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Capoeira from a dance to a fight – The Jogo Duro

Posted on 22 April 2010 by chan

Is capoeira a dance or a fight? I get this question almost from every person new to capoeira, and fair enough. It is for most, seeing it for the first time, a little confusing.
Even moreso for people who come from a martial arts background. It is so hard to know when to do ‘floreios’ acrobatic or beautiful movements, and when to close your game and be on your guard.

This article attempts to shed a little light on the subject.

Below, is in my opinion, a list from least agressive to most agressive movements you can execute whilst playing with another capoeirista. I left out all of the floreios and passive movements, as they are all movements that cannot at all be mis-interpreted, (hopefully).

1. Marking or faking a kick or cabecada (showing you could have hit them without touching them)
2. Marking a rasteira
3. Marking a banda, vingativa, cruz
4. Cabecada body
5. Rasteira
6. Banda, vingativa
7. Kicking, body
8. Kicking head
9. cruz
10. shooting
11. Galopante face, grabbing the head (plum)
12. Kneeing body,face
13. Elbowing face
14. Punching face, grabbing hair
15. Cabecada face
16. Biting, eye gouging, striking groin

This is by no means the ultimate list, it is just a general gauge in my opinion of the extremities of attacks.

Misunderstandings are one of the most common triggers to why people fight in the capoeira roda.

Some groups may put some attacks before others, this is just a list based on my own experiences.

In our group in brazil, which is considered a harder style, it is okay for us to go up all the way to number 10 (depending on how hard you hit/takedown) without really offending anyone. This includes teachers and sometimes mestres. On the other hand, I have visited groups where marking a rasteira on a higher rank than you can be considered rude. So the tolerance varies extremely from group to group. This is why, in my opinion, there are so many misunderstandings in Capoeira.

I remember doing a workshop with a mestre in brazil and he was saying that they do not grab the head, they do no knee or elbow at all. It is not in their system because he considers them as aggressive, violent and as having no place in capoeira.

All of this of course depends greatly on the extremity of the blow delivered to the opponent. I have seen some people being knocked out from a vingativa, or a well executed kick. So it also depends on the power and intention of the attack to how agressive the movement is.

The progression of the jogo duro
Usually this is also the progression of how the game or a number of games will escalate as well.
As soon as one person does one of the things on the list, the other can do any of the things up to that point and will sometimes raise the bar by doing the next thing up from that. Eventually it reaches a point where the other does not dare to go further.

Sometimes people will jump from 1 to 16, because they are naturally aggressive people who have no patience. This type of thing is generally not looked upon well and is not good etiquette. A game or series of games needs to build and go through the motions otherwise people will not pick where the other persons level is at which brings misunderstandings and complications. This is the way it was explained to me.

This is really only one aspect of the game, however, I feel it is really a necessary one to focus on. Mainly because it is important to educate and clarify for those who don’t know so that people can be more aware of what is going on when playing in the roda.


I know that a lot of people, including myself, get really nervous and unsure of what to do when faced with these situations. Remember you always have a choice, you always have options. You are in control, remember you are the driver, you are the one who controls the game, the game does not control you.

1. Do a volta ao mundo. This will give you time to really think and assess the situation.
2. Now you are faced with some choices here are a couple of questions I ask myself when I am in these situations. you have enough skill to be able to better the other person if the game escalates? whether I do or I don’t does it really matter?
Am I willing to accept the potential risks involved in playing this type of game? with the possibility of possibly maiming the other person or being maimed?
4. What can I learn from this game? what can the person you are playing learn from this game?
5. Are you playng this way for the correct reasons?
6. How many other people do you have to back you up if things go sour? can they handle it? how many people does your opponent have that will back them up?
7.What environment are you in? is there a way out? could anyone around you have weapons?
8.Is pride getting in the way of logic?

some of your options can be:
1. shake hands and cut out.
2. when you enter again gesture to the other person that you take your hat off to them, that they are really good, and make the sign of the cross imitating that you are preying that you get out of this situation ok, whilst smiling the whole time. I find this sometimes releases tension.
3. If you did something to get the person accidently, or hit them or tripped them accidently, do a volta ao mundo and apologise to them at the foot of the roda.
4. Try and do something funny, to release the tension.
5. If you are a lot better than the other person and have enough skill to do so, you could dominate the game with your ginga and game showing all the while how you could have gotten them but chose not to do so.
Sometimes the situation will call you to do this, but be warned, it has the potential to backfire if you dont have the required skill to do this.
6. If none of this works, and you have to hit or be hit. Take the person out, quickly and with focus. You only really get one shot so make it count. But remember, if you are visiting a group and you are by yourself or with only a couple of people, there are many many more people that will try and take you out after that, so be prepared. If you take one person on, you take all of them on.

Before I conclude, I must apoligise as this article is very generalised and subjective. However, I know that if I was able to have an article like this when i was first starting out capoeira, it would definately help me understand so much more about what was appropriate in a capoeira game and what wasnt.

Please, if anyone has any questions, queries or comments, they are more than welcome!

here is a video of our group, the associacao de capoeira mestre bimba. Believe it or not, all of these guys are friends and are just playing around. Its pretty scary when they are actually out to get you.

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5 Comments For This Post

  1. Yan Says:

    brilliant jogo duro. I noticed that the claping doesn’t follow the usual 3claps pause 3 claps rythm. Is this peculiar to the group or to this type of game? Finally what does turma de bamba mean?
    thank you

  2. dc capoeira Says:

    this is a good description of what to expect and how to act in a roda. I started a blog recently for our capoeira group in washington, DC. our teacher emphasized that if you visit another school, you should watch and observe their ettiquete before you jump in.

  3. chan Says:

    hey yan, bamba is a person who is typically considered to be very good at capoeira, turma means team, the different clap is what is considered as more tuned towards what they call a ‘clave’ beat. Its like an offbeat, which is very commonly used in contemporary capoeira circles.

  4. Baqueta Says:

    Interesting article!! Although it is very hard to set guidelines for these types of situations because there is such a great variety in values and opinions between different groups, roda’s and capoeiristas, the guidelines you set could offer some good help for a beginning capoeirista. However, it all comes down to experience. The more roda’s you attend, the more you will know what the right step is to continue. But I think the most important thing is to never assume you know what is going to happen if you act in certain way. You can never be completely sure. Like dc capoeira said, try and observe the ettiquete of the roda and most important, show respect.

  5. Kate Says:

    Wow, this is a very nicely written article about capoeira. I do agree, lines blur and sometimes it does get hard to tell. But then again, with some very angry people, even chess games can turn into a really violent battle. 😉

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