Part game, part martial art, and part dance, capoeira is a Brazilian past time which can improve flexibility, strength, reflexes, and health. To become good at capoeira, you should train continuously and master the basic and intermediate techniques. Enrolling in capoeira classes at an academy or club will also give you first-hand experience of how to do capoeira properly. With enough practice, you will soon become good at capoeira.
Don’t limit stretches to one muscle group.
Capoeira requires moving in ways that you never thought you could. Becoming more flexible will make you better at capoeira and improve your kicks, dodges, and strikes. Stretch regularly and don’t focus on just one limb or muscle group. Spend about ten minutes warming up before and after your capoeira training sessions.
Do a warm-up stretch and, when you’re done for the day, do a cool-down stretch.
Stretch your head, neck, and shoulders.
Roll your neck, head and shoulders. Move your head from side to side ten times, up and down ten times, and around in a clockwise, then a counterclockwise circle. Do ten rolls of each, both backwards and forwards. Without bending your knees, reach for your toes. Hold the position for ten seconds. Roll your wrists in both directions and flex your hands forward and backwards at least ten times on each hand.
Warm up your knees and legs.
Stand on one leg and pull your knee straight up to your belly. Hold that position for ten seconds, then switch to your other leg. Alternate in this way for ten reps. Do lunges (putting one foot out in front of you and bending it at the knee) for ten reps as well. Finish your leg stretching session with leg swings. Lean against a wall with one hand, and with your leg on the opposite side, move it in and out from your body in both lateral and forward /backward motions.
Warm up your arms.
Do some push-ups and arm rolls (extending your arms out at your side and moving them in wide circles). Roll your arms backwards and forwards for a count of ten seconds. Alternate in this way for at least one minute. Interlock your fingers and push them high over and behind your head as far as they will go. Keeping your fingers interlaced, bend at the waist and bring them down to the floor.
Train at the limits of your physical capacity.
In more prosaic terms, no pain, no gain. If you believe you cannot do a particular exercise or movement, you might be right, but try it at least once. Pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone will help you grow stronger and more flexible.
Build strength by lifting weights.
Simple curls with a dumbbell will help you get stronger. Try to do a set of 14 to 22 curls with a given dumbbell weight. You should, by the end of the set, feel a moderate strain in your arm. If your curl was too easy and you aren’t “feeling the burn” in your arm after your last curl, move up to a higher dumbbell weight. Add weight in five-pound increments progressively as you grow stronger.
While dumbbells are the most affordable weight-training investment, you could also invest in a bench press (or just get a gym membership). A bench press is a long, padded adjustable surface on which a weightlifter lies and lifts a barbell. Weightlifting with a bench press will give you the chance to lift heavier loads and involve more muscles at one time than you could with dumbbells.
Instead of, or in addition to, lifting weights, work out on a pull-up bar. Aim to do at least five pull-ups when you start out. As you grow stronger, try to add one pull-up to your routine each week until you reach your maximum.
Work with a partner to improve your reflexes.
Have a partner come at you with foam sticks. Try to deflect or avoid their blows. Similarly, get your partner to do pad work with you. Pad work is common in boxing and involves a partner slipping large, flat pads over his or her hands, then swinging or moving them close to your body and head so that you can strike. To strike the pad properly, you’ll have to be fast and adapt quickly to your partner’s random movements.
There are several reflex-building training exercises which you can do alone. Punching a double end punching bag or an elastic head ball causes them to bounce back and forth. Working with one demands that you match your strikes to the rhythm of the bag. Doing so can improve your aim, timing, and accuracy in the roda.
Find a capoeira academy to take lessons.
While reading capoeira guidebooks and watching how-to videos online is a great way to get into capoeira, capoeira is intended to be shared and practiced with others. Search online for local capoeira academies. If none exist near you, look for university clubs or associations which host friendly tournaments, group training opportunities, or games.
Participate in the roda.
The roda is where capoeira matches occur and means “wheel” or “circle” in Portuguese. It is not a physical place like a basketball court or a sumo circle. Rather, it is a tight circle created by two capoeiristas (individuals practicing capoeira), the accompanying musicians, and onlookers. A roda can pop up anywhere these elements exist together. Practicing in the roda regularly will help you gain confidence and put your capoeira training to practical use.
Face off against others who are at a similar skill level as you in the roda.
Don’t look at the ground.
Keep your eyes up and on your opponent. Watch their moves and adapt appropriately. For instance, if your opponent comes at you with a leg sweep jump back, over, or to the side of his or her sweep. Move in with your ginga for a quick strike.
Don’t freeze up in the roda. Capoeira matches might seem intimidating at first, but stay active while in the roda. Respond with whatever you know, whether its a simple ginga, a negativa, or a kick.
Watch the more experienced players.
Paying close attention to not only your mestre’s moves and instruction, but the moves of other, senior capoeiristas for ideas about how to link your movements in a fluid way. There are few formal rules in capoeira, but there are many subtle and informal guidelines which can be gleaned from careful observation of other, well-trained capoeiristas.
Use video-recording of your own performance and movements to improve too. With modern digital phones, recording yourself is easy. You can pause and slow-mo these videos to identify aspects of your own technique in need of improvement.
Learn one or more capoeira instruments.
Capoeira matches within the roda are incomplete unless accompanied by lively Afro-Brazilian music. The music decides the rhythm and pace within the roda. The primary instruments which capoeiristas play are the atabaque (a tall hand drum), pandeiro (a tambourine-like instrument), and the berimbau (a stringed percussion instrument which leads all others in the roda). The agogo (cow-bell) is another instrument you might see in the roda, and is great for beginners.
Try the ginga.
The ginga is the basic movement of capoeira. Bend your knees and put your hands in front of you. Keep your fingers together but loose. Keep your elbows angled out and at ninety degree angles. Keep your head up and eyes forward. This is the starting position.
Next, throw your right arm back, down, and to your side. Straighten your hand into a blade, as if you were striking something slightly behind you on your right side.
At the same time, stretch your left leg back behind you, as if doing a lunge. Bend your foot at the toes. Bring your left arm up and across your chest as if you were reaching to touch your shoulder. Keep your palms down.
Return to the starting position and repeat the lunge-like movement again, but use the opposite side of your body for each step. For instance, if you began the ginga by throwing your right arm down and to the side, throw your left arm down and to the side in the second movement after returning to the starting position.
Continue shifting your weight back and forth between your two feet.
There are many variations of the ginga. For instance, you can move from side to side when performing the ginga, sweep your legs in a wide arc instead of straight back, or get down on one knee instead of bending at the toes.
Master the esquiva lateral.
The esquiva lateral is a sideways dodge or escape movement. To perform an esquiva, take one big step sideways with your right leg from a standing position. Your feet should be at ninety degree angles to each other. Place your right hand on the ground to the right of your foot and bend your torso towards the right. Your head should be just above your right knee. Bring your left hand up and place it just above your left cheek. Your fingers should be touching one another.
You can perform an esquiva lateral on your left side as well. Simply reverse the directions of all movements
From the esquiva position, it is easy to strike upwards or bring your stretched leg around into a kick.
Learn the negativa normal.
The negativa puts one leg in a squat and the other extended out in front of you. From a standing position, slide the heel of one leg directly out in front of you until your butt almost touches the ground. The knee of your other leg should be bent but the foot should remain on the ground. Bring the hand on the side opposite your extended leg up and hold it close to your face with your fingers straight and together. Place the hand on the same side of the leg you pushed out on the ground with your fingers splayed and pointed away from your body. Keep your body centered over the hand and foot which lay flat on the ground.
From the negativa normal, you can easily move into a leg sweep or up into an S-dobrado or chapeu de couro.
There are many variations on the negativa, including one in which you lay your whole body down on the floor. From the basic negative position, lay your torso and the hand which is near your face flat on the ground. Place the side of your face on which your leg is extended to the ground too. For instance, if your left leg is outstretched in front of you, place your left cheek to the floor on your left side, and place your right hand on the floor just in front of your face.
Learn the au.
Like most capoeira techniques, the au has many variations, though all are essentially cartwheels. An easier one is the au cabeca no chao. In this move, you begin with a basic esquiva and turn your torso to the side away from your outstretched leg. Bring the hand which, in the esquiva, is close to your face and above your head all the way over your head while lifting up your leg on the same side. As the hand.
Bring both hands and your head onto the floor, and center your weight with your legs. Keep your legs stretched out in front of you in a wide “V.”
When ready, continue the cartwheel. Turn your hips slightly toward the side on which you intend to complete the au. Bring the leg which was outstretched when in an esquiva down to the ground, toes first.
You can move from the au cabeca no chao into an au normal (a variation of the au cabeca no chao in which you do not touch your head to the ground) or a piao de cabeca (a head spin).
Try the chapa.
The chapa is a simple kick. Turn your body ninety degrees to one side relative to your opponent. Lift the leg closest to your opponent directly out from your body and toward your opponent’s chest. A variation of the chapa, which may be more comfortable for less flexible capoeiristas, is to turn your non-striking foot all the way around so that it is facing away from your opponent before striking with your other foot.
Master the queixada.
The queixada is a solid combo move which starts from the ginga. Step forward with one foot from a middle ginga position. Turn your rear foot and torso slightly to the side your rear foot is on. For instance, if your left foot is forward, turn your torso and right foot about forty-five degrees to the right. Then, turn back toward and bring your back foot up toward your opponent’s body, using your momentum from the turn to provide force.
From there, move back into your ginga routine or follow your queixada with a quick hand strike.
Be sure to turn on the ball of your non-striking foot or you will tear your knee.