Top 10 Reasons BJJ Players Should Consider Cross Training Capoeira
Both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Capoeira have their roots in Brazil. Developed in different periods, the first register of capoeira activity takes us back to the 16th century during the Age of Exploration, when approximately 4 million African natives were forced to leave their lands and navigate over 4,500 miles, arriving in Brazil as slaves.
Slavery dominated Brazil for almost 300 years and during this period people had no rights whatsoever; they were forced to work from dawn to dusk doing heavy farm labour and performing house duties in ranches and plantations owned by European colonists. Capoeira originated from the need for freedom of the enslaved Africans who started to use their ancient rituals of combat as a tool to fight against the so-called lords and “capitaes do mato” or hunters during the many failed and succeeded escapes.
With the abolition of slavery in 1888 and the urbanization of Brazil, Capoeira evolved into what we know today. One may notice some differences in styles and techniques due to each master lineage however, the roots of capoeira are the same to all capoeiristas. It is good to take into consideration illustrious personalities such as Mestre Bimba and Mestre Pastinha amongst other notable Mestres who must always be remembered for their major contribution in the creation, development and propagation of the different styles of capoeira practiced in the four corners of the world.
On the other hand, the rise of BJJ occurred centuries later with the arrival of the great Japanese fighter and professor Mitsuyo Maeda in Belem do Para. Carlos Gracie, one of Gastao Gracie’s sons saw Maeda in action for the first time in 1917 who immediately agreed to teach his art to the man who would later become one of the first developers and propagators of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. This art becomes the foundation and passion of the Gracie family as Carlos begins to pass the knowledge and experience he had learned with Maeda to his four brothers who together would found the first BJJ academy in 1925.
Helio Gracie set a remarkable point in the history of BJJ when he began to modify and adapt the basic BJJ techniques making it possible for a smaller opponent to defeat a bigger one. The brothers started to take part in vale-tudo matches and fights, in fact, most of these duels happened between capoeiristas and the Gracies as capoeira was one of the most common fights in the streets of Rio de Janeiro.
The victorious reputation of Arte Suave picked up very quickly as the number of practitioners and enthusiasts expanded in correlation to the number of academies being opened at that time which then led to the establishment of the first Jiu-Jitsu Federation in 1967. From that moment onwards, the number of followers increased by day but it wasn’t until the late 90s, when Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu got introduced in the UFC, that it gained massive international renown and eventually became one of the most practiced martial arts in the entire world.
As to the physiological aspects of these two martial arts, Capoeira is a compilation of dance, fight and game where the main goal is not to maintain continuous physical contact with the opponent but, to engage in a sequence of questions and answers. Unlike in other martial arts, music plays an important role when it comes to deciding the choice of technique, the style allowed to be played at one time and the level of hostility between two players.
On the other side, BJJ is a grappling sport where the main aim is to take the opponent to the ground using grappling techniques, achieve positional control and apply submission locks or strangles (Jones et al 2012). Both of these unquestionably valuable martial arts have their own particular tactics and methods that can be integrated into one’s training as a tool to increase an athlete’s performance and conditioning.
Having said that, we can now examine what are the advantages of cross training capoeira and how it may affect the main areas of particular concern such as strength, conditioning and flexibility in one’s BJJ training program.
1. FLEXIBILITY According to Jones (2012, p.60-69), the areas of the neck, shoulder, elbows and knees are the most prone to injury during training or/and competition. Thus, static and dynamic flexibility work should be integrated to meet the athlete’s needs which is where the use some of the capoeira moves such as the back bridge and Ginga can be very helpful. All kinds of stretching are beneficial to increase one’s flexibility gains however, dynamic stretching is pointed to be the most suitable for a warm-up session.
2. THE USE OF VINGATIVA As Professor John Machado explains in one of his videos, vingativa is a powerful low takedown used in capoeira that can be crossed over to BJJ to improve the dynamics and variation of your game. Vingativa is aimed to take down the opponent either with a rotational motion or heading straight to the ground.
3. WRIST FLEXIBILITY & HANDSTAND PRACTICE Both arts use the hands and wrists in a different way; in BJJ a strong grip is needed for success whilst in capoeira, a big number of moves frequently requires the wrists to sustain your body weight for a certain period of time. Hence, proper flexibility and strength work of the wrists joints is important. Moves such as negativa and its numerous variations, queda de rins and handstands are some of the examples that can help to enhance the range of motion of your wrist.
4. CONDITIONING/RESISTANCE A well-conditioned player must be physically prepared to fight at high-intensity throughout the whole duration of the fight and still have enough reserves in the event of overtime (Jones 2012, p.60-69). A Capoeira session can be tailored to train an individual in anaerobic and aerobic conditioning as for example, long continuous ginga sessions for greater pulmonary resistance. In particular, short vivid capoeira games can be a great anaerobic exercise due to the set of fast-paced range of moves that make the player go from a standing position to a ground position and back to a standing position over and over again.
5. MOTIONS & DYNAMICS As referred before, capoeira does not aim to maintain continuous physical contact but to escape from attacks using motion and flow. During a capoeira game, the players keep moving around roda, - the circle, using something called movimentação which basically consist of everything but kicks and takedowns. This can be employed into training linking your game sequence altogether in a rather fluid way. Rubens “Cobrinha”, BJJ featherweight champion runs capoeira functional classes on a weekly basis at his academy in Las Vegas. He admits capoeira has helped him to increase balance, flexibility and body coordination.
6. VARIATION IN TRAINING For the very best performance of an athlete, his/her focus and commitment to the chosen sport is with no shadow of a doubt of extreme importance. However, to have a break in training from time to time may help to reduce mental distress linked to a heavy training routine. A great example is Mahamed Aly, BJJ black belt, who gathered professors and students together to take part in a fun roda de capoeira at the end of his BJJ seminar in Siofok, Hungary.
7. GAINING OF KNOWLEDGE & NEW INSIGHT As you gain an insight into a second martial art, you automatically have an object of comparison between both, you discover new training methods and you learn to tolerate and respect other forms of martial art.
8. STEP OUT OF THE COMFORT ZONE When you accept the challenge to try a new martial art you do not master, you automatically become exposed to the unknown. The is an effective way to train yourself to feel comfortable in the uncomfortable. As Kron Gracie once said in his interview to Munchies VICE channel, “comfort is not the most interesting thing for me” (...) “I’m going to try and do anything that makes me uncomfortable that will benefit me for my mental and my physical”
9. WORK ON YOU REFLEXES & SENSES Unlike many other martial arts, capoeira has musical instruments that dictate the pace you should play in roda. Even though the visual contact one makes with the opponent is very important, the sound of berimbau also plays a crucial role in one’s awareness of space, movement and tactics of the game. In this way, capoeira can be an ally to sharpen and improve your body senses and reflexes
10. BRAZILIAN CULTURE & PEOPLE At the end of the day, both arts were developed in Brazil which today is an internationally renowned place for the practice of BJJ and Capoeira. Hence by immersing yourself into this country’s culture, language and lifestyle you are broadening your knowledge and understanding about your chosen art. Not to mention the number of valuable BJJ documentaries and books written in Brazilian Portuguese that you will start to better understand.
In summary, cross-training capoeira with BJJ is a positive approach as not to only enhance the performance and dynamic skills of the athlete but also to be used as an alternative escape from the heavy training routine and/or as a way to learn more about Brazil and its culture. It should be made clear that a prior analysis of your needs must be considered to better understand the main areas of improvement and how cross-training capoeira can be effective in supporting your training program in particular.
- Jones NB, Ledford E, 2012 ‘Strength and Conditioning for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu’. Strength and Conditioning Journal: Volume 34 - Issue 2 - p 60–69
- Rubens ‘Cobrinha’ on How Capoeira has Improved his Jiu-Jitsu, BJJ Eastern Europe
- History of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, http://www.krongraciejiujitsu.com/history
- Munchies VICE, 2016 December 27th. The Pescatarian diet of Kron Gracie. (video)
- John Machado, 2014 March 2nd. BJJ / Capoeira Dynamics #1 (video)
- Hywel Teague, 2017, The 'Other' Brazilian Martial Art: Capoeira & Jiu-Jitsu's Love-Hate Story, Flograppling August 8th.
- Cobrinha Brazilian Jiu Jitsu & Fitness, 2012 February 9th. Cobrinha Brazilian Jiu Jitsu & Fitness- Alliance Los Angeles (video).