Videos: Mestra Paulinha

29 02 2008

A while ago I wrote about Mestra Paulinha, co-founder and sociologist of Grupo Nzinga, but somehow left out videos of her playing.  The following angola videos feature her, and thank you to Steven for the links!

This is a really old video of Mestra Paulinha playing João Pequeno!  If you don’t want to wait through the introductory music, the actual playing starts at about 1:50.

This next video takes place in Costa Rica, with Mestra Paulinha playing capoeira in a roda with a FICA student.

Click here to see other posts in Ie viva meu Mestra

Photoblog: Grilocapoeira Encontro de Inverno Amsterdam 2008

28 02 2008

Although I’d be more than happy to describe every moment of the event for you, I figured acting on “a picture is worth a thousand words” would not only be more effective, but much more appreciated by your eyes!  Enjoy (and hover for captions)!

Mestres Take the Day


Let’s Play!

Entering the roda
Mestres' games are way over our heads =P
Up close and personal with Contra-mestre Grilo!
Capoeiristas defying gravity in more ways than one

Playas in the Club

Roda at Dance Party #1
Roda at Dance Party #2
Bananeira (on a windy day?)


Mestres in chamada
Resistencia de angola?

The Beat Goes On

Contra-mestre Grilo on the berimbau
Live music by mestres, contra-mestres, and other guests!
Claudio Kron, professional Brazil percussionist and teacher of our pandeiro workshop

10000th Hit!

28 02 2008

Just what the title says—reached today!  Funnily enough, it’s almost exactly 3 months from the time I started Mandingueira (Nov. 30), and it was at exactly 1 month that I reached 1000 hits.  Thank you so much to everyone who reads this blog and told people about it, and for all your awesome, informative, brilliant, insightful comments!  Let’s keep it going… 😀

P.S.  Not quite in honour of the occasion, but thanks to good timing, check out the nifty business cards I made for the blog!

Mandingueira cards

Capoeira Batizados: Further Worst-Case Scenarios

27 02 2008

The batizado I went to this past weekend—Grilocapoeira’s Encontro de Inverno 2008, in Amsterdam, Netherlands—was awesome!  It was so much fun, and I met a lot of nice people.  Having said that, it was also during the event that I realized my “survival guide” had let a few things fall through the cracks.  Hence: further worst-case scenarios, and what to do about them!  (P.S.  I will be posting pictures of the event tomorrow!)

Encontro de Inverno Capoeira Batizado and Troca de Corda

How to Prepare for a Spontaneous Party/Club Roda

Expect one to happen (because it will), and dress/plan accordingly.  Wear comfortable pants you can move in, and shoes you can play in or take off/put back on quickly and easily.  Make sure said shoes, if you’re planning to play with them, will not be flung off with a sudden meia lua de compasso, or turn your ginga into slow-motion speed-skating.  For women, if you care, wear a top that won’t slip down/off/around while playing, and watch out for jewellery!  (Either wear pieces that won’t get in the way, or plan where you’ll put them in your bag or bring a little pouch for them.)  For guys, don’t put too many things in your pockets (as you’ll have to empty them to play), and scope out a safe place to leave your wallet, keys, etc., or ask to leave them with a friend.  While actually playing, although this probably does not matter too much, it also can’t hurt to keep in mind that this is more of a “show” roda than an actual/training roda, so you can try adusting your game and playing accordingly (more expression, more fun dialogue, etc.).

How to Survive Dance Party “Partner Work”

To be honest, I didn’t, unless you count reading Bridget Jones’ Diary, stilted conversation with a mestre, and honing my photography skills!  Needless to say, I actually have no idea how; would anyone like to write a “guest paragraph” for Mandingueira?  (This question is only half-rhetorical; drop a comment or email if you have something to put here!)

How to Leave a Wrap-Up Party in 30 Minutes or Less

Begin your good-byes about 30-45 minutes before the time you actually need to leave.  This may seem like an exaggeration, but trust me, it’s not.  Say good-bye to everybody once.  Do it fully, and try not to approach them again afterwards.  (This might seem mean when it’s written out like this here, but in reality it’s just practical and you’ve already done the whole “good-bye, it was great to see you, come visit our group some time, until next year!” so you’ve already established “closure”.) 

This especially goes for all mestres, contra-mestres, etc., anyone who would tend to start effusive (read: long) exchanges of affection and/or conversation.  Speaking of which, get to these people early as if the entire party is ending, there will likely be a crowd of people lining up to give thanks and say good-bye, all of whom will either have questions or also be drawn into more conversation!

Exchange contact information with people throughout the night, so you don’t have to wait through or go through a frenzy of paper and pen scavenging during each good-bye.  If people are occupied/in conversation with others, it’s okay to (politely) interrupt and explain you’re leaving and just wanted to say good-bye/thank-you to them.  Once you’ve finished making the rounds, don’t hang around—get out of there!

How to Take Photos of the Event without Sacrificing Own Participation in Event

The best time to take photos is during a batizado or troca de corda ceremony, when you for sure would not be playing anyway and will have time to get and put away your camera before and after.  If you are up for a corda, take pictures while others play for and receive theirs, then ask a friend to take care of your camera when it’s your turn.  Just don’t forget to relieve them of it right after!  This is also a good chance to have pictures of yourself taken, if your friend doesn’t mind.  (Editor’s Note:  I try and leave the flash off as much as possible when taking photos of rodas/people playing capoeira, so as not to distract/interrupt the players.)

If you want pictures of workshops/training or general rodas, grab your camera during the break or right before the activity starts.  Snap shots as soon as most people are assembled, then quickly put your camera away and get into place right before the class or roda starts.  Since it’s right at the beginning, you will not have missed much even if it started before you managed to run back in time.  Leave your camera in an accessible but safe spot, or in an easily accessible part of your bag, but check that your bag isn’t burried at the bottom of a pile of stuff after everyone has arrived!

How to Get Over Post-Batizado Blues or Maintain Post-Batizado High

Train!  Train, train, train.  There is nothing like the very first class back after a batizado.  Upload the photos you took of/at the event, and have fun going through and commenting on others’.  Get in touch with the other capoeiristas you befriended at the batizado (that’s why you exchanged contact informationa after all, right?).  Review or write down anything new you learned from the workshops, and practice them in class so you don’t forget.  There’s also nothing more fun than reminiscing (in writing, on your own, or verbally, with friends) over memorable moments, funny stories, dramatic events, quotable lines, etc.  Finally, start preparing for the next one!

How to Recover from Capoeira Overkill

From Leopardo:

I don’t even want to hear a berimbau for about 12-24 hours after our own event! The planning, craziness, training, playing, etc. just wear me out.
I do usually try to hit up a class or two in that initial week after—and definitely a lot of picture/vid trading going on.
Then, of course, it’s back up to hard training. But I usually do tell students to take a few days off and just absorb the experience afterwards—regain their enthusiasm and then get back to it.
I equate it to a family reunion—I love how much tighter the family feels after a successful get together, but I’m happy to say goodbye when it’s over.  )

Flash Update!

24 02 2008

Sorry for the hiatus, everyone!  I tried to semi-warn you with my batizado post, i.e. that I’d be away at the batizado all this weekend and so might not have internet access, if even time to post anything!  But the batizado was awesome (or is; there’s still the wrap-up party to go!), everyone was really nice and the workshops were great!  Shayna, I didn’t have time to respond to your comment yet but I was going to say your solution for mixed rodas was so simple I couldn’t believe it didn’t occur to me, and so brilliant I can’t believe no one’s done it!  BUT that’s what they did at this batizado!  Eight-person, mixed-level, free-for-all rodas, and they were so good: totally the best of both worlds.  You could move between rodas as well, for even more flexibility regarding who you wanted to play—including mestres/contra-mestres!  We also had a 1-hr professional pandeiros workshop, and I definitely won’t think about passing it over so easily anymore for the berimbau or atabaque! 

If any of you recognize what I’m talking about, by the way, and happen to read this before the boat party, look for me there! 


The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Capoeira Batizados

22 02 2008

So, due to a slight mix-up between the name of my grupo and that of a Brazilian music band, and my apparent inability to understand event flyers correctly, I will be finding myself at the batizado of a foreign group in a foreign city this weekend.  (These things tend to happen to me.) 

I’m actually still pretty excited and looking forward to it, but nevertheless, for my own reassurance as well as for you guys, I thought I’d write up a mini “batizado survival guide”, inspired by the “Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook” series.  From transportation to buying into 50+ person rodas, finding lodging to surviving partner work (the absolute bane of my personal capoeira existence), never go unprepared to a batizado again!

Capoeira batizado and troca de corda eventCapoeira batizado and troca de corda eventCapoeira batizado and troca de corda eventCapoeira batizado and troca de corda event

How to Find and Get to the Location(s) of the Batizado and Related Workshops/Parties/Shows 

In your city:  Look up the main event locations on Google Maps (if you even need to), and plan your route(s).  Organize carpools, meet people to take public transit, or (if you’re lucky and live nearby) walk.  It’s a home game, after all!

In another city:  Figure out whether it’d be best to arrive by car, plane, ferry, train, hovercraft…and plan accordingly.  For road trips, group up with fellow capoeiristas, carpool, and split the cost of gas.  For planes, start searching for ticket prices as early as humanly possible!  They will just keep going up.  The prices of trains and ferries are generally fixed (I believe), but reserve a spot ahead of time just in case they don’t have room for you on the day of departure.  If you’re flying with instruments, check to see what provisions the airline has for those.  Be sure to put your berimbau in a case or wrapping of some sort; my friend had the fortune once of having her berimbau’s arame taped all the way down the instrument’s length, with luggage tape.

Plan ahead of time how you’re going to get from the airport/train station/ferry terminal to the specific event location: Google that location before you leave, and acquire a map of the city, or the relevant part of it.  Mark the locations that are part of the batizado, and try familiarizing yourself with the street names around them.  Either try and prepare rides (or confirm the availability of them) ahead of time for when you’re there, or take the time to familiarize yourself with the city’s public transportation system, if locations aren’t within walking distance.  The last thing you want is to miss the main event roda because you couldn’t find the right bus stop!

In another country: Think planning for “in another city”, but in overdrive.  Make sure that all your travel documents are in order—passport, visa, whatever else is required.  Bring enough money and plan a point to change currencies, if necessary.  If you’re taking a plane, don’t forget about the no liquids/100 mL container (for shampoo, etc.) /no sharp objects rules.  Learn a few key phrases in the country’s language, if it’s different from yours (e.g. anything to do with money, sanitation, time, transportation, directions, and in our case, capoeira if you’re keen).  If you’ve planned tourism time for yourself, doing some advanced reading on that end won’t hurt, either.  And don’t forget to check the weather for when you pack—you don’t want to end up training in a soggy abada (not to mention, for “regionaleiras”, look like you were just in a wet t-shirt contest…).

For all of the above, obtain a contact’s number before you leave in case of emergency, or just need of aid!  Either someone who lives in the city, or someone involved in the event in some way—ideally, the contact would be both.

How to Find Lodging

Phone or email the batizado’s organizers as far in advance as possible (within reason), and see if billeting with a capoeirista from the host group is possible.  If it matters to you, be sure to specify if you would prefer to stay with a male or female host.  Bring a sleeping bag.  [Editor’s note: If I’m billeting with someone, I also like to bring a small gift, like a box of chocolates or something, just to show my appreciation for letting me stay with them!] 

If billeting isn’t possible, search sites such as or for hostels or hotels.  Also check to see if your group or the host group has a deal with any hotels/hostels/etc. to give discounts to capoeiristas coming from out of town for the event.  Make sure you check the location of your place before booking, as you don’t want to be inconveniently far from the workshop locations; obviously, the closer the better, and especially try to stay within walking distance.

How to Make a 100-Person Workshop Worthwhile

Movements on the spot: It’s hard learning a move when you’re at the very back of an echoing stadium and the mestre or teacher leading the workshop is at the very front!  Needless to say, your first plan of action is to stay as close to the front as often as possible.  Failing that (e.g. if you’re a beginner student in an all-levels workshop and students are lined up by belt), glean what you can from watching the person heading the class, then learn what you weren’t able to pick up from watching advanced students more within your eye range, who will most likely do the move(s) correctly.  Confirm the move(s) by observing several different students, being careful not to get confused by someone adding their own twist or variation to the move, or simply doing it incorrectly. 

At the same time, make sure you have enough space around you to do the movements.  There is usually a large amount of space left at the very back of the lines—true, for good reason, but you can still observe other students to learn the movement, which is better than being at the front and not having room to do the movement at all.

Movements in lines going down the room: Very important: Leave enough space for the person in front of you to complete the movement!  It is both frustrating and annoying to be crowded during lines.  There will be enough time for everyone to go, as the next movement isn’t usually given until the teacher sees everyone has finished or is on their way to finishing.  Pay particular attention to distance spacing if part of the sequence involves the person moving back towards the starting point (e.g. for a multi-kick sequence or aus, floreios, etc.).  

If you are the one being tailgaited, take a page from a driving school manual: stop and wait so that there is extra space between you and the person in front of you; that will create enough space for you to quickly move in and do the movement, and at the same time (hopefully) prompt the overenthusiast behind you to hold back and give you space as well.

Don’t forget to pay attention to things like towards which direction the first movement of each sequence goes, whether you face the front or face the side, how you should end up, whether each kick lands to the back, to the front, parallel, etc.  Depending on what you want, stand in a line behind others so you can watch and check your moves against theirs, or grab a spot in the line nearest any teachers on the sidelines, as they might be more likely to give you any needed advice or corrections, since you’ll be passing right in front of them.

During speeches/demonstrations:  Get in as close to the teacher as possible, and make sure you have the view that will help you best understand the sequence.  If you are in front of the crowd, kneel or crouch down so people behind you can see.  You can also kneel or crouch down if you are stuck behind people and can’t see over their heads, to look through people’s legs.  Then again, a simple nudge and polite “excuse me” whenever needed as you push through to the front is probably a better recourse!  Most people are also very nice and willing to let you in front if they notice you can’t see over them (and thus won’t block their view if they let you go in front).

If it is a speech being given, and you are tired and the speaker is particularly loquacious, then do the opposite: find a spot directly behind people so that you can’t be seen in case any boredom or drowsiness shows on your face.  Or concentrate on thinking over what you could’ve improved on from the last workshop, or what you can try and pull off in the next roda!

Partner Work: The best way (well, for me) to learn a partner sequence is to focus on a different part of the demonstration each time, and only that part.  One: The entire thing, to get the feel of position and timing.  Two: The first partner’s sequence (ignoring whatever the second partner does).  Three: The second partner’s sequence (ignoring whatever the first partner does; you should already have the sense of how the dialogue works from the first viewing).  Of course, this falls through if the sequence isn’t demonstrated three times. 

If that’s the case, glean as much as you can and try to organize it in your head before you have to start doing the sequence with a partner.  Either memorize the entire sequence with both partners’ moves, in order, and sort them out right after (usually each partner’s role will be a sequence consisting of every other movement in the overall sequence you memorized), or, as a last resort, memorize one partner’s role very well and know it absolutely; then ask your partner if you or they can start, depending on which order lets you do the sequence you memorized.  Then, try figuring out the other partner’s role while your partner does it before you switch, and failing that, just ask them.  Most people won’t mind, although try not to let it happen too often (they want to get the most out of the workshop, too!).  If neither of you get it, observe another couple to quickly establish the sequence.  If your partner doesn’t get things and you do, embrace the opportunity to practice your teaching skills.  Also, don’t forget to clip your nails ahead of time—you don’t want to risk stabbing your partner in the ankle with a poorly aimed rasteira. 

As for finding a partner, make eye-contact with someone as soon as the teacher says go.  Once you’ve done that, start walking straight towards them, making it obvious that you want to work with them, and do whatever partners-work-greeting gesture is custom, saying hi with a smile on your face.  If you make conversation (asking them where they’re from, their nickname, etc.), it really helps to not forget that basic information as soon as the teacher yells “change partners!”.  Find something about them to connect them to the name they give you, and don’t remember them by changeable features such as “the girl with the really high ponytail”. 

If you end up without a partner, wait a minute or so and then buy in; it’s expected, and the other person should know to do the same.  You don’t want to just stand around while everyone else is working on the new movement (not to mention that’s not what you paid or travelled all that way for), but if you buy in quickly and so does everyone else, there are so many people that it should seem like no one had to sit out at all during the entire thing.

How to Buy into a 50+ Person Roda

Make yourself as small and unnoticeable as possible.  Everytime even the slightest gap opens, slip into it, or at least move towards it and close it off so someone else can’t slip into it and thus in front of you.  If you feel pushed, try and stand your ground as firmly as possible, just short of being rude (then again, maybe they’re rude for pushing in the first place, so all’s fair in love and capoeira?).  DON’T end up crowding the bateria, as you could easily get reamed out for that.  If you’re very, very petite, try crouching down and slipping in between people’s legs.  If you’re the complete opposite of petite…well, to be blunt…you’re able to pretty much do whatever you want anyway.  Gentle steering of shoulders out of the way, subtle slip-in-to-wedge-in-between people steps, etc. 

One trick that works for everyone is, if you’re prepared to buy in right away the moment you reach the opening, then walk to the end of the roda opposite the bateria, as there will be ample space there.  Then, quickly skim your way back right on the inside of the roda, reach the opening, and enter.  To set yourself up for another game entry, when you’re bought out, walk backwards straight into the side of the roda, and you will still be on the inside, perfectly positioned to buy in again.  Pay attention though, or you will be amazed at how quickly you lose that spot!

Above all, don’t let yourself forget that you are there to play and that you paid to be there and that you have a right to play.  Unless something else is going on, such as a fight, or a designated high/low-belts-only roda (or start of roda), don’t let lack of confidence trick you into feeling like you “shouldn’t” buy in at this exact moment right this second right now but maybe just a little later—because in all likelihood, if you keep thinking like that, later will never come! 

Having said that, don’t be obnoxious about it, either; adjust your own behaviour to the atmosphere/feel of the roda, and if you’ve already played, you could start paying attention to see if someone else is about to buy in when you want to, and whether they’ve played yet or not.  Finally, whether you’re about to buy in or already playing, always be alert to some sort of signal that you should leave or end the game—a mestre’s whistle, a teacher’s wave of the hand, a single note repeated endlessly on the berimbau—because as much as you need to know when to go (i.e. now!), you also have to know when to stop!

How to Make a Transition Directly from the Gym Floor to the Dance Floor

Go home or to your current accomodation; shower; prepare yourself as normal.  Nothing starts on time, remember?  In this case the worst-case scenario is taking so long that you arrive just when the party’s getting into the swing of things!  [Editor’s note: This backfired on me one year when our grupo’s wrap-up party actually DID start on time—who’d have thought?  In that case, say hi to everyone, plead “Brazilian time jetlag” from the workshops or previous events, and move on!]

How to Survive Missing your Flight/Ferry/Train/Ride Back Home

First, make absolutely sure that you can’t get home that night; that there’s no next/late-night/last ferry, train, flight, etc.  If that’s 100% out of the question, then book your hotel/hostel room for another night (they will most likely accept credit card if you don’t have enough cash), and book your ride home ASAP in the meantime.  If you didn’t stay at a hostel/hotel, there are two options here.  The first is to ask a friend who lives in the city if you can stay with them for an extra night, which should be fairly straightforward, since you’re friends.

The second, if you were billeting with someone, is to very, very nicely and politely explain the situation to whomever was hosting you, taking full responsibility, and entreating them to let you stay one more night in their home.  If helping you with damage control creates any work whatsoever on their part, help with as much of it as is humanly possible; after all, it was you who missed your ride, not they.  Do not, under any circumstances, have them running around all night trying to arrange emergency rides or accomodation for you while you continue to socialize the night away.

How to Deal with Not Receiving a Belt You Expected to Get

If you need to cry, do so, and then relax and put things in perspective.  It’s not the end of the world, and there is always next time.  Remember that not receiving a belt doesn’t mean you made no progress at all; you just didn’t make quite enough progress at this point yet in time, and you will probably be beyond the average level of that belt by the time you do get it. 

Another way to look at it is to ask yourself this: would you rather people overestimate you, or underestimate you?  If you really should have gotten your belt, then you were underestimated, and so you’ll show them.  In one scenario, you end with setting up expectations in people that you might then fail, whereas in the other, you will surpass their expectations. 

Finally, if you are still upset, concentrate on thinking about all the good non-capoeira things you have going on in your life.  More likely than not, capoeira is just one part of it, albeit a large part.  Would you let your job take over the rest of your life if something went wrong there?  Probably not; and so try not to let being upset about capoeira influence the rest of your life or what you think of yourself, as well.

How to Deal with Receiving a Belt You Didn’t Expect to Get

Don’t let it go to your head.  In some cases, the belt represents your potential to reach that level rather than your having actually attained that level.  Also don’t let it go to your head in the way that you make yourself believe you absolutely must train six days a week training with twenty hours of volunteer work at your academy on top of that every month, unless you really want to for the love of it.  Yes, in many cases a belt represents more responsibility as well as more skill, but there are many belt levels for a reason; everything goes up in increments, and so you should not be expected to immediately have the weight of an extraordinarily increased load upon receiving your next belt.  For the moment, celebrate!  Be (modestly) proud of your achievement—and there will be plenty of time to get down to making sure you’ve earned that belt as soon as the batizado is over.

Click here to read “Further Worst-Case Scenarios”!

Worst-Case Scenario Survival Guide for Capoeira Batizados

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How to Get Better at Capoeira When You Can’t Do Capoeira

20 02 2008

Do you want to turn your weaknesses into strengths?  To improve even while you can’t train?  To get the most out of every class even if you’re sick, injured, or otherwise incapacitated?  Well then, dear reader, continue on!

There's always something to do when it comes to capoeiraOne of the best and most unique parts of capoeira for me is the fact that as far as passions go, you couldn’t pick a better one that will never run out of steam on you.  There is always something new—or old—to learn, to work on, to improve, and if you feel you are weaker in one area (say, the actual  atheletic ability part), there are so many other ways in which you can become a master (such as music, singing, or language). 

With that said, you can leverage this versatility of the art to ensure, despite whatever happens to you, whether you’re injured or not, whether you can even make it to class or not, that you can only ever improve in capoeira.

“Creative” training:

Unless you’re made of steel, a bad injury or powerful cold can knock the axé right out of your poor, ailing body.  What’s a capoeirista to do?  Well, the first option is to continue training—since not only is capoeira extremely multifaceted, but so is each facet that makes it up, like, in this case, training movements and sequences.  A capoeirista in my grupo broke her arm once, and she kept training all the way through its recovery, doing everything on her uninjured side and modified movements if that wasn’t enough.  I’m not saying you should go out and break your arm, of course, but imagine if it were your good side that were injured, and all you could do was train capoeira on only your normally weaker side for two months: you’d be completely ambi-capoeirous afterwards!

Even if you’re not injured or sick but just plain unable to do a move, that can turn out to benefit you, as well.  When I first started capoeira, I couldn’t practice bananeira at all.  I was too scared to just kick up, thinking I could crash down and really hurt myself, and I was also too scared to kick up against a wall, thinking something could go wrong ending with me breaking my neck.  So, I practiced for months in a very narrow hallway at home, that was narrow enough for me to climb up one wall, and walk onto the opposite wall, letting me practice balancing in between, safe in the knowledge that I had support on either side.  Then once I could kick up against a wall, I was still too scared to kick up into thin air in case I overshot and crashed, so I practiced on a thick carpet in the basement until I could land from bananeira into a bridge with at least some modicum of control.  Then I could practice bananeira like normal, on any surface, and without even thinking about it, I’d developed a super flexible back that would help me in future training sessions.  My point is, there’s more than one way to string a berimbau, so get creative, and find it!

Get in tune with the art: 

If you’re too sick or too injured to do any training at all—now that’s where the fun begins.  Attend class anyway, and call dibs on the berimbau, atabaque, pandeiro…oh wait, you won’t have to, because everyone else is training!  If ten minutes a day is enough to become competent on the berimbau, imagine what 120 minutes a day would do for you.  The Bahia Philharmonic, anyone?  Moreover, you’ll get a really good opportunity to practice playing instruments or maybe even leading a song in an actual roda while everyone else plays, since if you were well, you’d probably be too busy buying into the roda yourself!

Watch like an eagle and soak like a sponge:

Now, what if you can’t train or play the instruments, for some reason?  Brief digression here: During my first half-year of doing capoeira, even though I went “only” twice a week, that still seemed like an extraordinary amount of time to devote to just one extracurricular activity, especially since it was 2 hours each time (plus commute), and moreover each on a school night (eating up all my procrastination homework time).  So it seemed even more amazing to me that people would attend class, in their uniforms, even when they were sick or injured and couldn’t train.  I mentioned that to someone once, and I’m pretty sure I even said something like “…since it seems like you’d have better things to do…” (I know, blasphemy!  😛 ) 

Of course, I know now that even if you weren’t just addicted to the environment and capoeira music blaring out of utility speakers, plain observation is a great way to improve in capoeira.  You can watch people playing each other and learn from their triumphs or mistakes, taking note of what you’d do or not do in their place.  Practice looking for vulnerabilities in people while they move, and still pay attention to the teacher’s tips and directions.  Even when I’m training normally, I like watching or listening in when the teacher corrects other students, because either I’ll probably need that same correction myself, or if I don’t, it’ll remind me to make sure I continue not needing it!  A good idea here is also to have your capoeira notebook on you, so you can take down tips, observations, sequences, or other ideas that you want to keep in mind for future reference.

Think like a capoeirista: 

Finally, how do you improve in capoeira if you can’t even make it to your capoeira class?  In tons of ways!  If you drive a car, keep capoeira CDs (note the plural’s lack of an apostrophe) in it so you can practice the songs (no apostrophe here, either—it’s a simple concept!) wherever you go.  The same goes for your iPods, CD players, etc.  If you’re stuck in bed at home and have access to the internet, try picking up some basic Portuguese, using sites like Portuguese for Capoeiristas (how convenient!).  Another good idea is just to read about capoeira, which will develop you further as a capoeirista intellectually, philosophically, and maybe spiritually.  The capoeira publishing industry seems to be growing by the month, and of course, a certain feminist capoeira blog will always be worth checking out… 😉

I hope you find at least some of these tips useful for the next time you find yourself out of commission (which, knock on wood, will not be for a very, very long while).  As I discussed in a previous post, capoeira never stops; now, neither must we!

Picture source:

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New Blue Snake Blog Post Out!

20 02 2008

Just what the title says!

Find it here: Capoeira é Magia: ACSF and Why Capoeira Changes Us

New Book! Capoeira Beyond Brazil

19 02 2008

Now this one, I’m looking forward to!  Another winning combination for me: capoeira and poli sci/international relations.  😀  This book also seems like it’ll be particularly relevant to all us gringas (that’s not a derogatory term, is it?) who do capoeira.  It comes out October 2008—people do presents for Hallowe’en, right?

From North Atlantic / Blue Snake Books:

Capoeira Beyond Brazil, by Aniefre EssienUntil recently, Brazilians dominated the market on capoeira books, yet the form has spread across the globe over the last four decades. This expansion from the favelas (slums) to the world stage has introduced a host of new capoeira practitioners with varied lineages, techniques, and traditions. In Capoeira Beyond Brazil, Aniefre Essien brings an international, political perspective to capoeira, speaking to both the novice and aficionado, as well as to historians, martial artists, social justice organizers, and youth development professionals.

Essien shows capoeira in its complete historical context, providing not only technical instruction but a critical history that highlights the political milestones of the form. Author Essien doesn’t shy away from the realities of the capoeira community, directly illustrating principles that should be embraced, as well as established norms in practice and instruction worth questioning.

Capoeira Beyond Brazil expands the meaning of capoeira with a sociocultural consideration of the effects internalization has had on the form. Showcasing Essien’s own experiences using capoeira training at-risk youth, the book articulates the form’s empowering aspects with strategies for using martial arts to foster individual self-reliance and confidence, as well as a commitment to community development.

Author Biography:

Aniefre Essien, aka Tartaruga, started teaching capoeira to at-risk youth in Oakland, California, in 1988. Since then he has studied with Mestres Russo, Ralil, and João Pequeño. A three-time gold medal winner at the Copa des Americas, and the editor of Mestre Preguiça’s book Capoeira: The Art of Survival, he lives in Oakland, CA.

Defining Moments in the Life of a Capoeirista

17 02 2008

(Inspired by—read: totally stolen from—a post I read yesterday, titled “Defining Moments in the Life of a ProBlogger”.)

There’s no doubt that for many if not all of us, starting capoeira was a vivid catalyst in life. Maybe you refer to events in your past as “before capoeira” and “after capoeira”; maybe these days you wonder how exactly you used to kill all that time you now never seem to have enough of to train. Looking back over your life within capoeira, though, what are some of the torch-igniting, heart-propelling, or end-of-the-rainbow-finding moments that instantly flicker onto your mental projection screen? Which are the scenes of instant recall, indelible word-for-word, gesture-for-gesture, in your mind?

It’s different for everyone, of course, but I’m going to share just a few of mine here. Feel free to join in, under Comments!

My first capoeira class: “You should take your socks off…”

Attempted bananeira leg switching thing.One thing that I failed to mention in the post about my first capoeira class was a “conversation” I had with a girl there—actually, I don’t remember if it was in my first or second class, which may have been why I didn’t include it. Before I go on, you should know another thing I didn’t include was that for my first couple capoeira classes, I kept my socks on. (Hey, it was in a public place, I was wary of germs, fearful of slivers, and had no protective calluses yet to speak of!)

So halfway through class, one of the higher-level girls (who was also really pretty, and tattooed, so that was like three times the intimidation) came up to me and told me I should take my socks off. I forget exactly what I said, but basically waived her off politely; at any rate, I kept my socks on. Then I was scared I’d been rude, so at the end of class I went up to her and thanked her again for the advice and said I’d kept my socks on because I didn’t want to get a sliver, etc. Her reply?

“It’s better to get a sliver than to slip and fall on your ass.”

It was so <insert name of total underdog reaches the top against all odds feel-good movie here>.  If we really were in a movie, she’d probably have become my mentor, or I would’ve earned her grudging respect about an hour in, after a dizzying montage of intense training scenes, haha.

Anyway, she was/is actually super nice, of course, but that was my first taste of capoeira tough love!

Getting my apelido: “And it only took one year, four months, and eight days!”

Gearing up for macacoFor roughly the first year and a half of my training capoeira, my mainstay was one of our academy’s branch classes, and I only ever went to the academy for occasional rodas or near batizados times. Since my teachers at our branch didn’t speak Portuguese, and I wasn’t really taught, thus known, by teachers who did, I suppose that’s why I never got an apelido. However, I’d started taking dance classes taught by one of the academy’s teachers, and thanks to summer vacation, had started venturing into the academy more often.

We had a major fundraising event on December 10th, and it was two days before that that our dance teacher was taking down names for who would be going (which is how I remember the exact date I got my nickname). She was reviewing the list, and it went something like this:

At this point I interjected with my real, non-Portuguese name somewhat lamely (at least it rhymed)…but then!

“Oi, I thought of a name for you.”

And thus wast Joaninha. 😛

My last capoeira class: “NO, I will not cry for you guys!”

Blurry bananeiraActually, that quote was from after my last roda with my grupo, before leaving home for a while, and it was true because I had cried driving home from my last class, two days before. (By the way, tears and night-time and pouring rain and trying to pass a bus pulling out from the curb all at the same are never a good idea.)

It was the weirdest thing, because I’d been a little nostalgic of course, during the class at our academy, but other than that I’d been fine. It was while saying bye to someone from my main branch class, and telling him to tell the others I said bye and would miss them in case I didn’t finish packing in time and wouldn’t make it to the roda the day before my flight (in hindsight: yeah, right!), that I started choking up, and so suddenly and quickly it actually startled me.

Then while on the way home, you know that line about your life “flashing before your eyes”? I’m not comparing having taken my last class there before leaving to death or anything (even I think that would prove non-capoeiristas right about my sanity, or lack thereof!), but the only thing my mind played on the drive home was an endless filmstrip of capoeira memories, including all the ones mentioned above, plus thinking over everything I got out of capoeira, and how utterly different my life would be if I’d never started, and general things to be missed, such as capoeira friends, training sequences, teachers, rodas, etc.

And I can say with complete and absolute honesty that even after I was away for months, even though I have great family and friends, the only thing I missed about home was capoeira!

Getting my second belt: “Did he call my name???”

Unfortunately, this shot is based more on good camera timing than muscular strength!I suppose getting my first belt was kind of a big deal, but to me it seemed more of a formality than anything else. To be honest, I’m not sure if I can even remember who played me on the stage, and I suppose it didn’t hold as much significance for me because I knew anyone could get the first belt just for three months of regular attendance; it was only based on “participation marks”, in other words. My second belt, however—I never expected to receive that when I first started capoeira, and when I did receive it, I hadn’t been planning to let myself start hoping for it till about 6-12 months later.

There I was, watching my friend play for her corda on stage, my hair figuratively and literally let down, when all of a sudden one of my main teachers comes up to me through the crowd of students:

“Hey, do you know your nickname?”
“Yeah; Joaninha, right?”
“Okay, good.”

And without another word, he melted away into the crowd—leaving me in complete mental turmoil! “Wait. Did he mean…? But no…but then, that would’ve been really cruel…so…okay…what?! Okay…I am so glad I have a hair-tie on me right now!”

Then even when my name was called, I wasn’t sure. I definitely did not want to go up there only to find out I’d heard wrong, so I grabbed my friend’s arm (apparently a lot harder than she thought necessary) and frantically whispered, “Did they call my name?? Did you hear my name??” She didn’t know and told me to ask our head teacher, who had luckily just walked past us (the orixas must have been smiling on me that day; who knows if I might actually have stayed in the wings if I hadn’t been able to get confirmation that I was supposed to go up there?). So, I ran and grabbed his arm: “Did he call my name?? Am I getting my second belt?? Did he call my name??” (Meanwhile, the line of other students getting their second belts is shortening; I have absolutely no idea how any of their games went.)

Of course, at this point, while I’m probably leaving finger nail-shaped bruises on his arm and nearing critical peak panic point, our head teacher, in true capoeirista fashion…makes fun of me. “What do you mean, did he call your name?? Nobody here has those names; they’re all fake names!”

Long story short, I went up, I played, I got my second belt. And I think that’s when it became real, not just trying something new, and for good, not just a phase: Alright, so I guess I’m really doing this now.  Of course, that still didn’t stop me from expecting my belt to go poof into thin air or find out it was all a big mistake throughout the next few weeks!

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