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”





The Case of the Missing Capoeira Class (And What to Do about It)

27 12 2007

It was a day like any other.  The paper was stacking up, the cases were piling in, and the thermometer was about to blow its top.  I’d just lit my last cigarette, when there was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” I said.

The door opened slowly.  She stepped in, heels sinking into the coffee-stained linoleum, white gloved-hands trembling, white scarf hiding half her porcelain face; a real damsel in distress. 

“Oh Mr. Malone, it’s terrible!  If only you could help me, I’d be forever grateful!”

“‘S what I’m here for.  P.I. Sam Malone, at your service.  What seems to be the problem, pretty lady?”

Well, she told me.  And it wasn’t a pretty picture.  A job relocation, a popped kneecap, a closed academy, the works.  I told her I’d see what I could do, but it wasn’t looking good.  Still, every P.I. worth his salt has a few leads barking down the old chain.  I opened a new file, titled…The Case of the Missing Capoeira Class.

Detective’s Log: The Case of the Missing Capoeira Class – Leads


Exhibit A: Gym Room

Motive: Keeps you strong, keeps you fit.  Benchpressing is no jogo, but it’ll help you out in your next one (whenever that may be).  Cycle the room, mix things up.  Arms, legs, back, chest, cardio–leave no muscle unworked (except for the muscles around that popped knee cap, if that’s your issue; in that case, work hard on everything else)!  Gym room MIA, went down the same sorry road as that elusive capoeira class?  Look up workout ideas for the home, such as The Capoeira Blog‘s Strength Training Exercises.


Unidentified capoeirista - a shadowy figureExhibit B: Self-Training

Motive: As revealed by Exhibit A, benchpressing is no jogo, and lat pulls are no bananeira.  Just because there’s no Instrutor present threatening to revoke your belt doesn’t mean you can’t do those 60 esquivas on your own!  Making a routine helps–write it out and stick to the list.  Go back to basics, if that’s all you’re confident of working on without a teacher; that may be a blessing in disguise, as you can never do enough of those!


Exhibit C: Videos and DVDs

Motive: I once knew a guy…picked up a couple of capoeira training DVDs, was never the same again.  Finally joined a grupo, and blew everyone away.” “Really, Mr. Malone?” “Yes, really.”  A last resort in my opinion, but a good P.I. must face the facts.  They could help, especially if you are desperate or don’t trust yourself to be self-disciplined enough for self-training.  There are also some potentially helpful videos on Youtube (e.g. macaco).  Just be careful that you don’t try something dangerous that you or even the video might be unsure about!  And just in case you need the reminder: videos and DVDs are never a substitute for the real thing.


Exhibit D: Another Academy

Motive: You get a class, you get a teacher, you get the atmosphere.  The only problem?  It’s not yours. 

“Oh, but Mr. Malone, I couldn’t!”
“You may not have a choice, madame.”
I knew it; it was a can of worms just waiting to pop wide open.  Still, what could I tell her?  A lead was a lead.

Obviously, this doesn’t apply if your academy has just closed temporarily (e.g. for holidays), or if you’re injured, or anything like that.  Personal judgement rules here, of course, as well as school philosophy, relationships with and between grupos/teachers, degree of desperation, accessibility (or lack of) to your own academy, etc.  I’m not recommending going either way as a general rule; there are too many variable factors subject to each individual’s case, and it’s just one option to be aware of!


Exhibit E: Other Capoeiristas

Motive: If you’re stuck without capoeira classes, chances are there are others in your exact position.  If your academy is closed, gather with friends or other capoeiristas from your school for impromptu rodas or informal training sessions.  If you’re stranded in a foreign city and groupless, you could make like the wandering nomads of old and form a group (the general noun, not in the sense of a capoeira grupo, although the first may lead to the second!) with other stranded, groupless capoeiristas, so that you can all help each other keep your skills up, whether through rodas or meeting regularly to train together.  (This actually worked out very well for a friend of mine.)



Well, I’d done my best–left no clue unturned, no print undusted, no suspect unshadowed.  My thinking cap was running on its very last legs, and the coffee at the bottom of the pot was harder than an anvil on a duck.  I wished the pretty lady luck, and she left with a small, optimistic smile on her Chanel No. 7 reddened lips.  All in all, I hadn’t done a bad day’s work.  Case closed.





Doing Capoeira is like Falling in Love

20 12 2007

(a creative essay)

Diving into the art of capoeira

Doing capoeira is like falling in love.  It starts with a glance, a spark, or nothing obvious at all.  Some call it love at first sight; for others, it is pure serendipity.  At first, you are excited, unsure, nervous, walking in with both eyes wide open.  Then you learn to fall—and fall.

You tumble head over heels, you’re upside-down, beside yourself, and infatuated.  You want to spend every minute in this, every second, every unexpected waking moment.  You can’t stop thinking about it, dreaming about it.  This is the discovery stage; no contours, no leads, no boundaries are safe from your candid, lusting, insatiable curiosity.

You can hardly bear to doubt, it’s all so beautiful.  But in time, doubt you do.  For what happened to the things before?  Your friends, your family, your outside interests.  What outside interests?  Your school is your family, friend means anyone in a white uniform.  What about balance, and diversity?  What about dedication, and loyalty?  There’s more to life than the roda.  The roda is life.  And so, a crack in the flushed pink lens.  You grow distant, detached, and allow drift.

Yet still you think about it, dream about it, only not with the bright intensity of new experience, but with the smouldering acuteness of a thing once known.  Thus—inevitably—reconciliation, and renewal.  Green, unruly passion is tempered by autumn perspective.  You no longer fall, but dive.  And the depth is unlimited.





True Mandingueiras: Warrior Women in Capoeira and Brazil

19 12 2007

Chronicles of Capoeira 

I was lucky enough to find an online capoeira newsletter last week, with a headlining feature on famous and formidable women in the history of capoeira and Brazil!  Instead of reinventing the wheel, I will direct you to the article here, and wish you a good read (which it is)!





Murphy Was a Capoeirista

18 12 2007

These are some capoeira maxims I came up with just for fun a while ago,  inspired by Murphy’s Laws.  I don’t know how widely they apply to capoeiristas in general, but in my training experience, I’ve lived by them! 

Muy Thai's Tony Jaa takes on capoeira's Lateef Crowder in The Protector 

Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will.


1. The longer and the harder you work at doing something right, the higher the chances are that you’ll be caught out the one time you do it wrong.

2. The degree of certainty with which your teacher states something is directly proportional to the likelihood that they mean the exact opposite or something else entirely. Exceptions to this are when it is equal to the degree of certainty with which another teacher tells you the exact opposite, or something else entirely.

3. The amount of rushing you do to arrive at an event on time directly influences the lateness with which it will begin, increasing the exact amount of rushing you did not have to do. This is also known as the Universal Theory of Brazilian Time Dilation.

4. The class(es) you miss, no matter where, when, or why, will always, categorically, and unconditionally be the class(es) you most wish you had attended

5. A watched student never moves. (Note: This law is only ever concluded by teachers through empirical evidence and inductive reasoning, due to a freak coincidence of constant impeccable timing between the exact moment a student tires out and the exact moment a teacher checks across the room.)





What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for capoeira?

15 12 2007

In sports, many athletes make sacrifices for the love of the game.  In my opinion, capoeristas are the ultimate champions at this!  I’ve read stories of people giving up jobs, degrees, and entire lifestyles to move to Brazil and train capoeira.  I’ve also been told of people taking the train from Moscow to St. Petersburg for a 10-person roda.  One capoeirista I’ve met virtually lives in two different cities, driving back and forth between them every week to teach.  And the craziest thing is, it’s not even a matter of skill or having gone “pro”–whether you’ve been doing it for twenty years or twenty days, once you’ve been bitten by the capoeira bug, you’re gone! 

It really hit me today as I finished my last two final exams for school (yay!).  I woke up late for the first one, and hadn’t studied at all for the second one–and that isn’t like me at all.  Why?  Because I’ve been devoting all my time to this blog–and it’s not even doing capoeira, just talking about it!

As for actually searching out capoeira, now that was interesting.  It involved taking a train four hours to another city in a foreign country where I barely spoke the language, calling a phone number obtained from an outdated website, walking and taking 5 buses to two of the sketchiest parts of town, and being driven home late at night, in a city I didn’t know at all, by men who were pretty much still strangers.  Only capoeira!

Then there’s this picture my friend drew for me, which pretty much explains it all:

A capoeirista's gotta do what a capoeirista's gotta do!

I didn’t actually miss my flight, but I was going away for a year and decided to spend the night before training instead of packing, so you get the idea. 

So, what’s your story?  I’d love to hear them–if only to prove to my family and friends that I’m not an isolated case!