Oi/Hallo/こんにちは/Ciao/Ni hao/привет? “Capoeira Cultures” Around the World

23 11 2008

We know that capoeira is part of a culture and has begun working its way into the hearts of many other cultures around the world. But have you ever looked at all the different cultures within capoeira itself?

What kind of capoeira cultures do different geographical cultures create?

A long time ago, I wrote a post about how it hit me that capoeira is truly an international sport. While I trained with a capoeira group in France, for instance, I would hear in French some of the exact same lessons and ideas I’d been taught in Canada, in English (which, of course, were all first conceived in Portuguese).

At the same time, I couldn’t help but notice a world of differences, as well. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it’s safe to say I experienced more culture shock within French capoeira than within France in general for a lot of other things on my exchange!

I was thinking about this recently, and it made me wonder: just putting aside for a minute the bottom line that capoeira is capoeira, no matter who, what, or where…how does (or might) being nested in a particular culture affect the capoeira that capoeiristas there practice?  Does “Capoeira” mean the same thing to people in Russia as it does to people in Spain?  If we all had a turn on Freud’s couch, would hearing “capoeira” trigger the same words and associations in a Swede’s mind as in that of a New Zealander’s?

I know my mental tag cloud for (my experience of) Canadian capoeira, infused with North American culture and mentality, would definitely hold a different set of words than the one for (my experience of) French capoeira.

The first would be something like “training, dedication, quality, tough love, relentless, standards”. Although capoeira still involves fun and games and playing around, at the end of the day, training, we’re told, is serious business. Being late is definitely not a smart thing to do (unless you enjoy push-ups, squats, and/or sprawls), and, except for total beginners, anything less than pushing yourself to the limits is not good enough.

The second tag cloud would feature words like “training, relaxed, laid-back, playful, casual”. People thought I was crazy when I trained with a frequency normal to my Canadian group, and I thought they were crazy for closing on weekends and school holidays! If someone was late, nobody batted an eye.

While in North America I’d always associated capoeira batizados with “training harder, goals, being ready”, in France (and Italy) I learned their new meaning as heralds of “road trips, partying, hooking up”.  Just last week, one of my teachers and some students laughed uproariously at the ridiculous and unheard-of idea of “going for drinks with Mestre”. In France, that’s totally what we did; the mestres bought the drinks!

Then, there’s this slightly amusing quote I found on Capoeira Connection, citing Mestre Val Boa Morte on capoeira in Australia:

“The only difference is that Australians are less spontaneous, they have a little less energy, and take a bit longer to fall in love with the art. In the roda, they’re slightly less competitive and they don’t have evil intent.”

(Chan, any comments? 😛 ) Finally, at a batizado in England I met a capoeira teacher from Poland whose students basically constitute his crew of friends, only nobody drinks or smokes because—he doesn’t allow them to.  Not that I necessarily condone drinking or smoking, but can you imagine that level of…integration…between you being a capoeirista and the other parts of your life, so much that someone who is essentially “one of the guys/girls”, by virtue of also happening to be your capoeira teacher, has that kind of “authority” over you? To me, at any rate, that’s mind-boggling—but to them, that’s capoeira.

At the same time, I absolutely realize that such comparisons/observations are to be taken with a grain of salt.  Leaving aside grupo-rooted (not country-rooted) differences, the very fact that they constituted a “culture shock” to me might have made such differences more pronounced than they actually were, and of course, that works both ways, between everyone. For instance, in France I saw my Canadian capoeira academy turn into a military regiment run by a brainwashing dictator, and back in Canada my French capoeira friends were revealed to be drunkards stumbling high around a roda. Neither, needless to say, is the truth!!

At any rate, that’s what I mean by capoeira being a different sort of activity depending on where you find it. And it’s not like the French capoeiristas I met cared or liked capoeira less, or that capoeira is more important to people in my Canadian group than in my French group.  In fact, I met a lot more students there who had already been to Brazil or knew some Portuguese, than I’d met in Canada.  It’s just that practicing capoeira, or being a capoeirista, connotes different things for each—and really, isn’t that just like capoeira?

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REMINDER: November 30 is Mandingueira‘s ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY! I will be releasing my secret project on that day to celebrate, so be sure to drop by and check it out! I’m also hoping to have a second MAJOR surprise for you guys, but as it’s not yet a sure thing I’m waiting to announce it. One more week!!





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!