Tag Archives: Game

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!

Advertisements

13 Comments

Filed under The Game

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/

18 Comments

Filed under Philosophy, The Game

Respect Your Berimbau!

The first time I heard and saw the Berimbau, I was amazed. Some other people were not used to its sound and did not understand it. And while learning more about Capoeira, a student does understand that having a Berimbau and learning how to play it and that listening to the sounds and the orders of the Berimbau in the Roda is of uttermost importance in Capoeira. I always accepted this as a fact and did not waste energy to think about it, until the first person asked: “why?”

When we thoroughly study the sources, we see that Capoeira was not always associated with the Berimbau. When Rugendas was describing Capoeira in 1825, there were drums. When Debrét was drawing the black street vendor with the Berimbau, there was no Capoeira. In the few first-hand sources we have about Capoeira of the 19th century, there is just no Berimbau. And still, today all our Mestres and teachers do emphasize the importance of the Berimbau. The Berimbau started to become a symbol of Capoeira. When I see somebody walking around with a Berimbau here in Europe, I just assume he is a Capoeirista. So, what happened in the last 100 years? Why is the Berimbau so important to Capoeira, while it was just not associated with it just 110 years ago?

Let’s try to track it back.

Out of Africa – the Berimbau

The Berimbau is an African-derived instrument. Recent and past indigenous tribes of Brazil did not have musical bows, the Europeans neither. But in Africa around the 15th century till today there was a huge diversity of different musical bows, of which I have given an overview in another post of mine. The ones who played these bows and built them in Africa were shipped over to Brazil and there they started making Berimbaus and playing them. We find the first historical documentation of the Berimbau in the early 19th century. Especially travellers from Europe were fascinated or curious about the musical bow which was described as being used by street vendors and beggars. And it was especially an instrument used by Blacks, not by the mestizoes, not the poor whites, it was the African Brazilian people who used the Berimbau.

The first times the Berimbau was mentioned together with Capoeira, was in the early 1880’s. One document of this time (about 1891) is a description by Joao Silva da Campos, whose description was published posthumously in 1941:

The excited dark crowd performed Batuques. Samba. Capoeira circles. One heard pandeiros, cavaquinhos, violas, harmonicas, berimbau and cadential hand clapping. It was  pandemonium (Campos 1941:131).

This description, which does not seem to be the description of an insider, does definitely show us that Capoeira and the Berimbau were already in the same happenings, but maybe not specifically linked to each other. It was still mainly poor African Brazilians who practised Capoeira, and who played the Berimbau. But in one expect there is an important difference between Capoeira and the Berimbau. While Capoeira was practised in different places, the Berimbau seems to have survived in only few places. Especially in Salvador. In Rio Capoeira was practised without the Berimbau (and without the Ginga and so on), but was associated with war songs used by the Guiamos and the Nagoas. In Recife Capoeira was associated with the city’s principal music bands, but they also had no Berimbau.

Symbiosis

In the 1930’s the Berimbau was nearly extinct in Brazil. It was only played in Salvador, and here most of its players were Capoeiristas or associated to them. And then, when Capoeira did suddenly increase in popularity thanks to Mestre Bimba and the legalization of Capoeira Academies by Getulio Vargas, the Berimbau did start to be used more and more. And today, only 70 years later, the Berimbau is a symbol of Brazil, but more of Afrobrazilian culture, and, of all, of Capoeira. It is still most intimately connected to Capoeira, but has now its existence in performance and entertainment outside of it as well. Without Capoeira, the Berimbau would never had experienced such an increase in popularity in the world. And maybe, though this is speculation, it would not have survived.

But there is also the other side of the coin. Would Capoeira have survived or gained so much popularity without the Berimbau? Mind, that the Capoeiras of Rio de Janeiro and Recife, the ones without the Berimbau and stripped from many parts of Afrobrazilian culture, did not survive. Alright, this is all speculation, because, in fact, Capoeira and the Berimbau did survive. My opinion is still, that without each other, both would have been much weaker nowadays than before. They are in a symbiosis: a situation, where two different entities are closely associated gaining mutual benefit from this. Already this is a reason to respect the Berimbau and keep it in your Rodas and in your trainings.

Control

There is more to the Berimbau. The Berimbau is the Master of the Roda. Of course, yes, there are other Mestres, but in every Roda, in modern Capoeira Rodas and in traditional ones, the Berimbau does control speed and style of the game. That’s why there are different rythms, different toques of the Berimbau. That is why the Berimbau is the first instrument to play in a Capoeira Roda. That’s why every instrument can miss in a Roda, but not the Berimbau. And that’s why Capoeiristas can walk through any street and will react on the sound of the Berimbau, usually making him attent and making him search for the Roda. That is why there are all rituals around the Berimbau, why it’s at the Pé do Berimbau where we enter the Roda.

Mestre Bimba did modernize Capoeira, but he did leave the Berimbau, because it is the controlling instance in a Capoeira Roda. It is the Berimbau and the bateria of Capoeira, which did keep Bahian Capoeira under control, so that it could be playful in the first, beautiful in the second and deadly in the third game. That’s the big difference of Bahian Capoeira to Capoeira Carioca or Capoeira of Recife. That’s why it did survive.

Everybody has to listen to the Berimbau, if he does not, he doesn’t have any idea of Capoeira.

And us?

I have to admit it. My Berimbau skills are far less than my playing skills. I might play some toques and be able to keep up a Roda, but whoever calls my Berimbau play beautiful has never heard a good Capoeirista play the Berimbau. What I am gonna do is learn to play the Berimbau. Training it as regularly as your Capoeira skills is something most people do not do – and when your teacher doesn’t give music lessons (or only rarely) than your music will be horrible. Until you start learning it yourself. We should understand that the Berimbau is as important as the Ginga in Capoeira. When you are a longterm Capoeirista and you have no Berimbau, the question is: why? Get yourself a Berimbau, start playing it till there is no feeling in your pinky and then: play more!

12 Comments

Filed under African Roots, Philosophy

The Joy of the Unknown –

or: Visiting an unknown group/Roda…

Let’s face it. Most of the time a Capoeirista does spend his time with Capoeiristas he knows. He plays in Rodas where he  knows the rules. Most of the time, we spend or time in our groups. That is where we are most secure and thus, most confident. Even when we go to other places, most of the time, we take people with us. We have somebody to rely upon. We know, there is someone who is on my side.

But then there are the rare occasions where the only one on your side is you. When you visit another group. These are not the most favourable situations. It is pretty unsafe, sometimes. But it does have its own fascination.

Since a bit more than one year I had the possibilities to visit different groups and every time I visited a new group there was this great feeling. Something in between excitement, curiosity and fear. This feeling is especially strong if you are going alone. Because then it is only you you can rely on.

Here a couple of hints for the next time one of you people visits a new/unknown group:

1. Always try to make first contact before you arrive at their Roda or Training. It is a demonstration of respect if you ask the responsible person beforehand if you are allowed to come or not. The possibility that the teacher will say “no” is low, but this should not stop you from showing your respect.

2. When you arrive at the Roda/Training do try to make first contact with the teacher/mestre as soon as possible. This should happen before the Roda/Training started. Do tell who you are, where you are from and who was your teacher (these are the most interesting pieces of info the teacher will want to have). In this situation it is helpful to a) refer to a mail/phone call you made before and to b) refer to a teacher/mestre of yours that is known. Usually a teacher/mestre does respect other teachers, although they might not always be of the same opinion.

3. Do not insist on playing in the Roda. Humility is the word of the hour here. As you are a guest you do not insist in showing your skill in the Roda. The first thing, if there is a roda, is to offer playing an instrument. Do not grab the next berimbau unless the teacher said so. Offer to play one of the percussion instruments, like the pandeiro, the reco reco or the agogo.

4. Do not show off. One of the most important rules. It is never smart to show off when you are in a unknown roda. You as a stranger do have the attention of everybody anyway. So whatever you do will be measured and rated. Of course the more you show off the higher is the possibility that they try to find out where your limits are. If your limits do not go farther than your show off abilities than you are done and everybody will just remember “the show-off who came the other day and was at his limits in 10 seconds…“. Another reason why you should not show off is that you should always have a good pool of movements for the times when there is somebody who really wants to test you.

5. Do not expect to play the teacher/mestre. It never happened to me that the first game I had in a new group was with the teacher or mestre. Usually they did send somebody else in and watched my game before they decided to get in or not. This is absolute logical. A teacher/mestre does know that there are a zillion of capoeiristas out there with a lot of abilities. A stranger coming into there group could be a bad-ass violent maniac or just a semi-beginner with a couple of show off qualities. As the teacher does have the responsibility over the group he does take the tactically smartest option, which is seeing first what kind of player you are and then deciding if they go into the roda or not.

6. Try not to play hard.I know a couple of you people does play hard on others on a regular basis. Some of you people didnt learn it another way. And within your own group it is ok. Even when you are a bit harder on one or the other colleague the possibility that you get beaten up in your own group because you are too hard is quite low. There are other ways to tell you to loosen up, like your teacher just telling you this in a quite minute or two. But when you are visiting another group you cannot assume that they have the same rules. So the best thing to do is playing soft and see what kind of game the these people have. Actually it is even better to first watch their game and see if you really like to join or not. The problem is that most groups do have a different game in public presentations and during training. So do not assume that a group who has a soft game during a presentation will also have a soft game in their Roda.

7. Do not get nervous or sensitive when you are in the Roda and you realize that the people are playing hard on you. Or when you are playing an instrument and the teacher does correct your music, dont be oversensitive. It cannot be a personal issue they have with you, because they do not know you. If they are unfriendly, well, then you at least know that this visit was your last. And if you can save your face and do shrug it off, then you are “the winner”. If they correct you, do accept the correction. It will not influence your style if you do change your [insert name of the movement] for one day. Do not insist on one way of movement or music or the other. And if you get attacked in the Roda then respond reasonably. Do not use more violence then the other one uses in the game (this might lead to a violence spiral and you should mind that you are the one who has no friends around).

7. Do not criticize. This is actually self-explaining. But I have seen guests arrive and thinking that they know things better and thinking that somebody gives a s…t! It is deeply embarrassing if somebody does this mistake and does usually lead to you getting a lesson in humility by the teacher or one of his better students.

8. Be thankful.It is not your right to be at another group’s training or Roda. It is not your right to play in their bateria or in their Roda. So everything they let you do is actually a favour. Do treat it like this. Be thankful and do express it after the games and after the training or Roda. Go to the teacher/mestre and tell him. Even if you did not like it. A good “Thank you” at the very end might even neutralize some mistakes you made at the end.

9. Do not bitch around afterwards. What happened, happened. You got beaten up in that roda? Maybe not your fault but your responsibility. You went there, right? Nobody forced you. You did not like their game? That is OK. That is the reason why there are different groups. You did not like the teacher/the students? Well, the world is not perfect, right? Your opinion about what happened or what not is maybe very important to you, but refrain from going around and bitching about your experiences in the other group. If there is something wrong with that group than most people do already know anyway. If you bitch around, people will talk about it. And as you do not have control about where your bitching goes to (it might end up at the group where you just been yesterday) it is just better to remain silent.

And if you follow these rules and do go in there, knowing what abilities you have and trying to learn from the other group, then the only thing I can tell you is: Enjoy! It is one of the biggest and most exciting things in Capoeira, when you face another player you dont know in a Roda you dont know! Then you can show if you are a real Capoeirista or not!

AxÉ!

*picture source: www.capoeirayork.com

11 Comments

Filed under The Game

Bring Capoeira Back to the Streets!

Street Capoeira

This topic is circulating through my mind since a couple of weeks. Maybe it is due to me leaving my first Capoeira group more than a year ago, which lead to me visiting groups and training with different groups – also regional, which is not really my line of Game. Anyway, during those times I started to see Groups and Academies differently. It is not that I do have a problem with all the typical group issues which can come up when you are in one (see Mandingueiras page for this, she has some pretty good posts in there!). I just thought about one question, and that is the question I am gonna contemplate upon in this post:

Does Capoeira really have to be stuck in Academies?

I know it is a provoking thought, questioning about 80 years of Capoeira History and a lot of teachers would decapitate me with a clean martello for this, but Capoeira did survive because people did have the flexibility of thinking in another way. So that’s what I am doing right now: Thinking the other way.

Of course “Bring Capoeira Back to the Streets” is a very placative exclamation and more an eyecatcher for you people than meant that way. No, I think without academies Capoeira would still delve in the marginality in which Mestre Bimba did find it 80 years ago and did lift it up into publicity. Without academies only some special ethnologists or Brazil-fanatics would even know what Capoeira is, nobody would play it and I would still not be able to do a handstand (and would have not chosen any sport at all for my life!). So academies do have a pretty big influence on what Capoeira IS today. Actually, Capoeira is almost only to be found in academies (or at least groups). In Europe and North America much more than in Brazil. I will later come back to the advantages of academies for Capoeira (I think most of you do intuitively know it anyway…). But much more interesting is: Why do I come up with the Streets at all? What is what Streets can give Capoeira?

I’ll name three advantages of Capoeira on the Streets and then name some disadvantages and why the academies are exactly at the right spot for this.

Pro: Capoeira on the Streets

Capoeira on the Streets

a) The first thing one have to think about is that Capoeira does actually come from the streets – or at least has spent a lot of time on the streets, in suburbian Brazil, on the docks of Bahia, Rio, Recife. Of course, I as an Angoleiro do say that Capoeira comes from African slaves, but some major changes were coming exactly from the time when Capoeira was played on the streets. It grew up in marginality, being chased down by the police and being frowned upon by “general” society. Then, some brilliant mind called Mestre Bimba did succeed in pushing through the academies and although society did not really accept Capoeira, yet academies were ok. It was some people doing that stuff between walls, out of the sight of the public (and if, then it was some kind of folklore demonstration…at least that was what people might have thought). It was a Capoeira being under control. If there was a problem with Capoeiristas you did not have to hunt down a solitude Capoeirista, but just go to his school – and the problem was solved. This everything was good for Capoeiras survival, and once it survived and was tolerated, it could start spreading around. Yeah, but on the other side it is now stuck in this academies. Even in Brazil you have so many academies and groups that usually there is always a Capoeira school some kind of Capoeirista belongs to. Does it have to be like that? Is not Capoeira, learned and practised on the street, some kind of a more authentic way of Capoeira? Less ‘imprisoned’?

b) And this leads to my second point in arguing for Capoeira on the streets. With Mestre Bimba’s academy, and the thousands of spawning academies which basically do form the Capoeira Regional and Contemporeana scene of today, a whole other way of teaching entered the Capoeira world. There were groups before, and the one or other teacher might have taught Capoeira in a more structured way. But the real structured way of teaching came to Capoeira in the wave of the academies. What is wrong with this? Well, structured and standadized ways of teaching do usually not concentrate on a single student’s needs, problems or strengths, but somehow takes “the average student” which is a non-existing prototype. After a while in the standardized training method, each individual student does come closer and closer to “the average student” leading to a whole bunch of students, which play alike! And that’s what is the problem of academies. You can actually see where a Capoeirista comes from, when you know a specific group’s style. That is true for every size of group, but when you have groups with thousands of students, then this becomes a problem. Capoeira is born and lives from its diversity. Thus, uniformity does kill it. And that is something which can’t happen that easily on the streets. When people learn by playing other people, they might take over techniques of one specific capoeirista, but there will be the influence of a lot of other players – leading to more diversity.

c) The last point I have is actually the most important, to me. With Capoeira in Academies you have one problem. They are not out there. And if they are, then Capoeiristas are part of a show, with sometimes defined people (who plays the berimbau? who does the acrobatics? who’s playing whom? and so on…). That is not the same as we are playing in our Rodas amongst Capoeiristas, right? This way Capoeira will have it hard to integrate into any society other than the Brazilian society. We are here, outside of Brazil, playing Capoeira since 30 years, and still I have to explain people what Capoeira is. It gets better, but most people actually have no idea about Capoeira, until they have trained it… for years. But if Capoeira is part of street culture, people will be able to recognize the sound of the Berimbau, be able to link Capoeira to Brazil and will get interested easier. It will stop being a rare phenomenon and finally find its place in the middle of society.

So, now enough advantages. There are also major drawbacks of Street-Capoeira.

Contra: Capoeira on the Streets/Pro: Academies

Capoeira Academy

a) My first pro-point was that Capoeira was something that was belonging to the streets before Mestre Bimba came along and did make some serious changes. It is, of course, a romanticized view to say that everything was better. Street Capoeira was having an existence in marginality. And this was not only because it was a black sport. It was also a violent game. This inherent violence made it troublesome, threatening and suspicious for ‘general society’. And these were good reasons to chase Capoeiristas. At least for the ‘society’. (That a lot of Capoeiristas did the things they do out of poor desperation, or because there was no other way, that is something people do forget easily, but that is another topic.) Now let us go 10 years into the future and think of a Capoeira street scene somewhere in a major Norht American and European city. And suddenly violence does occur. Two groups/gangs of Capoeiristas do make use of knives in the Roda, or of shotguns… Well, welcome back to the situation of Rio in 19th century. I am exaggerating a bit, but where I am coming down to is this: Without academies there is no control of Capoeira at all. That is sometimes good for Capoeiras freedom, but we all know that Capoeira was also used for other purposes. And when Capoeiristas do become a source of trouble in other than Brazilian societies the reputation of Capoeiristas will drop into a grey area we all do not want to belong to. And it just needs a couple of stupid people for this! How does the oriental saying go? “When one idiot does throw a stone into font, ten wise men will not be able to get it out.

b) Another disadvantage of a street capoeirista is quite obvious and was obvious to a lot of old Mestres when they first saw regionalistas (the phenomenon is still existent today, though I think in a lesser degree than in the past). Street Capoeira does not teach you how to do things efficiently or beautifully or anything else. The degree of technique taught in a Capoeira Academy is – because of a streamlined and structural way of learning – higher than on the streets. Because of this we have more highly developed Capoeiristas than ever before. There is even still a difference between Regionalistas and Angoleiros. Angoleiros do usually receive a less structured lesson than Regionalistas. This does lead to the fact that Regionalistas learn playing and do achieve high performance faster than Angoleiros. Learning Capoeira Angola does need more time – with the advantage of pretty individualized styles. But even Angoleiros today do have much more structurized training than people had before.

c) The last point I have against a street capoeira scene is actually a direct response to my last pro argument. Capoeiras integration into society and a street Capoeira scene in Europe and North America (and Asia, Africa or Australia) would change Capoeira itself. It would generate some kind of local Capoeira, which is in danger of losing its roots. As an Angoleiro I am very considered that nobody forgets what Capoeira was, what the traditions are and that the Game does not lose its characeristics. Without an Academy the danger of losing Capoeiras identity is very high. When you think about it, MEstre Pastinha’s academy did evolve especially because there was a need of saving Capoeira Angola was felt. Maybe only this and the efforts of people organized in academies did save Capoeira Angola. And that is something I should not forget myself – e.g.when I am contemplating about Capoeira on the Streets yes or no. Capoeira might loose its cultural roots.

So where do we land at the very end. Should Capoeira go back to the streets? Yes and no – as it is with everything in the world, right? I think the invention of academies did save Capoeira and make it so big and this will continue. Without the academies the Capoeira world will shrink, diffuse or drift into a position where it is folklore or a violent game. Both nothing we really would like to have. And what can we do about this. Well, first of all: Belong and do not lose contact to one or other academy. They are the basis of Capoeira today and there are pretty good reasons to leave it like that. And on the other side – if your teacher does allow it – play on the streets. Do play with other people, meet up and do something. Let’s live Capoeira!

Axé!

 Pictures taken from: www.salvador-portal.com , www.wikipedia.org and www.achebrasil.com

13 Comments

Filed under Capoeira Today

My favourite Youtube-Clips!

I realized the other day that I did write mostly about serious topics. That is ok, cause, well, Capoeira Angola is something I take serious. But as important as all the cultural aspects and the little rules and the philosophy of capoeira is the fact that Capoeira Angola is FUN!!! I sadly dont have any real footage showing me playing (if I do I’ll promise to post it!), so I decided to post my favourite Capoeira Angola youtube videos this time. I will also say one or two things about them, although, most of the time the videos are talking for themselves.

The first video does show a footage I have already in my history page in this blog. It shows the two Grand Mestres of Capoeira Angola, Mestre Joao Grande and Mestre Joao Pequeno, playing.

As these guys do not get younger but are still alive and kickin’ and it is just a great atmosphere to see 160 years of Capoeira Angola in one circle the second video is also one of my favorite ones.

There is a lot more and many other videos from mestres I admire. One of them is Mestre Cobra Mansa (of course!) and so I want to put one of my absolute favourite videos in here, too. He is playing Mestre Ponchianinho here, from Cordao de Ouró. It is also one of the proof videos that Capoeira Angola does have a rough game, too.

But on the other side, there are also very beautiful games which do not show (much) antagonism. The next video is a premium example for this. It shows two students of Mestre Jogo de Dentro and there almost perfect interplay in the roda.

Some other Mestre who is just plain very interesting in his style is Mestre Camaleao, who seems to have a huge amount of moves I’d never dare to use in a roda (out of fear that my opponent would kill me afterwards!). He is also a rough player, at least in this video.

Another video is actually a footage from a whole DVD which is quite high on my to-buy list. It’s from the DVD Ypiranga de Pastinha. If somebody knows where to find it. TELL ME! 😀

Although it is the third time that I have Cobra Mansa in my video collection this video is not about him but about a 10 year old boy who is definitely somebody I should keep in eye! Check him out!

And last but not least a bit of a musical final. A guy getting interesting sounds out of the Berimbau!

I hope you enjoyed this little collection of Capoeira videos. And my message for this post is quite simple. Never, never forget that Capoeira and Capoeira Angola is for joy!

I would also like to see what YOU people like. Which youtube videos can you recommend?

1 Comment

Filed under Capoeira Today

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.

1 Comment

Filed under The Game