The big article about roundkicks

A reader asked, basically, whether Martelo got into 'old capoeira' inspired by 'Japanese arts' (meaning, karate) roundkick (mawashi-geri).

However, the answer to this question is very complex, because roundkick is a very problematic kick.


The simple version is this:

- Martelo was added to Capoeira Regional by Mestre Bimba in his effort to make the system more combat effective

- It was never used by old Bahian Capoeiragem because unlike all other proper Bahian kicks, it cannot be executed using LightLegs; which also means that if somebody gives a rasteira to your Martelo, you cannot escape using Au (and you thus go down).

This (kick->rasteira->au) was a basic type of exchange in old Bahian capoeira, so if a kick does not support it, they would not use it. There are also other reasons, but this one would be enough.

Thus, emphatically, Martelo does not belong to capoeiragem. This is one of the ways Bimba parted with capoeira tradition.

- Martelo was also never used by Carioca, as it cannot be executed from Peneiracao

- Martelo was not taken from karate or other Japanese or other martial arts, for the simple reason that Bimba's original Martelo is a totally different kick from all these. It can be only thrown from Nemer ginga, is done using Nemer+Leopard mechanics and always targets opponent's lower ribs.

"Martelo" to the legs or to the head did not exist in Bimba's Regional. For details, read my 'second book of capoeiragem'.

- With time, Bimba's real Martelo degenerated into the various versions of roundkicks used in contemporary capoeira. These might indeed be inspired by karate, taekwondo etc.; but they have nothing to do with Martelo of original Regional and used by Mestre Bimba; they are just the symptom of the ongoing degeneration of capoeira.


The complex version is this:

To really understand the problematics, you must comprehend that there is not just one 'roundhouse' kick. There are many different 'roundhouse' kicks that look outwardly somewhat similar - lift your leg to the side and snap it forward in a curve, hitting with the toes/instep/shin - but that are very different because each of them uses a different mechanic archetype.

People today do not know animal archetype theory, so they can only comment on superficial differences such as whether the kick has 'more or less snap' etc. But you can never understand roundkicks like that; as you only look at the leg and do not see the driver, the engine - the animal archetype. Only the archetype determines what kick it really is.

Also, it determines the effect - where one type of roundhouse kick breaks ribs, the other type just tickles opponent's face. If you do not understand which one you are using, you also do not understand what will be the effect on a real opponent.


Let me use this opportunity to list all types of roundkick I know. It will only note basic information and will not be analyzing the proper tactics, usage, effect etc. of the respective kicks:


1)Nemer+Leopard - "Nemer Martelo", the real Martelo, added to Regional by Mestre Bimba. It can be only thrown from Nemer ginga, using the back leg and hits the lower ribs, breaking them for good, see above. Hits with the instep.

2)Leopard - "Filhos de Bimba Martelo", done in modern Filhos de Bimba, based on Bimba's sequence as done today:

It is always done from the back leg. It can hit opponent's head or torso and cause some physical damage. They call it 'Martelo' and it is close to it, but nowhere near as effective as the original Martelo. This is not Bimba's Martelo! Still hits with the instep.

I spent most of my traditional capoeira career using this version of the kick, angering the 'camaras' from Abada greatly as they were not taught how to block it.

3)Crane - "Abada Martelo" - done in most modern capoeira schools as far as I know. Only done from the front leg of the ginga by shuffling/hopping forward with the rear leg. This is completely stupid kick as it only can be done to the head and there is no penetration; this kick is just for playing. Hits with the instep.


4)Dog - UPDATE: A reader (Lamar) reminded me of this roundkick("Dog martelo"):

This is the same Dog roundkick used in taekwondo sparring(see below); in both cases, it is allowed by the odd bouncy footwork, which also has Dog archetype (both in taekwondo and the capoeira in the video). Without this bouncing, you cannot throw it.

To my understanding, both this kick and the bouncy ginga is worthless, with all due respect to Mestre Canjiquinha.


4)Monkey - "Flail lowkick" - the roundhouse kick where you spin in place on your toes and drag your rear leg behind you like a flail. This kick can only hit opponent's thigh and it is the true thaiboxing 'lowkick'. Hits with the shin and is done from the rear leg.

5)Monkey+LightSkills - "Hopping flailkick" - more agile version of Flail lowkick(4) where you use LightSkills to hop into it instead of spinning on your toes. Powerful but not traditional. Still can only hit opponent's thigh. Hits with the shin and is done from the rear leg.

6)Rooster - "thaikick"- high thaiboxing roundhouses that can target head and torso. You spin just a bit to swing your leg around. Hits with the shin or instep; and can be done both with front and back leg. Add Nemer and you can kick to the legs (see (7) below)

Its versatility is why it is used by modern thaiboxing; but traditional thaiboxing did not use it, to my understanding.

7)Rooster+Nemer - "Dutch lowkick" - lowkick that spins just a bit, similar to the Rooster thaikick(6) but to the legs. Uses shin for striking. More nimble, but nowhere near as dangerous as true flail lowkick(4).

8)Dom Eagle - "Bulldozer thaikick" - see my other works


9)Snake - "mawashi-geri" - the traditional karate mawashi-geri, done with a chamber from front or rear leg; hits torso or head.

It can be done with instep or toes(Rooster feet) - the toes variation is sometimes taught as the 'traditional karate way' (and it breaks the boards; see also my articles of frontkicks and sidekicks for this topic).

But note that this kick was never part of real traditional karate, as its mechanics is wrong; it is bad for your knees, of both the kicking and the standing leg. My suggestion is not to use it.

10)Snake+Nemer - "kyokushinkai lowkick" - special type of mawashi-geri to the legs, used in kyokushinkai karate to strike legs. Unlike normal Snake mawashi-geri (9), it does not hurt your knee. Can only strike the legs and is done with the instep.

11)Crane - "kumite mawashi-geri" - the version of roundhouse kick they use in karate when they use the kick for real in sparring (unlike the 'traditional mawashi geri' they demonstrate on the mitts). They hop with the back leg and kick with the front leg to the head. This is the same mechanics and thus the same stupid roundkick from the front leg as in "Abada martelo"(3).

Note that they teach the pupils one kick (Snake) and then they use other kick (Crane) in the sparring; this shows you the ignorance of modern martial arts.


12)Snake - "show roundkick" - shown on the mitts, this is the same kick as Snake mawashi-geri of karate(9); and thus the same things apply.

13)Dog - "sparring roundkick" - however, when they fight, they use this special type of roundkick that over-rotates and penetrates.

Again, Taekwondo teaches one roundkick as the proper form (Snake) and then they use completely different roundkick (Dog) in the sparring; this shows you the ignorance of modern martial arts.


14)Sparrowhawk - "modern fouette" - a special kick done in modern savate, hits with the toes; can hit head, torso or legs, from front or back leg.

15)Sparrowhawk+Seduction1 - "traditional fouette" - a different type of fouette used in the old savate; outwardly different by way arms are held; reverse of most of the other 'roundkicks'.

Now for the benefit of the reader, let me explain this in detail. When asked bout the difference between traditional and modern fouette, most people, including savateurs themselves, will say "oh, you just hold your arms in a different position. Different strokes for different folks etc".

But the position of the arms is the least of your concerns. The problem is that the two kicks have different mechanics - Sparrowhawk vs Sparrowhawk+Seduction1.

This gives them drastically different effect. The energy of traditional fouette - Sparrowhawk+Seduction1 mechanics - penetrates deep into opponent's body, potentially causing a knockout.

The modern fouette - Sparrowhawk mechanics - is just a physical impact, that causes just superficial injury.

So just by 'holding your arms in a different way' - in reality, changing the animal archetype of the kick - you drastically decrease the effectiveness of the kick.


16)Snowleo+Seduction1+LightLegs - "scraping roundkick" - UPDATE: a reader from Finland (Ilmari) made me aware of this kick. You place your shin on opponent's outer thigh and scrape down into his leg, damaging the leg. Probably a part of native Finnish martial arts.



There is not one 'roundhouse kick'. These are 14 different kicks, with similar paths of the kicking leg, but each with a different mechanics and thus with a different effect.

Yet, out of ignorance, people call all of them 'roundhouse kick', because they cannot distinguish the underlying mechanics and can only see the superficial trajectory.

However, like this, you can never understand the essence of kick. This is the state of ignorance modern martial arts are currently in.

It is as sophisticated as calling all birds simply 'a bird'.

A: Look, there was a bird in my backyard!
B: Which bird? Eagle? Ostrich? Sparrow?
A: I don't care, it's all birds to me! Dontcha heard Bruce Lee said: "Bird is just a bird"?

Very scientific.


More specifically, you can see that Regional Martelo could not have been taken from karate, because both original Bimba's Martelo (Leopard+Nemer) and Martelo of his students (Leopard) are different kicks from karate mawashi-geri (Snake).

To cement this, you cannot even do Snake roundkick from ginga.

But of course, the modern capoeira "hopping martelo" (Abada-martelo, Crane mechanics) is the same kick as karate sparring mawashi-geri (Crane); but this, in fact, has nothing to do with real capoeira.


Excursus: A deeper analysis of 'did old capoeira have ....?' questions and answers.

After I completed this article, the reader (Lamar) notified me that he had seen yet another 'martelo' used in capoeira by Mestre Leopoldinha; which reminded me I really have seen something similar in 'Pagador de promessas'.

It is the Dog roundkick (Teakwondo-sparring style, see above); done from a backward evasion in the odd 'bouncy' style of capoeira (which, I noticed, itself uses Dog archetype).

And that made me realize that in interest of brevity, I might sometimes be too brief in my answers.

So let me correct it once and for all in this addendum.

1000 and 1 capoeira

First, it is important to realize, as I wrote in my article '1000 and 1 Capoeira Carioca', that there was never a 'codified' system of capoeira in the past.

Therefore, any question on whether old capoeira got technique X is tricky; because in the past, everybody could do whatever technique he wanted.

So theoretically, some street kid in the Rio suburbs in 1911 could have done a mariposa/butterfly kick. There is no knowing if he did or not.

So would that mean that 'capoeira in the past had butterfly kick'?

If we thought like that, we would be doomed to not being able to know anything about old capoeira. Capoeira would be everything and nothing.

Still, it is not like that; because there is one thing that helps us: The combat effectivity factor.

Combat effectivity is the master

We said that in capoeira of the past, everybody could do whatever he wanted. But that is not completely true, because there was a factor that limited them: Combat effectivity.

Old capoeiragem - at least the kind I am interested in - was not done to show off, but to fight (Carioca), or at least play-fight (old Bahian capoeira).

So while you indeed could do any movement you wanted, the moment you stood against an adversary on the street or in roda, if your movement was not combat effective, you got pounded.

This very quickly got people thinking straight and not inventing any stupid moves - precisely because they would get them pounded.

My imaginary kid from Rio suburbs of 1911 who came up with a mariposa/butterfly kick would get his ass kicked if he tried this 'kick' for real in combat. So even if he did indeed invent it, it got tossed into the trashcan very quickly. Hence, old capoeira did not have mariposas.

The imperative to be combat effective - or at least game-effective - naturally shaped the old capoeira; at least the capoeira I am interested in.

...Or not

This is precisely what is wrong with modern capoeira, and indeed, with all this free-style, jumping, acrobatic crap:

That the imperative to be effective is lacking. In modern capoeira, you can do anything as long as it looks cool. There is nobody who would pound your ass if you try stupid movements such as modern ginga, esquivas, modern kicks, hopping martelos, flips etc.

Who cares you cannot evade a rasteira from the kick if there is no rasteira to evade?

This attitude naturally shapes modern capoeira - shapes it into the crap it is, and which I have no interest in.

Back to the 'Dog martelo'

Which gets us back to the 'Dog martelo' of Mestre Canjiquinha in Pagador de promessas. Yes, you indeed could do such a kick in capoeira in the 60's(as you see in the video).

But note that they are not fighting, not even fight-gaming, they are dancing. If you just swing your legs in the air, you can swing them any way you want.

Who cares you cannot evade a rasteira when there is no rasteira to evade?

This is where Mestre Bimba cut the crap, when he issued the challenge to all Bahian fighters.

He basically said: "You think you got Martelo? Come and show me. Bring your stupid bouncy Dog ginga and show me. But it better be good, or I smash you flat."

I realize now - after 20+ years - that it was this attitude I admired so much in Bimba in my youth. It is the attitude that does not allow any bullshit to stand, at least theoretically. It is the only attitude to have when you search for real capoeira. You do not have to beat people up (like Mestre Bimba did); you just have to be both ultracritical to the bad techniques, yet at the same time open to learn the good techniques.


But most people do not have this attitude. They simply do not care, as long as they have fun. And it was probably also the case in the past.

I bet there were many capoeira teachers even in the past that just did whatever they felt like in the roda, because - who cares if you cannot evade a rasteira if etc.?

Who cares about effectivity, when you can dance pretty?


It is also the reason I quit official capoeira. Because without the constant impulse to be combat effective, your understanding of capoeiragem does not improve. You can do stupid flips, imitate bugs ("Amazonas", as I learned from Abada), crawl aimlessly on the ground, learn all kinds of folk dancing...anything goes in capoeira!

But I do not care, never cared and will not care for such a capoeira.

Not-effective effectiveness

But that is not all. Even people who want to be combat effective can fail at the task. Somebody might be combat effective just because he is strong, fast and tough, not because his martial art - capoeira in this case - is good.

I know there are modern capoeira schools that pride themselves on 'jogo duro', do takedowns and groundfighting in roda etc.

And I am not even interested in this kind of 'combat effectivity' - where you pound somebody because you are young and tough. I am not interested because it does not lead to deep undestanding of martial arts; you just keep beating people up and then you die.


I love old capoeiragem not because it is old; but because it got - at its peaks! - closest to this ideal of martial art, to combat effective capoeira. It is, as far as I know, the only path to understand capoeiragem as a martial art.

And my considerate readers will understand me only if they see the world through the same lenses.

Therefore, when I write something like 'old capoeira did not have martelo', it means, in its full form, 'to my knowledge, old capoeira did not have a martelo that was worth studying/knowing about'.

Yes, it it interesting there existed a capoeira in the past that used Dog version of the ginga; and could throw a Dog roundkick from it; and I am glad I know it. But to my understanding, this was a dead end. From a combat perspective of real capoeira, it was worthless.

I hope I explained it sufficiently.
















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