All Capoeiristas say over and over again that Capoeira is not only a martial art. We tend to look down on other martial artists in the knowledge that they just learn how to bash their heads while we get to learn movement, music and philosophy in one. Actually, that is unfair, cause other martial arts do also have underlying philosophies. Still there is clearly differences between Capoeira and most other martial arts. Some of these differences come out of the fact that capoeira did not evolve in temples or was invented by soldiers in some academy. Those who did practise Capoeira in the past, were usually underprivileged people like slaves, unemployed men, street thugs and such. Capoeira did grow and develop further on the streets (taking advantage of the rich culture of African rituals, dances and martial arts brought by Africans to Brazil – but for this story check out the posts under “African Roots“). Maybe because of this, because most of today’s teachers still know what poverty and oppression does with people, many Capoeira schools are involved in social projects, trying to give the people “o povo” what belongs to them: hope, perspective, movement.
“Capoeira Beyond Brazil”
I realized the importance of this topic when I was reading a book which was sent to me by Blue Snake Books. It is named “Capoeira Beyond Brazil” and is written by Aniefre Essien (Tartaruga), who is teaching Capoeira to at risk youth in Oakland, California since 1998.
The people from Blue Snakes Books asked me to write a review about this book. As I never wrote a review before (except in school, but that doesnt count) I was very interested in doing so, especially when it was about a Capoeira Book I never had heard of before. So I sat down and read this book and I liked it. I wrote this review a long time ago, but due to many reasons I was not able to complete it well and it took months – till today – till I was able and willing to do so. In the meantime one of my favourite Capoeira Bloggers Mandingueira did already post a review about this book. That’s why I decided to take this review one little step further and give a glimpse on this topic, Capoeira and Social Engagement. So, better late than never, here’s the review:
“Capoeira Beyond Brazil” is a short book written in easily understandable language, in which “Tartaruga” manages to give a good overview about many aspects of Capoeira. The first chapters do mainly concentrate on the classical topics, like history, the game and the training, and is perfectly fit for the beginner to have a quick understanding about capoeira. The last chapters are interesting for both beginners and advanced Capoeiristas. Because as Capoeira is expanding and becoming a world-wide practised sport, art and lifestyle, new challenges come up which have to be faced. Essien writes about a broad spectrum of topics, like commercialization of the art and it’s misuse by some teachers as a tool to oppress their students. Of course, there is so many topics, that Essien wasnt able to cover them all in a satisfacting manner, but as capoeira players will read about these in his book, their awareness about the existence of these problems will -hopefully- increase.
Of the highest interest for me was his detailed description of the history and reality of the project “Nosso Quilombo”. Essien’s dedicated work with children who grow up in a neighbourhood full of crime and violence and his success in this work is a good example for many Capoeira groups. Especially for those groups whose focus was, till now, the mere improvement of the teacher’s financial situation. Today Capoeira is still a force of change, and not only in Brazil, where the lives of many street children changed when they started practising this art, but also in the U.S., as this example shows us so nicely.
The strength of this book is that it is easy to understand and written from a personal point of view, enriched by Essien’s own experiences as student and teacher of Capoeira. It doesnt want to teach you as a Capoeirista, what to do, but tells merely what Essien thinks is right, explained using simpes examples out of his Capoeira life. Thus I can recommend this book, especially for beginners who just started with Capoeira and want to know why people make such a fuzz about it.
Capoeira and Society
Now, “Tartaruga” is, as you will see when you read the book, a Contemporean Capoeirista. This is a fact which I actually like a lot, because I have already heard a lot about social projects of Capoeira Angola groups, to a lesser extent I have heard about social projects of modern groups of Capoeira. It’s not that they dont exist, I guess even that you have also a lot of social projects of modern Capoeira groups. We just dont hear much of these.
Of course, some people say Capoeira is a martial art and a hundred years ago it was not connected to social projects but to tough guys who would beat each other’s brains out on a regular basis. Those who do argue like that dont see the changes of Capoeira during the time. As much as there is a difference between Capoeira in the times of slavery and Capoeira in times of the late 19th century street thugs, it also changed since it became legalized and en vogue in the last 60 years of its development. People of “higher education” and of other social ranks started playing Capoeira. And for them Capoeira was not an obligatory school of survival or there favourite pass-time because they didnt have nothing to do. For them it started to be a hobby, which they can practise and then leave the training grounds and go home safely. The difference between these new Capoeiristas and the old guard is, that many new Capoeiristas are staying on safe financial and social grounds and are thus able to help others. The modern Capoeirista can help the weak and poor much more than Capoeiristas of past times (at least in some parts). Now you cant force anybody to be charitable. Charity and egagement in social projects must be voluntary, so I wont start and discuss about “the duties of the ones which are better off than the poor”. What I want to point out though is that if somebody wants to do something charitable and does also train Capoeira, that he should realize that he actually has a powerful tool in his own hands. Capoeira as a visual, physical and musical art has so many facets and does attract people of so many different backgrounds that it is perfect for binding people, giving people some valve to get out the frustration with life, helping people express themselves in a way that they never experienced.
And if you say, you have no idea what to do, just check out the projects of every bigger master of Capoeira. Most of these masters do come from poor backgrounds. So their projects are more than just charity or social projects. They do comprehend the problems of “o povo”. And because most of them did find a way out of the misery via Capoeira, they feel obliged to give something back, again via Capoeira. So which projects are there? It’s impossible to give a good list of all projects. One of the good projects is obviously “Nosso Quilombo” from Tartaruga, but there are also the projects of Mestre Moraes, Mestre Boa Gente, Mestre Russo, Mestre Janja, Mestre Cobra Mansa and Mestre Lua Rasta. And this is just the ones which came up in my mind spontaneously. Just check them out.
Picture sources: http://www.bodysportbrazil.com/