Doing Capoeira is like Falling in Love

20 12 2007

(a creative essay)

Diving into the art of capoeira

Doing capoeira is like falling in love.  It starts with a glance, a spark, or nothing obvious at all.  Some call it love at first sight; for others, it is pure serendipity.  At first, you are excited, unsure, nervous, walking in with both eyes wide open.  Then you learn to fall—and fall.

You tumble head over heels, you’re upside-down, beside yourself, and infatuated.  You want to spend every minute in this, every second, every unexpected waking moment.  You can’t stop thinking about it, dreaming about it.  This is the discovery stage; no contours, no leads, no boundaries are safe from your candid, lusting, insatiable curiosity.

You can hardly bear to doubt, it’s all so beautiful.  But in time, doubt you do.  For what happened to the things before?  Your friends, your family, your outside interests.  What outside interests?  Your school is your family, friend means anyone in a white uniform.  What about balance, and diversity?  What about dedication, and loyalty?  There’s more to life than the roda.  The roda is life.  And so, a crack in the flushed pink lens.  You grow distant, detached, and allow drift.

Yet still you think about it, dream about it, only not with the bright intensity of new experience, but with the smouldering acuteness of a thing once known.  Thus—inevitably—reconciliation, and renewal.  Green, unruly passion is tempered by autumn perspective.  You no longer fall, but dive.  And the depth is unlimited.

True Mandingueiras: Warrior Women in Capoeira and Brazil

19 12 2007

Chronicles of Capoeira 

I was lucky enough to find an online capoeira newsletter last week, with a headlining feature on famous and formidable women in the history of capoeira and Brazil!  Instead of reinventing the wheel, I will direct you to the article here, and wish you a good read (which it is)!

Murphy Was a Capoeirista

18 12 2007

These are some capoeira maxims I came up with just for fun a while ago,  inspired by Murphy’s Laws.  I don’t know how widely they apply to capoeiristas in general, but in my training experience, I’ve lived by them! 

Muy Thai's Tony Jaa takes on capoeira's Lateef Crowder in The Protector 

Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will.

1. The longer and the harder you work at doing something right, the higher the chances are that you’ll be caught out the one time you do it wrong.

2. The degree of certainty with which your teacher states something is directly proportional to the likelihood that they mean the exact opposite or something else entirely. Exceptions to this are when it is equal to the degree of certainty with which another teacher tells you the exact opposite, or something else entirely.

3. The amount of rushing you do to arrive at an event on time directly influences the lateness with which it will begin, increasing the exact amount of rushing you did not have to do. This is also known as the Universal Theory of Brazilian Time Dilation.

4. The class(es) you miss, no matter where, when, or why, will always, categorically, and unconditionally be the class(es) you most wish you had attended

5. A watched student never moves. (Note: This law is only ever concluded by teachers through empirical evidence and inductive reasoning, due to a freak coincidence of constant impeccable timing between the exact moment a student tires out and the exact moment a teacher checks across the room.)

I Got a New Wireless Router!

18 12 2007

That’s another way of saying, I’m sorry for being MIA these past few days due to my internet dying, and it shouldn’t happen again!  Posts to recommence soon!

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for capoeira?

15 12 2007

In sports, many athletes make sacrifices for the love of the game.  In my opinion, capoeristas are the ultimate champions at this!  I’ve read stories of people giving up jobs, degrees, and entire lifestyles to move to Brazil and train capoeira.  I’ve also been told of people taking the train from Moscow to St. Petersburg for a 10-person roda.  One capoeirista I’ve met virtually lives in two different cities, driving back and forth between them every week to teach.  And the craziest thing is, it’s not even a matter of skill or having gone “pro”–whether you’ve been doing it for twenty years or twenty days, once you’ve been bitten by the capoeira bug, you’re gone! 

It really hit me today as I finished my last two final exams for school (yay!).  I woke up late for the first one, and hadn’t studied at all for the second one–and that isn’t like me at all.  Why?  Because I’ve been devoting all my time to this blog–and it’s not even doing capoeira, just talking about it!

As for actually searching out capoeira, now that was interesting.  It involved taking a train four hours to another city in a foreign country where I barely spoke the language, calling a phone number obtained from an outdated website, walking and taking 5 buses to two of the sketchiest parts of town, and being driven home late at night, in a city I didn’t know at all, by men who were pretty much still strangers.  Only capoeira!

Then there’s this picture my friend drew for me, which pretty much explains it all:

A capoeirista's gotta do what a capoeirista's gotta do!

I didn’t actually miss my flight, but I was going away for a year and decided to spend the night before training instead of packing, so you get the idea. 

So, what’s your story?  I’d love to hear them–if only to prove to my family and friends that I’m not an isolated case!

Shaded Meanings: The Colour of your Corda

15 12 2007

What does your capoeira corda mean to you?The green Brazilian flag.  The black African slaves.  The orange of a rising sun.  You cherish your corda–train with it, don it before every class, and no matter what you tell people, at some level you aspire for the next one; but do you know exactly what you’re wearing around your waist when you tighten that hand-dyed knot?

We all know that nearly every group in capoeira has a different corda system.  What I wanted to discover was: Why?  How?  It’s hard to imagine that each mestre just wanted to distinguish their school from the rest and so decided on a random order of colours merely by virtue of no one else having used it yet!  Unfortunately, I have never heard of my own grupo’s corda colours symbolizing anything in particular (so people, please enlighten me if I’m wrong!), but thought it’d be interesting to see what kind of meanings are given to corda colours in general.

Before I continue, let’s take a brief detour through Portuguese 101: Colours!

off-white/”raw”/undyed – crua
red – vermelha
orange – laranja
yellow – amarela
green – verde
blue – azul
purple – roxa
brown – marrom
white – branca
black – negra

You might have noticed that all the colours are in feminine form; despite what you may think, this was honestly for no more reason than that the word “corda” itself is feminine.  Can I help it if I want to you use proper grammar?  (I don’t rig things, I just take advantage of happy accidents 😉 )

Now, apparently many grupos do base at least part of their corda systems on the colours of the Brazilian flag, which is where cordas verde, azul, amarela, and branca come from, as well as the different combinations between them found in single cordas.  Grupo de Capoeira Lutaxé actually bases their entire adult graduation system on just these four colours, plus black and brown, which according to their website represents “the black race and time of slavery”. 

Filhos da Bahia Capoeira gets particularly creative in terms of colour placement, with nine variations of corda amarela/verde, followed by six variations of amarela/azul.  There are only so many ways you can dye one rope, and they seem to have come up with them all!  Their system intricately follows the process of nature, starting beginners off with corda verde and adding more and more amarelo to it in several stages, representing a blooming or ripening fruit.

Finally, we have what seem to be more standard symbols for each colour, the particular order here taken from Abada Capoeira.  Get ready to feel inspired 🙂

Raw, undyed, colourless–this one pretty much explains itself!  The true, unt(a)inted beginner, with no knowledge, no experience yet. 

Represents the formation of a capoeira base as solid as gold, as well as the value of the student (yup, we’re worth our weight in it!) and their future.

The rising sun – the quest for knowledge – the awakening of consciousness.

The sky, which opens into an infinite path towards knowledge.  Also the ocean, indicating the vastness and depth of ground there is to cover.

The forest: at this stage, the now-advanced student is expected to begin contributing back to the group, the way trees give oxygen to the earth.

Continuity… … … … … … … … … … … …

The soil of the earth, the source of life.  Marrom represents being grounded in the earth, and grounded in all aspects of capoeira.

In Abada, fairness.  In Sinha Bahia, symbolic of the blood shed by the slaves who started it all, as well as the blood we all share.  True understanding of all.

The colour of diamond–resistance, longevity, timelessness, and the colour that reflects all the rest.

Obviously, the rank of each colour affects the meaning the group will give to it, so it will be different for everyone, but this gives you a good idea of what’s out there!  What do you think?  Does your corda already have a symbol within your group?  Or do you think that symbolism stuff was all just claptrap made up after the fact?  Either way, I don’t think I’ll be looking at my corda quite the same way again!

The Feminine in Capoeira, Part 2 (Context)

14 12 2007

Within or without capoeira, it's all about context. 

What’s wrong with being “feminine”?  That was the question nagging me as I finished Part 1 (Malicia) of this topic.  As pre-empted by some of the comments that followed, I also started having doubts in terms of the need to place capoeira and capoeira discourse in the context of its cultural origins.  Additionally, one of the things I’m starting to fear doing on this blog is going too deeply into text and discourse while I write, too far into another plane, and forgetting that it’s all supposed to come back down to be grounded in good ol’ everyday capoeira.  (On the other hand, sometimes that’s the fun part…)

Sorry for the extra bit of waiting this time this round!  I did a lot of thinking for this, so I hope it’ll have been worth it…  Today, I’ll start by excerpting from an article on, in which Jessica Fredican responds to sexism in her capoeira class and Nestor Capoeira’s take on malicia:

He talks a lot about malicia and, at the time, I was really turned off by it. … But the nicest games still involve being able to outwit and trick your opponent….

These goals lend themselves perfectly to traditional views of feminism. Ancient cultures worldwide have invented stories and myths that portray women as internal, sinuous, ambiguous, dangerous creatures. They aren’t external like men, carrying their genitals outside their bodies, displaying great feats of strength. Yet, women have this dangerously inexplicable power to knock men on their asses. This primordial and universal femininity involves hiding your intentions and using unexpected and unseen manoeuvres to defeat the opposite sex.

So maybe we should just be feminine. It would almost seem that capoeira was designed especially for women – a circle (a traditionally feminine symbol) in which to carry out their dangerous rituals of masking and trickery.

This was the article that started my doubts.  I loved the ideas in it, and the way she framed universal stereotypes of “the feminine” made me think, “Well, what’s wrong with that?”  Personally, I think it’d be pretty cool to have a “dangerously inexplicable power to knock men on their asses”, so if that’s what it means to be “feminine”, then why not “just be feminine”?  Same with the other things she said–if being “feminine” means being able to “hide your intentions” and “use the unexpected”–in other words, if being “feminine” means being an expert in malicia–well, wouldn’t it then be a compliment to be given that label, rather than anything derogatory? 

And especially that last part–if capoeira itself not only consists of the feminine but is the feminine–then, how in the world could it be a bad thing?

I believe all of this relates to context.  In the philosophical, metaphysical, symbolic context of capoeira, “the feminine” is esteemed because it is the source of malicia, and malicia is esteemed by capoeiristas.  I think where we run into trouble is when such symbolism is taken out of context–out of the centuries of culture and history and mythology that Nestor Capoeira and Muniz Sodré were drawing on when they characterized malicia–and then applied to everyday life, whether unthinkingly or not. 

[Side note: While I’m exonerating Nestor Capoeira and Muniz Sodré from the accusation of sexist views, on grounds of cultural context, I also want to add that in hindsight, their use of the word “power” could have meant brute force rather than power in the more general sense of the word, especially since I’m sure many consider malicia to be a power in itself.]  

For instance (returning to what I was talking about before the side note), in the symbolic context of capoeira, “the feminine” is partially defined as “not rational”–by which it is meant that you can’t explain malicia, you can’t use reasoning and logic to teach it to a student, the same way you can teach them how to land a kick properly or where to place your hands while doing rolé.  Switch into the everyday context of running a business though, or governing the country, and this “symbolism” is exactly why we have things like the glass ceiling, and why while 52% of the Canadian population is female, they are represented by a government that is nearly 80% male.

Now, I am not saying I think that people begin learning capoeira, get introduced to malicia, and start subconsciously discriminating against women (give me more credit than that!).  However, it is something similar that occurs, in a larger pattern over time and throughout society; only, instead of capoeira and malicia, people learn it through myths, through religion, through normative fairy tales and children’s games.  The specific mediums and symbols differ, but they all send the same messages about women and what “feminine” and “female” mean, without any barrier of “culture and history” to contain them in their respective contexts, as we do with capoeira. 

So I suppose that’s really what I wanted to get across in Part 1.  My conclusion is that though I still don’t like what Muniz Sodré said, I can understand that it does add depth and interest to thinking about capoeira and the game, and that it’s okay as long as we keep it within the metaphysical/philosophical/symbolic context of capoeira, that it’s actually more than okay because this way we preserve part of the roots of capoeira, and the culture and traditions it was steeped in.  It only becomes not okay when we take that message out of context and apply it to the “real world”, which is what you see happening in the media, workplace, government, etc., today, and even to the everyday world of capoeira, which is why I had to write this post.  Thanks again to everyone who commented last time, and as always, muito axé. =)

Picture source:

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Video: The Movement of Capoeira

12 12 2007

I don’t know about you, but my head still hurts a little from working through yesterday’s post (and subsequent comments)!  While I take some time to clear up, straighten out, and hammer down the finer points of Part 2 (and oh yeah, study for final exams), I’d like to share a really cool video with you.  It’s a tribute to Grande Mestre No from Salvador, and some parts are a bit slow, but I like it because it seems to highlight the pure motion of capoeira, stripping it down to the essence of movement of the body, with beautiful results.  And thanks again to Xixarro for the tip on embedding videos!

The Feminine in Capoeira, Part 1 (Malicia)

12 12 2007

Malicia - the feminine in capoeira?

In my very first post, I mentioned that capoeira seemed to be an art form mostly dominated by men; in fact, it’s one of the main reasons this blog exists in the first place.  What’s interesting is that while some of capoeira may be male-dominated, it is not traditionally masculine, the way people might consider football or rugby to be.  Several fundamental aspects of capoeira have been characterized as belonging to the feminine, in ways I find in equal parts inspiring, thought-provoking, and problematic.

I first encountered this in Nestor Capoeira’s book, Capoeira: Roots of the Dance-Fight-Game, in which he deems malicia a manisfestation of the feminine in capoeira.  Unfortunately, I’m living away from home right now and thoughtlessly left the book there, so I can’t quote his exact words to you…but his thoughts were reiterated later on in the book by scholar Muniz Sodré, and due to a brilliant stroke of luck, this particular passage was reproduced in Google’s Book Search Preview:

You also say that malicia belongs to the Feminine aspect of things. I like that. While Masculine is the gender of the defined, the understandable, rational—the gender of power—the Feminine is, on the other hand, the reverse of all this. It is the void. Its power is also of the sort that you don’t know exactly what it is. Its power is “not to be clear” about power itself. It’s the power of the void. Because malicia is exactly that: to go around what is clear and established. And in that sense it is Feminine.  (Sodré as quoted by Capoeira, p. 30)

You can see for yourself (I hope) why statements like that are problematic.  The “void”?  The reverse of “rational”, of “power”?  This is where things get tricky.  As a capoeirista and English lit major, I can appreciate the symbolism in that, the evoked nature of malicia and the dimension it adds to capoeira and the jogo.  And as a feminist, I feel (with all due respect to Nestor Capoeira and Muniz Sodré) that that can’t be right, there must be another way to put it, and that the whole thing should be torn up and sent back into the 19th century, where that kind of thinking belongs!  How exactly do I go about doing this while maintaining the integrity of both capoeira and modern-day/feminist thinking?

The main issue here, I think, is the seemingly necessary genderizing of things, when in fact it’s not necessary at all (let alone the use of capital letters, which just makes the terms look way more qualified than they should).  It’s cool to think of malicia as the “power of the void”, as that unexplainable, irrational thing that gets in through the cracks and hits you where you thought there was nowhere to hit.  When you say that malicia is all these things though–void, irrational, unclear, evanescent–and therefore feminine, that’s where you lose me.  “Void” is exactly what we are not supposed to be! And you can say that assigning feminine and masculine aspects to capoeira adds meaning and depth, similarly to nuance and capoeira movements in the roda, but I think there is a way around that.

The whole reason it’s appealing to associate malicia with the feminine is because of all the things that have been associated with the feminine throughout history.  When you say malicia is “feminine”, you are really saying malicia is mysterious, elusive, intangible, and all those other things that Nestor Capoeira and Muniz Sodré said, thanks to stereotypes that have been entrenched probably since humans first learned to discriminate.  I believe it’s possible to “de-genderize” concepts like malicia while retaining the things one actually means when labelling them “feminine” or “masculine”.  Referring again to the nuance in movements analogy, we do not say that a chapa is “masculine” because it’s aggressive, or that a bait-and-switch sequence is “feminine” because it’s deceptive (or “went around what was clear”)–they are just aggressive and deceptive, respectively.  So why can’t malicia just be what it is, without perpetuating outdated stereotypes at the expense of women and the feminist movement today?

To read Part 2 (Context), please click here.

Picture source:

Learn Portuguese in Six Lines

11 12 2007

Portuguese, the beautiful language of beautiful Brazil's capoeira!So, you’ve got the game, you’ve got the acrobatics, you’ve got the music (or even if you haven’t and are a keen capoeirista)…what’s next? O linguagem, camara!  Alright, so it’s not exactly completely learning Portuguese, and it’s not in exactly six lines, but while we’re on the topic of language (well, tangentially!), I thought I’d throw this little find out there.  My friend bookmarked it on her page, and though I haven’t had time to try it out myself yet, it seems promising!

These are the six lines:

The apple is red.
It is John’s apple.
I give John the apple.
We give him the apple.
He gives it to John.
She gives it to him.

or if you prefer something more capoeira-oriented:

The berimbau is brown.
It is John’s berimbau.
I give John the berimbau.
We give him the berimbau.
He gives it to John.
She gives it to him.

The point of the page she posted was that you can give yourself a headstart in learning any language by deconstructing it before you actually start to learn it.  After you have translated the above sentences into Portuguese, or asked someone to do it for you, you will have an instant snapshot of many of the basic grammatical rules of the language!  That is to say, you will know things like how they arrange subject/verb/object in a sentence, how to use the possessive, plural and singular pronouns, basic verb conjugation, and how to treat direct and indirect objects.  After that, you can do the same with negative sentences, and with auxiliary verbs (e.g. “should kick”, “want to play”, “must buy in”), and see how those are put together.

It’s far from perfect, but it’s an interesting way to start, and might make some things easier to catch on to after you start learning for real!  If you’re interested, I recommend reading the full post, which has a more thorough explanation and additional tips on learning any language: Click here to go to post