The Capoeira Blog

Is Capoeira Viable As Self Defense?
June 2, 2007, 3:18 am
Filed under: Capoeira Life

Can you use capoeira in a fight?

How many times has someone asked you a similar question? If your experience is anything like mine, it’s probably more than you can count on two hands. For those of you who don’t play capoeira, you may ask yourself the same questions whenever you see capoeira in action.

The short answer is: yes and no.

There are many different facets of capoeira; is it a game, is it a dance, is it a fight? Because capoeira is such a complex art form (notice I say “art form” and not “martial art,” for me there’s a distinct difference) it’s not easy to answer yes or no, because it’s totally situational.

Capoeira As Self Defense

Photo by Fuzz (Flickr)

Capoeira clearly has martial aspects and applications. Depending on what style of capoeira you play you may stick closer to the fighting part, or you may stick closer to the playful part. No matter what your style is, there are clearly movements and techniques that would give you an edge in a street fight.

Capoeirstas may not train to fight (though some do) but if pressed, we each have moves in our arsenal that we could bring to combat. I’m talking about the basic kicks: bencao, pontape cruzado (martelo), chapa; as well as basic punches, knees, and elbows. Unless you’re very fast and very accurate, I wouldn’t recommend using a meia lua in a street fight. Nor would I recommend doing aus, roles, and floreios all over the place.

One of the biggest assets a capoeirista has is our ability to dodge and move around. We’re almost like a boxer in this regard, able to “bob and weave,” as it were. The point of capoeira is to escape movements, not to block them. So we have an edge dodging any incoming attack against us (whether it be a punch, kick, tackle, etc.). Likewise, I suspect the ginga may be another important part of the arsenal. Think about it: someone starts pushing you around, so you start to ginga. What would be going through the aggressor’s mind? He’d probably be confused, atleast for a little bit, which would give you an edge. Capoeiristas pride themselves on trickery and being unpredictable; I’m sure that would help in any fight.

For those of you out there who are looking for self defense techniques and nothing more, capoeira is not for you. I’d recommend Krav Maga. Capoeira is about so much more than fighting, but I have plenty of time to talk about all the other aspects in later posts (stay tuned!). Can you use capoeira in a street fight? Yes: movements learned in capoeira would aid you in a fight (kicks, strikes, etc.). No: I wouldn’t advise trying to backflip away from an opponent, that only works in the movies.

If you’re still not convinced, think about why capoeira was outlawed in Brazil. It was used by criminals and gangs to fight and kill eachother. Capoeiristas would hold razor blades between their toes. If that’s not using capoeira to a deadly effect, I don’t know what is.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the first installment here on Faisca’s Capoeira Blog. I tried to kick things off with a bang. If you do like what you read here, be sure to check back often. And please, offer any comments, suggestions, questions, etc. that you may have. I’m just getting started now, but once I get rolling I hope to have a lot of great information for capoeiristas of all levels, even the ones who haven’t even started yet!


17 Comments so far
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i just want to say well written. . . yes i have come across this question far too many times. I must say from a small little experience were i thought i was going to have to fight, the first thing that poped in my head as i readied myself for battle, was to throw that bencao to this guy in front and come around with a chapa for the guy to the left. Would have been interesting if it all went down but im happy it didnt.

Comment by ajunto

You always hope it never comes down to an actual fight, but it’s good to know that you’ll be able to handle yourself if it did. That’s the way I look at it.

Comment by faisca

since i actually used capoeira in a sparring match against a friend that does gojin-ryu, i would say that it is effective. just dont be on some flashy/show-offy bullshit, and you’ll do fine.

i also noticed that if your opponent tries to kick you, and he or she doesnt do capoeira, then thats where you can have fun with them, cuz capoeiristas know what to do with a kick 8 ways from sunday. but yeah, that bottom line is to just play with your opponent, beat the mess out of him/her when the time presents itself, and dont be a dumbass and try to show off.

Comment by Relampago

Well said Relampago. It wouldn’t really be smart to start trying to do backflips in the middle of a fight. Part of the strength behind capoeira is that people will have this idea of what you’re gonna do (show off, do cartwheels, etc) so they’ll think you’re just gonna be a pushover. Then you can surprise them.

Comment by faisca

In other words, NO!

Comment by Quino

Faisca, I have listen to your blog and it’s good to know there are people that have sense. Although, there are some loop holes I would like to fill in. First, before I talk about capoeira I would like to fill you in on its history. When slaves were taken out of Africa they were sent to different corners of the World. Some slaves were from the same tribe others were not. Black slaves were and are very intelligent they had alot of secrets, skills, and talents that could not be stolen when they were capture from their homeland. It was imbedded in their mind, heart and soul. This cause their skills and secrets to be spread all over the world. Capoeira is just one of them. In parts of the world they develope others like, Music, Cooking, herbs, skin healing, and many more. they are no books on this evidence because black slaves were illiterate to education. Alot of are people are trying to dig it up but alot are buried with dead slaves and some are still hidden. Compare to the asian and south asian population who always documented information. Capoeira is a great but its not respected in the martial art world. Everytime you watch a movie it shows a guy doing a whole buch of flips then he gets his kicked. I dont blame anyone for not taking it seriously. Because all everyone focuses on are the flips and tricks. As you said capoeira has two styles play and fight. Thank god someone finally got it right. But there are more to the styles. Play is for showing off. Fight which alot teachers do not wantto teach is deadly. Capoeira is not rated deadly because it has not been use in war like the asian art forms. It a slave defence to protect them, and given them freedom from the burden of hardship. Eventhough, its still deadly like the asian martial arts. Capoeira can adapt to any situation. The fight skill of capoeira has different styles. So far I seen stlyles of the monkey,snake, and cat. Also the capoeirista moves like a boxer and can punch and kick like one. Every situation there is a different ginga. even in street fighting. Capoira has other skills added jujitsu and shadow boxing and yoga. You see alot teachers teach only traditional capoeira. The fight part is dicourage by alot of mestre. The next thing is some Mestre’s don’t want to perfect Capoeira like the asian martial arts. If they did it would make an interesting match up in the UFC. if you want proof check out this mestre on youtube Mestre Curisco and Lua BRanca

Comment by tre styles

I’m very grateful for my instructor, mestre and the style located in my area. Only today did my mestre actually show us a very stand up boxer/freestyle stance that has given me a whole new perspective on capoeira’s fighting/sparring aspects. I was so excited! This is after my 9th month and my 3-4 month with my mestre. It reminds me of a jkd/boxing/muaythai stance. Capoeira’s true strength radiates from within, out, not to mention to incredible strength deficit training, adding enormous power to our blows. I had been trying to put it together for myself but now i see this is much more practical. Unlike anything i’ve seen on camera for capoeira. The dance is a disguise, the complex movements and acrobatics the art, and the conditioning the foundation that puts us ahead of the rest.

Comment by pongelon

You can use capoeira in a real fight. There are many MMA fighter with capoeira background. The most famous is Jean Silva. use on youtube search: mma capoeira

Comment by gyia

Check out Andrei Gusmao, or the Pitbull TM. in the IFL. Lot of people use capoeira in cage fights. The only problem in the capoeira you don’t use enough your hands. But the thai box – capoeira – jiu jitsu mix is very effectiv in the MMA.

Comment by GYiA

I think that capoeira, as a fight or self defense, does not have to “look like capoeira”, like the stereotype of the game. The game is the game, and in a fight, you have to know what works in a fight. So it would rule out most carweels, backflips, hand-stands, and things like it. Even ginga, I think it shouldn’t be held as a substitute for stance, but could be used for strafe into a better angle and smoothly connected with an attack. If a constant, repetitive ginga is something predictable and disvantageus in comparison with a more stable stance or a boxing-like swing, it shouldn’t be used. Period. Mestre Bimba, can be thought of having created a sort of non-“fundamentalist” strain of capoeira, somewhat like MMA or jeet kune do, as he did mixed elements from other martial arts.

Other thing is that, when people are used to the game, and in a fight, they have the idea that it has to look like the game, the tendence will probably be to shoot kicks that will not hit the opponents, which is a no-no for the real world fights, specially against a experienced opponent. Maybe some unexperienced thug may become intimitated, but it will not likely be the case with someone just a bit experienced. One thing that could be adapted though, is that a kick that happens to miss can be more immediately and unusually connected with a second attack. It could be even done on purpose, as a sort of “malicia”, telegraphing the wrong kick, but again, having in mind that one should not have the same expectancies from a typical friendly game.

Comment by DS

capoeira was created for fighting read the title The Little Capoeira Book it talks about mestres using it for self defense its just more civilized now same thing with muay thai the older styles were more brutal now its a ring sport capoeira is a style you have to read between the lines its just pretend to look like a game

Comment by capoeira fan

This is stupid, any skilled capoerista knows you don’t use ginga in a street fight, ginga is an element that makes capoeira look like a dance so people can’t tell its a fighting art, its why the slaves implemented it so their captors wouldn’t know what they were doing….if you wanna break someones ass in a street fight using capoeira don’t use ginga, au or role, everything else applys

Comment by zohan

Unless you au into someones face…

Comment by zohan

Hello to everyone, i think that capoeira is a very good sport to practice and it is very beautiful.
You can use it in a fight if you want but i think that is not the main utility. If you need to because you feel threaten i think that you can.
Apart from that, capoeira put you fit and it is very healthy.

Comment by Alan

Well written. Within my group of friends, I am basically the only one who practices Capoeira. My other friends practice Muay Thai,MMA, Kenpo, etc. So when we decide to spar, I’m always looked down upon because they think Capoeira is “just for show and worthless”. One of my goals is to be able to spar on their levels while incorporating Capoeira as a primary fighting style. Knowing what works and what doesn’t will come with experience.

Comment by Robert McAdams

if your friends underestimate you because you train capoeira thats thier first mistake and one you should take advantage of, remember the most effective strikes including a hand strike named galopante are hidden techniques in capoiera, ive been training 10 years and ive seen mestres with effective fighting technique in capoeira which include headbutts, elbows and takedowns, these mestres were so fast and agile and full of confidence they could surprise thier opponent every single time, they use the element of Malicia, deception to fool the opponent, this takes years to develop and its only learned in the roda, also remember that capoeira is a core streefighting style, we do more than just kick, but i will not reveal anything more,just go to a capoeira academy and have your friends go one on one with a mestre of the art, the capoeira kicks hit harder than the other kicks, meia lua di compasso is not a blockable kick, you try and block it and it will break your arm. I dont spar because capoeira is not designed for sparing, its designed for real no holds back fighting, because capoeira is meant to take out the other guy with 1 or 2 moves max so either we do or we dont, no sparring, just explain to your friends thats the only way to test it and go all out on them dude, Peace.

Comment by listerhine


Comment by tre styles

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