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Traumatic Injuries in Capoeira



A. A. Decānio Filho

Translation by Shayna McHugh


During the whole period that I practiced capoeira in the old roda of Bimba and frequented those of Valdemar and Pastinha, I never saw a case of injury of the knee joint or of the spinal column. Today I come to take notice of frequent accidents compromising knees and spinal columns among the practitioners of “regional.” Despite the enormous diffusion of capoeira and consequent growth of the population of practitioners, capable in the opinion of some of justifying the statistical growth of accidents and sports injuries, I believe that it is advantageous to warn the young novices and especially the mestres and instructors about the dangers involved in the contemporary style of regional, especially in acrobatic capoeira.


Knowing of the lamentable occurrence of various cases of fatal accidents, I feel obligated, in the role of doctor, ex-athlete, capoeirista, father, and above all, of an unlimited admirer of youth, to analyze the reasons of such facts, since similar cases are unknown during the practice of “angola.” Starting from the premise of the inexistence of such grave accidents during the learning and practice of the phases of creation and consolidation of regional or in other words, under the direct control of Bimba, responsible for the physical integrity of the “boys” of the dominant class of our land, I see myself logically led to the research of causative elements among the modifications implanted in the ritual, in the system, and in the method of teaching by the contemporary mestres.


Comparing the images that I keep, in memory and in my heart, of the games that I watched and practiced during my youth, I discover five fundamental differences, on which we will comment:

-         Exaggerated acceleration in the rhythm and tempo of the toques.

-         Modification of the ginga.

-         Absence of floreio movements.

-         Distancing of the partners of the game.

-         Facial expression and body dynamic of the participants.




Among other modifications modernly introduced in the orchestra, music, and songs, the suffocation of the sound of the berimbau by the inappropriate use of the atabaque and of the noise from the badly conducted accompaniment of clapping, and the exaggerated acceleration of the tempo and of the rhythm of the toques generate excessively fast movements, without the possibility of mental control and accompaniment by the partner. The disordered, uncontrolled individual movements neither fit, nor correspond to those of the companion and therefore are capable of producing injuries in the partner and/or in the initiator, mainly in the knees and spine, not to mention the consequences of direct impacts.



During the period of regional’s creation the ginga was short (including the ginga of Bimba, “Itapoan” reminds me) with the balance of the body’s center of gravity located in the interior of the pelvis, approximately a little lower than the navel, in the middle of the line that unites the highest points of the iliac crest (hip-bones), without dislocating the trunk backwards, and maintaining the spine approximately in the vertical that unites the two feet. Bimba did not allow dodging backwards, which eliminates the possibility of immediate counter-attack, instead advising turning and rotating dodges. These remove the body from the attack movement’s line of impact, reduce the exposed area, and create the opportunity to instantaneously counter-attack the exposed flank of the adversary.


The excessive distance between the feet increases the static load on the points of support on the ground by the lever arm created by the great distance between them. It is enough to remember that to increase the base, fighters open the legs and lower the buttocks. In this position it is more difficult to use the lower limbs for counter-attack. In the case of excessive backwards extension of the back leg, the inclination of the trunk forward puts all the weight of the body on the front point of support, impeding the use of this limb for attack, for obvious reasons; it also reduces the space for dodging movement. The inclination of the trunk backwards dislocates the weight to the back point of support forcing the leg to bend over the foot, creating a hyperextension of the muscular mass of the back face of the leg (hamstring), leading to injuries of the Achilles’ tendon. At the same time the dislocation of the trunk backwards concentrates the body weight on the heel of the foot supported, subsequently producing a reflex extension of the corresponding knee and of the spinal column, overloading the hamstring, impeding the quick mobilization of the back support leg and the dodge backwards, besides creating mechanical conditions for ligament-joint injuries.



The movements of floreio, besides diverting the attention of the adversary and obliging him to adopt an appropriate position for the application of attack blows, aim to maintain a permanent sweep of your areas and weak points.


In capoeira he who plays the best is he who deceives the most!


The floreio is a deceptive process, a pantomime that hides the true message of the simulator and aims to lead the partner to a faulty movement, which permits the application of the more skilled capoeirista’s subjugation or victory movement. Although the most common and richest floreio is practiced with the upper limbs, a good capoeirista can deceive with his eyes, with his facial expression, with a shout, with the simulation of an injury or a flight, of a false opening in the guard, ad infinitum… taking advantage of the opportunity to beautify his choreography and show his abilities to those present. The floreio, which is the highest point of the exhibition of ability, demonstrates the dominion of the technique, of the art, of the body and of the mind… even of those of the partner that are surrendered to his magical enchantment, allowing himself to be entangled in choreographic traps, paralyzed by the uncertainty of the right response to the unexpected and the unknown!




The abuse of the blows of the hands and elbows, the lack of flexibility of the waist, the attacks outside the command of the berimbau, the fear of being reached by a hit (created from the lack of esquiva and from the defective ginga, both fruits of the constant preoccupation in freeing the blows), oblige to the separation of the “fighters” to an apparently safe distance (judged to be outside the reach of the legs and arms of the opponent) and the backwards dodges. The greater separation between the participants leads to large and long steps (of advance or retreat) and impedes the jogo de dentro, which can only be practiced at short distance (inside the reach of the arms). Thus is lost the opportunity to exercise the defense against a sharp weapon; the use of which also disappears the chance of the practice of suffocation (defense against the drawing of any kind of weapon) and the employment of the floreio.




In the old times the facial expression of the practitioners and of the audience was friendly, calm, smiling, translating jubilee, drunk with happiness… fruits of the state of spirit developed by the rhythm-melody of the orchestra and the joy of the songs, alongside the confidence in one’s own resources of esquiva defense. Today the clenched face, the closed fists, the paleness and the cold sweat of nervousness in the face of the violence of the fight, manifest the strong mental tension and emotional agitation. Fear? Aggression? Apprehension? In whatever case the assessment is negative. The effect of interior peace is lost. Arterial hypertension, resulting from the emotional imbalance, overcomes the circulatory and nervous systems. Leaps and flips, pointless and inappropriate in the time and space, along with twists, contortions, turns, steps, twirls… produce imbalances, unexpected and unprotected falls, dislocations, fractures… injuring or killing. The modification of the ginga, the disappearance of the esquiva, of the floreio, of the tactical maneuvers, of the choreography in pairs, of partnership (distrust… but confident in oneself!) gives a place to the exhibition of pointless, uncoordinated individual movements and inopportune, blind attacks, without target, without direction, without the aim of defense or counter-attack. Each player appearing to be trying to keep himself out of the reach of the other, waiting for the moment in which he can, in apparent safety, unleash a series of rapid, violent blows and immediately separate himself to a distance at which he cannot be touched. The “buyings” of the game that are unauthorized by the arbiter of the roda, sometimes simultaneous (even of 3 or 4 players!), hurried, done at the wrong times, offer the opportunity to be hit accidentally or to hit one or more companions, in the roda or in the audience, as we have already seen occur.




The considerations above move us to suggest the following technical and tactical modifications.

-         Cooling down of the rhythm and the tempo of the toques, the clapping and the songs.

-         Abolition of the use of the atabaque, or softening of its toque; appropriate tuning of the instrument and selection of the percussionists.

-         To remember that the pandeiro with the sound of the chimes represents in the capoeira orchestra the role of the atabaque or of the agogō as markers of the beat. The instruments used in the capoeira rodas of the old days were easily portable (the atabaque was and still is very difficult to transport).

-         Correct the ginga, increasing the speed of the esquivas (descending and turning) and counter-attacks.

-         Use floreios and tactical maneuvers to hide your true objectives and intentions.

-         Maintain the partner at the reach of the hands and consequently, of the feet and the head.

-         Avoid pointless attack movements. Every blow must fit in the unprotected point at the exact moment.

-         Restrain the turning flips and repeated movements, autonomized sequences.

-         Use a whistle to control the beginning of the games, and to interrupt and end the games.

-         Deliver the direction of the orchestra to the mestre of the orchestra.

-         Do not allow buying of the game and interruption of the game in progress without authorization of the arbiter.

-         Do not permit decorations of any nature in the interior of the gaming area.

-         Delimit the area of the capoeira game with an external circumference of 4.0 m in diameter, involving a circle of 3.5 m of diameter.

-         Mark the exterior limits with belts of 0.10 m of length, in colors contrasting with the floor and fill the small circle with the same coloration.

-         During trainings limit the practice to the internal area (3.5 m of diameter to force the nearness of the partners.

-         The corridor between the exterior circles is intended for the circulation of the auxiliary judges or of the instructor.

-         The practitioner who crosses the circular area 3 times will suffer disqualification/discredit.

-         During the trainings the instructors should insist in keeping the students playing in the interior area.