Monthly Archives: November 2008

Is your Corpo Fechado?

verger-capoeira-26454

Capoeira is not only a martial art, a dance and a game. It comes along with its cultural background, which developed in the Afrobrazilian circles of Brazil and spread all over the world. It’s like HipHop, or like Yoga. It left it’s national and cultural boundaries and spread to places where some parts of it’s culture might be less well understood than others. Some interesting thoughts about cultural differences in the practice of Capoeira are given in a post by Mandingueira on her highly recommendable blog www.mandingueira.com. Even in Brazil many connotations and aspects of this art get lost due to old mestres dying and their knowledge usually dying with them. Here in Europe or in the U.S. or in Asia only few pieces of this culture are learned. This is why once in a while I come along and try to explain some of the words which you will hear in connection to capoeira. I’m not Brazilian and my connection to Brazil is solely because I love to play Capoeira Angola. So all I can give you is my limited view on some parts of Capoeira culture. If you know better, feel free to correct.

After this short intro I will now come to the question given in the title. Is your Corpo Fechado? For all those who dont know Portuguese, Corpo Fechado means “closed body”. in Capoeira, and in related Afrobrazilian cults like Candomblé, Corpo Fechado does have an important meaning. I will try to explain both the secular and the spiritual meaning of this word.

Corpo Fechado – in the Roda

The closed body in the Roda is a basic principle of Capoeira. Everybody learns it from the very beginning without having to know that they are actually working on a ‘closed body’. The Corpo Fechado in the Roda is your defense, most basically your hands and arms protecting vulnerable parts of your body. These parts are especially your face, neck, chest and lower torso.

Already doing the Ginga does demand the player to keep up his defense every time his body is moving forward. One arm always protects the face. If not so the danger of getting a kick or slap into the face is imminent (I wont judge now how nice or fair it is to kick into the face of somebody whose face was unprotected… that’s another topic). The same does account for every single movement in Capoeira. And also both in traditional and modern variants of the Game. Some Mestres do complain that in modern variants due to a higher distance between players the necessity of a “closed body” decreases. In Capoeira Angola on the other side, a closed body is a necessity – and in every second of the Game a hole in your defense can be used by your partner.

I dont want to scare you people away. And I also dont want to show you just the one side of the coin. Modern Capoeira and Capoeira Angola do allow you to show apparent “entrances” into your body. In the ideal case sometimes you might seem absolutely helpless with you body wide open. And still be able to close the body when it’s needed. That is to lure your partner into a situation where he thinks he has you, and showing him that that is not so. One of my favoritue Capoeira Angola pictures is the one posted below where the player in white seems absolutely helpless. Still, his partner does not fall into that trap keeping up his defense, knowing that a good player can defend himself in whatever position he is.

corpo fechado

But dont forget one essential thing about capoeira. That it is not about concentrating on one thing. Corpo Fechado is a set term in Capoeira culture, but it is not the only thing. Theoretically you could have a perfect defense, but still be absolutely horrible in playing Capoeira. Thus, Corpo Fechado is one part of Capoeira, a part everybody should know of, but not the above-all most important part of it.

Corpo Fechado – in Life

Corpo Fechado does also have a very religious connotation. In Afrobrazilian practises achieving Corpo Fechado is possible through specific rituals and by wearing amulets. Having a Corpo Fechado means being invulnerable against all kinds of physical attacks. If it’s knives or bullets. The most favourite person to have had a Corpo Fechado was the Capoeira legend Besouro Manganga. Manoel Henrique Pereira (1897-1924) was a legendary Capoeirista and criminal in Santo Amaro, Bahia. He was known and loved by the folks for his fights with the police. In times of danger he would transform into a beetle and vanish from the place. He was also known to be invulnerable – or only vulnerable by an enchanted wooden dagger (made of the Tucum-tree), which was the reason for his death in 1927.

But the Corpo Fechado does exist outside of Capoeira aswell. As I said, it is part of Afrobrazilian culture. The rituals and ideals behind this go back into Kongolese religious practices, where there was the belief in Kanga Nitu. Kanga Nitu was “binding your body” thorugh rituals protecting it from evil spirits. Other rituals did include the use fetishes and amuletts – socalled Nkisis – against arrows from enemies in times of war, or for a successful hunt (among many other uses). The ideas of Kanga Nitu and corresponding rituals came along with the slaves and still have an influence on Afrobrazilian culture.

One part which is to be mentioned together with it are the patuás, the amuletts which protect the faithful from all kinds of physical harm. These amuletts did contain a diversity of herbs alongside with prayers written into them. But it obviously doesnt seem to be enough to just wear a Patuá around your neck, you also have to know your prayers and rituals, and what is forbidden and what not. Basically, you have to believe and know the religion before you start “protecting” yourself with a Patuá. As the proverb says: “Quem nao pode com mandinga, nao carrega patúa.” Roughly translated: Who doesn’t know Mandinga, should not use a Patúa. Today a lot of people do carry a Patúa without actually believing in it’s use. It has become a part of Capoeira fashion. I personally do not believe in the effect of a Patúa, but I still would strongly recommend any person who carries a Patúa to learn about its implications. Even if he/she does only see it as a fashionable accessoire, it is still of use to know what you are walking around with.

There are also certain ways to “open” the body of a person, even when that person does have a “Corpo Fechado”, this does include the use of enchanted weapons (as it was in the case of Besouro Mangangá). But also the person himself can cause his “protection” to fail. One known way is to have sex. Some traditional Mestres dont recommend practising Capoeira after having had sex the night before.

So, the next time a mestre screams at you to “fechar o corpo” he means that you should keep up your defense. He usually does not mean you to be abstinent before you come to his class or to wear a Patúa, because as Capoeira does spread around the world, there will be more and more practitioners who do not believe in Candomblé or into any Afrobrazilian manifestation of those ancient Bantu traditions. Still, even if you dont believe in them, it’s useful to know about it – and even if it is only to comprehend more what we are doing, playing Capoeira.

Picture sources:

http://www.ele-mental.org/capoeira/TABCAT/aboutcapoeira.html

http://albenisio.spaces.live.com/blog/

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O menino quem foi seu Mestre?

Mestre Pastinha

Menino, quem foi seu mestre ?
Quem te ensinou a brincar
O teu mestre foi Besouro
Aprendeu com Manganga

Eu aprendi com Pastinha
Quero contigo Brincar
A capoeira de angola
A africano quem mandou

Na capital de Salvador
Foi pastinha que me ensinou
Na roda de capoeira
Reconheço esse valor

(M.Joao Pequeno)

At the 13th November 1981 Vincente Ferreira Pastinha, known to the world as Mestre Pastinha, died at the age of 92. Today that is 27 years ago. The only reason why I write this post is to remind everybody of one of the biggest and most important Mestres of Capoeira. I wont go into the details of his life. When he was born, who did teach him capoeira, why, and when he started to teach Capoeira. There is enough sources for that, and everybody who is interested will find the information. Important is what Mestre Pastinha stands for.

Mestre Pastinha stands for the tradition of Capoeira Angola. He is the Mestre of Capoeira Angola. He was not the only one around and not all Angoleiros are from his lineage. But he did do for Capoeira Angola what Mestre Bimba did for the recognition of Capoeira. Both Mestres were not the sole reason for the re-collection of traditions (Pastinha) or for the social integration (Bimba) of Capoeira. But both of them gave these specific processes a face. A name and a point of reference.

What Mestre Pastinha did was keeping up and teaching the traditional Bahian capoeira in a time when Capoeira Angola started to vanish from the streets. Other Mestres of Capoeira did give him the duty and the responsibility to keep up the traditions. And although he was of higher age already, he did start teaching people, building up students who would pass on Capoeira Angola. Without Mestre Pastinha, there wouldnt have been a Mestre Joao Grande, a Mestre Joao Pequeno, a Mestre Moraes, a Mestre Cobrinha, a Mestre Jogo de Dentro… all the people and their organizations which make Capoeira Angola the smaller but definitely not less important part of today’s Capoeira. Not only today’s Capoeira Angola Community, but also the general Capoeira world would have been totally different – and I think far less attractive – if he wouldnt have done his job.  Would there be another one who would have taken the responsibility? No one knows for sure. But what we know is that he did it. And he did it in the best way possible. Concentrating on everything what Capoeira was losing in a time when Capoeira was getting more popular among Brazilian society, but only if it was stripped of it’s Mandinga, Brincadeira, rituals, spirituality, individuality and – to sum it up – it’s soul. He did resist all these temptations and died miserably.

It’s sad that his role in keeping traditional Capoeira alive was only fully comprehended when he was already dead, but that’s often with big personalities in history. We can’t change history, but we can keep his work up. I dont expect it from everybody, just somebody has to do it. And those who are mostly (but not solely) responsible for this are the Mestres, especially the ones who dedicate themselves to Capoeira Angola.

This is the reason why in future I will also post more about specific Mestres of Capoeira Angola, and their achievements and ways to keep up the heritage of Mestre Pastinha. And with this I will finish now and hope that I did a small contribution to the memory of Mestre Pastinha.

 

Axé!

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Mixing styles: Can you train both Angola and Regional?

This is one of the most controverse topics in discussions between Angoleiros and Regionalistas. And it is a question which is coming up more and more often since several groups claim for themselves that they a) practise both or b) that the dichotomy between Regional and Angola is artificial and thus, that they are training “Capoeira só”. Capoeira e uma so, I agree. But most of the time this sentence is used to downsize the existing difference between the styles. Isnt it possible that there is one Capoeira, but with two different styles? Can you intermix those styles?

Capoeira e uma so?

First I want to talk about the difference between Capoeira Angola and modern variants of Capoeira. The question I want to ask is: how big is the difference? Because, if there is no big difference between the two styles of Capoeira, than the issue is not that big, right? We have to keep in mind that these styles are not monolithic constructs. They did develop over time and under the influence of different mestres and different schools, thus both evolving into artforms with a lot of variants. Thus the issue get’s more complicated than you think.

Let’s chose the most simple solution to this problem. Below I posted 6 videos of Capoeira games and you people will make a self-test and see if you can see the difference between an Angola game and a Regional game.

Ok, so most of you were able to distinguish the different styles here, right? Good, for me that’s proof enough that there is not only one Capoeira, bBut two distinguishable styles.

Enter: Capoeira Angonal

Can you intermix the styles?  As supporters of a mixed Capoeira do say over and over again, there was no dichotomy between Capoeira Regional and Capoeira Angola before Mestre Bimba and Mestre Pastinha started teaching these. So logically there should be the possibility to get back to the traditional “pre-forms” of Capoeira by mixing Capoeira Angola and Regional, right? Although this logic seems to be intriguing, as an Angoleiro I have to say that there is one basic mistake in this assumption. That is to see Capoeira Angola as something which did evolve from the old Capoeira and which is significantly different from it, as different as other modern variants of Capoeira. We Angoleiros do insist on the fact that Capoeira Angola is the traditional Capoeira (or at least what comes closest to it). The dichotomy did evolve when the modern form of Capoeira Regional did come to existence. So if somebody wants to rely on tradition, why doesnt he play Capoeira Angola?

Thus, when you try to intermix the modern form with the traditional form, then what you wont get back to a traditional form. Present mixes of Capoeira Regional and Capoeira Angola are sometimes called Capoeira Contemporeana or Capoeira Angonal. When you search for both terms you will find modern Capoeira groups, Angoleiros still would still call them Regionalistas. Check it yourself on Youtube by typing in Capoeira Angonal. Some of the videos do sometimes resemble an Angola game, but as an Angoleiro (and I assume also as a modern Capoeirista) you will be able to see the difference. On the other side I have to admit that it is hard to name the differences. There is a lot differentiating the Angoleiro from the Regionalista: the ginga, the way of moving, the use of malicia (there is also malicia in modern Capoeira though), the expression, the speed, the proximity of the players to each other and much more. Although we might not be able to pinpoint it, we can tell if we see an Angoleiro playing or not.

But what is with those old Capoeiristas who did say that they were neither Regional and neither Angola like Mestre Canjiquinha or Mestre Leopoldina?

With these Mestres it is more difficult to put them into certain categories, as they are clearly no Regionalistas, but they seem to differ from the typical Angoleiro style. To answer this you have to remember that most Angoleiros nowadays are in the tradition of Mestre Pastinha and his students Mestre Joao Grande and Joao Pequeno. But there were other mestres, and those played different. For Angoleiros there is no contradiction. The other old mestres might play differently, but for an Angoleiro they are clearly traditional Capoeiristas, thus: Angoleiros. On the other side, supporters of the “Capoeira e uma so” idea do bring these examples as evidence that present day Capoeira Angola is also just a new style and that by practising Capoeira Angonal, you are actually really traditional! Angoleiros, seeing themselves as protectors of the traditional Capoeira, see “Angonalistas”, their game, and start getting suspicious. Is Capoeira Angonal just a marketing idea, brought up when being “traditional” started to be cool again? Because, Capoeira Angonal did not exist (neither as word nor as idea) when traditional Capoeira was threatened by extinction, when being modern was all, and being traditional was considered antiquated or plain stupid. Only when people started realizing that being traditional is not equal to being old-fashioned and antiquated, and when traditional Capoeira did start to rise in reputation again, only then the “true” “pre-forms” of dichotomy free Capoeira did come up.

Can you train both and keep them separate?

So, for an Angoleiro you can’t intermix the styles and make a Capoeira Angonal. That would be just taking over some of the traditions, but keeping the modern changes in it. Thus, it would still not be traditional Capoeira Angola. It would be more like taking your favourite pieces to spice your game up again, but denying the rest.

On the other side there are other groups who say that they train both, but separated from each other, having Capoeira Angola classes in one week and Capoeira Regional classes the other weeks. At first thought, there cant be a big problem with this, right? The only thing you have to do then is to define when you are going to play Regional, and when you are going to play Angola. I have met people who did say that they train both and yes, you could see that. It was still not the game of an Angoleiro. The following video is an example where you see a group of Regionalistas training Capoeira Angola.

But be careful: It’s not that Angoleiros dont appreciate when modern Capoeiristas do show interest in Capoeira Angola. I love it and I wish much more modern Capoeiristas would do that! But you should be aware that everybody will see the difference between a pure Angoleiro and a Capoeirista who learned to play Capoeira Angola.

At the end: it is one body and one brain we are training. And if you have seen people from other martial arts training Capoeira you know exactly what I mean. What you learned before, does influence your game. Be it another martial art, be it Capoeira Regional or Capoeira Angola. I trained for a year with a group of Capoeira Contemporeana, and I have observed two things about my game: One, if I would want to play the same way as the students of that group, I would have to train years with them, and concentrate on not using what I learned before. Only after years people will have a hard time seeing if I was an Angoleiro before or not. And on the other side, only after a year of training with a modern Capoeira group my first Capoeira Angola teacher and other Angoleiros could see the difference in my game. Less than before I was going into Jogo de Dentro, I was kind of restricted in my game. Had problems seeing through the malicia of my teacher, and so on.

I dont say it’s bad that I trained with a group of modern Capoeira. Life is a learning process and for sure I have learned things in the last year. But I realized myself that my game started to change, and develop away from my Capoeira Angola skills. That is why I now start focusing on Capoeira Angola again.

Is it impossible to play both?

No it’s not, when you see Mestres play you can see that there are a lot of Mestres who can play both styles of Capoeira. With some of the bigger Mestres it is impossible to see if they are Angoleiros or Regionalistas. They blend into any Roda. And that’s something admirable for sure. One nice example is the game in the following video.

But to be able to blend into both styles does not only need the will to do it, but also the coordination and the experience to do so. For the usual student of modern Capoeira, like most of my readers, it is impossible to play Angola Angoleiro style. And for me it is impossible to play Regional Regional style.

At least not with a few years of experience.

Thus…

So what does it mean for us? First, we have to decide on what we are gonna be. Do we want to be Angoleiros or Regionalistas? Do we want to concentrate on one, or do we want to learn both? It’s not a mistake to chose to learn both styles. I can see that there are different qualities in the different styles and that you want to learn and experience them both. I as an Angoleiro dont want to recommend on training some kind of mix of the two styles, because these mixes have not proven themselves to be a real alternative to the established schools and styles. And I would also recommend you to learn the two styles in different schools. Not because one school might not be able to learn you the basics of both, but because the chance to learn both properly is higher when you go to a modern Capoeirista for modern Capoeira, and to an Angoleiro for Capoeira Angola.

Axé!

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