, holding down and stall was their main tactic on the ground, as capoeira did not have groundfighting methods and the jiu-jitsu fighters at the time were not skilled enough in ground and pound to bypass their submission defense. Even the original Gracie brothers, George and Carlos, were often led to draws by those tactics. However, after vale tudo advanced over the time, it was relegated to the past.
- 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.
- Trying to Catch Me Fighting Dirty: Traditionalist masters not only allow, but even endorse breaking the rules a bit when playing, which comes from the value of malicia.
- 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: According to legend, capoeira was developed to fight effectively while handcuffed or in shackles, and this is the reason that it has so many techniques which involve the lower body and can be performed without separating the hands.
- The Worf Effect: A challenge between capoeira and Brazilian jiu-jitsu in 1953 ended with both sides being worfed with a surprising defeat, when Carlson Gracie destroyed Cirandinha with mounted punches and Mestre Sinhozinho apprentice Rudolf Hermanny demolished Carlson's teammate Guanair Gomes.
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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) 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.
- Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple features a team of capoeiristas.
- In Tenjho Tenge, Bob Makihara uses capoeira.
- Kayna from Gunnm 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 does the anime original character Chen.
- Only the Strong, generally the movie most U.S. capoeiristras cite as their introduction to capoeira. The actual performance of capoeira in the film has became pretty questionable, but it is nonetheless considered the gateway to its popular knowledge along with Eddy Gordo.
- 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.
- Its sequel, Tom Yum Goong 2, has martial artist Marrese Crump as one of the main antagonists, and he delivers some (more realistic and ground-based than Lateef, but still quite awesome) capoeira performances in every one of his many fights on the film.
- In Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Abe employs some capoeira evasions, among them a negativa/rolê combination, to evade Wink's attacks.
- The Night Fox from Ocean's 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, Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown, 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. He is played by renowned Mestre César Carneiro.
- 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's introduction in Hogwarts.
- The French film Vidocq features a heavily costumed antagonist performing some capoeira-looking handstand kicks against the protagonist's more setting-realistic savate.
- The enemy captain of Episode 2 of Mercs employs capoeira in his fighting style.
- The title character in Oya: Rise of the Orishas uses capoeira as her fighting style.
- The Assailant (Besouro in Brazil) is a 2009 film dramatizing the life of Mestre Besouro Manganga, a legendary figure in the history of capoeira.
- Black Panther's lead character shows some capoeira moves. His fighting style was choreographed by Marrese Crump.
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.
- In The Joshua Files, both Joshua and his friend Tyler practice Capoeira.
- The video for Lindsey Stirling's "The Arena" features a pair of capoeira performers as arena fighters.
- 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, Bob Wilson, and Zarina. 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. Elena's style, save for the flashier specials, is also quite accurate, mainly because producer Yoshiki Okamoto had gone to Brazil in 1996 to research the art for Street Fighter III, leading to plenty of hype amongst the local gaming media, since apparently she was going to be Brazilian early into the game's development.
- 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.
- It's likely that Kai in Mortal Kombat 4 was designed to be a capoeirista, given his handstand stance and attacks, despite them not resembling much the art (like most other examples in this page, in all fairness).
- 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 fighting style".
- Rena, of Kakuto Chojin, uses Capoeira as her fighting style.
- Video game Beat Battle is a phone/tablet rhythm game where the protagonist uses Capoeira as her primary fighting style.
- In Guild Wars, the male monk dance appears to be a combination of capoeira and tai chi.
- In Injustice 2, Cheetah incorporates some wheel kicks and cartwheels into her moveset.
- Lola, of Beat Down, uses Capoeira moves in her fighting style.
- Deadpool pulls off several moves ripped straight from Tekken's Eddy Gordo during his fight with Deathstroke on Death Battle.
- Mercury Black of RWBY's fighting style appears to be heavily based on Capoeira. He's a kick-fighter and his weapons are based around his shoes and ankles. His fighting style can make him look like he's break-dancing, involving lots of body rolling and spinning, to free his legs for attacking. He will even drop to the ground, spinning his body and legs to enable his weapons to fire in all direction.
- 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 Nińos 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, which is pretty justified as he's from Rio de Janeiro.
Famous or notable capoeira practitioners
- Wesley Snipes: Has capoeira among his many martial arts.
- Vincent Cassel: Has a lot of capoeira training and demonstrated it magnificently in Ocean's Twelve.
- Lateef Crowder: Though you might have not heard talk of him, he's capoeira's main stunt guy in Hollywood. He also played Eddy Gordo in the Tekken film.
- Marrese Crump: Another capoeira exponent in the technical side of Hollywood.
- John Morrison: A practitioner who uses some capoeira kicks in his matches.
- Mixed martial artists like Anderson Silva, Anthony Pettis, José Aldo, Junior dos Santos and Thiago Santos have capoeira training and sometimes use techniques in their fights.