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.


  • 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.


  • 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!

Public Service Announcement: Are YOU Affected by Capoeira-Coloured Lenses?

6 03 2008

Does capoeira influence your first impressions of people? 

“Whoa, you went to Nice on your own?”
“Yeah, because I was going for capoeira.”

“But weren’t you scared going to Amsterdam by yourself?”
“No, because I was meeting capoeiristas there.”

“Did you know them from before?”
“Never met them, but it’s fine because we’re in the same group.”

Did the above bits of conversation make perfect sense to you? If so, then you, my friend, may be under the influence of capoeira-coloured lenses.

Capoeira-coloured lenses, like their close cousin the well-know rose-coloured lenses, are known to shift or alter the wearer’s perception of people or situations towards a decidedly positive light. Complete strangers are welcomed with open arms; homes and hearths are opened to any in white or black and yellow; and ordeals otherwise known as travel headaches, major hassles, hardships, pain, or annoyances are often relegated to a rather large category titled “worth it”.

Authorities (parents, friends, and the like) are unable to explain the effect these lenses have on their loved ones. Those struck with capoeiryopia (also known as CCLS, or Capoeira-Coloured Lenses Syndrome), rather than displaying anxiety or worry in the presence of self-proclaimed “obsessed addicts” who are often “high” or “drunk” on mysterious substances such as “axé” or “malandragem”, on the contrary go out of their way to meet such individuals, and display great joy and delight if they happen to come across such individuals accidentally.

This syndrome, which many fear is contagious, is a new trend sweeping the globe, as persons of uncertain motive (do they dance? do they fight? who knows?!) burn through gasoline, plane fuel, and Puma or Adidas sports shoes in order to take advantage of this popular phenomenon. To anyone wearing capoeira-coloured lenses, you are automatically a wonderful, open-minded, awesome, and fascinating human being by virtue of an affinity for the sound of wood hitting a taut steel wire in repetitive patterns.

Will this trend continue? Will CCLS take over the world? Will YOU know what to do when the time comes?

Stay tuned for further developments! (For now, I’m off to tune my steel wire.)

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

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!

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

The First and Last-Ever FOR Women Only Post on this Blog

8 02 2008

(Okay, I’ll give the guys part of it.  But highlight the rest to read.)

Top 5 Reasons I Hate the Colour of Translucent White Abadas

5. Every class serves as free advertising for a variety of underwear manufacturers.

4. You are one of aforementioned advertisers.

3. For one week of every month, you can’t concentrate on training while training.

2. Sometimes, aforementioned week arrives unexpectedly.

1. Sometimes, aforementioned arrival occurs as you change before class, therefore robbing you of much-anticipated training and forcing a hasty and ridiculous U-turn escape out of the academy before class starts or more people arrive and ask where (that is, why) you are going.

Can you say “PORRA!”?

Capoeira Resource: Soul Capoeira Blog

23 01 2008

Berimbau, atabaque, pandeiro, reco-reco, agogoHey everyone, I wanted to tell you about an awesome capoeira blog/website I’ve been following for a bit now, called Soul Capoeira.  It’s an extremely prolific and informative site, run by Chan Griffin, that offers everything from in-depth history, to stories and tales, to intricately retold memories, to basic as well as (very) specific information about all sorts of capoeira topics. 

What really got me, though, was the inclusion of beat-by-beat musical rhythm instruction!!  You have no idea how excited I was to find this.  I don’t know how it was for you when you first started learning the berimbau, but I know for many people they do it intuitively, by listening to and watching someone else play, then copying as best they can.  For me though, I had to know exactly in my mind that it was, for instance, “1 down, 2 up, 2 buzz, repeat” or “4 down, 2 buzz, 3 down 1 up, 2 buzz, 4 up, 2 buzz, up-down-up-down” before I’d be able to play the toque successfully.  (Yes, I do find it easier to remember that than mimicking and yes, my friends thought I was crazy too.) 

Anyway, I still find that to be the most effective way I learn new rhythms (unfortunately, my teachers haven’t always agreed with me on that point XD), and it applies to the other instruments as well.  So if you happen to learn that way too—or even if you don’t, it can still be useful—Soul Capoeira comes through amazingly.  Whether it’s pandeiro technique, berimbau toques, or maculelê on the atabaque (at long last, our intrepid Joaninha has stumbled upon the Holy Grail!), if you can read…you can play!  Thanks, Chan!

Picture source: http://www.capoeirasuldabahia.com.br/images/musica.jpg

My First Capoeira Class (Or: Joaninha Joins a Brazilian Street Cult)

11 01 2008

*to-be-Joaninha (hereonafter referred to as simply “Joaninha”)
*Joaninha’s father
*Joaninha’s sister
*Random British woman
*Teacher who taught first capoeira class
*Group of skilled, attractive, intimidating, tattooed strangers who obviously work out (hereonafter referred to as simply “Capoeiristas”)

Scene 1: Kitchen inside Joaninha’s home

Joaninha sitting at table, poring over KCC (community centre) summer program.

Joaninha (to self): Well, it’s July and I have another two months to go before university starts.  Seeing as how it’s not really my goal to become a professional couch potato by the end of August, I should probably pick something up.  Hm, what’s this?

Joaninha’s eye is caught by an interesting-looking word.  The intrigue piques her dormant yet awakening inner-English major.

Joaninha (to self): Capoeira? (with retroactively perfect pronunciation) “Learn self-defense and increase your flexibility to invigorating Brazilian music!” (or words to that as equally misleading effect)  That sounds like something new, and interesting.  And since it’s just a community centre program, it’ll probably be all “just for fun” and no pressure, nothing really hardcore or anything like that.  I’ll try it!

Scene 2: KCC Gym, one month later.

Joaninha enters and makes a few interesting observations during the start of her first class.

Joaninha (to self): Hm, the music’s pretty cool.  Wait, why is everyone in uniform?  Uh-oh.  And they all have belts!  What?!?  Okay, okay, class is starting.  What did everyone just say?!  What was that move they just did??  Alright, just running around the room now, that’s normal, warm-up makes sense…oh, the teacher’s starting to clap on beat—wth?!?!!

Joaninha’s internal panic system goes into overdrive as rest of the class does a cartwheel every time teacher claps.

1.5 hours later

Against all odds, Joaninha has survived both mentally and physically, along with one British woman, also new, who was never to be seen again.  Class is now sitting through wrap-up talk.

Teacher: So, we’re ending class a little early today so we can go to the academy.

Joaninha (to self): There’s an academy?!

Teacher: And Thursday’s class is cancelled—

(At this point, teacher starts talking about what turns out to be a batizado, which, unheard of by and unbeknownst to Joaninha, happened to be that weekend.  So, she heard things a little differently.)

Teacher: —because we’re all going to a tournament to compete against teams from the United States and Brazil.

Joaninha (to self): Whoa!  What?!?!  Okay, this thing is WAY bigger than I thought it was!!!  Holy crap, what have I gotten myself into?!

Teacher (to Joaninha, as people get ready to leave for academy): You should come, and see what capoeira is really like.  This is just a small part of it.

Joaninha (to self): Well, if I’m going to do this, I might as well make an effort to do it properly.  (to teacher) Um…okay.  I just have to call my dad. (for she does not yet know how to drive or take public transit, to her future self’s chagrin)

Joaninha (to her father on the phone): Hi…yeah…so…this capoeira thing…well, I think I may have gotten just a tad in over my head…It turns out they have uniforms, and belts, and there’s an academy, and international teams, and everything…but they’re going to the academy tonight…and the teacher said it’d be good for me to see what it’s all like there…can you drive me?

Joaninha’s father arrives with little sister, who promptly states she came along for the ride specifically to make fun of Joaninha. 

Scene 3: The Academy 

Joaninha, father, and sister have arrived at The Academy, which turns out to be in a not-so-good part of town.  Joaninha and little sister are dropped off, proceed down narrow dark path between two buildings into a back alley, and enter The Academy.  They both spend the next seemingly interminable period of time (the exact length of which Joaninha has no memory, beyond “long”) huddled sitting on the floor against a wall watching Capoeiristas mingle, mill around, and eventually hold a roda.  Joaninha’s first roda is entirely seen through a forest of white-pantsed legs.

An interminably long period of time later.

Teacher: So, what did you think?

Joaninha: It was interesting!  Yup, see you next class!

Joaninha and little sister leave and are picked up by Joaninha’s father.

Sister (to father, angrily):  Why didn’t you come in?!?  It was so scary in there!!

Father: Are you kidding me?? All those big, muscled guys with tattoos?  I’m not going in there!

Joaninha makes mental note to rethink next year’s Father’s Day present.

Father: Anyway, wait till your mom hears that you’ve joined a Brazilian street cult!

The end.

Joaninha's first capoeira roda