Challenge: In Six Words or Fewer, What Does Capoeira Mean to You?

30 03 2008

What does capoeira, at its very stripped down essence, mean to you?

I don’t know about you, but whenever someone asks me to tell them about capoeira or why I like it, I always feel like apologizing for hijacking the next 10-15 minutes of the conversation.  We all know how easy it is to gush and elaborate and describe and go on till the end of the world about how much capoeira means to you, and what capoeira means to you.  It’s not so easy to distill all of those thoughts and sentiments and assertions down to their very essence, the very core of what capoeira means to you.

So, continuing in the vein of letting great literary masters meddle in the capoeira world, I give you: Hemingway.

He was the guy who wrote a story in six words, and called it his best work:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Similarly, Mestres Bimba and Pastinha were quite concise in describing what capoeira meant to each of them:

“Capoeira is treachery.” (-Mestre Bimba)

“Capoeira is whatever the mouth eats.” (-Mestre Pastinha)

So now, it’s your turn!  I am very curious to see what kind of stuff you guys will come up with.  Will you be the next Hemingway of capoeira?

Answer in the Comments below (I will post mine down there as soon as I finish it!):
In six words or fewer, what does capoeira mean to you?





Capoeira Song Lyrics List (Songs about Women)

28 03 2008

If you’re looking for a “pro-women” capoeira song to sing in the roda (like maybe when the mestra and contra-mestra of your capoeira group are playing each other 🙂 ), or want to know about more “women-unfriendly” capoeira songs, then you’re in the right place!  Below are two lists of both “pro” and “anti” women capoeira songs, with links to full lyrics and their translations.  I’m not naive (or arrogant?) enough to label the “anti” list “Capoeira Songs You Shouldn’t Sing” or something like that, but they are there purely for informational purposes and your own awareness.  Think of and bookmark this as a resource for the next time it’s your turn to lead the roda!

These lists will continually be updated as I discover more songs that fit under either heading.  Please contact me if you would like to add a song to either list, or believe you see a song on the wrong list!  Also, if I didn’t find a song already translated into English, then it was put at the mercy of Google Translation and my own non-Portuguese-speaking judgement, so feel free to suggest corrections there, as well. 🙂

To find out more about the representation of women in capoeira song lyrics, please read “Women in Capoeira Songs and the Roar on the Other Side of Silence“.

Update: You would be doing yourself a great disservice not to read Shayna’s suggestions and wisdom regarding singing capoeira songs in the roda (about women and in general)!  Check out her advice in the Comments thread, here and here.

Capoeira Songs about Women (positive)

Deixa Menina Jogar
Dona Maria do Camboatá
Dona Maria, Como Vai Você
Ginga Menina
Ingazeira o Ingá
Lagoa do Abaete
Sai, Sai Caterina
Santa Barbara de Relampué

Misogynistic Capoeira Song Lyrics

Retracted (4 September 2009)





Women in Capoeira Songs and the Roar on the Other Side of Silence

26 03 2008

When you clap and sing along in the roda, do you always know what you’re saying, what the words resounding in your ears really mean?  Are you unknowingly patronizing “women [as] the ones who clap their hands” (as opposed to “men are the ones who play pandeiro”), or accusing fellow (female) capoeiristas of being “like a snake / with venemous blood”?  Do you really believe that “woman killed man … / When she doesn’t kill him, she consumes him”?  Are you enthusiastically belting out, “Every jealous woman…I would kill them” and “When a woman is useless / Man sends her away”?

What happened to women in capoeira music?

It’s no secret that capoeira song lyrics contain some questionable and old-fashioned themes about women.  I’ve been thinking about the topic of women and capoeira songs / women in capoeira songs since I came across a thread on the capoeira.com forum, and fully realized that there are actually a lot of sexist, chauvinistic, and misogynistic lyrics in “traditional” capoeira songs.  However, I wasn’t sure exactly how a post on this would work, since such treatment or views of women seemed so prevalent in capoeira songs that either I’d have to make a 20-page study out of it, or simply reduce it all to one obvious sentence (like the first one of this paragraph).

Well, lo and behold, some diligent soul went the route of the 20-page study!  And thanks to the greater diligence of Shayna M., we now have an English translation of it, as well. 😀

Before you read it (link below), just a few comments.  I thought the author, Maria José Somerlate Barbosa, did a good job overall, and she definitely made clear the extent to which capoeira song lyrics degrade and denigrate women.  All of the themes she points out are the typical misogynistic narratives of weakness, deceit, castrating, etc.

However, I agree with Shayna’s note that the author could’ve picked a better choice for the example of a “pro-women” song.  Besides its obscurity, for me, I’m not too crazy about the fact that the song actually reinforces stereotypes of “the feminine”, even if it is to deem them positive instead of negative.  We’ve gone over this issue a couple times on this blog already, so if you would like some elaboration, please read my posts on “The Feminine in Capoeira” (Part 1: Malicia and Part 2: Context), or check out the discussion that developed in the Contra-mestra Cristina post’s comments thread.

Finally, I found it interesting that one of the capoeira songs Barbosa picked to criticize, I actually thought was okay at first.  The song goes:

In order to be beautiful
A woman doesn’t have to wear make-up
Make-up is of the Devil
It is God who gives beauty

Like I said, at first I didn’t see much wrong with that.  In fact, I thought it was a good thing, seeing it as something that spoke out against today’s consumerism and fashion industry, which eats both women and little girls alive.  As you will see though, Barbosa goes on to explain how this song both plays on misogynist themes and demonstrates how men try to control women’s actions.

The fact that I didn’t see this before brought up another important issue for me, something that goes back to that first-year post-modern, feminist, overkill-agenda-pushing English professor I mentioned in my very first post.  The problem my friends and I had with her was that she would bring her feminism into everything, even if the novel we were studying or discussion we were having hardly seemed to have anything to do with gender issues at all.  Eventually, it got to the point where we realized that by continually bringing them up, our professor was doing more to ingrain such narratives into our heads rather than encouraging us to fight them.  That is, by continuing to push how women were seen or portrayed as “lesser”, for example, my friends and I just learned to automatically associate “women” with “lesser”.  See how that works?

So in the case with this capoeira song, is it a good or a bad thing that Barbosa changed my view 180° on it?  This also relates to the larger issue of speaking out against misogyny/sexism in the first place.  As some people think, do feminists “just look for stuff to get mad about”?  And won’t continually pointing out this stuff have the same effect as my first-year English prof on my friends and I, only reinforcing the stereotypes in people’s heads rather than breaking them down?

First, I’ll answer the latter question, quoting the answer I gave to someone in my facebook group.  Their question was, “Why do you think it’s necessary to point out women in capoeira if by doing so, you make a border between men and women?”

I kind of looked at it almost as the lesser of two evils. It’s true that if I do talk about it, it makes people more aware of the “divide”. On the other hand, some divide is there whether I talk about it or not, and if people aren’t aware of it, it will just stay that way. So I guess I’m trying to point it out in order to make people more aware of it so they don’t go along with it unthinkingly, and might even maybe start actively trying to break it down.

So perhaps that was what our English professor was trying to do, as well: make us aware of it so we didn’t unthinkingly go along with everything we read.  However, I still think a lot of what she tried to inject into our curriculum was unecessary, so I’ll just say for my part, as I also told the guy in my facebook group, that I think I do a fair job here on Mandingueira of only touching on feminist issues when they come up naturally, without trying to force the issue in every post.

As for the other question (“Do feminists just look for stuff to get mad about?”), a blog formerly known by the brilliant title of “Shakespeare’s Sister” deals with that issue exactly.  Among her well-written, well-reasoned points, this paragraph touched me especially:

The truth is, if I actually spent my days actively paying attention to every example of misogyny around me, I would be a profoundly unhappy woman. Not bitchy or grumpy or short-tempered, but paralyzingly depressed. Women have to train themselves to avoid consciously reacting to every bit of misogynistic detritus permeating the culture through which we all move, lest they go quite insane. I write about the things I can’t not write about. If I wrote about all the examples of sexism I see every day, I’d never sleep.

This is true, and it resonated especially well with me because it echoes a novel I studied last year, George Eliot’s Middlemarch (which is really good, and which you should all read):

If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.

The point in both passages is that for the most part, we humans have desensitized ourselves to others’ suffering, and to a certain extent, this is actually necessary because if we were to or were able to be truly aware of all the pain and injustices and suffering in the world, every instant of hurt and every moment of wrongness, we wouldn’t be able to handle it; we would break down, go insane, and simply implode from the roar which lies on the other side of silence.

And I feel it, sometimes; all the blogs I read are categorized into folders, and sometimes I skip the one labelled “Feminism” altogether just because I don’t feel like reading yet another post or article about how women make 67 cents to every man’s dollar, or how another university paper wrote a “joke” article on rape, or how another film or TV show portrays a world with powerful women as a miserable world for men, or how women’s equality is the cause of everything from depression to the bad economy, or how another objectifying, degrading, insulting ad has been printed/broadcast, or how another sexist zinger has been used to bring down Hillary Clinton (and I’ve pretty much decided I want Obama to win) or in fact any powerful or political woman.

Because honestly, it is depressing.  It would be as if you went online everyday and read a series of blog posts or articles about how capoeiristas are universally belittled and undermined, how capoeira isn’t considered a “real” sport just because it’s done by capoeiristas, how you have to do ten public street rodas for every one soccer game to be taken seriously, how over half of assaulted capoeiristas were victims at the hands of their partners or mestres, how the rise of capoeira is the reason for all of society’s problems, how an ad sexualized violating a capoeirista to sell some product, how whenever you tried to do anything big or great with your life people argued you moved too fluidly or sang funny-sounding songs as reasons to take you down, how your school paper wrote a fun article about raping capoeiristas just for kicks, how another “study” has shown that capoeiristas are inherently dumber than other martial artists, how every day capoeiristas are brutally assaulted or killed, and just because you’re a capoeirista.  And yes, I realize some of those actually did happen in Brazil during capoeira’s early days, but now imagine it happens today, happens in every country on Earth, and that you didn’t just pick up capoeira somewhere along the way but were born with it in your blood.

So, having said that, please click here and read why feminists don’t “look for stuff to get mad about”.

And once you’ve finished that, here’s the study I promised you!

Representation of Women in Capoeira Songs [pdf]

Picture source:
http://content.answers.com/main/content/wp/en-commons/thumb/5/57/300px-Capoeira-three-berimbau-one-pandeiro.jpg





Drama and Babysitting and Pacifiers, Oh My: Children and Relationships in Capoeira

19 03 2008

This topic, based on the “Maternity and Well-Being” discussion at the FICA Women’s Conference, has two main parts to it: women in capoeira having children, and relationships between capoeiristas in the same group.

Having been in neither situation…I don’t know how much I can really say about this.  Consider that a disclaimer!

AwwwwwwFrom my own observations, all of the capoeiristas with families that I’ve seen have been pretty good at sharing childcare time (taking turns training, going to different classes, etc.), and the rest of the group usually seems more than happy to help out.  Actually, something I’ve noticed everywhere is that it seems like all capoeiristas are really good with children!!  As someone who dreads playing/working with children even more than partner work (it would be so like me to faire une bêtise and hurt them by accident; and there is nothing more scathing than a scornful young person; and how does one relate to a 6/12/15-year old??), I’ve always wondered why/how this is?

I will say, also, that I have yet to see a capoeirista who has had a baby look like she was ever pregnant in her life!  So I definitely agree with the discussion group people who said the best way for a capoeirista to get back in the game is to just keep training—if they ever stopped in the first place.  I’ve seen women playing and training while at least a few or more months pregnant, so I imagine they must have gotten back into things pretty quickly after giving birth.

If a woman has a baby and her partner doesn’t do capoeira, then I think that capoeira counts as a major enough part of a capoeirista’s life that her partner should care and be considerate enough to take that into account when splitting childcare duties, at least to a certain extent and provided that the partner doesn’t have something the equivalent of capoeira in their own life.  (If that’s the case, then both should compromise to give up equal times of their activity and take care of the child equally.)

And while I agree with the idea that new parents can stay involved with the academy by doing admin work, helping with events, and playing music, I think it’s also important to recognize that this in no way is a fair substitute for actual training!  So while it’s a good way for the parent(s) to stay connected to the academy while they’re physically or otherwise incapable of training, people (namely partners, and friends and capoeira colleagues to a lesser extent) should help out to try and make sure they can get back to normal training as soon/much as possible.

As for relationships between capoeiristas…well, I can see several pros and cons to this.

Pros:

  • You majorly have something in common.
  • You get to see them more often, and will understand each other’s crazy committment to that Brazilian martial art form nobody can even pronounce properly.
  • Training/playing in the roda might be more fun/interesting.

Cons:

  • You might see them too much and have space issues.
  • It might be hard separating the relationship from capoeira life, kind of like people in office relationships have trouble keeping them separated from work life.
  • If it goes bad, capoeira or training might become a source of stress for you, and you’ll no longer be able to count on it as your standard all-purpose stress-reliever.

On the other hand, this reminds me of two things I’ve been told in capoeira.  The first is that when you’re in capoeira, when you’re training or in the roda, everyone else is just another capoeirista.  In the roda, the other person isn’t your mother, your friend, or your significant other; they’re a capoeirista, and moreover a capoeirista you’re currently playing inside the capoeira roda.

The second?  In the all-too-immortal words of one of my capoeira teachers:

“Training solves everything!  If you’re sad, you train!  If you’re happy, you train!  If you’re angry, you train!  Love, anger, sadness, depression…training solves EEEVVVERRRYYTHING!”

Picture source: http://www.capoeirasantabarbara.com/images/cd2-kids2.jpg





FICA Women’s Conference 2008 cont’d on Mandingueira!

16 03 2008

Did you miss out on the recent FICA Women’s Conference in Washington, DC?  Were you disappointed in having to miss all the insightful, interesting, and valuable discussions that went on about women in capoeira?  So was I!  Which is why I’m going to (re)visit and feature them here on Mandingueira, one topic and one post at a time.  I’ll look at what was said at the conference, give my two cents, and then open the floor to you guys so we can all join in the discussion, regardless of geography!

Today’s discussion revolves around “Violence, Self-Respect, and Self-Defence“—although as you will see, a more appropriate title would be “Teasing and Criticism in Capoeira Training”.

In capoeira training, where is the line between tough love and uncalled-for-ness? 

Capoeiristas at the conference took an interesting take on this topic, looking at more subtle forms of violence in capoeira, such as verbal abuse, humiliation, and “disrespectful behaviour”.  (I would add that sexual harrassment, however slight or implied, fits under here too.)  This was a good choice, since I think all those things are a lot more relevant and prevalent in capoeira groups than outright violence is!  Eventually, the question of the student-teacher relationship came up, which of course involves complicating factors such as Brazilian culture and capoeira “tradition”.  By the end, they came up with several thought-provoking questions:

Just how much “teasing” can we allow before it’s disrespectful?
Is my mestre being cruel to me or “testing” my commitment?
Is he telling me these things because he cares?
How much does this criticism fracture my self-respect and self-esteem?
As a woman, am I more sensitive to this treatment, or is it more personal?

This topic interests me because I know at least one or two people who have been bothered by what was called “humiliation tactics” in capoeira training, for instance yelling, mocking, name-calling, or putting down.  However, I’ve never been unduly bothered by it, and I can say why:

  • I don’t feel like I’m being singled out and picked on, because I notice that everyone gets the exact same treatment, regardless of things like gender, rank, or connections.
  • Having said that, there is a sort of sliding scale in that students of higher rank or believed to have higher potential will be more aggressively pushed than, say, new or beginner students.  However, I think this makes sense, and because of this, have also learned to see it as a good thing if a teacher pushes or criticizes me, because it shows (I think/hope) that to at least some extent they think I’m worth paying attention to.
  • What the teachers do/say is never so much that I ever feel like my self-respect or self-esteem or anything like that is being slowly chipped away at.  Like I said, sometimes it actually boosts my confidence because it shows I’ve gotten “on the radar”.  However, and this relates to the fourth question above, it also depends on each individual, so perhaps teachers should be sensitive to how much each student would be affected by their comments, and adjust the tone/form of their criticism accordingly.

As for “testing committment” and “because s/he cares”, I have to say that if the teasing, etc., is truly hurtful to the student, then these are kind of flimsy excuses for it.  There are other, better ways to test a student’s committment besides seeing how much pyschological bullying they can stand, such as telling them they need to train more often/regularly, or having them volunteer for the academy (doing admin, helping out with events, teaching if they can, etc.). 

Likewise, if a teacher truly cared, they wouldn’t deliberately act in a way that would harm their students in the long run.  I’d say that giving you criticism is definitely because they care, since they want you to improve and you can’t know how to improve without knowing what needs improvement.  However, it’s the way they do it that’s important.  For many, even most students, the “tough love” route probably is the way to go, especially considering capoeira is still largely a martial art/physical activity, even with its many other aspects.  Again though, I’d say a lot of it comes down to the invidual personality of certain students and discretion of their teachers.

Finally, we have the question of how female students are treated by male teachers, when criticized.  If it were based on personal experience with my own capoeira grupo, this topic (happily) wouldn’t exist.  However, I do recall one instance from a time I checked out another capoeira group’s class.  I was practicing take-downs with a partner, and apparently we weren’t going through with the movement hard enough.  So the teacher came over and told us to genuinely try to take each other down, and at the end he said to my partner, “Don’t worry about falling; you have a big butt so you won’t feel it anyway”, or words to that effect.

My partner just laughed in reply, and so after a brief initial jolt I didn’t think more of it, but now that I see it written out like that, I’m actually kind of shocked!  Would a male capoeira student ever have something like that said to him?

This brings up several more questions that the fifth question in the list above sparked in me:

  • Is a capoeira teacher getting more personal than they should be, making those types of comments?  Do they know it, and what are the implications if they do or don’t? 
  • Should they be accountable whether it’s deliberate (as opposed to cultural background, not realizing implications, treating everyone like that, etc.) or not?
  • If we (women) take a comment personally, is it because we’d take it personally anyway, or rather because we’re sensitive to the possibility that it could’ve been meant personally, or has personal or gender-issue implications?  And if the second, does it matter?

As you can see, I’m coming up with more questions than answers here!  But then again, that’s where all of you guys come in.  Have you experienced or witnessed “crossed the line” criticism during capoeira training, or thought about how you’d deal with it, or how it should be dealt with in general?  While both men and women get teased and criticized, is it a genuine phenomenon out there that women receive such treatment differently/in different ways and directly because they’re women? 

[Note: I haven’t even touched on non-criticizing harrassment here, such as hitting on students, commenting on their looks, figures, etc., so if you would like to bring that up to discuss as well, definitely do so!]

Please respond in Comments below!  (And if you were at the conference, feel free to add any extra information or ideas that wasn’t included in the FICA write-up.)

Picture source: http://www.cdonotts.co.uk/classes/main.jpg





What Oscar Wilde Can Teach You About Capoeira

12 03 2008

“A little sincerity is a dangerous thing,
and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”

I know, what does HE know about capoeira, right?  Well, read and see!Known for sayings such as the above and “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it,” Oscar Wilde is one of my favourite authors.  It occurred to me the other day that despite his Oxford schooling, 19th century dandyism, and the fact that he was gay—he might actually have made a pretty good malandro [Edit: a pretty good typical/traditional malandro].  After mining through a huge list of famous quips and witticisms, I’ve shortlisted 8 gems that hold valuable lessons for us about capoeira.  Who’d have thought?  Now read on and yield to the temptation…

 

“Always forgive your enemies—nothing annoys them so much.”

Have you ever seen someone get taken down in the roda, and then immediately go into ultra-agression mode, doing everything with the sole intent of getting the other person back?  It didn’t get much results—or look very good—did it?  If you get taken down in the roda, or find yourself playing someone with whom you have a score to settle, relax.  There’s no hurry.  Laugh it off, keep having fun, and don’t show that you’re bothered (better yet, genuinely don’t be bothered at all!).  You’ll either perplex your opponent (an advantage), or keep the game fun and above-board; then, when they’re least expecting it, you can strike!

“It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously.”

This lesson is similar to the one above, but has wider context.  If you read Nestor Capoeira’s Roots of the Dance-Fight-Game, there’s a story in there about a capoeira instructor he met once, who used the word “work” in some form or another every other sentence while talking about capoeira.  That instructor proceeded to get his corda served to him on a plate in the roda, getting angrier and angrier all along for being made a fool of and for the imagined (or not-so-imagined!) insult to his pride and dignity.  Do you think people were taking him seriously then?  If you ever feel yourself getting too intense or upset about capoeira, just remember all its other names: vadiação, brincadeira, malandragem.  “Loitering”, “frolic”, and “roguery”—nothing very serious about those!

“There is no sin except stupidity.”

In his book Learning Capoeira, Greg Downey tells how the worst thing someone could be, to a capoeirista, is stupid, or naive (which is what I meant by the quote at the top of this post).  This one reminds us to always be on the alert, pay attention to what’s going on around you, don’t get cocky in the roda, know what’s going on in the roda even when you’re not in it or especially if you want to buy in, and to never let down your guard or make a rash decision.  Even if we no longer have to fear hidden razors to the throat, your pride won’t care if you end up on your butt thanks to an unexpected yet avoidable attack!

“Truth, in matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.”

Whether or not you agree with this regarding religion, you can’t argue if you replace the word with “capoeira”!  How many different versions have you heard of how many different histories, origins, techniques, personalities, stories, rumors, or philosophies, just to name a few?  I carelessly got caught out the other day while chatting with Compromisso of Capoeira Espaco: “…I can’t imagine what true angola must be like.”  Well, as he pointed out, what’s “true angola”?  What’s true capoeira?  When it comes to capoeira, there is no one, universal Truth, so take everything you hear or read with a grain of salt, and never forget or be afraid to think for yourself.

“People who love only once in their lives are. . . shallow people. What they call their loyalty, and their fidelity, I call either the lethargy of custom or their lack of imagination.”

Though slightly controversial, I agree with this sentiment regarding capoeira “group loyalty”.  As I explained in my post “Think Global, Play Local: Broadening Your Capoeira Horizons“, this does not mean I advocate group jumping!  I believe in this only as far as not restricting yourself to your own group to the extent that you don’t even interact or check out other groups, for the exposure.  “Lethargy of custom”, of course, would refer to going along with what you’re told because “that’s the way it is”, at the expense of your own growth in capoeira, and “lack of imagination” could be a cause, but more importantly also a result of such “fidelity”, in the long run.  (An example is, as I’ve been told by multiple people, when capoeiristas in one group play together so often and without new blood that they begin to memorize each other’s favourite moves and combinations!)

“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

Kind of a nice transition from the last quote, this one is a given!  If you find yourself doing the same moves over and over again in the roda, or end up with conversational lulls of doing ginga back and forth with your opponent, that might be a sign it’s time to get your capoeira sequence drawing board (or thinking cap, or magic eight ball—hey, to each their own!) out.  Capoeira is all about being creative and imaginative, moving unpredictably, doing the unexpected; the only thing you should be doing consistently is training! 

“A man who pays his bills on time is soon forgotten.”

Now this one I wouldn’t have picked a year or two ago, but things change. 🙂  If you play nice (and boring), following all of what you think are the rules, then—for the most part—people are going to play nice (and boring) with you.  When you play someone like that, what happens?  You play them, someone buys them out, and you move on to the next person.  What if the other person suddenly gave you a martelo to the face (just marked, of course, not actually), or attempted to take you down?  You’d suddenly be a lot more into the game, wouldn’t you, and they would definitely have caught your attention, wouldn’t they?  “Nice” and “proper” (whatever that is) is okay, but it’s also forgettable, and unremarkable.  If you push the envelope a little bit (and within reason), you get onto the radar, people won’t be afraid to do the same to you, and together that’s how you help each other grow.

“I may have said the same thing before…but my explanation, I am sure, will always be different.”

Ah, how many times have we asked for an explanation from a teacher, only to good-naturedly accept a completely contradictory version the next week?  Similar to there not being any one Truth in capoeira, there is also never just one way to do things, or one way to describe or explain things.  You can have one instructor insist on you practicing au sem mão one way, then five minutes later have that exact method derogated by another (true story)!  The key to this one is to always be mentally flexible, open-minded, and receptive of new ideas.  Being perceptive wouldn’t hurt either, in case someone is repeatedly telling you something you clearly need to know, but just in a different way each time!

Well, I hope you enjoyed this introduction to or reacquaintance with Oscar Wilde!  And hopefully you learned a couple of things, too. 😉

p.s. This was inspired while commenting on a post by the newest capoeira blogger on the block, Angoleiro! It’s all angola, all the time, and all awesome! You guys should definitely head over and check it out.

p.p.s. For those of you who have commented over the past two days or so, thank you so much for your thoughtful and extensive responses, and I’m sorry I haven’t replied yet!  I’ve been completely time-strapped by non-capoeira, non-blog things this week (I actually had to bail a couple times on my in-person friends, as well), but I promise I will get to them eventually, no matter what!  Keep checking back!

————————————————————————————
If you found this post interesting or useful, please
click to subscribe to my blog, by
RSS feed or email!
————————————————————————————





What is the Role of a Capoeira Mestre?

10 03 2008

When you think of your capoeira grupo’s mestre (sorry, Cenoura; there’s that defaulting again), what kind of role do they play in your life, or your capoeira one?  To you, are they a caring teacher?  A fun-loving drinking buddy?  An awe-inspiring hero?  Or an aloof and intimidating stranger?

WWBD---What Would Bimba Do?I never realized before this year how many different “types” of capoeira mestres there were, in terms of the roles they played within their respective groups and the relationships between them and each of their students.  For instance, this year saw the first time a mestre insisted on getting me a drink at a bar, instead of delivering to my group and me a lecture against drinking! 

I’d also never before this year seen any mestras, contra-mestres, or closely preceding levels socialize for real with all levels of students like normal, joking, discussing, etc.  Similarly, when someone told me they couldn’t face saying good-bye for good to their mestre without breaking down, I was shocked because I have no personal connection with mine (well, I think he knows my name); I’d be much more upset about leaving my teachers and friends and the other people I trained with day after day.

At first, I wondered if there were something wrong with my group.  It didn’t help when I then heard about a “no time to teach beginners” spiel that had been given.  Wasn’t a mestre supposed to be the rock of every capoeira student’s experience, not just the graduated ones?  Weren’t they supposed to guide one from the beginning of the so-called capoeira journey, not be waiting at the end, like a prize?  No?  My mistake; must’ve been reading too much Acordeon.

After listening to different friends though, I realized in our case it just all came down to practicalities, and then thinking about it further, I came to terms with it by realizing there are different ways of doing everything as long as it works, and this includes being a capoeira mestre and running a capoeira group.  And since the ideas above hadn’t occurred to me before, and I was still being taught capoeira well and enjoyably by other, advanced students, then regardless the system was working.  (The voice of my high school English teacher now floats through my head…”People will be content as long as they don’t have a basis of comparison“!)

So now this brings me to the question: what is the role of a capoeira mestre?  Is there a “proper” one they should take, according to capoeira tradition, or does the title just mean anybody who is the head of a capoeira grupo who gets the job done?  Based on the examples above, it seems like there are different “types” (for lack of a better term) of mestre roles.  Just to start with, there’s the dear father figure or close mentor; the cool, laid-back, “one-of-the-guys” boss; or the hard-to-reach CEO of a major corporation. 

With those last two comparisons, a separate but related issue emerges: how much hierarchy is there within your group?  Every grupo has hierarchy to some extent, of course, but I think in some if not a lot of cases, it can be considered to be…flattened.  There’s constant “social mobility”, if you will.  Whereas in a group with more hierarchy, distances are more obvious between each level of it, with the greatest distance being between beginners and the mestre, kind of like between a media mogul and one of her outlet’s unpaid interns.  I’d also say that hierarchy is more likely to be found in larger groups because it’s a natural way of organizing people, which would further explain why my own group operates the way it does, because it’s huge.

In my grupo’s case, I have no idea what it was like before I started, but now at least, it seems as if our mestre has taken on the “CEO of a large corporation” role, travelling and taking care of big picture things for the group, and its expansion, and a philanthropic project, while the job of everyday teaching is delegated further and further down the line.  (And occasionally, he’ll hold a managers-only professional skills development seminar.) 

Not that I’m complaining; I absolutely love my teachers, they do an amazing job and can probably relate to me more than a mestre could and vice versa, and it would be an awesome experience to get to teach one day myself (albeit it for now being the day I wake up in a parallel universe).  The only thing is that this system results in a huge “power distance” gap between many students and the mestre, and I used to think that was normal, until I started seeing and hearing about all these examples to the contrary.

So, I’m curious to know what kind of experiences or impressions or relationships the majority or variety of other capoeristas have with their grupos’ mestras, contra-mestres, etc., and whether or not you think mestres should fulfill a certain role, or have certain duties to their group’s students no matter what, or not. 

The floor’s wide open!

Picture source: http://www.saltlakecapoeira.com/Website/Portals/1/bimba.gif

————————————————————————————
If you found this post interesting or useful, please
click to subscribe to my blog, by RSS feed or email!
————————————————————————————