The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Capoeira Batizados

22 02 2008

So, due to a slight mix-up between the name of my grupo and that of a Brazilian music band, and my apparent inability to understand event flyers correctly, I will be finding myself at the batizado of a foreign group in a foreign city this weekend.  (These things tend to happen to me.) 

I’m actually still pretty excited and looking forward to it, but nevertheless, for my own reassurance as well as for you guys, I thought I’d write up a mini “batizado survival guide”, inspired by the “Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook” series.  From transportation to buying into 50+ person rodas, finding lodging to surviving partner work (the absolute bane of my personal capoeira existence), never go unprepared to a batizado again!

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How to Find and Get to the Location(s) of the Batizado and Related Workshops/Parties/Shows 

In your city:  Look up the main event locations on Google Maps (if you even need to), and plan your route(s).  Organize carpools, meet people to take public transit, or (if you’re lucky and live nearby) walk.  It’s a home game, after all!

In another city:  Figure out whether it’d be best to arrive by car, plane, ferry, train, hovercraft…and plan accordingly.  For road trips, group up with fellow capoeiristas, carpool, and split the cost of gas.  For planes, start searching for ticket prices as early as humanly possible!  They will just keep going up.  The prices of trains and ferries are generally fixed (I believe), but reserve a spot ahead of time just in case they don’t have room for you on the day of departure.  If you’re flying with instruments, check to see what provisions the airline has for those.  Be sure to put your berimbau in a case or wrapping of some sort; my friend had the fortune once of having her berimbau’s arame taped all the way down the instrument’s length, with luggage tape.

Plan ahead of time how you’re going to get from the airport/train station/ferry terminal to the specific event location: Google that location before you leave, and acquire a map of the city, or the relevant part of it.  Mark the locations that are part of the batizado, and try familiarizing yourself with the street names around them.  Either try and prepare rides (or confirm the availability of them) ahead of time for when you’re there, or take the time to familiarize yourself with the city’s public transportation system, if locations aren’t within walking distance.  The last thing you want is to miss the main event roda because you couldn’t find the right bus stop!

In another country: Think planning for “in another city”, but in overdrive.  Make sure that all your travel documents are in order—passport, visa, whatever else is required.  Bring enough money and plan a point to change currencies, if necessary.  If you’re taking a plane, don’t forget about the no liquids/100 mL container (for shampoo, etc.) /no sharp objects rules.  Learn a few key phrases in the country’s language, if it’s different from yours (e.g. anything to do with money, sanitation, time, transportation, directions, and in our case, capoeira if you’re keen).  If you’ve planned tourism time for yourself, doing some advanced reading on that end won’t hurt, either.  And don’t forget to check the weather for when you pack—you don’t want to end up training in a soggy abada (not to mention, for “regionaleiras”, look like you were just in a wet t-shirt contest…).

For all of the above, obtain a contact’s number before you leave in case of emergency, or just need of aid!  Either someone who lives in the city, or someone involved in the event in some way—ideally, the contact would be both.

How to Find Lodging

Phone or email the batizado’s organizers as far in advance as possible (within reason), and see if billeting with a capoeirista from the host group is possible.  If it matters to you, be sure to specify if you would prefer to stay with a male or female host.  Bring a sleeping bag.  [Editor’s note: If I’m billeting with someone, I also like to bring a small gift, like a box of chocolates or something, just to show my appreciation for letting me stay with them!] 

If billeting isn’t possible, search sites such as or for hostels or hotels.  Also check to see if your group or the host group has a deal with any hotels/hostels/etc. to give discounts to capoeiristas coming from out of town for the event.  Make sure you check the location of your place before booking, as you don’t want to be inconveniently far from the workshop locations; obviously, the closer the better, and especially try to stay within walking distance.

How to Make a 100-Person Workshop Worthwhile

Movements on the spot: It’s hard learning a move when you’re at the very back of an echoing stadium and the mestre or teacher leading the workshop is at the very front!  Needless to say, your first plan of action is to stay as close to the front as often as possible.  Failing that (e.g. if you’re a beginner student in an all-levels workshop and students are lined up by belt), glean what you can from watching the person heading the class, then learn what you weren’t able to pick up from watching advanced students more within your eye range, who will most likely do the move(s) correctly.  Confirm the move(s) by observing several different students, being careful not to get confused by someone adding their own twist or variation to the move, or simply doing it incorrectly. 

At the same time, make sure you have enough space around you to do the movements.  There is usually a large amount of space left at the very back of the lines—true, for good reason, but you can still observe other students to learn the movement, which is better than being at the front and not having room to do the movement at all.

Movements in lines going down the room: Very important: Leave enough space for the person in front of you to complete the movement!  It is both frustrating and annoying to be crowded during lines.  There will be enough time for everyone to go, as the next movement isn’t usually given until the teacher sees everyone has finished or is on their way to finishing.  Pay particular attention to distance spacing if part of the sequence involves the person moving back towards the starting point (e.g. for a multi-kick sequence or aus, floreios, etc.).  

If you are the one being tailgaited, take a page from a driving school manual: stop and wait so that there is extra space between you and the person in front of you; that will create enough space for you to quickly move in and do the movement, and at the same time (hopefully) prompt the overenthusiast behind you to hold back and give you space as well.

Don’t forget to pay attention to things like towards which direction the first movement of each sequence goes, whether you face the front or face the side, how you should end up, whether each kick lands to the back, to the front, parallel, etc.  Depending on what you want, stand in a line behind others so you can watch and check your moves against theirs, or grab a spot in the line nearest any teachers on the sidelines, as they might be more likely to give you any needed advice or corrections, since you’ll be passing right in front of them.

During speeches/demonstrations:  Get in as close to the teacher as possible, and make sure you have the view that will help you best understand the sequence.  If you are in front of the crowd, kneel or crouch down so people behind you can see.  You can also kneel or crouch down if you are stuck behind people and can’t see over their heads, to look through people’s legs.  Then again, a simple nudge and polite “excuse me” whenever needed as you push through to the front is probably a better recourse!  Most people are also very nice and willing to let you in front if they notice you can’t see over them (and thus won’t block their view if they let you go in front).

If it is a speech being given, and you are tired and the speaker is particularly loquacious, then do the opposite: find a spot directly behind people so that you can’t be seen in case any boredom or drowsiness shows on your face.  Or concentrate on thinking over what you could’ve improved on from the last workshop, or what you can try and pull off in the next roda!

Partner Work: The best way (well, for me) to learn a partner sequence is to focus on a different part of the demonstration each time, and only that part.  One: The entire thing, to get the feel of position and timing.  Two: The first partner’s sequence (ignoring whatever the second partner does).  Three: The second partner’s sequence (ignoring whatever the first partner does; you should already have the sense of how the dialogue works from the first viewing).  Of course, this falls through if the sequence isn’t demonstrated three times. 

If that’s the case, glean as much as you can and try to organize it in your head before you have to start doing the sequence with a partner.  Either memorize the entire sequence with both partners’ moves, in order, and sort them out right after (usually each partner’s role will be a sequence consisting of every other movement in the overall sequence you memorized), or, as a last resort, memorize one partner’s role very well and know it absolutely; then ask your partner if you or they can start, depending on which order lets you do the sequence you memorized.  Then, try figuring out the other partner’s role while your partner does it before you switch, and failing that, just ask them.  Most people won’t mind, although try not to let it happen too often (they want to get the most out of the workshop, too!).  If neither of you get it, observe another couple to quickly establish the sequence.  If your partner doesn’t get things and you do, embrace the opportunity to practice your teaching skills.  Also, don’t forget to clip your nails ahead of time—you don’t want to risk stabbing your partner in the ankle with a poorly aimed rasteira. 

As for finding a partner, make eye-contact with someone as soon as the teacher says go.  Once you’ve done that, start walking straight towards them, making it obvious that you want to work with them, and do whatever partners-work-greeting gesture is custom, saying hi with a smile on your face.  If you make conversation (asking them where they’re from, their nickname, etc.), it really helps to not forget that basic information as soon as the teacher yells “change partners!”.  Find something about them to connect them to the name they give you, and don’t remember them by changeable features such as “the girl with the really high ponytail”. 

If you end up without a partner, wait a minute or so and then buy in; it’s expected, and the other person should know to do the same.  You don’t want to just stand around while everyone else is working on the new movement (not to mention that’s not what you paid or travelled all that way for), but if you buy in quickly and so does everyone else, there are so many people that it should seem like no one had to sit out at all during the entire thing.

How to Buy into a 50+ Person Roda

Make yourself as small and unnoticeable as possible.  Everytime even the slightest gap opens, slip into it, or at least move towards it and close it off so someone else can’t slip into it and thus in front of you.  If you feel pushed, try and stand your ground as firmly as possible, just short of being rude (then again, maybe they’re rude for pushing in the first place, so all’s fair in love and capoeira?).  DON’T end up crowding the bateria, as you could easily get reamed out for that.  If you’re very, very petite, try crouching down and slipping in between people’s legs.  If you’re the complete opposite of petite…well, to be blunt…you’re able to pretty much do whatever you want anyway.  Gentle steering of shoulders out of the way, subtle slip-in-to-wedge-in-between people steps, etc. 

One trick that works for everyone is, if you’re prepared to buy in right away the moment you reach the opening, then walk to the end of the roda opposite the bateria, as there will be ample space there.  Then, quickly skim your way back right on the inside of the roda, reach the opening, and enter.  To set yourself up for another game entry, when you’re bought out, walk backwards straight into the side of the roda, and you will still be on the inside, perfectly positioned to buy in again.  Pay attention though, or you will be amazed at how quickly you lose that spot!

Above all, don’t let yourself forget that you are there to play and that you paid to be there and that you have a right to play.  Unless something else is going on, such as a fight, or a designated high/low-belts-only roda (or start of roda), don’t let lack of confidence trick you into feeling like you “shouldn’t” buy in at this exact moment right this second right now but maybe just a little later—because in all likelihood, if you keep thinking like that, later will never come! 

Having said that, don’t be obnoxious about it, either; adjust your own behaviour to the atmosphere/feel of the roda, and if you’ve already played, you could start paying attention to see if someone else is about to buy in when you want to, and whether they’ve played yet or not.  Finally, whether you’re about to buy in or already playing, always be alert to some sort of signal that you should leave or end the game—a mestre’s whistle, a teacher’s wave of the hand, a single note repeated endlessly on the berimbau—because as much as you need to know when to go (i.e. now!), you also have to know when to stop!

How to Make a Transition Directly from the Gym Floor to the Dance Floor

Go home or to your current accomodation; shower; prepare yourself as normal.  Nothing starts on time, remember?  In this case the worst-case scenario is taking so long that you arrive just when the party’s getting into the swing of things!  [Editor’s note: This backfired on me one year when our grupo’s wrap-up party actually DID start on time—who’d have thought?  In that case, say hi to everyone, plead “Brazilian time jetlag” from the workshops or previous events, and move on!]

How to Survive Missing your Flight/Ferry/Train/Ride Back Home

First, make absolutely sure that you can’t get home that night; that there’s no next/late-night/last ferry, train, flight, etc.  If that’s 100% out of the question, then book your hotel/hostel room for another night (they will most likely accept credit card if you don’t have enough cash), and book your ride home ASAP in the meantime.  If you didn’t stay at a hostel/hotel, there are two options here.  The first is to ask a friend who lives in the city if you can stay with them for an extra night, which should be fairly straightforward, since you’re friends.

The second, if you were billeting with someone, is to very, very nicely and politely explain the situation to whomever was hosting you, taking full responsibility, and entreating them to let you stay one more night in their home.  If helping you with damage control creates any work whatsoever on their part, help with as much of it as is humanly possible; after all, it was you who missed your ride, not they.  Do not, under any circumstances, have them running around all night trying to arrange emergency rides or accomodation for you while you continue to socialize the night away.

How to Deal with Not Receiving a Belt You Expected to Get

If you need to cry, do so, and then relax and put things in perspective.  It’s not the end of the world, and there is always next time.  Remember that not receiving a belt doesn’t mean you made no progress at all; you just didn’t make quite enough progress at this point yet in time, and you will probably be beyond the average level of that belt by the time you do get it. 

Another way to look at it is to ask yourself this: would you rather people overestimate you, or underestimate you?  If you really should have gotten your belt, then you were underestimated, and so you’ll show them.  In one scenario, you end with setting up expectations in people that you might then fail, whereas in the other, you will surpass their expectations. 

Finally, if you are still upset, concentrate on thinking about all the good non-capoeira things you have going on in your life.  More likely than not, capoeira is just one part of it, albeit a large part.  Would you let your job take over the rest of your life if something went wrong there?  Probably not; and so try not to let being upset about capoeira influence the rest of your life or what you think of yourself, as well.

How to Deal with Receiving a Belt You Didn’t Expect to Get

Don’t let it go to your head.  In some cases, the belt represents your potential to reach that level rather than your having actually attained that level.  Also don’t let it go to your head in the way that you make yourself believe you absolutely must train six days a week training with twenty hours of volunteer work at your academy on top of that every month, unless you really want to for the love of it.  Yes, in many cases a belt represents more responsibility as well as more skill, but there are many belt levels for a reason; everything goes up in increments, and so you should not be expected to immediately have the weight of an extraordinarily increased load upon receiving your next belt.  For the moment, celebrate!  Be (modestly) proud of your achievement—and there will be plenty of time to get down to making sure you’ve earned that belt as soon as the batizado is over.

Click here to read “Further Worst-Case Scenarios”!

Worst-Case Scenario Survival Guide for Capoeira Batizados

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