15 Basic Capoeira Terms

Learn Capoeira

15 Basic Capoeira Terms

Behind Capoeira

If you are here, then it is most probably because you are interested to know more about the intangible cultural heritage known as Capoeira. To be more precise - you want to learn more about the basic capoeira terms that you have probably heard often, but had no idea what they meant.

If this sounds like you... Consider it as your lucky day! This article guide is your entry to the capoeira basics.

Firstly, we would like to give you a little bit of insight into the history about this unique martial art. And on top of that, explain why it is that capoeira terms are mostly spoken/written in Portuguese language.

Capoeira [kapo-way-ra] is a martial art originated from Brazil, sometime near the beginning of 16th century. During this time, Brazil was colonised by the Portuguese, who were exporting African slaves mainly from Angola. However, the slaves were prohibited to practice any form of martial arts. As a result, in order to have a method of survival, the moves in capoeira were designed to disguised the combat moves to look more like dance moves.

Therefore, that is basically why you would find most of the capoeira terms are using Brazilian Portuguese words and commands. Hence, we created this 15 basic capoeira terms article as a basic guide to especially teach the non-Brazilian Portuguese speakers who are new to capoeira.

15 Capoeira Terminologies

Moves terminologies:

Similar to other forms of martial arts, capoeira has a range of terms used to describe specific moves and actions. Let's take a look at some of the basic capoeira moves that you will find yourself hearing a great deal when starting out.

1. Entrar

Describing the act of entering the roda.

2. Ginga


The ginga is the foundation of Capoeira, a never-ending step that forms all Capoeira movements. It stimulates the entire body and is therefore a great warmup as well. The ginga is the base of almost all Capoeira techniques and is used to set up kicks, sweep, dodges, take downs, and other movements. The rhythmic back and forth of this movement is one of the reasons people see Capoeira as a choreography or a dance.

3. Passada

Foot movements whilst doing Capoeira especially in ginga.

4. Defesa


A defensive maneuver used to evade attack. Defense in Capoeira is about dodging and staying close enough to counter an attack, while distancing long enough to stay safe and keeping your blocking arm ready in case everything else fails.

Community terminologies:

Capoeira communities are very welcoming and have a special bond amongst them. There are unique terms that are used to recognize characters of capoeira. Here are a few of the most common ones we will teach you about

5. Abadá


A Capoeira group which is one of the largest Capoeira organisations in the world. Abadá-Capoeira incorporates a multi-leveled philosophy for the development of Capoeira. The philosophy includes the relentless pursuit of the technical mastery of Capoeira, on both student and teaching levels.

Abadá can also refer to several items of clothing: a type of robe or white robe used by Muslims who contributed in Brazil as slaves, the uniform of port workers in Brazil, the pants worn by capoeiristas or a shirt sold at a carnival or theatrical production to promote the event. It is a word of African origin, of the Yoruba, brought by the blacks Malês to Bahia. So it is also called, until today, the clothing of capoeiristas. It is likely that this robe that served the prayers also dressed capoeira players on their wheels. There is a legend that capoeiristas used white as a way of demonstrating their skills: the best masters of capoeira kept their abbots clean after the fight.

6. Bamba

A master or expert at Capoeira. It is a popularly used brazilian expression to designate a person who is an expert in a particular subject; someone who is very good at what he/she does; Bamba is a courageous, brave and determined individual, a bambambã

7. Capoeirista

Referring to someone who plays Capoeira.

8. Mestre


Highest level a Capoeirista can reach. The word ‘Mestre’ is very strong. The Mestre is a symbol, a guide. It’s not just the great capoeirista or one who is untouchable in the roda, but someone who works for the benefit of capoeira and its place in society.

Music terminologies:

If you've been involved or have watched a capoeira game, you will know the importance of the capoeira instruments and capoeira music. It will prove to be incredibly beneficial for you to familiarise yourself to the terminologies associated with the sounds of capoeira. Below are the most basic capoeira music terms to get you started.

9. Berimbau


The main musical instrument used in Capoeira. The Brazilian berimbau is basically a gourd resonated, braced musical bow (verga),which acts as an amplifier. It is of African origin , made from the branch of biriba, bamboo, oak or other wood bent in to an arc. The bow is strung with a single metal strip (arame) with the gourd resonator attached to the bottom. The string is struck with a thin stick called the "baqueta", which in turn is held in the right hand along with a small basket ,containing beads, called the "caxxi" that emit additional sounds that complete the overall sound produced, when the berimbau is played.

10. Chula

A Capoeira chant which is a poetic form based on the quadra (quatrain) form (which may have influenced Mestre Bimba's replacement of ladainhas with quadras) with its roots in Iberia. The word chula comes from the word chulo meaning "vulgar", common, rustic (similarly the Spanish word chulo/chulito is used for peasant Indians in the Americas), being often pastoral and sentimental.

11. Iúna

Slow rhythm played at the end of the roda

12. Viola

The highest pitched berimbau

Manner terminologies:

There are a range of capoeira discipline that take place within the community. We have for you, three of the most common terms used to reflect the mannerisms in capoeira.

13. Corda

The colored belts used in the grading system

14. Formatura

An event for when someone becomes a Mestre

15. Roda


Every cultural aspect of Capoeira is present in a roda, not only the martial arts side of the sport. In a roda, the participants can perform a lot of high flying kicks and other aerial acrobatics during presentations but a lot of take downs also happen on more serious roda fights. This reflects how Capoeira can both be an entertainment feat and a lethal martial art. The roda (circle) is a symbol of concentration to not stay scattered in the roda is the main motive of its formation.

There you go! You are now equipped with the basic capoeira vocabulary for heading to your capoeira game. So what are you waiting for? Go grab your berimbau, form the roda and show off your ginga.

Join us in our fight to end slavery and help us promote capoeira