The ‘Other’ Brazilian Martial Art Capoeira & Jiu-Jitsu’s Love-Hate Story


For decades, the Brazilian martial arts of capoeira and jiu-jitsu were deadly rivals. The early days of vale tudo (no holds barred, which would become MMA) were full of challenge matches between representatives of the two styles, fought sometimes in stadiums with thousands of spectators and sometimes even on national TV. 

From the 1920s to the 1950s and beyond, capoeira fighters would try their luck at taking on a jiu-jitsu stylist — and nearly always with disastrous results. 

The grappling art proved too much for the spinning high kicks, and the famous capoeira evasive techniques were no good in an enclosed space like a boxing ring.

Jiu-jitsu firmly established itself as the No. 1 martial art in Brazil, and piggybacking on the popularity of MMA, the sport was able grow across the world.

Jiu-jitsu & capoeira now

Things have changed a lot in modern times. Gone are the days of challenge matches and rivalries, with many jiu-jitsu athletes having cross-trained in capoeira. 

It’s not uncommon for kids in Brazil to “play” capoeira before they start jiu-jitsu, and some even maintain an active interest in the acrobatic art long after they become full-time in jiu-jitsu.

One of the best-known exponents of capoeira in jiu-jitsu is Rubens Charles, better known as “Cobrinha” (“Little Snake”). His nickname came to him via his capoeira days, and he is unusual in that he didn’t even begin training jiu-jitsu until he was an adult.

The incredible body control and dynamic movement needed to play capoeira has served Cobrinha well. He has gone on to win no less than five world titles, and he is on track to possibly win the 2017 “Super Grand Slam” (Euros, Pans, Brazilian Nationals, Worlds, and ADCC).

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Last modified: November 8, 2017

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