What Capoeiristas Can Learn from the Fall of Enron

10 04 2008

Goodness knows you’ve heard enough of this if you have me on facebook (and if you dont, why not?), but I thought, what better way to say good riddance to my monster, life-sucking sociology paper once and for all than by sending it off with a dedicated blog post!? And with all the capoeira time it stole from me, it might as well give something back. XD So without further ado, here is what you as a capoeirista can learn from the biggest and most sensational bankruptcy and business scandal in U.S. history:

How will you profit in the capoeira roda?Enron was one of the largest and fastest growing energy and trade companies in the U.S., until it very publicly went bust in 2001, taking along all of its investors, stockholders, and employees with it. The company turned out to be a case study in corruption, with accounting fraud, insider trading, conflict of interest issues, the works. The CEO, COO, and CFO were all brilliant men who used their genius for purely personal gain, at the expense of everyone else. In a way, Enron’s executives were kind of like white-collar malandros—except, of course, a real malandro would never have gotten caught. So, what did they do wrong, and how can we profit from their mistakes inside the capoeira roda?

1. Bad Planning / Not Thinking Ahead

Some people say Enron was doomed from the beginning, for two reasons. First, one of their early branches was caught for corporate crime and they didn’t really do anything about it, opening the way to more corruption in the future. Second, part of the reason behind the “creative accounting” was Enron trying to succeed in two contradicting business strategies: one needed them to invest money and suck up a lot of debt, but the other needed them to have good credit (ie. no debt), so obviously, something had to give. Both these cases showed poor planning and a lack of thinking ahead.

When you go into the roda, what are you thinking? Do you buy in with a certain goal in mind, or just jump in ready to wing it? Although you can’t—and shouldn’t—actually buy into rodas determined to roll out entire set sequences no matter what, it can’t hurt to focus your game just a little. Especially if you’re a beginner, a super helpful tip I read that works for me is to think of just one move, like a kick or a certain esquiva that you really want to master, and try to fit that somewhere into the game when you get the chance. As you become more advanced, you can start buying in with things like a specific feint combo or a certain floreio in mind.

By having these one or two tiny goals each time you play a game in capoeira, you practice looking for opportunities and integrating those movements into your game. At the same time, by keeping them simple you are not distracting or restricting yourself from going along with the general flow of the game and being able to work with whatever happens.

2. Digging the Hole Deeper

One of Enron’s schemes involved making up basically fake companies specifically to “do business” with them, so they could record the “profits” and push their debt onto the records of the other companies. When Enron started losing more money, instead of coming clean, they ended up pushing more and more debt onto the fake companies, so that by the end they’d hidden over $1 billion in losses, which of course only made things worse when they were found out anyway.

Does this situation sound familiar? You’re playing someone in the roda, and decide you want to get them with rasteira. You miss the first time, but instead of withdrawing you keep on trying, and get so caught up in giving (bad) rasteira after (sloppy) rasteira that you practically forget about actually playing the game. (And if that didn’t sound familiar to you…ummm…me neither. XD)

If an attempted take-down fails, give yourself time to recover. “Retreat”, let yourself ginga, and continue with the flow of the game; then try again when a good opportunity comes up. By recognizing when something you tried didn’t work and cutting your losses instead of building them upon each other, you give yourself a chance to regroup, which will increase your chances of success overall.

3. Not Taking Advice

One of the more sensational moments in the Enron scandal was when a then-anonymous memo sent to Enron’s CEO came out, telling him about the iffy business going on and advising him to do something about it. Of course, the CEO was already somewhat aware of what was happening, and instead of bringing in outsiders to investigate, as the memo advised, he assigned the investigation to Enron’s own auditors and lawyers—who were in on their schemes to begin with! Then he did nothing else, until it all came crashing down on his head.

This one’s pretty obvious. If someone has something to tell you, listen to them! Whether it’s your teacher, another student during training, or—if you’re lucky enough to understand Portuguese—a mestre singing certain lyrics while you’re playing inside the roda, more often than not you’ll benefit from hearing what they have to say. Conversely, if you ignore or miss out on advice or information, you can easily end up making an ignorant fool of yourself!

4. Bad Timing

Kenneth Lay (Enron’s CEO) and his wife Linda Lay definitely did not show a lot of malicía when it came to insider trading. Kenneth was caught out for sending an email to all of Enron’s employees encouraging them to not sell their stock but to buy more, calling it “an incredible bargain”, while he was selling off all his own shares of the stock at the same time. As for Linda, one day between 10:00-10:20am, she sold off all her foundation’s shares of Enron stock. At 10:30am, Enron released news that basically said the company would soon go into bankruptcy. Coincidence, much?

Even if you won’t be criminally charged for it, having bad timing in the roda never helps. Someone chapas their opponent straight into the chest? Think twice before you buy in. Going in for a take-down? Wait till you’re not right beside the instruments! Whether it’s something as basic as esquiva-ing the right way at the right time or making sure your opponent is actually where you’re kicking, or something requiring more finesse like a feint and last-minute trap, don’t let a few measly seconds or minutes be the cause of your demise.

This also applies to the timing of your overall game and movement—that is, your rhythm. Have you ever seen someone moving a little too quickly and frantically for the berimbau toque that was playing? It looks just as funny when you’re the one doing it (and does nothing for your game, either!). 😛

5. Telling Too Many People

After all was said and done, the Enron fiasco turned out to be an entire ring of corruption: everyone from the Board of Directors, to their accountants, to their bank partners, to credit raters and Wall Street analysts seemed to have been in on it in one way or another. With all these accomplices and potential witnesses, do you think prosecutors had much trouble making their case against Enron?

Similarly, I’m reminded of what I read in Greg Downey’s Learning Capoeira. He said that old mestres were shocked that modern day capoeiristas actually tattooed capoeira images onto themselves, because in the pre-acceptance days, you wanted to announce anything but the fact you were a capoeirista!  The fewer the people who knew, the better. Others are more likely to let down their guard if you give them no reason to put one up, and this is related to something on the Capoeira Connection list that Faisca posted: “When you play with a stranger, don’t show all of your game. Save your best hits for the decisive hour, if necessary.

Even if you’re not playing any strangers, it could be a good idea to draw on some subtlety and/or modesty as you add new moves to your repertoire. Not only does nobody like a braggart, but the element of surprise is always invaluable (and gratifying :P) when you’re playing capoeira in the roda!

Well, now that you’ve learned more than you ever felt you needed to know about Enron Corporation…you know how I’ve felt for the past two weeks! But I hope you got something for capoeira out of the lessons they learned, so that you can avoid being taught them yourself in the roda. Axé!





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!

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