Playing Women in the Roda

9 12 2007

Never underestimate your opponent in the roda, no matter who she is. 

I came across something written by a capoeirista the other day that pretty much infuriated me.  However, I did promise in my very first post that there would be no ranting, so I will restrain myself! 

(Actually, what I would most like to do is copy and paste what I read here and then carefully, logically, thoroughly deconstruct it line by line for all of you.  However, doing things like that sometimes has repercussions, here in cyberspace.  As a result, we’ll all have to settle for a general post on the same topic, but with a slightly different [read: enlightened =P] point of view.)

When playing women in the roda, do not hold back.
  It irritates me even to be writing this post, as you’d think playing women in the roda (technique-wise, not dynamics-wise) is no different from playing men in the roda; basically, this should be a completely pointless post, with a pointless title, except for the fact that there are people out there who sadly believe otherwise!

Their argument goes like this: Women are naturally physically weaker than men (how true this statement is and its implications, etc., we’ll leave for now).  Thus, men–and let’s say stronger women–should play “down to their level” to level the field, or to protect the woman from accidentally getting hurt in the roda.  Let’s call this the Chauvinist Theory.

Now, there is nothing wrong with the basic intentions behind this way of thinking.  The exact same idea is legitimately applied to beginners: play more slowly and carefully against them because they don’t know quite what they’re doing yet or aren’t strong/quick/good enough yet and might get hurt.  That’s for beginners, people who presumably have little to no capoeira skills yet, and so that makes sense.  It’s relatively safe to assume that you need to go easy on beginners in the roda, because as beginners, they are less skilled by definition.  However, the Chauvinist Theory incorrectly links just strength directly to one’s joga ablity, then assumes that as women, we are less skilled by definition.  Which is interesting, because since there are countless female capoeiristas at levels higher than beginner, do these people think that their mestres have one corda graduation standard for women and another, harder graduation standard for men? 

I’m reminded of a line in the Antigone Magazine blog post to which I directed all of you in my “Why Write About Female Mestres?  The Feminist Catch-22” post.  According to the Antigone post, which was on misogyny in anti-Hillary Clinton facebook groups, “If you dislike a male politician, then there is something wrong with that particular politician. If you dislike a female politician then you often find something lacking in the entire female sex.”  People who buy into the Chauvinist Theory seem to suffer from the same mental lapse: if you accidentally hit a man in the roda, it’s because he wasn’t paying attention or wasn’t quick enough or just basically needs to improve his capoeira skills; if you accidentally hit a woman in the roda, however, it’s because she’s a woman and therefore you should go easy on every woman you play from now on. 

I can hear the bulls bellowing…I think they want their crap back.

What people should do–and this is supposed to be common sense–is assess each opponent individually.  (I’m honestly cringing at this paragraph already; it seems like such a given!)  Maybe she’s a woman who definitely is not athletically gifted, so in this case yes, give her a chance to do something while playing.  And maybe she’s a natural at capoeira, better than you are, and she’s really adjusting her game down to your level.  The point is, you don’t judge someone’s capoeira ability based purely on their gender.  There is absolutely no logic in that–none, whatsoever!  By playing down to all women, you are not only holding yourself back from a chance to improve and from what might’ve become a really good game, you are deliberately stunting the progress of the person you are playing.  This is even worse if you are supposed to be the person’s teacher; your role is to challenge and improve your student’s game, not pander to what you think is their beginner’s comfort zone (if they haven’t progressed beyond it already)!

I know/hope that this post was entirely unecessary for most of you, but I felt it still needed to be put out there.  (Plus, it was either that or physically hunt down the guy and drag him into a few games with some of the girls from my academy, and I don’t have the time for that right now.)

p.s. This entry’s picture was done by a friend of mine!  Isn’t it awesome? 😀

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18 responses

10 12 2007

This is a very good post, I think I’m going to link to it from The Capoeira Blog if you don’t mind. I know from experience that you should never underestimate women in the roda. A girl I used to train with (her name is Joahnina as well) was downright scary to play with sometimes because she could play so well and she kicked so hard =/

You mentioned not being able to copy/paste the original article into your blog. While its true you shouldn’t steal other people’s content, I think it would be OK if you provided a link and then copied individual paragraphs or sentences that you wanted to pick apart. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

Keep up the good work!

10 12 2007
Thoughts on Playing Women in the Roda « The Capoeira Blog

[…] wrote a post about playing women in the roda that I wanted to share with you. People who buy into the Chauvinist Theory seem to suffer from the […]

10 12 2007

Thanks so much Faisca; I’m glad you liked it! And for the advice as well, although I wasn’t worried about stealing material so much as about attacking the writer…don’t know if that would be the best way to promote my new blog!

11 12 2007
Rodrigo (jay)

On an aside, I get a higher frequency of rasteiras from playing women, but you can never receive enough sweeps!

11 12 2007

Hmm, have you taken an official tally of that? =P

11 12 2007

I see what you mean in that regard. But that’s part of what the “blogosphere” is about; sharing ideas and responding to others. There’s a way to write critically about something and offer your own opinion without being a jerk and just insulting and attacking. Something tells me you’d be able to pull off the more “civil” approach.

11 12 2007

Excellent Blog Joaninha! It was recommended to me by Faisca. For myself, the first Capoeira Group I trained and played with had a fierce female Capoeirista. Everytime I played with her in the Roda I had to step up my game. In addition, the most recent Capoeira Group I have played with has a female Mestre and quite a few of her students are female, and some of the most skilled players I have had the pleasure of playing with. Although, I am sure it is quite evident that I do not subscibe to the Chauvinist Theory! And yes the artwork is awesome!

11 12 2007

Thanks, Faisca. I think in this particular case, I will leave it as I would feel just a bit too malicious, going out of my way specifically to identify and more thoroughly criticize another person, considering I’ve already written the post and basically made the point I wanted to make. But I will remember this the next time I wish to respond to someone in the blogosphere!

11 12 2007

Hey Mike, thanks a lot! I’m glad you enjoy the blog, and I’m sure my friend will be happy to hear you liked his artwork, as well. That’s great, it seems like you definitely have a healthy respect for skilled capoeira players, no matter what sex they are. Did you get to play one of the mestras I wrote about in my earlier posts?

12 12 2007

Salve Joanihna, of Mestras I have only had the opportunity to play Contra-Mestre Marisa Cordeiro of Gingarte Capoeira (Chicago). Here is a link to her school’s website…
I have not had a chance to read all of your earlier posts, but I did not see her mentioned. Gingarte Capoeira is where I have most recently trained. I was initiated to Capoeira by Professor Yoji Senna of Capoeira Sennavox, son of Mestre Carlos Senna (former student of Mestre Bimba-Axe). I have also had the profound pleasure of attending a workshop of Mestre Acordeon. Even getting the opportunity to play the man himself. I enjoyed immensely your post about Mestranda Marcia, Mestra Edna, and Mestra Suelly. Very inspiring!

12 12 2007

You’re right, I didn’t–thank you for bringing her to my attention! She was the other woman I saw interviewed in Mandinga em Manhattan, but I couldn’t recall her name. Wow, what was playing Contra-Mestre Marisa and Mestre Acordeon like? And thanks, about the posts…that’s what they’re there for =D

14 12 2007

Hi !

Thanks for this message! It’s all so unnecessary – you’re right!
I think your theory of playing the individual and not the gender is very apt.
This is the way all capoeiristas should think.

It is very demeaning to a women; to a skilled capoeirista if he or she is being “played down to”. My instructor – Instructor Descobridor of Grupo Terranossa in south africa, does not believe in discrmination either. He always simplifies it all by saying that if you “give” in a roda, you must be prepared to “take”. In other words, whether you’re a guy, or a girl, you need to be aware that if you play a hard game, you will get a hard game in return. I think that’s fair!
Also – i really believe that how you execute a kick or a takedown is important. You can really hurt someone in a roda, or you can show your skill in a way that’s more appropriate – so no one gets hurt but the intention is obvious!

Respect. If we lose it in the roda – we’re not capoeiristas, just hooligans!

Thanks for the topic!

14 12 2007

Hi Korobella! I really like those philosophies, about getting what you give in the roda and losing it in the roda. And I agree that you can definitely “mark” people in the roda and make your intent clear without actually touching or hurting someone. I’m glad you liked the post, and thanks for your comments!

31 12 2007

I have to say I’ve never really been “played down to” because of my gender. If anything, I’ve been played HARDER – especially in street rodas in Brazil – for a couple of reasons:

1. The guys want to see if I can take the heat, because there are a number of women in Brazil who “train” capoeira but not seriously… they’re there more to look cute in their tight white pants and go after the guys; or

2. The guys are jealous that I’ve gotten the better of them, or that I’m just playing prettier, and thus resort to a “jogo duro” in order to teach me a lesson. I’ve opted out of several rodas because I felt this dynamic at play.

31 12 2007

That sounds kind of similar to what Mestra Edna said in the research I found on her, that guys would play her harder to test her since she was a woman. Would you say in those cases maybe it’s because the mentality among Brazilian capoeiristas is different from that of North American capoeiristas, or gringos? As in, the Brazilian capoeiristas seem more concerned about preserving the quality of capoeira, whereas some gringos are more worried about “Oh, I should take it easy on this poor girl since she might not be able to handle it”?

10 02 2008

Hi Joaninha,

Firstly can I just say what a great job you’re doing, I was introduced to your blog by a few of the guys I train with in Vancouver (Grupo Axe). I’ve spent a little time looking over your site and look forward to spending allot more.

The article above is really interesting and I whole heartily agree (from experience) that as a infant (one year or so) within Capoeira there is no need to ajust your game or play down within the Roda when facing a female Capoeirista. Within the Grupo here we have a multitude of talented beginners, the mojority being female and believe me I’ve learned the hard way that a Martello can hurt whether its kicked by a Female or a Male. As a beginner whether I’m playing a woman or man does not matter, I’m still trying to get over the panic in my heart when I buy in to a game so I could be playing a carboard cutout and it wouldn’t matter!

I just want to add though that from my point of view, I think the holding back thing comes from how we are brought up (well me anyway) and that its not a men are stronger than women thing, because thats rubbish. But more of a “its wrong to hit a women thing”. Before I get an earful!! This works both ways and its all to do with respect and your mindset. We’ve all seen games that get out of hand and rough. Whether between beginners or experienced capoeiristas, if one broke out between a man and a woman and the woman ends up hurt the guy is tutted at, if the guy (we’ve seen it) is hurt everybody laughs. Its wrong I know. But just the way it is. Its the same way if a between a huge stocky guy and a small thin guy.

I think you’ll see this attitude change with time. As is in life over the last 100 or so years women have faught and proved equal (if not better!) in all areas ie Business, Sports whatever. I think Capoeira is the same and will just take time. But it is enevitable. Remember that Capoeira is full of tradition, and within history tradition has always been difficult to change.
Sometimes people just dont want to let go. But with more and more Female Mestres out there and guys recognising their strengths and respecting their achievements it will get better.

Hope I’ve got my ideas out there without offending



12 02 2008

Hey Irish,

Thank you for commenting, and I’m glad you like the site!

Haha yes, I can definitely relate to the buying in part. It’s still nervewracking sometimes!

About the holding back thing, I get what you’re saying in terms of “it’s wrong to hit a woman”. What I would say to that though—and this is not your fault of course—is that the reason “it’s wrong to hit a woman” exists in the first place is because people thought women were inherently weaker/less powerful/unable to defend themselves. It’s like “pick on someone your own size”, only assuming all women are equivalent to that small, thin guy you mentioned! So, even though they’re two slightly different bases of thinking, they’re still definitely connected, with one coming out of the other.

Like I said though, that isn’t your fault, and you’re completely right that it can be hard to “force” yourself to go against something you’ve internalized since childhood, even if you intellectually know what’s really going on.

I don’t know if I’ve actually seen a guy get tutted for their female partner getting hurt (especially since I know in some groups the general philosophy is you’re responsible for anything that happens, meaning the hurt person should have known better than to do or not do what got them hurt, even while the other person should also take responsibility for not having enough control!), but I know in general, including outside of capoeira, those are extremely familiar scenarios, and they are double standards-y. I remember once in high school a girl I know was completely torn apart by some other girls, for saying that if a woman struck a man, the man had a right to strike back.

I definitely hope you’re right about the attitude changing! I think it will too, actually. And you make another good point about tradition—have you read my “The Feminine in Capoeira” posts? They touch on exactly that!

No worries; I didn’t find any part of your comments offensive at all! Though I’m sorry, it looks as if you got an earful nevertheless (I tend to do that)…but hopefully not too unpalatable of one. 😉

p.s. I have to ask, is the email address you registered real, or did you type it in to go with your apelido? =P

24 03 2014

I think in many cases (at least in Brazil) women are not considered ‘fragile’ ore ‘weak’ as assumed above, but rather ‘precious’ for their incredible strength at dealing with hardship and raising families in challenging environments. Boys extrapolate from their relationships with their own beloved mothers that women are somewhat special (not wimps!) – hence a natural desire to be more protective of women in general. Then again, I have noticed that if a lady prefers a jogo duro, then she can just ask for it, either directly by upping the game, or indirectly by bullying weaker players. It’s all about common sense and – most importantly – personal ethics, which, in capoeira, develops with time and is different from player to player. At the end of the day, the beauty of capoeira is its unpredictability and changeability. How a game is going to turn out is nothing but a guess based on personal chemistry, one’s own perception of their game and ability, the atmosphere… and the music that is being played (the latter, in my opinion, being one of the main factors affecting behaviour in a roda).

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