Looking Out To Sea

Reflections on using the arms in capoeira

Since starting BJJ it’s been harder to remain disconnected from people when playing capoeira. Either I can fight this or embrace it and see where it leads. So what does it mean to be all “touchy touchy” in capoeira? Can I make something positive out of this?

Against a meia lua or rabo de arraia it makes sense to have contact with the kicking leg while moving out of the way. In particular slower kicks which can be easily reversed to kick from different directions. Ducking under a meia lua puts the face quite close to the kicking leg and it’s not uncommon for the person to shift their weight and come back with the foot right towards your face.

The traditional defence is a somewhat ambiguous “arms held out in midair” behaviour which means the hands are at the right height to prevent incoming strikes but are not very strong.

I wonder whether a better approach is a pre-emptive touch or “frame” to maintain the right distance and a sense of safety. Depending on the game it could be a back-of-the-hand, a bladed hand, a forearm or upper arm. The key difference between this and the normal defence is that the “acceleration” time of a strike is zero. The strength of the kick comes from the momentum when it strikes — if there is no distance before impact then the kick becomes a push and meia lua and rabo de arraia are not push kicks and have no strength like that.

Another detail of course is a tactical one. If you’ve got a hand on a person’s limb then you don’t need to watch it to know where it is and what direction it’s moving. You can spare your eyes for other places.