Is capoeira effective in a street fight?

Is capoeira effective in a street fight?Capoeira is originally from Brazil where it was developed and practiced by African slaves during the 16th Century.  The style is highly acrobatic involving cartwheels and backflips.  Flowing, dance-like movements are characteristic of the martial art and are designed to prevent the practitioner from being still and open to attack. Leg strikes are the dominant method of attack and include kicks, sweeps and knee strikes.

Music is an integral part of Capoeira and was to disguise the fact that the slaves were practicing a fighting art.  When salvery was eventually abolished, capoeira was declared illegal at the end of the 19th century; viewed as a threat to the ruling regime.   Fortunately the ban was relaxed in the 1920s and from 1970, Capoeira masters began to travel the world spreading this fighting style.

In this article, we’ll look at whether Capoeira is effective in a street fight?

Is there contact in Capoeira?

There is minimal or no contact in Capoeira and there is no point scoring as in other martial arts such as karate or taekwondo. 

In a capoeira session, the capoeira practitioners (capoeiristas) form a circle (called a roda).  Some individuals will play traditional capoeira instruments, while the remaining members will sing and clap their hands in time with the music.  Two capoeiristas will then enter the roda and begin to play what is considered to be a game.  This looks like the following:


The rhythm of the music determines the style and speed of their movements.  In many respects,  the accompanying music makes Capoeira look much like a dance.  It is during this “dance” that the capoeiristas will practice their fighting techniques.

As you can see, the capoeiristas are not trying to hurt each other or score points.  They are practicing their moves and seeing what techniques might work in different scenarios.

Can you win in Capoeira?

You can’t “win” when playing the game: it will end when one of the capoeiristas decides to leave the roda, or when another enters to play with one of the existing players or another, or when the musician holding the berimbau determines it.  

There isn’t a formal competitive element to Capoeira: no one is keeping score or counting points.  However, each capoeirista will want to put on a good performance.

Is Capoeira a combat sport?

In  modern times, the martial element of Capoeira has largely been forgotten and it is now more often performed to entertain tourists who visit Brazil.  However, some Capoeira schools  still maintain their fighting heritage.  One famous Capoeira fighter is Marcus Aurélio.  Out of 32 professional mixed martial arts fights, he won 22 of them, often quite spectacularly.


It’s important to consider how Capoerira originated. The style was developed by slaves in Brazil who would incorporate fighting moves with dance and music to disguise the fact that they were practicing fighting techniques from the authorities. 

Groups of these slaves would often escape and establish settlements called Quilombos.  These were frequently attacked by Portuguese soldiers.  It was during this environment that Capoeira was further  honed into a fighting art.  

One Quilombo,  Quilombo dos Palmares, managed to fend of more that 24 smaller attacks and 18 larger scale invasions.

Portuguese soldiers often thought that it took more than a whole army unit to capture a fighter from a Quilombo because they defended themselves with a “strangely moving fighting technique”. Reference:

At one stage, Capoeira was a combat art and was used by individuals to protect themselves from attack.

Is Capoeira deadly?

Despite it’s dance like quality, Capoeira is a deadly martial art. It has in its arsenal an array of kicking techniques.  One of these kicks (Martelo de Negativa)  was tested on the documentary Fight Science, and delivered over 1,800 pounds of force, more than enough to rupture the internal organs of an opponent if it were to make contact.


As the above clip shows, the Capoeira kick was more powerful than the kicks of karate, MMA, and Taekwondo that were tested during the same show. 

Part of Capoeira’s effectiveness is that it’s so different from conventional fighting styles.  In most styles, the fighters will remain upright and will strike with direct punches and kicks when they see an opening. 

In Capoeira, the fighter is constantly moving and spinning.  They rarely remain fully upright.  Kicks can come from when they are crouched on the ground or mid-spin. The constant movement not only makes them a difficult target to hit but also makes them highly unpredictable: the opponent just doesn’t know where the strike is going to come from.

Is capoeira practical?

One of the disadvantages of Capoeira is that it requires a lot of space to be performed.  The spins, cartwheels and flips all require enough room around you to be able to land without crashing into something.   Whilst Capoeira has had a degree of success in the space of a MMA ring, on the street it might be a different story.

Most confrontations on the street are likely to take place in confined areas: in an alleyway or crowded club. In this scenario, you’re not going to able carry out many of the acrobatic techniques involved in Capoeira; you’d end up crashing into someone or something. 

There’s also likely to be an element of surprise involved in any violent street confrontation where the aggressor is suddenly and very quickly in your face.  Perhaps they’ve jumped out from around a corner or from a hiding space.  If they’re suddenly right on top of you, it gives you very little time to react and little to no space in which to move.  You simply won’t have time to pull off many of the moves in Capoeira.

It’s also questionable how useful Capoeira would be against multiple attackers.  If you’re quickly surrounded by a group of hostile attackers, are you really going to be able to spin, flip and cartwheel your way out of danger?  It would be more likely that the moment you try and move in this way, one of the gang is going to blindside you with a kick or a punch and you’ll come crashing to the ground.

If there was enough space to be able to jump and flip then it’s also likely that there’s sufficient space to at least turn and run to try and get out of danger.  This is always going to be the preferred option when confronted by a violent attack rather than stand your ground and risk injury or even death.

Given the above, it’s questionable just how practical Capoeira is in a modern street fighting scenario.  If your aim is to practice a martial art purely to gain self defense skills, then you may be better off practicing Krav Maga.

Is Capoeira hard to learn?

A further limitation of Capoeira is that it is extremely difficult to learn. It is highly acrobatic which not only takes great skill to achieve but also a lot of muscle coordination and strength.  This takes several years to achieve in order to be able to perform the moves effectively.  

This may not be an issue if you’re only interested in practicing Capoeira for fun or as a workout.   However, if you’re looking for a practical self defense system then it will take many years to master.

Is Capoeira useless?

Even though Capoeira may not be practical in a close quarter street confrontation and takes many years to learn, it doesn’t mean it’s useless.  If nothing else it provides an excellent way to exercise and condition the body, as well as become more coordinated.  There’s also great comradery at Capoeira schools and perhaps above everything, it’s really fun to do. 


Summary: Is Capoeira is effective in a street fight?

Capoeira is unlikely to be a practical self defense system in a street confrontation.  You won’t have sufficient space to perform the acrobatic spins, flips and cartwheels involved in the style.  It’s also questionable how effective the style is against multiple opponents who are likely to land an effective strike on you before you’ve had a chance to move.  It also takes an extremely long time to develop the coordination and strength to perform many of the techniques of Capoeira.

If your looking for an effective self defense system, then you may be better off practising a style like Krav Maga.

That said, Capoeira is still a great form of exercise; improving strength, stamina and coordination.  Perhaps more importantly, it’s also really fun to do!


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“Capoeira” flickr photo by Patrick Theiner shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license