Capoeira Without Borders: A Thought Experiment

2 03 2008

Doctors Without Borders = freedom of health care.  Reporters Without Borders = freedom of speech.  Engineers Without Borders = freedom of technological development.  Capoeira Without Borders = ???

What would a world of capoeira without borders be like? 

Yesterday’s post got me thinking more about the comparison I made between countries and capoeira groups, and then I remembered the title I was going to give the post originally: “Capoeira Without Borders”.  To expand on this idea, what would it be like if there were no borders between capoeira groups, and capoeiristas could come and go as they pleased?  Let’s imagine…

First of all, capoeira students would have an amazing number of opportunities open to them.  They would learn more and different techniques and styles of play, even without leaving the categories of regional, angola, benguela, or contemporânea.  Each capoeirista’s personal game and style would be completely unique, based on their particular combination of with whom they trained, how often, for how long, and what they in particular gained from each group.  They would have more flexibility schedule-wise, if classes from every local group were open to them, or during holidays if some academies closed while others remained open.

The potential for “bad blood” between groups might be reduced, and groups as a whole would grow closer to one another as their respective students would mix, mingle, and bond, more often and to a greater extent than they would otherwise (or at all).  On the other hand, more interaction between more people might also increase the potential for drama and more of the same.  Although, this would also depend on how much of a “my group your group” mentality students retained after the eradication of “borders”.

Similarly, the amount of politics between mestres of different groups might decrease, as their students could openly and legitimately train with one, the other, or both simultaneously, at any time.  Then again, politics might rise to a more feverish pitch if mestres decided they had to work, coerce, or manipulate harder to retain students/students’ loyalties due to the complete freedom they now have to come and go as they please.

From a growth and expansion point of view, this would actually be a nightmare for grupos as they would have much more difficulty establishing cores of students and knowing who they could rely on, to show up for training, for rodas, and for events.  On the flip side, they could also have bigger events—seeing as each event would be open to every capoeirista in the world who’s interested—and they would have larger labour/volunteer pools to help with the event or other things, since people outside of their immediate groups would also be included.

Finally, in terms of the actual capoeira, group styles would evolve at much higher rates, seeing as everyone from other groups or who was training with other groups would bring what they had learned to class and into every roda.  At the same time, group styles could be “corrupted” by unwanted methods or techniques from other groups brought in by their or other students.

These are all the possible effects I can think of so far; feel free to add more scenarios in the Comments!  Even if this isn’t going to happen anytime soon (or, okay, ever), it never hurts to exercise your imagination once in a while. 😉

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14 responses

3 03 2008

this is an awesome post, and something to really think about. I honestly don’t have much to add only that the idea and thought of “freedom and non-political capoeira” is a thought and idea that can be held by many but being held by many different people will only equal the same results and putting us back to where we are today. Now we become not seperated by group name, or style but on how we uphold this new ideal. Thus creating new boarders. . . I hope you can follow what i’m trying t o say! =)


3 03 2008

“Doctors Without Borders = freedom of health care. Reporters Without Borders = freedom of speech. Engineers Without Borders = freedom of technological development. Capoeira Without Borders = ???”

So i clicked on the above links and took a look at the websites. In each case, the “Without Borders” programs offered a common source of resources to equip each doctor, reporter or engineer to pursue his/her own method of performing their individual trade. A common source to feed diverse people in their individual trades.

The idea of “unity” is an interesting one in Capoeira. But have you ever taken a whole bunch of different color paints and blended them all together to make some kind of not quite grey and not quite brown??? What became of those original vibrant colors??!!!

There is profound beauty in diversity—and instead of trying to remove the negative aspects, or differences we cannot understand, perhaps it makes sense to respect each others differences. Where opposites meet—that is where the beauty breathes.

I read this somewhere—i wish i could remember where!! But a certain Mestre asked a student where she had trained and she said she had floated around between a few groups of different styles and the Mestre said something like ” Oh–a Jill of all trades, but a Master of nothing!” I will always remember reading that. It made so much sense to me.

It is tempting to not limit yourself. As each person begins their individual journey as a Capoerista, they will see all kinds of beautiful things and they will want to taste it all!! But if you flutter from one shiny thing to the next, you miss out sometimes on those shiny things that fall on the ground and become covered in muddy streaks. If you had just slowed down a little to bend down to See, you would have discovered all those hidden things around you!

Unity should be about respecting differences. Capoeira is One and each branch of IT is a diverse and beautiful expression her Skills. If you cut all the beautifulgnarly twistingturning branches off, you are left with a boring stump.

3 03 2008

Hi Hera,

That was well said, and I agree. My post wasn’t meant to be advocating the dissolution of lines between capoeira groups (which is why I presented both good and bad points equally), but just the exploration of an idea to see where it would take us. 🙂

Thanks, Compromisso. =D

Haha, I think I follow…you may have a point there! We are dealing with human nature, after all. XD

3 03 2008

Between the two of you, I suddenly got this crazy vision in my head of a twisted capoeira dystopia…like in 1984, or Animal Farm, or The Giver. How everything has blended into not-quite-brown not-quite-grey as Hera said, and capoeiristas everywhere are crazy, disconnected, detached mixes of every style, with no allegiances whatsoever, and there are power games going on wherever you look to attract new students to come and main students to stay, and the concept of “capoeira freedom and unity” has been completely twisted around for political purposes…this is an extreme scenario of course, but somewhat interesting albeit frightening…maybe someone should give Atwood or Orwell (if he weren’t dead) a call—plus a capoeira lesson or two. XD

3 03 2008

This is in response to this post and the previous one, thinking globally about capoeira. Jobs and other life circumstances have brought me all over the globe so more often than not I am only in one place for 4-6 months. Whenever possible I find a capoeira group to play with and in each case every group has accepted me with open arms. The friendships and the immediate sense of family I have found through capoeira have shown me everything beautiful in humanity. I completely agree that something is lost when you don’t have a consistency in training (with the same group in the same place, without long breaks), but at the same time I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything because I have learned so much from everyone one of them.

My one complaint about capoeira is all the personal politics that come into play, often stemming from egos clashing. As an outsider looking in on so many different groups I was able to witness these politics without becoming involved. It would be amazing if some of the borders in capoeira could come down, but unfortunately I don’t think human nature works that way. And differences are a beautiful thing that should be celebrated.

In the meantime I want to send a huge abracao and obrigada to all the capoeiristas that have opened their borders to me and accepted me as a long-lost cousin in their families.

3 03 2008

Salve, Cigana! Thank you for sharing, that was a really nice note. Wow, you must have been exposed to an amazing range of styles, although I guess it would’ve been hard to improve consistently too, since you moved around so much. And yes, I think politics are just about the only thing capoeiristas truly don’t care for in capoeira!

4 03 2008

I live in a large metropolitan area with many capoeira groups, and I’m lucky to study under an instructor and a mestre that do a very good job at staying out of politics with other groups, and are very confident in their ability to retain their students.
That means we are welcome in basically any class or event around town, and students from all over are welcome at ours. Which is very nice!
Our only real restriction is that two nights a week are ‘required’ at our academy, and our instructor would be unhappy if we trained with another group instead of with him on those nights.
It sounds idyllic, and there are many advantages, but I believe we do pay a bit of a price in group cohesiveness, and bonding . . . we don’t hang out or even get to know each other to the degree many other groups do.
I know we’re lucky to be so politics-free, but there is some trade-off!

4 03 2008

I agree with Hera. Here’s another nice way to put it, courtesy of Mestre Itapoan:

Capoeira is like soccer. Group/style allegiance is like loyalty to a particular team. We all think our own team is the best, so we root for it and take playful jabs at others’ teams. But we all play the same game, and we can enjoy our own team allegiances without degenerating into violence.

In all the groups I’ve visited – probably about 50 – I’ve been welcome… some more than others. The warmest welcome I received was when the group dedicated the roda to me and invited me to sing the opening ladainha and play every single person there! The coldest welcome I received was when no one said hi or talked to me until after class.

And heck… I’m even welcome when I visit the “parent” group that my own group had a pretty ugly split with. I’ve been sitting there in the roda wearing my group t-shirt as that mestre verbally trashed one of my mestres, his ex-student. Yet he and his students are nice to me and to anyone else from my group who visits his roda in the right spirit.

It’s actually pretty amazing, showing that it is possible to have an ugly situation and yet not have it be perpetuated or acted out in daily life.

I think the politics and problems mainly arise when:
1) The grudge is passed down a generation, with the mestre encouraging his students to beat up or snub members of the other guy’s group.
2) People are SO “loyal” to their groups that they are determined to demonstrate its superiority by beating up people from other groups.

4 03 2008

Great post and I have often though about this idea as well. I think you really covered all of the benefits of ‘capoeira without borders’. When the rivalries and politics are divisive, they can have many negative consequences. I see the rivalries between Mestre’s and Groups the same as the tribalism that prevents different ethnic groups from working together throughout the world. However, I like the analogy that Mestre Itaopan used. Rivalries can also be used to create unity and competition that can improve the caliber of the capoeira.

The only thing that I think might happen if people were truly with out borders and switched groups too often is that it could be confusing for students. One Mestre wants you to do negativa one way, the other Mestre wants you to do it another way. I have encountered this myself even within the same group and find it challenging.

6 03 2008

Hmm, I actually saw what you thought you were trading off in a completely different way! That does sound like an idyllic capoeira community, and it’s awesome that you guys are welcomed everywhere. I don’t know how many capoeira grupos can say that. About not bonding with other groups though…I would think the opposite! Because if you’re welcomed, wouldn’t that make it easier to make cross-grupo friends and build positive relationships with other groups? And for the grupos you’re comparing yourself to, it sounded like they were bonded by “politics”, which would be a bad bond that you don’t want anyway, right?

Yeah, that is a good analogy. Leave it to a mestre! I was slightly confused though; everything after the first paragraph, is that him speaking or you?

Thanks, and for the comment too! Oh, I didn’t even think of that…mixing up styles yes but you’re totally right about the practical side of it…not to mention different names for movements, specific wind-ups…and can you imagine someone trying to adapt their ginga to a new grupo’s version every day?

6 03 2008

Yes, after I posted I realized you were getting at something else . . . and the trade off I was thinking was bonding within our own group! Most everyone in my groups has friends all over town; we don’t, however, among ourselves have that close family-like feeling that I’ve seen in some groups. The lack of politics, is, however, I think only one of several causes for our groups lack of cohesion (another being the city itself & the distractions it supplies!)
But yes I would rather that than the rabid ‘loyalty’ that becomes chauvinism for one’s own group, or the possesive groups, any day!

7 03 2008

Balanca! That makes a lot of sense, actually. Although, I think you may have gotten it slightly reversed…I wouldn’t say distance comes from lack of politics, but that lack of politics comes from distance! It’s kind of like how you can be completely friendly and nice and polite to perfect strangers, then teasing and a little harder on your friends, then absolutely horrible to siblings/family.

Also, I don’t know about other people who have experienced capoeira politics (by which I mean been exposed to/witnessed, not necessarily have been involved in), but at times like that capoeira actually feels somewhat like high school to me. And high school “drama” comes from all those people spending so much time together, seeing each other every single day, so it’s natural that they bond and then things come up. And so I think it can be the same in capoeira, that since people spend so much time together, and then throw in capoeira-related factors, that things are bound to come up.

If people manage to get through those things successfully though, then I agree that the bond could be closer afterwards, so what you said in a way still works!

13 04 2008
Instrutora Rosada

Hmmm, capoeira without borders. I think it is as essential for us as humans to exercise our imaginations as it is for us to inquire as to why things are the way they are.

The politics and tensions that lie within and between groups are much like those that lie within and between all human relationships, hence, more evidence that capoeira=life. To wish to create an idyllic bubble in which capoeira can float effortlessly amidst rocks and shards of glass and abysses and the like is a bit naive because sooner or later, it WILL pop. I think that the tensions and politics will exist no matter how boundaries are drawn between schools. Yes, there is a LOT of ego in capoeira, as in life. We cannot really change that. We have to simply accept it, and learn to play with it in the roda of life. Those with the overinflated egos have to learn their lessons themselves.

The concept of lineage in capoeira was born for very specific reasons pertaining to the context in and circumstances under which capoeira itself was born. While I think that the social conditions in which modern capoeira exists doesn’t necessarily require lineage and borders, it is an inherent aspect of the art that should be preserved. I think we, as nascent capoieristas, can only begin to understand the nuances of the importance of lineage and schools (and the boundaries that exist between them) once we have trained for many years, visited Brazil, learned Portuguese, read the most respected texts on the art our own mestres on the matter. I think that once we do, we might see that a more compelling question is simply: “How do I, as an female American capoeirista, prepare myself to carry on, with integrity and authenticity, a tradition that has been in existence for a few hundred years and was created by an ethnic/cultural/gender group different than my own?”

13 04 2008

Hi Instrutora Rosada,

Thank you for your really thoughtful response! I think I agree with basically everything you wrote, especially your first comment about inquiring as well as imagining. It’s true, capoeira is made of people and people anywhere will always have issues come up among and between them, whether capoeira is involved or not, so I don’t believe that can be avoided either, unless we became some sort of sterilized, lifeless society (“The Stepford Capoeiristas”).

As for lineage in capoeira, now that’s a particular concept I haven’t specifically thought about before, so I’m glad you brought it up. I think that’s a really compelling question too, and one that, once you are at the point where you have to consider it, bears more serious treatment than I meant my question to be treated with (like I said, this post was just supposed to be an interesting “experiment”/thought exercise!). And I do look forward to growing my understanding of these types of matters and their nuances as I learn and experience more about capoeira!

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