Perspective in Capoeira: Falling Behind on the Journey

16 04 2008

How much does it matter? Does it matter? Why?

Normally, people love what they are good at; conversely, you are usually good at what you love. Writers write, actors act, graphic designers design graphics, and soccer players play soccer. Academics excel in academics, and mechanics know their mechanisms. Passion and motivation are all you need to carry yourself to great heights in what you love, at least according to Chicken Soup for the Soul, et al.

What perspective do you take on capoeira?Of course, capoeira, being the malicious trickster it is, doesn’t care what Chicken Soup or the rules say. That’s one of the things that I always thought was awesome about capoeira; you didn’t necessarily have to be good at it to feel like you were getting somewhere, and anyone could fall victim to “capoeira fever” (to quote a friend), whether they were a beginner or athletic or not.

But after a certain point, sucking at something you love kind of…well…sucks. This is what’s been bothering me lately, and where perspective comes in, but first, some background: My friends and I have been training at different places for the past eight months due to geography, and seeing one of them this past weekend made it very, very obvious that we’ve been progressing at devastatingly different rates. I can’t do half—no, make that any of—the things they do, and I started a year before. I blame (rightly or not) where I’ve been training for not being hardcore enough in comparison to my old place, not intense enough, not pushing their students enough, but am blasting myself for the same things. It’s not like I haven’t been training (on the contrary, although I may as well not have been), but what if I’d pushed myself just that much harder each class, that much further, not let myself become that much more complacent?

And though I’m still upset, after talking to a non-capoeira friend about it, I also have to ask…why? Why do we get upset about capoeira if we still enjoy it while we’re doing it? Is there a point to it? Does it make our lives better?

On the one hand, this kind of dissatisfaction is good in the way that it can motivate you to really train harder and be determined to rev it up. (Although if you’re me, that in turn only leads to a sprained toe. Ah, irony, my dear old friend.) But if you put it into the context of your life overall…is there a point? If you enjoy capoeira and you enjoy going to class and training and playing in the roda, then can’t you just enjoy what you are doing, instead of getting upset about what you could be doing? That’s how I used to view capoeira. That is, I knew before I started that I wasn’t athletic at all and didn’t have much hope of really getting good, so my overall outlook every class was basically to not expect anything, so everything I did do was a happy surprise.

This also reminds me of what Xixarro said after “The Battle Between Capoeira and Everything Else“, about just enjoying capoeira while you’re there and not worrying about what’s not there (like extra time to train, or I guess in this case, actual capoeira skills).

But isn’t a capoeirista who doesn’t esquiva fast enough, kick high enough, can’t jump, has too little balance, not enough malícia, needs more control, hopeless at floreios (even if they are auxiliary, but definitely expected in my group, and the bar for them just keeps getting higher)…just like a writer who lacks vocabulary, spells things wrong, forgets punctuation, can’t structure paragraphs, and doesn’t even have very much to write about?

But again: if you enjoy it anyway, and doing capoeira makes your life better nevertheless…then does it matter?

p.s. In no way do I actually think this does not matter; I hate that my progress is practically non-existent and that I can’t do anything, especially while everyone else I know is zooming by on rocket-powered cordas. This is another “thought experiment” and just to see what other people, i.e. you guys, think. Or maybe you can convince me that it really does not matter and I should lighten up/stop thinking too much/look on the bright side/don’t worry?





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. 😉

Picture source: http://www.cafepress.com/pcpremium.11583050

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Think Global, Play Local: Broadening Your Capoeira Horizons

1 03 2008

Capoeira is international.  Are you?  

Something that has periodically amazed me is that from time to time, when I’ve tried capoeira in other places (such as at last week’s batizado in Amsterdam), it seems as if I’d never left home, and was still in a class with my own group, my own teachers. These feelings usually swell, like bubbles, during lectures or talks about various aspects of capoeira.

Think global, play local; capoeira can be found all around the globeIt doesn’t matter if you’re at a British, German, or Japanese roda; you still have to sing like a Tenor, gauge your battles like a Spartan, and converse (joga-wise) like characters in a 19th century murder mystery. Likewise, it matters not whether it’s boomed out (like a death sentence) in French, English, or Portuguese: the phrase “deux par deux” (dois par dois, two by two, whatever) will always increase my blood pressure, exact a groan, and have me looking for a good nearby rock to hide under.

My point is, incredible as it is, I’d never thought of capoeira being literally international in this way before. Obviously, I knew it came from Brazil and had spread all over the world, and my own group has many international branches, but it wasn’t until I’d heard words from my first teachers’ mouths repeated in the same way, but in a different language, that it really hit me.

It amazed me because just like how I felt capoeira changes but fundamentally stays the same throughout time, it seems this applies for capoeira throughout space as well—that is, geography. Capoeira in Brazil is capoeira in Turkey is capoeira in Australia. This is lucky for us, since there is still much to be gained by trying some of each, which brings me to the post’s title.

In the world of environmental action, “think global, eat local” is a movement to encourage people to consume more locally grown/produced food, in order to save on resources that would otherwise be spent transporting consumer products, such as gas and other fuels. More specifically, it is much more resource-conscious, thus environmentally and so thus globally conscious to eat steak from a cow raised on a farm just outside your city, than it is to chow down on ribs that were imported from, say, Mexico, based on the amount of energy and resources it took to get that particular food from its starting place onto your table.

This may be a bit of a stretch, but in a way I think that concept can apply to capoeiristas as well, while travelling or having to relocate to other places for any reason. Say you’ve just moved to a new city, or country, and you have two choices for continuing your capoeira training: drive or take a train four hours out to another city once a week or less to train with the “local” branch of your own group, or start taking truly local classes, from another group. By trying the latter, you are not only truly immersing yourself in your new locale (while saving time, money, and resources), but afterwards you will become more globally conscious capoeira-wise, as well. You will see how different grupos and different cultures do and view things, and in the end it can only contribute to your experience and growth as a capoeirista.

Please note, though, that in no way am I advocating group-jumping here. If there is a local branch of your group in your new city, then you’re really lucky and definitely stick with them; you will still experience a new culture, if not a new group’s philosophy and way of doing things. “Think global, play local” for me doesn’t mean jumping groups for the sake of it, but just not shying away from exposing yourself to different groups when circumstances and opportunity intersect in the right way. The idea isn’t to replace or mix up your “group roots” and style/foundations, but to supplement or garnish them with new ideas and perspectives.

In a way, being in a capoeira group could be compared to being the citizen of a country. You grow up in your own culture and learn all its ways, and patriotism is usually expected, though in varying degrees. However, your worldview as a person would be deeply stunted if you never travelled or saw anything or interacted with anyone outside of your own country, or even state/province or city/town/village. (Think deep south USA.)

Sure, there are books and newspapers, but just like while someone in North America or Europe might know what’s going on in the Middle East but doesn’t know the Middle East, a capoeirista can hear or read about other capoeira techniques and philosophies, but it is only by actually encountering and experiencing them that you gain the value of truly broadening your horizons. And, just like in the real world, travelling to other nations doesn’t always necessarily mean you intend to become an ex-pat!





Battle of the Titans: The Internal Struggle between Capoeira and…Everything Else

10 02 2008

When it comes to capoeira, there is no doubt that the more you train, the better.  In a perfect world, we would all get to train capoeira as much as we wanted to (or needed to), as often as we could, and simultaneously stay on top of everything else going on in our lives—school, career, relationships, etc. (and get full nights’ worth of sleep while we were at it!).  Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.  So, what happens when these two giants in your life (“capoeira” and “everything else”) clash for your time and energy?

Capoeiristas play capoeira.  And everything else?

On the one hand, it seems there’s just no help for it.  As crazy as I am about capoeira, I’m not about to blow a great career opportunity or cut an important class for one session of training (manipulating my course timetable to work around training, however, is a different matter 😉 ).  I know of at least one or two people who have a really hard time training not even nearly as much as they would like, due to exacting careers or studies, and I always wonder, what will happen for me in the future?  At one point in time I was considering going to medical school after graduating, and upon hearing this someone said to me, not without reason: “You won’t be doing capoeira then!” 

The thing is, I always thought it had to be one or the other.  My grupo in particular has a very hardcore take on training and commitment, which I appreciate and wouldn’t want any other way, but which also really forces you to decide what the priorities in your life are.  Training time increases with corda rank, naturally, but by my second belt I was already training 5x/week, and anything less than daily for my teachers, not even graduados themselves (but still more than skilled/competent, of course), was rare.  To get even anywhere near becoming a mestra or mestre, it seemed, took not only a lifetime but quite indiscriminately a life, leaving no room for anything else.

This impression only strengthened when I read biographies of mestres, my grupo’s mestre, guest mestres, branched-off mestres, all of which related how pretty much the entire lives of all of these men were devoted to capoeira, leading to them becoming mestres, and as far as I know, their lives are still 100% devoted to purely capoeira, their academies, the growth of their schools, etc.  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that; that’s not my point here, and capoeira can always use that kind of dedication, which merits admiration.

My point is: A short while ago, I experienced yet another “revelation”, connected to this and again mostly to do with capoeira angola.  I know it seriously seems like I’m about to defect to an angola group any day now (to those who might, don’t worry; I’m not!), but I had to share it.  This was the revelation:

  • Rosangêla de Araújo Costa: Mestra Janja of Grupo Nzinga and historian and university professor
  • Paula Cristina da Silva Barreto: Mestra Paulinha of Grupo Nzinga and sociologist and university professor
  • Paulo Barreto: Mestre Poloca of Grupo Nzinga and geographer
  • Pedro Moraes Trindade: Mestre Moraes of GCAP and public school teacher
  • Nestor Capoeira: Mestre and author and PhD alumnus
  • Marcia Treidler: Mestranda Cigarra of Abada Capoeira and founder/Artistic Director of ACSF (non-profit NGO)

As you can see, every one of these illustrious individuals is a superlative capoeirista, at the top of the corda ranks and at the top of their game, yet there is much more to their lives and careers than capoeira alone.  For them, it seems, substantial progress in capoeira (to say the least—they’re mestres!) and major non-capoeira commitments (e.g. post-grad degrees, career development) were not mutually exclusive concepts. 

So, firstly, where did my bedrock belief in the contrary come from?  My grupo’s “philosophy”?  My own insecurities?  (Speaking of which, I should make it clear here that I have no plans, intentions, hopes or expectations of becoming a mestra, ever, but everything I said still applies to the idea of advancing through belt levels in capoeira in general, which is the part that applies to me!)

And secondly, what currents cause growing capoeiristas, potential mestras/mestres-to-be, to sail one way or the other?  Regarding the people listed above, I want to know: How did they do it?  Or how were they “allowed” to do it, to take the time they must have needed to accomplish their other goals, yet have trained enough and been recognized as dedicated enough to be deemed mestras?  Perhaps, as I think is in some cases, their other achievements were accomplished after the fact, when they had already earned the mestre/a corda and was then released from the training pressure of a normal student (although I can imagine a whole new set of pressures coming in to replace that!).  Perhaps, as is also likely, their grupos had different “philosophies”, more conducive to the simultaneous success of non-capoeira pursuits just as considerable as the capoeira one.  Or maybe they really did go “capoeira-lite” for a while, reached the moon, then came back, caught up, and re-donned the capoeira horse-blinders.

In any case, I found this particular “revelation” to be very heartening and encouraging (even inspiring), and I have so much admiration for capoeiristas like Mestra Janja and Mestranda Marcia.  Perhaps there’s room in the world for a martelo-throwing rasteira-sneaking newsbreaking world-changing difference-making writer-publisher-journalist-capoeirista after all. 😛

Picture source:
http://www.capoeira.org.nz/index.php/item/258

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Capoeira and Change on Blue Snake Books Blog

5 02 2008

Remember when I wanted to know, “Can Capoeira Change the World?”  Well, now that I’ve asked the question, I’m setting out to find the answer!  This is to announce a new “series” I’m doing (the term will be used more loosely for this one than for my other series) , all about capoeira and change.  Whether it’s discussing the rise of capoeira angola and its role in the Black Movement, or spotlighting a specific grupo’s philanthropic project in Brazil, I’m going to cover it.  And the best part?  It won’t be on this blog!

Blue Snake Books, North American publisher of Nestor Capoeira, Mestre Acordeon, and others

Instead, the series will be on Blue Snake Books Blog, where I was asked about a month ago to do some writing for them.  Blue Snake Books is the leading martial arts book publisher in North America, including of all the (English) capoeira books we know and love so well, so I am very excited to be doing this!

The series will run roughly every 1-2 weeks or so and starts today, with a post discussing Capoeira as a Force of Change.  Be sure to check it out, and don’t forget to keep a further eye out for me there!

Update: Get a special project or person featured in this series, and win a Mandingueira notebook!  Click here for details.

 

Capoeira and Change: Archives

Capoeira as a Force of Change
Capoeira é Magia: ACSF and Why Capoeira Changes Us
GCAP and Capoeira Identity Politics
Growing Crystals: FICA Capoeira Women’s Conference and Initiating Real Change

(Background/From Mandingueira:)
Can Capoeira Change the World?
Can Capoeira Change the World? Part 2





Capoeira and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

22 01 2008

(semi-inspired by Pirulito/D-cal’s paper, Zen and Capoeira)

The roda, a place of logic, precision, art, and beauty.One of my favourite novels is called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig.  The novel explains how art and science, or “Romantic aesthetics” and “Classical reason” are not so much two opposing ways of looking at things as they are twin perspectives that were separated at birth by the likes of Plato and Aristotle, to the detriment of all Western society today.  The split occurs because Romantic appeal is tied to emotions and subjectivity (something appeals or seems beautiful to you “merely” if you like it), while Classical reason is associated with objectivity, the need for a complete lack of emotions. 

In fact, argues Pirsig, you need both to do anything worthwhile, and to do it well.  You need to at once see the cold logic underlying an original Van Gogh and the flaming beauty in the mathematical precision of a motorcycle engine.  At the crux of it all is a concept he calls Quality, which is the point at which Romantic appeal and Classical reason merge.  It all sounds a bit weird and out there when I describe it now, but you must read the book to have a chance at understanding it all (and read it anyway, because it’s amazing!). 

With that said (sorry for the long introduction), it occured to me that capoeira is a perfect example of this unification of science and art.  The novel’s title is explained by the fact that the philosophy of Zen codifies exactly the concept of what Quality is, so you can imagine my excitement at recalling the following quotation, from Nestor Capoeira’s Street-Smart Song:

In the East there is Zen;

Europe developed Psychoanalysis;

In Brazil we have the Capoeira Game.

(Alright, so by “recall”, I really meant “was reminded of by Pirulito’s paper”. :P)

With capoeira, it’s easy to see where the Romantic appeal aspect comes in.  The dialogue, the movement, the acrobatics, the expression, the flow—ask anyone to describe capoeira for you, and it probably won’t be long before the word “beautiful” or a synonym comes up.

I would argue, however, that the logic and science in capoeira is just as easy to perceive as the beauty is.  In fact, one of the first things about capoeira that I fell in love with was the seeming perfect logic of many of the take-down or take-down/counter-take-down sequences we learned.  Seeing them demonstrated, to me they each possessed all the elegance of a succinct, devastatingly proven math equation.  For instance, a successful tesouro was a logical progression from an attempted vingativa, which itself was the jigsaw-puzzle-perfect response to an attempted quexada—based on body positioning, players’ intentions, opportunity, and the laws of physics. 

According to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the reason many people today feel detached from technology and science is because all the Romantic appeal has been taken out of it—emotions are not involved, everything must remain objective and separate from the individual, and test tubes, metal parts, and theories, etc. are not very attractive aesthetically speaking.  What we must learn to do, says Pirsig, is put our emotions and individual values back into Classical reason.  When tuning a motorcycle, for simplified example, he can feel the point at which the screw takes on the exact needed amount of tightness.  When he thinks of the motorcycle as not an object outside of himself, but something that he is engaged with and cares about, he has a much better chance of working on it successfully, and the moment he feels satisfied and at peace is the moment his motorcycle is fixed. 

In other words, one must work with defined principles on which the game is based, but in a way that makes it your game, that makes it personal, and if you do it right—there is nothing but the moment, and everything goes with the efficiency of a well-tuned machine that also happens to make one feel they’re looking at a beautiful work of art.

Sound familiar?

Picture source:
http://www.swps.org/wrf/artist_05/Capoeira.jpg

P.S. Just a note to acknowledge Blog for Choice Day, that today is the 35th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade in the United States.  I haven’t thought enough about this topic yet to feel comfortable writing an actual post on it, but thought I should at least just recognize.





A Thousand Words: Writing and Talking About Capoeira

9 01 2008

Words about capoeira are like shadows of the real thing 

Do you remember the first time you read something substantial about capoeira? What about the first time you went all out talking shop with a fellow capoeirista, or your first in-depth capoeira discussion?

The first capoeira book I read was Nestor Capoeira’s Capoeira: Roots of the Dance-Fight-Game. It was the first time I’d read anything substantial written about capoeira, and it was revelational. Imagine a girl, curled up on a chair at the kitchen table, completely still except for the spellbound page-turning of Chapter 1, eyes word by word razing lines to the ground, thinking: “Nestor Capoeira can read my mind.

Fast-forward six months or a year or so.  By now, I’m more or less constantly talking with my capoeira friends outside of class.  Of course, what else do we talk about but capoeira?  We talk about everything, from technique, to music, to trends, to dynamics, to politics, to changes, to likes and dislikes, to hearsay, to problems, to advice, to complaints, to aspirations, to the past, present, and future.  (Whoa.  And not just about capoeira anymore.  Honestly, what would I do without these guys?)

The thing was, especially and mostly at the beginning, I found that while sharing all the thoughts and ideas I’d accumulated about capoeira and class and related matters since having started was fun and gratifying—moreover to people who related!—it also somehow felt a bit…hollow.  Like nothing quite came out the way I wanted it to, no matter how many times I reworded or amended my comments.  Like I knew exactly what I was talking about before saying it, and after it came out, sounded nothing like I’d thought it would.  Like while everything remained percolating in my mind, it was clear, and pure, and…well, for lack of a better word, sacred; and after I articulated my thoughts, or tried to, it lost all of that.  It became cheapened, and trite, merely strings of words thrown to the wind, mental glass structures processed into verbal sand.

To put it simply, talking so earnestly about capoeira, at times, seemed to take away the magic from just doing and thinking about capoeira.  It was the reverse of reading Nestor Capoeira’s book for the first time. 

I believed the same would apply to writing about capoeira, as well.  Before the idea for Mandingueira came up, I never for one second considered writing a blog about capoeira.  It would be too much, I thought, too much writing, and talking, and spelling out, and deconstruction and breaking down of something I felt was best experienced holistically.  Wanting to describe or discuss any part of capoeira, whether in speech or in writing, is like wanting to paint a stunning, breathtaking, fiery sunset.  The subject is so beautiful and awe-inspiring that you feel compelled to capture it, to retain its essence, yet you know you never can, and thus don’t want to because even your best efforts will not do it justice—but still want to.

So despite the challenge, many people continue to pick up a paintbrush, ready to capture the sun.  Perhaps the most beautiful thing about it is that no matter how many people try, fail, or succeed, it remains ever burning just as bright, an irrisitible source of inspiration for all those who stop and gaze.

Picture source: http://www.cs.helsinki.fi/u/ruuhonen/capoeira.jpg





Can Capoeira Change the World? Part 2

6 01 2008

Grupo Nzinga Capoeira AngolaIt has been all along, right under our noses—just not our regional ones!

From FICA Archives: Celebrating 25 Years of M. Paulinha:

M Paulinha writes about the growth of Capoeira Angola as an ever-widening vehicle for marginalized social expressions following efforts by the Brazilian state to turn capoeira into a “national sport”. She traces Capoeira Angola’s growth as part of the black movement, as a growing space for women (in large part due to the work of Paulinha and Janja themselves), and most recently, as a zone of international and cultural understanding. Here is a bit:

In the beginning of the 1980s, the creation of the Grupo de Capoeira Angola Pelourinho (GCAP) in Rio de Janeiro and later in Bahia marked a significant change in the situation. Founded by Mestre Pedro Moraes Trinidade (Mestre Moraes), GCAP implemented a series of actions promoting the re-valorization of Capoeira Angola and the recognition of the importance of old and famous mestres, such as Mestre Pastinha himself. With an ideology that affirmed capoeira’s African roots and denounced the injustices suffered by so many capoeiristas and Afro-descendents, this group was the precursor of a movement that became wide and diverse.

Through the realization of events in homage to Mestre Pastinha, GCAP managed to reunite old practitioners of Capoeira Angola and attract new admirers and people interested in learning the traditional game. The format of these events was innovative because it created bridges between the practitioners of Capoeira Angola and other segments of society such as: religious leaders, especially those linked to the Candomblés of Angola; anti-racist organizations of the “black movement”; organizations involved with other forms of black culture; intellectuals and scholars; and governmental organizations, especially in the cultural area. In some years, these events gained larger proportions, assuming a national and international character, and began to be held by other nascent groups of Capoeira Angola, mainly during the 1990s. Such events were established as an important part of a regular calendar activities that helped to construct the new community of “angoleiros”.

One important aspect of the ideology and actions implemented by the Capoeira Angola groups created in this period involves the denunciation of racism in Brazil. The events promoted in memory of Mestre Pastinha, carried out on the date of his death (November 13th), soon became part of the agenda of commemorations and reflections of the National Day of Black Consciousness (November 20th). More than a coincidence of dates, this approximation reveals a process of growing politicization in the universe of Capoeira Angola, synchronized with the general trend in the black cultural scene in Bahia…

… This community became very heterogeneous – including people of various ethnic and racial origins, social classes, nationalities, genders, ages, and sexual orientations- and this has been the backdrop for the construction of the angoleiro’s identity. Therefore, affirming oneself as an “angoleiro(a)” today implies dealing with diversity, rejecting any ideal of purity and homogeneity.

I think I joined the wrong style…!  (Kidding, but it’s food for thought.)

Follow-up to come—eventually.  I was doing research for a write-up on Mestra Paulinha and couldn’t just sit on this!

Click here to read “Can Capoeira Change the World?” (Part 1)





Q: What do capoeira and the Energizer Bunny have in common?

1 01 2008

For capoeira, the sun never sets...A: They both keep going, and going, and going…

Feliz Ano Novo, todo o mundo!

As we leave the past year behind and ring in the new, change is usually what’s on people’s minds.  How did you change last year?  What do you want to change next year?

In capoeira, change happens all the time.  It’s exactly like (sci-fi writer) Isaac Asimov said: “The only constant is change.”  This might sound paradoxical, but sometimes it seems like change is so constant in capoeira, that it doesn’t actually happen at all.  Academies change, moves are retired and reworked, people come and go, you get seriously injured and recover, and still—capoeira goes on, and remains capoeira.

There were several points last year at which I kept freaking out to my capoeira (and some non-capoeira) friends at how small my training group’s class was getting, to the point where they started making fun of me for it… (“Hey!  So, has the sky fallen at KCC yet?”)  At the same time, one of our two teachers left for a while, which was another major change.  The thing is though, we all just settled into a new rhythm, what at first felt weird and unsettling became normal, and all the while we still kept training capoeira as usual.

I think the crux here is really something my teacher (the one who’d left) said to me after I came back from a 3-week trip two summers ago (i.e. three weeks of missing class): “You might stop.  Capoeira doesn’t stop.”  Capoeira might change, but it never stops.  That’s why change is always so unsettling when it first happens, because we often see it as the ending, or stopping, of something.  This is never the case for capoeira though; no matter what happens, capoeira is capoeira.  It never stops.  And often, because of this longevity, what was changed may even become unchanged again–people return, attendance perks up, you regain lost skills–and all the while the berimbau has continued to play, so to speak.  The rhythm may be momentarily jarred, varied, or subdued, but never is it broken.

Picture source: http://psg.com/~walter/capoeir2.jpg





Can Capoeira Change the World?

29 12 2007

I stumbled across a beautiful line yesterday: 

[Capoeira] combines feminine aestheticism with masculine pugilism and escapes the rigid confines of both.

Perfect; absolutely perfect.  That line was courtesy of Singaporean writer and capoeirista Ng Yi-Sheng, from his blog the paradise of fruits and flowers.  Even if you aren’t into writing or literature, some of the things he writes about capoeira definitely make for an interesting read (case in point: click here).

Returning to the line above, I liked it so much that I’m going to have you read it again:  “It (capoeira) combines feminine aestheticism with masculine pugilism and escapes the rigid confines of both.”  I forgot about that while writing my “The Feminine in Capoeira” posts, where I focused on binaries and divisions (somewhat ironically in order to deem them things we should all ignore).  Now I want to look beyond that, to the role capoeira itself is supposedly playing in simultaneously breaking such structures down. 


[Note: When I talk about capoeira from now on, for the most part I mean its role and movement in society, not referring to the actual games and features that make up capoeira itself.]


Boundaries are fluid and perforated for capoeira, if not imaginary.    If each martial art were a literary persona of some sort, capoeira would be the Trickster figure from First Nations stories–a source of constant destabilization and renewal, impossible to pin down.  Even if one insists on assigning a “feminine” and a “masculine” aspect to capoeira, then within the context of the sport, none of it might even matter because capoeira is bigger than both.  It was one of the original greats of capoeira, after all, who said, “Capoeira is for men, women and children.” (-Mestre Pastinha) 

Likewise, and perhaps most obviously, capoeira crosses socioeconomic classes, nationalities, and cultures and politics of every stripe.  The documentary Mandinga em Manhattan mentions people playing capoeira along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, which, if true, would be astounding and speak volumes for capoeira and how it can unify diversity. 


[Warning: Relevant anecdote containing possibly politically incorrect remark ahead.]


The other day, I was telling a non-capoeirista friend about the time I visited Nice to train capoeira there.  She also went to France with me, and said she was surprised there were capoeira groups in France because capoeira seemed like such an intense sport, requiring so much dedication, commitment, and general keenness, none of which the French seem to have if you’ve ever had to deal with them on a daily and professional basis for an extended period of time.  (Okay, that was actually a very politically incorrect remark, and obviously not completely true; now moving on with the story…)  As a joke, I lowered my voice, leaned in, and dramatically declared, “That’s because capoeira touches all.”

Like I said, it was a joke (I’m not that brainwashed!), but then again, I read somewhere once that most if not all humour works precisely because it is always based on some grain of truth!  I don’t doubt that capoeira can touch people’s lives regardless (NOT “irregardless”, which is an inherently wrong and logically ridiculous word) of where they come from or what their background is.  It makes sense, if you think about it: What are the three fundamental components of capoeira?  Fight, dance, and music–each of which speaks to some unspoken part deep in every human being, and they are united and presented as art, which is a fourth that does the same thing.

Volta ao mundo

What I have questions about is the idea that capoeira not only has the potential to touch given people in the world, it can also change the world, through its mere existence and movement.  Nestor Capoeira writes:

Capoeira can be a tool in the First World, a tool against the forces that tend to turn people into robots that do not think, do not wish, do not have any fantasies, ideals, imagination, or creativity; a tool against a civilization that increasingly says one simply has to work and then go home and sit in front of a TV with a can of beer in hand, like a pig being fattened for the slaughter.  (Source here)

I can see capoeira doing such a thing for the people who practice it, through training, the roda, the philosophy, connecting with other capoeiristas from different cultures, etc., but unless everyone joins capoeira, how will society as a whole be affected by it?  Unless the whole point is that capoeira will change the world one person at a time (which, often enough, seems to be how it’s done)?  Or maybe it’s the idea of paying it forward (or back); there are tons of examples out there, for example, of a capoeirista starting a grupo in North America or Europe that eventually leads to changing the lives of many kids in Brazil.  Then there’s o efeito mariposa (:P)–the butterfly effect.  The armada of one capoeirista in Brazil can cause a tornado of change in Australia? 

I’d love to say that capoeira is changing or will change the world, beyond the capoeiristas and people in Brazil who are helped by capoeiristas, but I only want to know if there is something more concrete than theoretical or fanciful capoeira discourse that we can look to, to believe in some mass movement of this martial art that will help to revamp society as a whole.  Or am I just expecting too much?

On the other hand, I just reread my own sentence–“change the world, beyond the capoeiristas and people in Brazil who are helped by capoeiristas.”  Hm, so capoeira touches some people’s lives, and these people go on to touch other people’s lives.  Wait a second, isn’t that precisely what change is, and how mass change begins? 

I think the complication here is that I’m slightly confusing two concepts–changing the world, which connotes doing something, somewhere, to change something for someone or a lot of someones; and changing society/”civilization” (whatever that is), which connotes changing attitudes and values across entire populations, or sections of them.  So I can see capoeira doing the former, but am not quite sure about the latter, unless the spirit and attitude we all develop from doing capoeira is just that infectious!

Whether or not capoeira and its ideals/philosophy/attitudes will work its way through society in the future, there is no question that capoeira does something.  So, I’ll leave you with a quote about change that I’ve always liked, and may apply to any grupo, academy, or dedicated bunch of capoeiristas out there:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’ (-Margaret Mead)

Picture source:
http://bp3.blogger.com/_aiM7QtdDFgk/RnnsqYOv1LI/AAAAAAAAAW4/VXaQp5BviTA/s400/legs.jpg

Update: Click here to read “Can Capoeira Change the World? Part 2”