Angoleiro in action

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Hello everybody,

first of all, happy new year! Wish you all the best for 2009 and I am looking forward for a new year full of interesting discussions and and inspiring moments on this and all the other capoeira blogs.
The topic of today’s post is actually nothing world-changing or important in the history of Capoeira Angola, but something I promised months ago and am going to do now. In my post about my favourite Youtube-Clips I said once that I’d post a video once I find something substantial footage of one of my games. A few months ago I found something on Youtube and contacted the person who posted it. This person, Gabrielle, was very nice and did send me the original videos, which were taken with a cell phone camera. I did put them together and did put it back on Youtube.

As for the Roda where the videos were taken. The Roda took place in Amsterdam in the summer of 2008. It was a great day,  with beautiful weather (quite rare in Holland) and especially a nice Roda with Angoleiros and (mainly) modern Capoeiristas (actually the first person I am playing is an Angoleiro, the second a teacher of a local Regional group). I am the guy in black pants and with a white shirt who gets beaten up in the first part (OK, beaten up is a bit exaggerated, but I received one Cabecada, one Chapa and three kicks on my head, all in 2 minutes…).

Enjoy viewing!

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O Gavião é o Cobra Mansa

joaos

Picture source: www.aquelequeenxergalonge.blogspot.com

Eu tenho dois irmãos
Todos dois, chama João
Um joga pelo ar
Outro joga pelo chão
Se um é cobra mansa
Sei que o outro é gavião, camaradinho

This is the third post in the series about Masters of Capoeira Angola. In the last two ones I did mainly write about Masters who already passed away, but are still important for Capoeira Angola as it is today. There are a lot of Mestres living today who also have had a great impact on Capoeira Angola. And now to the two Mestres I am gonna post about today.

Mestre Joao Grande (born 15th of January 1933) and Mestre Joao Pequeno (born on the 27th of December 1917, so Happy Birthday by the way) are two Mestres of who you can say that a majority of today’s Angoleiros trace back their heritage to one of these. Both were students and afterwards contra-mestres of Mestre Pastinha and Mestre Pastinha himself said that they will be the great Capoeiristas of the future.  Today both Angoleiros are of high ages, but still active in terms of teaching and playing in the Roda.

Today these two Mestres are something like idols. They get invited regularly to Capoeira happenings all of the world and get doctorate titles from different universities. And really, every Angoleiro wants to meet one or both of these Mestres, if there is a possibility to do so.

Mestre Joao Pequeno

Mestre Joao Pequeno was born as Joao Pereira dos Santos in Araci, Bahia, on the 27th December 1917. As a young man he fled from the poor area he grew up in and started working in different trades. During his freetime he learned Capoeira from different friends, until he moved to Salvador da Bahia with 25. Here he met Mestre Barbosa and learned Capoeira with him until he joined Mestre Pastinha’s Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola. Soon afterwards Joao Pequeno did teach under the supervision of his Mestre and did take over lessons by 1960 when Mestre Pastinha was not longer able to. In Mestre Pastinha’s school he also got the name Cobra Mansa, and Joao Pequeno. Here he did teach a lot of different Mestres who are all still legends of Capoeira Angola, like Mestre Curio, Mestre Moraes and also Mestre Joao Grande. Other Mestres who trace their lineage directly back to him are Mestre Jogo de Dentro, Barba Branca and Mestre Pé de Cumbo. In 1982, when Mestre Pastinha died, Mestre Joao Pequeno continued to teach and is still teaching in the Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola (CECA) – Academia de Joao Pequeno da Pastinha.

Mestre Joao Grande

Mestre Joao Grande

 Joao Oliveira dos Santos aka Mestre Joao Grande was born in Itagi, Bahia at the 15th January, 1933. In the little village he was born in he spent his childhood on the farm and on plantations. When he became adolescent he started working as a migrant worker until he reached Salvador at the age of 20. The first street roda he saw was a Roda with the Mestres Barbosa, Joao Pequeno and Mestre Cobrinha Verde participating. He got excited, asked what this was, got told that it was Capoeira and was sent to Mestre Joao Pequeno to show him Capoeira. Mestre Joao Pequeno brought him to Mestre Pastinha’s Academy and taught him Capoeira. Being the student of Mestre Pastinha, Mestre Joao Pequeno and also learning with Mestres like Mestre Cobrinha Verde, Mestre Joao Grande (who was also named Gaviao) grew in Capoeira in became Mestre by 1966. He was (and still is) a popular Capoeirista, who was used by Carybe for his studies on Capoeira, and who did go on folkloristic shows, travelling throughout the world, showing Capoeira, Maculéle´and Puxada de Rede with the group “Viva Bahia”. When Mestre Pastinha died, Mestre Joao Grande did quit playing Capoeira and did earn a living with folkloristic dances and as musician. His students Mestre Moraes and Mestre Cobrinha did convice him to come back to Capoeira in the mid 80’s. In 1989 he was invited by jelon Viera on a tour to the U.S. The following year he did make another tour to the U.S. and stayed. Here he teaches in the Capoeira Angola Center of Mestre Joao Grande and from here he travels around the world, still trying to keep up the tradition of Capoeira Angola. The most important mestre Mestre Joao Grande did make is Mestre Moraes, who has a major influence in the Capoeira Angola world.

The informations I did post here about Cobra Mansa and o Gaviao are publicly available and as these two Mestres are so popular, you will find a lot more information. I still hope to be able to meet these Mestres, not only because I want to learn from them (there are a lot more Mestres I’d like to learn from), but because these men are living history! And at the end of this post I will again put one of my favourite Youtube videos, showing Mestre Joao Pequeno and Mestre Joao Grande back in 1968, when they were only 51 and 35 years old.

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Surviving a Capoeira Angola Roda II: Space

roda

Some of those who know my blog might know the title of this post, at least its first part. Most things to know about surviving a capoeira angola roda were already posted in one of my first posts. Today’s post is about a certain aspect of a Capoeira Angola game. But this aspect is also something many people have to get used to. I hope this post will help in that process.

According to Mestre Moraes the aim of the Game of Capoeira Angola is movement itself. That is, maximizing your own and minimizing your opponents possibilities to move. One might say now “wait, that’s not the only purpose” and yes, that’s right. But, and that’s why I write about this topic, it comes up every now and then. With this post I will give you some hints, what to look for when you are in a Capoeira Angola Roda, but most importantly this information is for you so you dont panic when you feel cornered. Because, if you know what’s going on, you can start thinking about the way how to get out. And not panicking is a good step further on the way to a better game, no?

Geometry of a Roda

Ok, so now the big news, a Roda is a circle. At least almost a circle. On one side of the circle there is the Bateria. And the rest of the circle consists of people. The people observe your game, give energy by singing along and do define the boundaries of your game. These boundaries shouldnt be crossed.  Entrance to the Roda is defined by the edges of the bateria. And entrance into the game is defined by the spot in front of the Gunga. So far  most of these things are things you people already know. Some people who already have seen a Roda de Capoeira Angola will also be able to tell that in a Capoeira Angola Roda people are sitting or crouching in the circle. This helps keeping the circle tight and at one position. More important is that Capoeira Angola circles are usually smaller than circles of Capoeira Regional and Contemporeana. A diameter of about 2 meters or 1.50m (sometimes also only 1 meter) is a good size for a capoeia angola roda. The advantage of this size is that there is actually no space to keep out of reach. One step forward and you are close enough for an attack however the positions where before. This forces both players to play and react properly (on the otherside, usually you also have more time to do so, because too fast games are not liked much in capoeira angola). The knowledge about the dimensions of the Roda you are in is important. Also the knowledge that it’s a circle.

Movement

Capoeira has a lot to do with moving around. The Ginga and the Au are the first things you learn in Capoeira. And that is for a reason. There is only few things more boring than a game between two players who stay at their positions. It then resembles one of those 90’s computer games like “Mortal Combat” or “Street Fighter”, where player A is right and player B left. All the round kicks and turns and other movements of Capoeira do make less sense when you only have one direction to take care of (your front). So the first thing to know about the “Space Game” in Capoeira (Angola) is: you are mobile. As simple as it seems, some people panic and freeze at the spot. Although it might not be bad to stay at a spot sometimes, it definitely makes their game less fluent and thus, less attractive. The Roda being a circle does want you to move around each other.

Center vs. Edge

In a circle, and especially while playing Capoeira, there is only few preferred positions. (As a side remark, if you are playing outside, you can try to let your opponent face the sun over longer terms in the game. It’s not exactly fair, but well, life is a bitch! 😉 )

The preferred position I am talking about is the center of the circle. In an ideal game between equal partners the game will be very balanced in terms of attack, defense and moving around the center. Most players do regard the center as ideal place in the roda for following reasons:

1. You can move in any direction, left, right, forward (to your partner) and backwards (away from your partner).

2. Your partner/opponent has less opportunities, because behind him there is the edge of the roda. So moving backwards is less of an option.

3. when you stay in the center most of the movements of your opponent will be left or right, which leads to him travelling around you. He is making more meters in the game than you are (because in the center you only have to turn around), which can, in a longer game, be extremely tiring.

On the other side it’s good to know that it’s not a shame to be on the edge. Yes, when you were forced to the edge it’s a sign that the other person did dominate you, but in Capoeira you get dominated once and the next day you dominate, and the other day nothing happens. As long as you dont panic on the edge the game is not lost. And the better you are the more opportunitues you will find to get away – or to gain dominance over the center.

The Art of Cornering

Cornering is a step further than just forcing somebody to stay on the edge of the Roda. Cornering is the art keep the other player close to the edge and to hinder him from moving sideways too, until he a) finds a way out, b) submits by standing still until you let him go or c) does make such a mistake that he could get a Rasteira, Cabecada or some other “finishing movement”. It’s not the nicest way to play with your partner (and some people might get annoyed or agressive because of such a game), because it is almost equivalent to a Rasteira. You stop the possibilities of your partner to move. On the other side, a Rasteira is usually much more spectacular than plain cornering, which is the reason why some people disregard cornering as bullying and playing unfair.

But cornering itself is an art because of two simple facts: a) the Roda is a circle and has no corners and b) touching is not much allowed in Capoeira Angola, so the most effective way to force a person into a corner – by strength – is not allowed. Cornering is something which needs skill, you have to learn it. Here are some tips how to corner (the best tip is to learn it at training):

1. Cornering by size: the bigger you make yourself the harder it gets for the other to get out. When your partner is on the edge and on the ground, standing up is an option (and a danger too, cause a Rasteira or Tesoura might end your attempt). You can also move and place your legs in the possible directions your partner might take, thus hindering him from his escape.

2. Cornering by speed/experience: When you are faster than your opponent you can just move into every direction he just wanted to move. This is not so easy, cause at a certain speed you will not be able to distinguish a feint from a real attempt to escape. And when you speed up your partner will speed up too. This will eventually spiral up to a speed where you will hear the Berimbau calling you cause you have been too fast. Experience helps more in this terms. This includes the ability to read the other player. When you know what he is gonna do then you dont have to be fast to be able to block that movement.

3. Cornering by psychology (or Mandinga): The best way to corner a person is making that person believe there is no way out. Either you scare that person by a sudden change in speed level or you distract him by a certain smile. Or you just look into a certain spot in a way that he thinks you gonna go there. Or you just dont look at him anymore (keeping an eye on him on the edge of your sight) which makes him nervous or at least ignorant about your motivation. These are only a few possibilities I can think of. And I guess that there are thousand others.

The Art of Escape

A good player does not only know how to corner somebody, but also how to get out of that. The ways to get out of there in a nice way are easily described, but all of them do need one premise: no panic. If you dont panic, and this accounts for the whole game, you cant do much wrong. Because if you panic, you will react instinctively, which can be wrong. Some of those reactions are letting yourself fall, run out of the roda, starting to grap the opponent, knocking him out, run against your partner, and stuff like that. All of them are ways do get you out, but with that you are killing the game. So which are the ways to get out of there?

1. Escaping by refusing: You can stop moving. OK, this is actually submitting yourself and giving up, accepting that the other person did corner you and that you are not able or willing to get out. At a certain point, your opponent will have to release you (otherwise the game will have to end). It’s not the best way to get out, but it’s far better than using brute force – or falling out of the Roda.

2. Escaping by fighting back: There are several movements which can help you get out of the corner. All of these are attacks which make your opponent back up or move another way. Those movements dont work always and with every opponent, but using them is often very secure and leaves you with more space at the end than before. These movements are: Tesoura, Cabecada and Chapa de Costas (amongst some other). All of these are simple movements, and that makes them so effective. On the other side, there is always the possibility to get a counter-attack, so dont think that they are optimum solutions.

3. Escaping by Blocking: A major part of cornering is hindering a person to go this way or that way. But this game can be played by both. This will eventually lead to a Remis situation, which wouldnt improve the dynamics of the game but would definitely improve your own situation.

4. Escaping by intelligence: finally, the best way to escape is also exactly the best way how to corner a person. By anticipating, by experience, by wit, by Malicia and Mandinga. If you are experienced and dominant enough you can make the opponent think you will definitely go there. Thus, if he tries to block that possibility he has to open up other possibilities.

Finally, you have to realize that this is only part of the game. It’s important and some of these hints are both smart in Capoeira Angola and Regional/Contemporeana. And, I know I repeat myself here, dont panic!

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Os Velhos Angoleiros

old-mestres

This is the second post in the “Mestre de Capoeira Angola” series on the Angoleiro Blog. While in the first post I concentrated on Mestre Pastinha for the reason that he is the most influential person of modern Capoeira Angola, I did not name all the other Mestres who were his contemporaries and who are also important for the development of Capoeira Angola in the 20th century. I will only give an overview of some of the most known and important mestres. Beforehand I also will have to say that there are a lot of Mestres out there which I will not mention although they deserve better. This is not because I disregard them intentionally, but because a) I dont know much about them b) I dont know nothing about them or c) that I forgot about them. So if one of you readers do see that I am missing out on some interesting/important old Mestre of Capoeira Angola (who was not Mestre Pastinha’s student or contemporary), please tell me – and maybe add some information about that mestre yourself, thus completing this post.

As I mentioned before Mestre Pastinha was not the only Mestre out there. He was one amongst many. Still, he was elected by other Mestres to save Capoeira Angola. This is the reason why most people do only know his name when they think of old Mestres of Capoeira Angola. With this post I’d like to introduce you to some of the other important names of Capoeira Angola.

Mestre Aberrê

Raimundo Agolo aka Mestre Aberrê is one of those Mestres most people dont know at all. He was actually Mestre Pastinhas student in those years, when Mestre Pastinha was not having an Academy. Mestre Aberrê was the mestre of Mestre Canjiquinha, who is another important personality of Capoeira Angola. But his achievement was more than this. Mestre Aberrê was the one who did invite Mestre Pastinha in 1941, when people needed a mestre to re-establish the traditional Capoeira, to teach Capoeira Angola.

Mestre Bimba

bimba

Manuel dos Reis Machado (1899-1974) aka Mestre Bimba is another important Mestre of Capoeira Angola. Now some people might be pretty surprised to see Mestre Bimba on this list.  I will dedicate a post to him another time, but I didnt want this list to be lacking him. Because although he might have changed so many things about traditional Capoeira that still many Angoleiros are opinionated about him, his mastery of Capoeira Angola is not questioned. And also his importance for Capoeira in general.

Mestre Caicara

caicara

Antonio Carlos Moraes (1924-1997) aka Mestre Caicara was a mestre representing the connection of Capoeira to the streets and to the criminal elements on them. In his time he was a leading figure in the street scene of the Pelourinho. He knew it all about the criminals, the gangs and the prostitutes of the streets there and he was the one to ask if you wanted to get around. But he was not only a central figure in the street politics of his neighborhood, he was also a Capoeira master with a hard and efficient style (quite different from the softer style of Mestre Pastinha) and he was a great singer whose CD is still recommended as a must-buy for every Capoeira CD collection (I myself dont have that CD, but I think I’ll try to get my greedy hands on it).

Mestre Canjiquinha

canjiquinha

Washington Bruno da Silva aka Mestre Canjiquinha (1925-1994) was a very important personality in Capoeira Angola. He liked to describe himself as “the Joy of Capoeira” and was known for his tolerance, his good humor and his demonstration skills. He was also one of the few Mestres who did deny that there was a difference between Capoeira Angola and Regional (for him it was just a matter of rhythm). In his demonstrations he did not only show Capoeira, but also other Afrobrazilian dances including the Maculele. He said that he was the first one to introduce Maculele into Capoeira shows. Besides that he was also acting in different Brazilian movies displaying Capoeira and he also left a number of highly skilled mestres (not every mestre did that) like Mestre Paulo dos Anjos, Mestre Brasília and Mestre Lua Rasta. If you want to read more of (and by) him, download his book translated by Shayna McHugh on her site Capoeira Connection.

Mestre Cobrinha Verde

cobrinha-verde

Rafael Alves Franca (ca.1910-1983) aka Mestre Cobrinha Verde grew up with Capoeira on the streets, played with thugs. He says that he was the cousin of Besouro Manganga himself and that Besouro was his first Mestre. Cobrinha Verdes roda was one of the most respected rodas alongside those of M Bimba, M Pastinha and M Waldemar. You can find more information of and by him in his book Capoeira e Mandingas, which you can also find on the Capoeira Connection site.

Mestre Leopolodina

leopoldina

Mestre Leopoldina (1933-2007) is one of the most popular Mestres who represented the “old guard” of Mestres when most of them had already died. Now he is dead himself, but does stay in the memories of both Angoleiros and Regionalistas as a good humored old master, representing the old style of Capoeira Carioca and the malicia and malandragem of traditional Capoeira. There is plenty of footage considering him, but the most recommendable thing to do is to check out the movie about him. “Mestre Leopoldina – a fina flor da malandragem“, a smart and interesting portrait of the old mestre and his life in Rio and in Capoeira.

Mestre Traira

traira

Joao Ramos do Nascimento (1925-1975) aka Mestre Traira is one of those mestres you hear least of. He does have a part in the movie Vadiacao (1954) and did record Capoeira rhythms together with Mestre Cobrinha Verde. Other than that he is known to have had an agile, fast game, which was “only comparable to Mestre Pastinha’s” as Jorge Amado describes. Although it is said that he didnt leave any pupils or followers there is at least one Mestre who did start Capoeira Angola with him (Mestre Barba Branca from Grupo Capoeira Angola Cabula).

Mestre Waldemar

Mestre Waldemar

Waldemar Rodrigues da Paixâo (1916-1990) aka Mestre Waldemar was especially known for his Roda. The Roda at Mestre Waldemar’s hut was one of the few legendary rodas in Salvador and the place to be on Sundays to see the old mestres play. The roda was known for its diversity of games displayed, from the slowest ones to the hardest games. His Roda was also point of reference for many artists and intellectuals who were trying to underline the importance of African influence on (Afro-)Brazilian culture. One of these was Carybé who did make his paintings inspired by the scenes he saw at Mestre Waldemar’s roda. Other than that Mestre Waldemar was also known for his Berimbaus and does claim to be the first one who started to paint his Berimbaus (a common practise among Angoleiros today). Later he started suffering under Parkinson’s disease and stopped playing Capoeira. He is not known to have left any students (edit: I seem to be wrong with this last sentence, as you see in the comments, Mestre Waldemar did leave students. I just seem to not have found them mentioned…My apologies to his students).

 

As you people see, most of the mestres I mentioned died in and around the 90’s or at least in the last decades of the 20th century. They represent a generation of Angoleiros most of us dont know at all, both Regionalistas and Angoleiros. As the concept of lineage is very important among Angoleiros it is still good to know about them, cause most if not all of today’s mestres of Capoeira do trace back their Capoeira to one of these Mestres (ok, a majority do trace back their Capoeira to Mestre Pastinha, what a surprise!). But there are other old mestres of Capoeira Angola still alive today, and those will be the topic of my next post in the series about Mestres of Capoeira Angola.

Note on pictures: most pictures of the mestres are commonly available pictures you can get anywhere on the web. My favourite picture of this post is the very first one showing several of the old angoleiros in salvador of the year 1982. From left to right those are: Mestre Joao Grande, the son of Cobrinha Verde, Mestre Joao Pequeno, Mestre Cobrinha Verde, Mestre Canjiquinha and Mestre Waldemar. The picture can be found on the site http://www.suldabahiaperu.com/ .

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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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