Monthly Archives: June 2008

Revenge in Capoeira

A little test by the side: You are playing Capoeira in a Roda. Your partner in this circle is better than you are, which is – per se – nothing bad. At some point he does turn his upper body and your inner eye already sees the leg speeding towards you head, so you move into an Esquiva. Suddenly your partner stops his movement, turns his body into the opposite direction and the back of his hand slashes through your face. Several people in the Roda start to laugh. You are angry. What shall you do?

a) Smile. And then directly attack with the worst movement you have in your repertoire.

b) If he uses his hands, you are not gonna back up. Smack him.

c) Alright. He made a nice movement. But attacking him wont solve any problems. So you just shrug it off and swallow your pride.

d) You swallow your pride. But you will never forget. Next time when he doesnt expect it, you will give him back the exact movement he did to you.

So, which option is right? Which is wrong? The experienced Capoeirista will say now: “There is no right or wrong. But there might be smarter moves and not so smart moves, depending on the situation.”

So, no option of the four given is wrong, but one thing I can say (and most of you will think the same). Option d) is used only very rarely.

And now I am gonna tell you something what I heard from Capoeira Angola Mestres and teachers. There is the possibility to “keep” a kick. You get a kick and that one was somehow humiliating (for you)? Keep the kick or the attack in mind. And at an appropriate time, give it back to the same person who did that to you. This appropriate time – at that is the clou about “keeping” – does not have to be the same jogo, or even the same day. You just wait until you see the perfect opportunity. Even if it takes years. And then you strike. I just want you to keep in mind that this option exists. It is not said that all the other options given in the beginning are wrong or right, you can directly strike if you want so – or just forget about it. But there is also a third way.

Ok, now you know that it exists, but apart from the pure existence of this concept there is much more about it. A philosophical aspect which is much more interesting than the pure fact that you can revenge an attack years later. This aspect is malicia in its purity.

First of all: What is the advantage of this approach? I, for example, do not always play fair. When I get angry, tired, bored or when I see that I am physically overpowered I do use some small tricks to at least embarrass, if not annoy the crap out of my partner – or to overpower him by pure Malicia. Sometimes I just DO kick, even if I could also not kick. Everytime I do one of these attacks or fintas I know that my partner will not like that. Thus, I know he might feel the urge to answer me in a proper way. Usually such an answer comes directly. So, directly after a mean movement of mine, I am usually very careful and harder to catch than in other times. But when the other person “keeps” this kick he has the choice and he will chose a time point where I seem secure – and then he will give me crap back. This is Malicia and as Capoeira is not just pure technique and speed and strength, Malicia is an important part of everything.

But isnt this unhonourable? And isnt revenge a bad thing? Those question can come up. People who ask these questions usually do not see the background Capoeira is coming from. Capoeira was a tool for survival. It was the sport, the art of the African slave who had no rights and who also had no luxury to be generous. Nobody was generous to him. If he did a mistake, he was killed. Africans didnt have the luxury of being equally treated, they were literally called ‘pieces’, they were ‘goods’. You trade them, you use them, you throw them away. And after the abolition of the slavery in Brazil 1888 this did not change. After that Black Brazilians were not slaves, but did have little rights. Jobless, Rightless and without any social value, a lot of Blacks landed in the suburbs of the bigger cities. Here they tried to survive. In a world which does not care about honour. What those people do care about was Do I survive or not? and that did include some unfair measures. This did include some malandragem. Capoeira grew in these times and learned a lot about life. Capoeira is the philosophy of the small man, who already has seen misery. Honour and Truth and other virtues are nice, but at the end they do not feed your stomach. And the same does apply to the Roda, as it is a representation of the world. Once in a while rules are broken. And if this happens you better be prepared. And once in a while – and now I am coming back to the revenge – it is not a good idea to revenge a received kick directly, but to wait, wait until the one who gave the first kick does forget. This can be much more efficient and is much safer for you as a player than direct response, because, as I said, the other one does expect a fast reponse. This all comes down to one truth I heard once (or maybe read, I’m not entirely sure about that):

The violator will forget about his victim, but the victim will never forget the violator.”

There is another lesson Capoeira gives in there: if you are unfair to a person, do not be surprised if you get that back. Now think about it. Did you ever beat up a Capoeira player which was not as good in Capoeira as you are? Did he left afterwards, or after a while? What if you two meet up in a roda in 5 years, and you did already forget about the violation? Do you think he did forget? I for myself do know who kicked the crap out of me while I was still a bloody beginner. I do remember, and if I have the opportunity, yes, I might use it (although I have to admit that it was a teacher in those times and I think even today he will be able to beat me up, so I might have to wait a couple of years more…). So, if you didnt beat up a beginner yet, do not do it at all. It is not only a bad thing to do (as I said, Capoeira does not take care much about morale…), it is also not smart, because you never know how that person takes it. Be always nice in the Roda, at least to those you do not know. You never know if that person might take it’s (just) revenge in 10 years!

And how do we use this in our daily life? We all know that Capoeira gives lessons in life. The lesson here is quite easy. a) Do never let urgency or anger set the time when you respond to another person´s acts. b) Or even if you do, do know that that person will expect it. c) Do wait for the perfect time to do some things. Sometimes the perfect time is immediately, but not always. Do keep this in mind. And d) do not mistreat a person because you are able to. If you really have to do that, do mind that the other person will want to take her revenge, if not now, then later. Be prepared.

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How can I become an Angoleiro?

Once upon a time… I was biking to a Regional training and a girl who was riding with me asked me: “Why do Regionalistas admire Angoleiros ?”

Well, I think I was the wrong person to ask, because I am an Angoleiro and before I came into contact with regionalistas I didnt even know that there was some kind of admiration there (and I met a couple of Capoeiristas who were braindead saying things like “man, you are doing granny-stuff” – they never went into the roda with me). Maybe I should ask you people: What is so special about Capoeira Angola?

Well, of course I know the differences between the different styles of Capoeira. And I know what I miss when I see a Regional game. I miss a lot of aesthetics, interactions and trickery. I miss the surprise element and I miss the magic (yeah I know, very precise word, magic…) in it.

And while I was thinking about this, some other question came into my mind. What if somebody came to me and would ask the question given as title of this post: How do I become an Angoleiro?

Well, the easiest way to become an Angoleiro is to exclusively train in a Capoeira Angola group. Be careful: I am not saying that it is the only way and I am definitely not saying that, if you like to train in a modern Capoeira group, that you should stop immediatedly. What I am saying is, just, that it is the easiest way. I did play 6 years of Capoeira Angola before I started taking lessons in Regional. And I realize that I will stay an Angoleiro forever, because it is imprinted in my body. I move like an Angoleiro, I play like an Angoleiro, I am an Angoleiro!

If you did train in a Regional group first, it takes time to get the Regional out of you, if you want to be an Angoleiro. And the longer you played Capoeira Regional before, the longer it takes to get rid of that “imprint”. In that case, it does help for the first few years to stop playing with regionalistas completely and focus on the Capoeira Angola training. Once you move and play like an Angoleiro without having to think about it, then it is not a problem to play Regionalistas anymore. Otherwise playing Regional while still learning Angola will inhibit your progress in learning Capoeira Angola.

But is it impossible to learn both? When I apply pure logics to it, I’d say no. It is not impossible. But you have to understand first that the difference between Regional and Angola is not the speed and playing low. Some people do make this mistake and are then quite surprised or angry when another Angoleiro playing with them does have a different opinion. I will just mention some things one has to keep in mind when he wants to be an Angoleiro.

  • moving in Capoeira Angola is different than moving in modern Capoeira. The amount of relaxation of the body in Capoeira Angola is higher, coupled with a high concentration because we might look like we are relaxed but we are not stupid – we are still in the Roda, eh?
  • expression, play and magic is of ultimate importance. You cannot just exchange movements.
  • It is not about speed and force of the movements. it is also not about hitting the target or not. Rhythm, beauty and timing of the movements are of (at least) equal value in Capoeira Angola.
  • The music in Capoeira Angola is not only background rhythm for the players. It is part of the Game. It can interact with the players and vice versa.
  • Rituals are not just certain movements you do with your hands. Rituals do have an effect, if you believe in magic or not.

Another thing I have to say is: whatever you are learning. If you are learning Capoeira Angola, Regional, Contemporeana or any mixture of these. Do not forget that you only have one body. So everything you learn stays in that body, gets mixed up or overlayed by new knowledge, but never really vanished. That is the reason why you can always see if you have an Angoleiro in fron of you or not, even if he is playing “regional”. My first trainer stopped playing Regional almost 10 years ago and he had serious difficulties to get into the Angola style at all. He is a very good Angola teacher and his tyle is great. But I am not unjust if I say that compared to full-flesh Angoleiros you can see that his style (and consequently my style, because I learned 99% of my knowledge from him) is more upright, agonistic, faster and less playful. On the other side. I am training with a Regional group since a year. And you dont have to know anything about Capoeira and you will still see that there is a huge in-play difference between me and most of the players in the group.

And one thing you should never forget is: even if you want to be an Angoleiro, do not underestimate or ignore everything you learned till now. In a Capoeira Roda, and especially in a Capoeira Angola Roda, everything can be an advantage (including a loose shoe!) and some Regional experience is sometimes quite useful.

So, coming back to the original question. You are a Regionalista and you want to become an Angoleiro? It is never too late. Go, find yourself an Angoleiro. Try to imitate him, try to learn from him. Do not forget what you already know from modern Capoeira, but do also see that there are a lot more differences to Capoeira Angola than just speed and height. If you want your progress in becoming an Angoleiro to increase, do stop playing Regional for a while. Do not worry that you will never be able to play Regional any more. It is just to get the Angoleiro in you awake faster.

Axé!

picture taken from ficadc.blogspot.com

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What is Mandinga?

There are a lot of different words in Capoeira which do have an own meaning in the Capoeira world. I am not talking about movements and their names, which are anyway different from group to group. I am more talking about conceptual words. These words make up the basic elements of Capoeira Philosophy. Just to mention, malicia, malandragem, axé, mandinga and jogo are words which do have special meanings in Capoeira. One of the strongest words in this context is Mandinga.

If you just translate it from Portuguese into English you will find “(black) magic” or something related to it. If you hear it in the context of Capoeira, people are generally talking in a respectful way. As if Mandinga is partly amazing and partly frightening.

I actually wanted to dig into the meaning of Mandinga and found three very good sources, which will explain you the meaning of ‘Mandinga’. There is a) the trailer of ‘Mandinga em Manhattan’ which shows a part of the movie where several mestres (big names all of them) explain in few words what Mandinga is. You will see that there is no direct definition of Mandinga, but that Mandinga is more of an umbrella for different characteristics of a person, if they are secular or more part of the mystical world. Source b) is actually a very good elaborated post from the site Mandingueira, a highly recommendable blog for Capoeiristas. And here she goes into the meaning of Mandinga in a more structured and definitive way. And then there is c) another post from a blog, but this time from the Capoeira Connection Blog, which is a great blog with highly valuable translations of texts about capoeira. The post I am referring to is a definition of Mandinga given by different Mestres, but this time written down.

Alright, after having viewed these sources you might have an idea about Mandinga, although I think there is a difference in reading it and seeing it happening in the Roda. The best way of experiencing it is being the victim of an Mandingueiro. It happened to me a couple of times when I realized that I am getting deceived by the other one, that he is influencing my attention, my concentration – and that, thus, I fall under his control. It’s nothing you got to be sad or angry about. I admired it every time when it happened to me.

Can we learn it? Some people say yes, others say that Mandinga is a natural attribute which you have and which you don’t have. One quote is definitely right: “You can learn Mandinga, but you cannot teach it.” There is no way somebody can teach you how to “put a spell” on somebody, because Mandinga has a lot to do with natural expression, smartness, instinct and – of course – malicia and axé. Most of these are things you can’t learn, you just have.

My idea upon this is that everybody has a kind of way of expression. Everybody is smart in some way and instinct and malicia and expecially axé are all things every person does have. Of course, for some these things are coming more naturally, others inhibit themselves because they are thinking too much or trying to be too clever about things. But this all doesnt change my opinion that everybody HAS these things. It is just about developing them. Some can be actively developed, some come with experience and time. You grow in Capoeira and the more you grow, the more you learn, the closer you will come to be a Mandingueiro.

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Express yourself!

Capoeira is, as you people might have heard a lot, a conversation (among other things). And in Capoeira Angola this is even more true than in other forms. With this post I won’t go into the technical play itself, because that is something everybody learns, when he is training Capoeira. I want to put the emphasize on the little details, which makes the Game not only nice, or very good, but beautiful and entertaining. Why do I make such a difference? Well, let’s say in recent times I have seen a lot of Capoeiristas who have a really good play in the Roda. They are fast, have technical abilities beyond my own, have good reflexes and are generally more athletic than I am. So when you watch them playing, yes, you will say “it’s a good player”. But some of these players were lacking something. Something which is not directly bound to the movements they learn in everyday’s classes.

And then I remembered one incidence. Once upon a time… an Angoleiro (that’s me) was quite new in town. And as there was no Capoeira Angola group he was at least willing to visit a group of modern Capoeira. It was quite a beginner’s class, and there were some people who had never seen an Angoleiro playing. And as it came to the roda, the teacher of course wanted to play with this Angoleiro. The game itself was ok, nothing the Angoleiro really enjoyed, but also not too rough or ugly. Well, and at the end of the day one of the beginners came to the Angoleiro and said. “You’re playing so nice. It has much more expression what you are doing.”

Now do not jump on my throat. I am not trying to show off here. I know that there is still a lot I have to change with my game, too. And compared to the expressive games of some people I met in the Roda I am as expressive as a fridge. And I am also not telling that only Angoleiros can play an expressive game. That wouldnt be the truth.

What I am saying is that in Capoeira Angola there is a lot of emphasize in expression – and that expression does sometimes make the difference between a nice and a beautiful game.

We should now come down to the question: where is the places where you can express yourself and what are the things you can change?

 Basically there are two possibilities, where you can express yourself in the Roda: while playing music or while playing the Game.

Playing music

It does not matter if you are standing in the Chorus or at the Bateria, all you should and have to do is: give everything to make the music beautiful. This reminds me of one sentence my first teacher told me: “You are not making music for yourself, but for the ones who are playing in the middle.” This does mean two things. a) try to make nice music. I know, not everybody is born with a talent for music, neither am I (actually in school I wasn’t even allowed to play the triangle because I was disturbing the class!). The best thing you can do is just give your best. Try to sing the way you hear your Mestre sing. Try to sing the way you hear it on CD’s and so on. Do practise singing and playing the instruments, because you will not be able to play beautiful music when you are not even able to play the berimbau. If you sing, especially if you take the lead, do not mumble something. Sing out loud. And even when you are just able to keep this up for 15 seconds, those 15 seconds are worth more than 5 minutes of mumbled singing. But there is also the second meaning of the things my teacher said. If you are playing music, do not get lost. I know of some pretty good Berimbau players who, once they get the Viola, can play variations I never heard of. And keep up variating for half an hour without getting back to the basic rhythm (at least that is what it seems to me sometimes…). But the same person did sometimes get lost in his own music. He was not listening anymore, he was not watching anymore, he had his eyes closed and was playing his really nice music, which was just not fitting to the rest of the Roda. Never forget that the music is the sum of all the musicians in the circle.

Playing the Game

The situation is different inside the Roda. There we only have two players. The Game is the sum of his/her and your actions. Thus, you can make the difference in playing a beautiful, expressive Game. How?

Start right of with your movements. Do not underestimate the difference between a usual kick and a Chapa which is perfectly in rhythm with the rest of the Game. And, and this is most important, do not forget that Capoeira is also a dance. Dances do have a rhythm, do have symmetry and esthetic values (where I won’t go into detail now). They are not just kicking the crap out of your partner. This is a lot about controlling yourself, your emotions and your movements. It is much harder to hit a person beautifully than just placing the hit…

The second thing you can change is your facial expressions. You might say this is ridiculous? It is not. Even if you would not care about the beauty of your game you have to understand that your face does tell tales. A Jogo de Angola is full of little pitfalls, full of fintas and full of malicia. An ability Angoleiros have to develop is reading your partner. An unwritten law in Capoeira is that you should watch the face of your partner while playing. Why? If you only concentrate on the body movements of the person, you will exactly see the movements coming when they are coming. Add your own personal reaction time and you will see that you have not much time left to respond. Especially if it is an unexpected and dangerous movement. When watching the face of your partner and when you are able to read the face then you will see the kicks coming before the legs even started moving. You might even see which kick will come next, and where it is going. I am not kidding you. It is possible, you just have to watch. And if you meet a person who can read faces then you have a serious disadvantage if you do not manage to hide intentions. Do not stare at the place where you are kicking at. Do try to develop a poker-face, never revealing when you are going to kick. Smile at your partner, just a millisecond before you are playing the worst martello you have in your arsenal. This is a tactical advantage. And it is more than that. It is so enjoying to watch a person who has perfect control over his facial expressions! The smiling, the laughing, the fear, the grudge, the relaxation, the concentration. All of these are beautiful to see, especially if they come in variations. And it is even better when both players do this. When they communicate. It is then like watching a street theater, where the players try to tell us a story, a story which is just being created in the roda.

The rituals

 This is some kind of extra and very important for Angoleiros. I will not go into the details of different rituals you have in Capoeira Angola. Learning and using the rituals of Capoeira Angola is of high importance for an expressive, beautiful Capoeira Angola game. There is the mysterious and obscure part of Capoeira Angola, which does have his own fascination if shown in the Game. When you are a player of modern Capoeira and you show that you have knowledge of (some of) the rituals, you are much appreciated. It is knowledge which is not farspread, even among Angoleiros. And having seen them and imitating is something different than using them in the right timing and with the right expressions. What I refer to are the rituals at the Pé do Berimbau, the Chamada in the Game and some of the less known rituals taking place during the Game. I will not get into details (for now), but I thought the list would be incomplete without the rituals.

But beware, also here you have the same as while playing music. You are not alone. You have your partner in the Roda. Even if you do not like that particular person, your game can only be beautiful if you do integrate him/her into it. If you do a one-man-show you have two possible bad outcomes. a) People might think it’s entertaining, but they will also think that you are a show off and egocentric and so on. b) The person you are playing with might not be happy with this. And if he is able, he might even show you that he does not like your One-Man-Show. So, as always in Capoeira Angola, be careful. Do take care of your game, do try to play expressively. Do try to play a beautiful game with all the music, the expressions and the rituals, but do never forget that you are not alone and that Capoeira is something that only does work TOGETHER!

And now, I will get in front of my mirror and try some funny expressions.

Picture source: http://www.ficaoakland.org

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