The author describes the most popular leg techniques of the Brazilian martial art of capoeira, including the instep kick, heel kick and screw kick, as well as the iconic one-arm handstand kick and two-foot mule kick.
One of capoeira’s most powerful and best-known foot techniques is the mevlva de compaso, which means “half moon of the compass.” Although this kick might be compared to the wheel kick used in taekwondo, a major difference in its delivery is apparent.
When the mevlva de compaso is executed, the upper body drops toward the ground and the hands touch the ground for support. With the body in this position, the practitioner looks through his legs to spot the target. As the supporting leg pivots on the ball of the foot, the kicking leg is locked straight. For maximum impact, the foot travels in a circular motion and strikes with the heel or knife edge of the foot.
Another popular capoeira kicking technique is the bencao, or heel kick. This kick is delivered with a pushing or thrusting motion, in much the same way a karate or taekwondo stylist delivers a front kick.
The heel is usually used to strike, but the entire bottom of the foot may be used to push an opponent away. This kick can be aimed at the opponent’s centerline or used to break the rhythm of his circular motion of attack and counterattack.
Capoeira’s martelo kick uses the instep to strike its target. The technique is delivered at a 45-degree angle — in much the same way practitioners of other arts throw a roundhouse kick — except that the waist and hip are turned over so the kicker can put his body behind the kick.
The martelo can be executed in what many martial artists call kicking and trapping ranges — in which case the practitioner must step off at an angle before striking from a closer distance.
Another kick used in capoeira is the au cortado. The practitioner launches his body into a one-arm handstand, and from that position, his legs execute a scissor-shaped motion to strike the opponent’s head or ribs. The practitioner also adds a spinning motion to the kick by turning his body before beginning the handstand.
From this handstand position, the capoeira practitioner can quickly switch to the cois, or two-foot mule kick. For this technique, he waits until his body is upside down, then brings his knees to his chest and delivers the kick with a backward thrust.
Possibly the most acrobatic capoeira kick is the parafusal, or screw kick. This technique is extremely strong and deceptive because of the angled path the foot travels.
With the waist and hips turning in a twisting fashion, plus the jumping motion and the snap of the leg, it makes for a very strong technique.
Besides the physical aspects of capoeira kicking, many other factors demand consideration. The need to be in constant motion requires the utmost in physical conditioning, and the use of occasional straight techniques mixed among circular movements requires the ability to think strategically. Because the practitioner is either attacking or counterattacking with each move, he wastes nothing in terms of technique or energy.
One of the most important strategies in capoeira combat is trickery. This can be very challenging because a practitioner’s movement must correspond almost exactly with his partner’s. As soon as the opponent responds to a feint, the capoeira practitioner, already in motion with his ginga, moves in for the finishing technique.
In capoeira sparring, each motion has a purpose — whether to deflect an attack or set up a counterattack. And each technique has a counter. As knowledge of capoeira gradually grows within the martial arts community, practitioners of other styles will learn something about the Brazilian art and expect the capoeira fighter to kick. However, when the advanced capoeira stylist takes the offensive, he’ll often employ a combination — perhaps a sweep, followed by a thrust and spinning kick. Or he may elect to throw an occasional capoeira hand technique or head butt.
Capoeira differs from most martial arts because its varied kicks possess unmatched grace and beauty and the rhythmical movements offer more for students concerned with artistic self-expression. In any case, capoeira makes for an excellent supplement for a practitioner of any art.
Text by Henry Parker • Photos by Robert W. Young
The martial artist shown is Carla Ribeiro, a capoeira practitioner from Brazil.