Monthly Archives: March 2008

U can’t touch this!

Yeah, I gotta admit,¬†I love MC Hammer. Makes me remember the good ol’ times when I was young and innocent ūüôā Actually, this post won’t be something about 90’s hiphop, dont worry, it is still something about Capoeira.¬†It came up when I was reading an interview with Mestre Waldemar on the more than recommendable Capoeira Connection site. At one point Mestre Waldemar was talking about White Suits and said:

In the old days, we played wearing starched white suits and impeccable shoes, and we didn’t get dirty. That is, unless the opponent was disloyal and stuck his foot onto us. But that was playing dirty; it’s not like today, where capoeiristas grab each other with their hands. In my time, capoeira was played only with the feet and head, in a fight of agility and quickness. The important thing was to have a good head and fast feet

When I read this my first reaction was a deep sigh. That guy did say truths, I say. And then I remembered that just a couple of days ago, I wrote a post about how to behave in a Roda da Capoeira Angola but I forgot one very important aspect.

Ok, kids, story time again: Since a couple of months I am training with a Capoeira Contemporeana group. I still enjoy it, especially as the teacher of the group does accept that I am an angoleiro and do have….errrr….difficulties with the stream-lined ginga or playing in their roda. My presence there did give me opportunities to learn a lot (and I believe that the group did learn a lot from me, too), but there was one thing which annoyed me from the very beginning.

While playing in the roda even the advanced students did have problems with me, because my attacks came so unexpected, because I was coming so up-close, because I was on the ground and closed so often. So they tried to get through my defenses and eventually found out that it is really easy to grabble me and push me down to the ground. The many times I experienced that I got really really angry. It was an instinctive anger I had there. If this anger would have to be expressed in words, I’d say “How dare you grabbling me?!?” would be the right expression.

When I was singing already I usually directly changed the song into “O Dona Alica nao me pegue nao, nao me pegue nao me agarre nao me gusta nao” (this is definitely written wrong, feel free to correct or ignore my lack of Portuguese). Translated this would mean “Oh Miss Alice, don’t touch, do not grabble me, cause I do not like that”.

Some did get the message, most did not. Well, after a while I did explain it to people that in Capoeira Angola you’d never grab a person, but still some insist on using those techniques on me, techniques they obviously learned in their Capoeira classes. Well, I can’t blame them. I am the guest in this roda. I already learned avoiding their grabbling. But one thing should be clear to everybody: While in an Angola Roda, do never grab at your opponent!

There are several reasons for this.

1. “My body is holy”: This explanation came from my first teacher and I cannot say if this is a kind of Capoeira belief or belongs generally to some practices of Afro Brazilian culture. But the way my teacher told me, touching you opponent with your hands is considered disrespectful to the others body (strange that that comes up in Brazilian culture, eh ūüėČ ), especially the head being a very sensitive place nobody should touch with the hands.

2. It is poor play. Capoeira is a game where we put much emphasize on avoiding the attacks of our opponent. An important part of it’s beauty is that there are not many blocks or grabbling movements. Sometimes a block is somekind of a last ressort. That is one of the reasons why we have to take care that our arms do defend our upper body (e.g. in the Ginga). But that is exactly the point. It’s your last ressort. When you use it you use it because there was no other option. And even while using this an Angoleiro does learn to push or block, and he does learn that he is not allowed to grab. Usually the outside of your hands or your lower arm is used for those. Grabbing is disregarded as something not belonging to Capoeira (Angola) and something only people do use who just have no idea what they should do at all.

3. It does hinder the partner. Ok, blocks are not the best thing and they stop the movement of your opponent. But at least he has the possibility to go on and you both can start developing the game again. But if you grab the other person, you actively hinder him and do not let him move on. It is even worse if you grab his foot and give him a rasteira then (which happend to me once). It is disrespectful for the other player and for the game as you deliberately hinder both just to have your moment of victory.

As grabbing is a movement Angoleiros actively avoid it is highly disrespectful to use this while you are in an Angola Roda. That would be almost the same as using your fists or start doing Judo movements. So if you grab, one of these might happen:

a) the song O Dona Alica nao me pegue nao will be sung.

b) the person responsible for the Roda will call you back at the Pe do Berimbau and explain your fault.

c) the player you are playing with, will take off the soft bandages.

P.S. I think I have to apologize in advance for the somewhat harsh way I wrote this post, it is just to emphasize how important this issue is. And: it is for your own best ūüėČ

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Lessons in self-control – The Roda

This topic is roaming my mind since a couple of weeks. I’ll tell you the story behind it. In one of the groups I am training in we have this really promising guy, who is just a beginner yet, but crazy as hell when he gets into the Roda. He has not developed a nice way of playing whatsoever and most of his movements are highly inefficient and clumsy. Still, for his level he is very good and I will keep an eye on him, cause once he starts using his brain in the Game he will get pretty nasty. The only thing annoying about him is his Jack Russel-attitude. He tends to grab and tackle while he is falling. If you are cornering him he uses every possible body part to get out of there. If you sweep him off his feet, he might hug your feet while falling. If you kick him away, you can be pretty sure that he will be back in a fraction of a second. All this is good in a fight on the street, but if you are in the roda you do want to have a nice game, not an anything goes as long as I am not lying on the floor. And I as an Angoleiro do not like being touched by the other’s hands at all…

I am not the teacher of the group and so I¬†thought I wont¬†do¬†something about this¬†in the Roda. Outside of the Roda I told him a couple of times that at some point in his life he will encounter a not-so-nice person in the roda and he will get the crap kicked out of him (happened to a lot¬†of people, including me). Well, he can’t manage it and next time we went into a¬†game he was already going berserk in there.¬†In that situation I forgot about all the good will I had and I forgot about him being¬† a friend of mine. I just waited for his next Armada. So I made my evading moves, some A√ļs and smiled at him, nodding at him¬†‘how good the last movement was’.¬†And the next time he went into an Armada I did a rough Rasteira putting him to the ground in a second. Afterwards I felt sorry and also got an advice from the teacher that I should take care what I am doing with beginners. He was right. I just lost my control.

All of you have played in the Roda da Capoeira. It does not matter if it is a roda of modern capoeira or of traditional forms of capoeira. And yes, there are rougher games, or games where you feel teased by the person playing you, or you play a person who is just dominating the whole time and giving you no space whatsoever to develop your game. or games where a beginner just annoys the crap out of you, because he is going mad while you are trying to be nice. And those games are actually the one where you can prove how good you are really.

It is not only about your technique, it’s about self control. And this is a very important part of the Capoeira game. Capoeira does not have set rules although it is a game. It does involve kicks, teasing and tricking another person, so conflict is inherent. The art is to control your emotions. Don’t let them lead your game, because every time a game is loaded with emotions it won’t be a nice game anymore. There are three emotions I can count which should be controlled while you are in the roda: Fear, Anger and Pride.

Fear

Do you fear¬†a certain person, because he is bigger, better or more aggressive than you? The best way to get rid of this fear is playing with him. Yes, maybe there is a reason for your fear and maybe you will get exactly the same thing what you already expected, but then at least you know. And even better, you know that you have overcome yourself, you learn to put your fear into some hidden corner of your soul and just go for it. The fear won’t be away, no worries, but you will develop some kind of strategy to get rid of it temporarily. And that’s the best you can have!

Anger

Anger is not only a negative force. Anger can lead to astonishing results. Important is to be able to control your anger. If you are angry, first of all your game won’t be that nice anymore. Everybody will feel the energy coming from you. It’s a good energy for your survival in the roda (maybe!) but it’s not a good energy for the roda (exception: if anger and agressivity is what you are asked for in a special roda this sentence doesn’t count). Anger can make you blind, and a smart opponent can use this. He can make you even more angry and wait until your movements are less controlled, harder but less smart. And then he will trap you. I don’t say that you shouldnt use your anger in the game from time to time. Anger does help overcoming a fear (of a special person or movement) and does give you power if you are exhausted.

Pride

One of the worst features a Capoeirista can show in the Roda is Pride. Don’t get me wrong, if a Capoeirista is showing off in the Roda, it’s fair enough, a Capoeirista playing the Big Man in the Roda is also very entertaining. But if you start to¬†be proud of your Game you will have a couple of problems just waiting to come up.

1. you are tempted to take training less seriously. You will develop slower or start getting bad (still thinking that you are good).

2. You will start thinking that people are paying you too little respect. Respect is a very important topic in Capoeira, but it’s always mutual. If you think somebody does not show respect to you then the first thing you should think about is, how much respect you did show him.

3. people will start seeing your pride. Pride does not make you a¬†nice buddy. Even if you still have friends they will start waiting for your mistakes, be glad seeing you fall. That is only fair. And if your ego is that big you should be able to stand it. If you don’t like them making jokes about the last rasteira you got, you might think about your attitude…

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Modern Malandragem – or: should we take lessons from thugs?

Manduca da Praia, murderer of 27 people, hired muscle for a lot of politicians, feared by police and criminals in mid-19th century Rio. He was a Capoeirista. Besouro Manganga, got into fights with the police regularly. Usually just beat them up and did sent them back to the police station. Or went there personally to bring the weapons he took from the policemen he has beaten up. He was a Capoeirista. Maria Doze Homen, a¬†woman who has killed 12 men until he was captured by the police. Also a Capoeirista. These names do come up when people are talking about the pre-Bimba Capoeira. The urban Capoeira which might not have much resembled today’s Capoeira, but still is the rightful ancestor of today’s forms. But most interestingly, these Capoeristas are mentioned like heroes.

 Al Lamperina, by Kalixo, picture of Capoeiristas 1906

Picture of Capoeiristas as drawn by Kalixo 1906, picture taken from Centro de Referencia da Capoeira Carioca

They are glorified despite or maybe because of them being criminals. Small criminals managing to keep the police on heat and managing to avoid them or beat them up.

The phenomenon of the glorification of known criminals is nothing Capoeira-specific. You have the same thing in modern Gangsta Rap, in the glorification of Robin Hood and Al Capone and most recently, in the hype which came up when Jerome K. did speculate and lose 4,8 billion Euros belonging to the French Societé Generále Bank. But does this mean that these people should still be role models for us?

The short answer I would have, and which is most instinctively, is no. We cannot compare our situations with the situation of Afro- and other Brazilians in Brazil in the 19th century. Most of us here in the blogosphere do have a moderate lifestyle, a job and a decent income. We might not hang around with the meanest guys in our hood. This does not mean that we are bad capoeiristas. Even when you might belong to social classes with…errr…’a minority problem’ or ‘a lack of education’ or practically non-existing opportunities, this does not necessarily mean that you have now the full right to become criminal, go out and kill some people. No!

Actually, I can’t believe that these few names are representative for the normal Capoeirista of the 19th and early 20th century. I can easily believe that the picture of these villains was amplified and generalized as general Capoeirista picture to justify the hard measures being taken against capoeiristas by the police. They mostly DID belong to the underprivileged parts of society and when they decided to take a not legal route through life they had all the attention of the newspapers and of the police. So there might have been only 1 thug in 10 Capoeiristas and that would have been enough to create a general image of a Capoeirista = thug.

But there are actually some qualities Mestres, teachers and scholars point out when it comes to these legendary figures of the Capoeira History. And that is the qualities of Malicia and Malandragem. Wit, cunning, street-smartness, mental flexibility. These things are still of certain value in today’s society. Of course, general society would still have the opinion that at least wit and cunning are not really favourable qualities.

But maybe they are. At least they are smart means to solve problems in life. Strategies to overcome any difficulties arising. At least having the mental ability by the hand to use wit and cunning when it is needed.

I’ll finish with a small story being told to me by my first capoeira trainer: One day he was in the cinemas having a date with a woman. After the movie had finished they ran into two guys in the cinema. These¬†guys seemed to be…errr…very interested in his girl. So they exchanged some bad looks and some tough words and eventually my trainer and his date left. Unfortunately the guys followed him to the next underground station. So at a certain point my trainer said: “Hey, we can settle this like men. Just leave the woman out of this.” So they let her enter the underground and leave the scene. MY trainer was alone with these two guys and after a couple of seconds one of the guys asked: “And now?…” Which my trainer didn’t answer to. He ran away.

That’s a Capoeirista.

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Capoeira Culture in ‘the Diaspora’

Until a couple of months ago I heard only once or twice about events about capoeira, which neither workshops nor batizados, but Cultural Events. Then I heard of the 1. Capoeira Film Festival which was organized in Amsterdam in the beginning of this year. When I heard of this I was immediately intrigued.

The day I heard about the film festival I knew I will go to that place. And I did. This is a list of movies which were shown:

  • The fine flower of street wisdom (A fina flor do malandragem)¬†– Mestre Leopoldinha. by Rose La Creta
  • A life for Capoeira (Uma vida pela Capoeira) -Mestre Pastinha. by Antonio Carlos Muricy
  • Black Beetle (Besouro Preto). by Salim Rollins
  • Capoeira in Prison. by Masha Jaring dos Santos
  • Rock Steady Crew vs. Capoeira Angola. a recording from a Live Performance at the Carribean Cultural Center in New York, 1993
  • The Cat’s Leap (A Pulo do Gato). by the Capoeira Angola Center New York
  • Vadiacao/Dance of War. by Jair Moura
  • Mandinga em Manhattan. by Lazario Faria
  • Ex√ļ – an Offering. by Kostana Banovic
  • Oxossi – a Ceremony. by Kostana Banovic
  • Women in Capoeira (Mulher na Capoeira): Kalunga. by Eduardo Lima
  • Women in Capoeira (Mulher na Capoeira): Maluquinha. by Eduardo Lima
  • MOM: Move on Musicology. by Brendan Ahern

I must admit that I havent see all of them (I had to work when they were showing the first movies on Friday evening), but most. And of course there were some which were less interesting than others. Some of these movies were only 4 minutes long. Others didn¬īt have much information, but were really nice to see (e.g. the Leopoldinha documentary, I really enjoyed it!) and others were just great (e.g.Mandinga em Manhattan). After this event I had of course The Itch in my feet. You know what I mean the sudden urge that you HAVE to play a game right now? Happens to me once in a while and mostly when it¬īs just not the right place and time! But I also had the feeling that I went deeper into the meaning of Capoeira than ever before. That I now understood Capoeira more!

This is one example. We could call it “My personal deep-knowledge experience”. What came into my mind after a while was this: that should happen to everyone. The problem with us non-Brazilians is that we live in a society where Capoeira is not part of. Yes, of course there are thousands of people practising this art, there are batizados and workshops and Capoeira does force itself (or gets forced into, whatever you find more suitable) into the media (with all kind of spots, in music video clips, in advertisement and into the music). But Capoeira here is not in its “natural habitat”, it’s cultural background!

Slavery was not a problem for European society (for American society it was), Orixas are not known here at all, most people havent seen a Berimbau in their whole life, the Capoeira music does sound, for European and American ears, very strange, the definitions of aesthetics in a society which did give birth to such things like Wiener Walzer, ballet and opera do have¬†serious problems in seeing the aesthetics of Capoeira, the cunning Capoeirista – a much propagated ideal or legend in Capoeira history – is nothing¬†else than a mean street thug in the eyes of most people. Some of these¬†problems do even apply to Brazilians who are ‘of better house’. Even they do have difficulties to comprehend Capoeira.

And us? What do we do to comprehend Capoeira? When there were beginners’ classes my trainer always asked afterwards if somebody has a question about anything related to Capoeira. Most of the time he got no response at all. And he complained a lot that people do seem to be willing to practise his art, but do not seem to want to understand it. And even when we want to learn more about Capoeira, we do have to believe the things our trainers and Mestres tell us (fair enough, but everybody out there knows that it’s never a good idea to have an opinion just based on one or two other people’s opinions) or start reading books and do our research in the internet. I must admit that nowadays there are a lot more possibilities to educate yourself about Capoeira. But we do not make use of one great opportunity to dive into the Capoeira world: Cultural Events.

Capoeira is culture and if we restrict ourselves in organizing only Batizados or Workshops it will be our loss. It’s not only FilmFestivals you could organize (although I will go for the 2nd Capoeira Film Festival in June!!!), it could be Berimbau building workshops, inviting a pais-do-santo, storytelling competitions, errr…. it’s just a matter of being creative.

I think it would help most of us. AND it is inspiring!

I’m interested in what kind of events YOU people were. And if you were not, what kind of events about Capoeira would you like to see. See this as a gathering point for your ideas. Who knows, maybe one of us will get the possibility to organize such an event. Then I want to have the first invitation ūüėČ

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Surviving a Capoeira Angola Roda

This might be of high interest for all of you people who want to try playing Capoeira Angola in a Roda de Capoeira Angola. The reason I start this topic is because I have seen a couple of people who usually train Capoeira Contemporeana and then end up being very frustrated in a Capoeira Angola roda.

The first reason for this is quite obvious. You are a stranger in the group and have a different style, which usually leads to “mis-communication” in play. Even if you take care of all the subtle things you have to do when you show up in a new group (introducing yourself to the trainer of the group, sticking to the movements the trainer does show, dont put yourself into the first row while training and so on….), you will have problems orienting yourself in a Capoeira Angola roda.

I¬īll just name the mistakes (in random order…)

Buying the game

Buying the game is far less common in Capoeira Angola rodas than in rodas of modern Capoeira. Usually the person being in charge of the roda (if you dont know it, a hint: it might be the guy with the gunga) does tell when a play starts and when it ends. You can “choose” your favorite game in positioning yourself in the circle of people, because usually the ones being closest to the batteria will play the next game, succeeded by those who are next in line. Do never attempt to buy a game without the headhoncho saying this explicitly.

Entering the Roda with an A√ļ

Actually it is not forbidden to start the game with an A√ļ. In some Contemporeana groups it is oligatory to do this. It definitely puts the two players directly into the middle of the Roda. But in a Capoeira Angola roda you start quite close to each other. If you start with an A√ļ mean players won¬īt insist giving you a straight Cabecada. And there is another reason for this. A good Capoeira Angola play does live from its development. You start being close, slow, almost ritualistic. In a Jogo de Dentro which takes a minute or two. And as you approach the middle of the roda, the players get more apart from each other. The game gets faster, higher and sometimes rougher (of course everything depends on the players, their experience, mood, relationship and maybe on daily constellations of the¬†stars). In jumping into the A√ļ in the beginning you skip all the steps in between.

Fast start

If you are “lucky” and are chosen to play the first game, wait. Dont start playing when the music starts. This is actually common in every roda, but in Capoeira Angola rodas you always have the introducing songs (Ladainha and Saudacao) where you wait and stay sitting in front of the berimbaus. And even when they start singing the common capoeira songs (corridos), wait until the person in charge gives you a signal.

Hit the air

A capoeira angola game is usually played with the partners being close to each other. If you are in a certain distance and just do kicks into the air somewhere between you and your partner, it is disregarded as boring play or at least unneccessary play. This could result in the other player making jokes about you, while you are playing. Very embarrassing.

The Open A√ļ

This is an obvious issue. Don¬īt do A√ļs where your upper body is totally exposed. The Angoleiro in front of you will come to the idea that that¬īs a perfect target for a head-butt! In this case players of modern Capoeira must concentrate on doing a “close” A√ļ, having their knees and feet close to the torso, not stretched out. I know you can do it ūüėČ

Taking the teasings serious

This is actually a problem EVERYbody encounters in an Angoleiro roda. In the game of Angola there is a lot of teasing the other. This can be in a theatrical and nicer way (e.g. when I did a flashy movement which was completely unneccessary, the mestre I was playing with stood in the roda and was mimicking a¬†photographer) or in a less nice way (e.g. sitting at the bateria and your opponent turns to the bateria, sings with his whole voice, spreads his arms, and hits your head with the back of his hand). That’s part of the mailicia, that’s part of the game. Yeah, of course he is teasing YOU, but still it is nothing personal. It is as personal as a Meia Lua you couldnt dodge. Of course you have the full right to tease back or to revenge this with other actions in the roda. But if you take it personal and (in the worst case) apply a direct into-the-face kick just because he was teasing you, then it will be considered poor/brute/un-intelligent game of you. But if you take the teasings, repay them in a similar, or other but more creative way, then everybody will consider your play being smart!

Mistakes in the Chamada

A chamada

Actually the Chamada is a story of its own and I even now feel the need to explain it excessiveley. In short. A chamada is a very ritualistic part of the Capoeira Angola game. It exists for seceral reasons:

1. calm down the game when it got a little bit too rough

2. as a small pauze in between (as Angola games can take long sometimes you really need a second or two)

3. as a time for recovery when you just got a bad hit and now want to get back into the game

4. as stylistic intermezzo in the game.

5. as a test (how far you know about the ritual and the malicia of the Angola game)

The fifth reason is important in this case. The Chamada, with all it’s ritual and all it’s peaceful behaviour, is still part of the Capoeira game. And as everybody (who plays Capoeira) knows, hits and kicks are not forbidden as long as you are in the roda. So even while you are “dancing” in the chamada the other person might want to find out if your attention is all there. Of course, it’s good to know how to answer to a chamada. there are different chamadas. That means you should learn all of them. If you dont know a certain chamada, do not hesitate to show your uncertainity. Be very careful approaching a chamada. And – and this one is reaaally important: a chamada is a call. It is, as I said, also a kind of a test. So if you are playing with a Mestre, don’t call him into a chamada. Not all Mestres are sensitive about that. But there are some which are. And why? Well, who does give YOU the right to call a Mestre into a small test?

I think I forgot some things, but this is at least a good guideline. Feel free to add things or argue about one or other.

 P.S. not all points are equally important. And the importance of some things are changing from group to group. The possible pitfalls I have given are those I have seen personally.

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