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Intentions in Capoeira

Posted on 24 April 2008 by chan

Sensing Intention

How do you know whether a person wants to harm you or not? When does the game turn from a game into a fight? Where do people’s true intentions lie?

How could you ever know?

Sensing intention has been around in the martial arts for centuries. Although it seems sometimes a little too abstract or far fetched for the average martial artist, it is definately a medium to explore if it is indeed possible.

Many times have I been in a roda and felt the hairs stand up on top of my arms. The look in one’s eye, the fake smile that someone wears, the feeling that lingers in the air…

By no means am I an expert on this subject, nor do I pretend to claim that I possess ‘super human powers’. I am just merely exploring the subject to help contribute to it.


From my understanding, the five senses are what we primarily use to gauge situations and react accordingly. Thoughts and emotions are secondary. This ‘sixth sense’, sensing the intentions of others, seems to be overwhelmed and blocked out by the over-stimulation of your other senses, thoughts and emotions. It’s like with our bodies, sometimes we work too much on the bigger muscle groups. This can sometimes cause us problems because our smaller muscles become weak and eventually do not work properly.

By using the five senses and by directing our thoughts emotions and focus to opening this sense, I truly believe that you can become better aware of the way others may feel towards you and a better general sense of your environment.

If you get a chance, have a look into Gestalt psychotherapy. It explores heightening awareness and helping understand how to ‘be in the moment’.

Remember, the only thing that holds you back is your mind.

Training The Mind

here is a little left right brain test to help you explore the capabilities of your mind, and the way you percieve things.

In this picture below, is the dancer turning clockwise or anti-clockwise?


Can you make her spin either way?

Look closely, it is important that you believe you can, you must convince your mind and yourself that you can do it.

Apparently, if you naturally see her spin clockwise, then you use more of the right side of the brain and vice versa.

uses logic
detail oriented
facts rule
words and language
present and past
math and science
can comprehend
order/pattern perception
knows object name
reality based
forms strategies

uses feeling
“big picture” oriented
imagination rules
symbols and images
present and future
philosophy & religion
can “get it” (i.e. meaning)
spatial perception
knows object function
fantasy based
presents possibilities
risk taking

Now that your brain is sufficiently warmed up, I recently ran a trainathon, which involved teaching capoeira for 13 hours straight.

Intention exercise 1

Within our trainathon we covered a few experimental exercises on intention and feeling intention. One of the exercises we split the group into partners, and one person would hold a coin in one hand, whilst the partner tries to snatch the coin out of their hand. Just like a reflex game, the person holding the coin had to close their hand before the other person could get the coin. Next we made the person holding the coin do it with their eyes shut. Next, we held a coin in each hand, closed our eyes and tried to feel which hand the person would go for and at what time.

If you ever have the time and partner to do this with, I would love to hear how you go.

The important thing that helps me, is to try and relax and clear your mind from everything that is not that moment in time.

Intention Exercise 2

The next exercise was having two people face the other way kneeling down, eyes shut, with a soft stick in one hand. Two other people would sneak up behind them and try to have to touch the person on the back and run off. The person kneeling has to try and sense when the person is about to touch them and touch the person with the stick beforehand.

You will see in a video below some demonstrations of the exercises we performed. There were many more hits and misses, but I only put in a couple for your enjoyment. In the soft stick exercise we also had the music up really loud so that the people could not rely on hearing.

We related these intention exercises on general distancing and knowing if a person is about to kick you or not.
We did this by having each person ginga, and one person throw out a bencao. When they threw the bencao out they could choose to try and hit the other person or try and think about only kicking close to them but not touching them. The other person would have to decide whether or not to react to the kick by getting out the way or just staying in ginga.

When I know other people’s intent, I feel like I have more ability to control my actions and reactions to others. If I am sensitive to the people around me and my environment, I feel more connected to who I am.

These were only a couple of examples of exercises we ran through, We definately had a lot of fun and if you play with these ideas, I am sure you will too. If you know of any other exercises or have any comments or suggestions on exercises to help train feeling intent, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Axe and Salve!


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8 Comments For This Post

  1. Pipoca Says:

    AWESOME! This is a great experiment! I hope I can take part in a trainathon someday. Wow!

  2. Mariposa Says:

    Chan, this is an absolutely awsome article!!! I will try the games with my children for sure! That is going to be fun for all of us! We’ll use soft toys instead of sticks though 🙂

    The spinning lady excercise helped me understand why I sometimes misinterpret the direction of the kick in the moment the kick is born. Very helpful material!!!

    I have some friends who study at the Gestalt institute of psychology here in Toronto, I had really enriching discussions with them.. So yes, I would recommend everybody to dig into the Gestalt theory

    Have a great weekend!!!

  3. Akira Says:

    Um… what does it mean if the dancer keeps switching direction? When I first looked at the image, she was rotating anti-clockwise. As I continued to read the rest of the article it switched to clockwise and I thought I was seeing things. But it switched back again after I carried on looking at it. As I finished the article and scrolled back up to the image, it switched back to clockwise.

    At first I thought maybe your image randomly spun in either direction from time to time, but now I’m not too sure… If you image isn’t actually swapping directions, then what the hell does that say about my brain usage? O.o

  4. vinnie Says:

    Akira the same thing happens to me too, just dont know what to say

  5. Sean Says:

    Hey, don’t take this as argumentative, but the dichotomy between right and left brain is completely misunderstood within lay-culture. If you do a little neuro-science research, you will find that the two hemispheres do indeed differ, in terms of capacity for language, memory formation, and even certain aspects of behavior. The idea that one hemisphere dominates the other makes no sense. The two work together, and depend on each other to create what we consider a typically fully functioning individual.

    The direction of the dancer’s spin has nothing to do with determining the nature of your personality or the disposition to use one hemisphere or the other.

    Regardless, this is a great article!
    .Sean / Descalco

  6. Benjamin Says:

    Interesting article. I figured out how to make the lady switch directions over and over again at will. When the leg the outstretched leg is passing in front or behind of the base leg, just imagine the leg in the opposite position. e.g. when she is spinning clockwise and the leg is moving “in front” of the base leg, imagine the leg is actually moving “behind” the base leg and the picture will switch directions. As for intentions, the Bible says that the light of the body is the eyes, and with that being said, the eyes never can not lie.

  7. Eurico Vianna Says:

    Hi Chan,

    I found your blog searching for Capoeira blogs over the internet.

    My name is Eurico Vianna. I am a PhD student at the Centre for Public Culture and Ideas at Griffith University (AU). My research topic is Capoeira and social inclusion, and I am currently writing the 4 Capoeira Thoughts Blog, a not-for-profit initiative, as part of my field research.

    I have a solid background as a practitioner and for the last 10 years I have been working as a Capoeira teacher holding regular classes, workshops, lectures and promoting events in several countries. In 2002 I started a non-profit organisation in Brazil through which I have been running Capoeira programmes fostering the social inclusion of youth in ‘at risk’ situation living in shelters. More details about my professional background as a practitioner can be found here (add link).

    My goal in setting the 4 Capoeira Thoughts Blog is to build an online network of social active capoeiras collaborating on issues of Capoeira philosophy, intercultural learning, social inclusion and education. I also aim to gather collaborators to co-edit and co-author the an online Journal open to submissions on the above mentioned matters.

    The 4 Capoeira Thoughts is open to guest-authors approaching the social role of Capoeira. I hope to publish their posts; interview people with similar initiatives; and promote community based endeavours related to Capoeira.

    There are two main advantages in partly basing my research on matters raised over the Internet. First, there will be no geographical barriers preventing multinational participation. Second, practitioners’ posts and comments will be directly influencing the research matters.
    The overall aim is to discuss the worldwide spreading of Capoeira; the global forces acting upon it; how practitioners locally respond to these forces; and the art’s local purpose as a potential educative and inclusive cultural practice.

    Please, check the blog out and feel free to drop me a few lines sharing your thoughts ( 4capoeirathoughts_at_gmail_dot_com ). I would also appreciate if you could spread the word out about my research. Here is the URL for my blog .

    I am looking forward in setting a network of practitioners interested in learning and sharing more about Capoeira as a social inclusive and educative tool.


  8. jasmine Says:

    Wow I found this so immensely interesting! Read your bio as well. Seemed like an arduous journey to get to where you are now. Hats off.

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