Tag Archives: Survival

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!

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Filed under African Roots, Philosophy

African Roots IV – Fight

The slaves who were transported to the Americas were not weak. At least the probability was high that weak people were not bought on the coast of Africa. Young men were interesting, especially the strong ones. Of course they were in chains and of course they did not have much to resist against European firearms, at least not in the beginning. But their martial arts came with them. And they made use of them.

The first thing to know is that Martial Arts seem to have evolved everywhere on the world. Most people are quite ignorant of this fact, mainly because East Asian arts like Kung Fu or Judo come into our minds when we hear the word Martial Arts. But French fencing, Turkish oil-wrestling, Zulu stick fighting and Indian Kalarippayat are martial arts, too. Martial arts evolve efficient fighting patterns, rules and rituals, because most of the martial arts are meant to be practised and you cant practise a martial art when your partner gets severely injured or killed every time. That’s what makes them arts, apart from pure violence. Also in Africa martial arts exist,and someof them belong to the most ancient fighting systems there are on Earth.

African Martial Arts

Sadly there is one problem when researching about African martial arts: they are very poorly documented. To find written information is about as simple as to nail a pudding to a wall, and finding video footage is about impossible. The best way to find information would be: go there and see it. That is what TJ Desh Obi did and does and his new book which came out this year (“Fighting for honour”) should give some new insights into this not-so-clear chapter of African history. In this post I just want to spotlight some martial arts of Africa and show that a) there are actually a lot of African martial arts out there and b) that these did influence several martial arts in the Western Hemisphere. This would then be the last thing I want to do for this African roots series. Yes, people, although there is a lot more African’s did contribute to the Americas, after having described the people, their believes and their music I will finish with this, describing the martial arts of the African Ancestors.

The first martial art I want to mention is Nubian wrestling. That is because it is so unbelievably old. The picture above is, as you might have recognized, Egyptian, showing men who engage in a clearly martial art. The picture is to be found in the temple of Ramses III. in Medinet Habu and is, yes, over 3100 years old. That is older than East Asian Martial arts, which are only just above 2200 years old, by the way. A modern historical view of Ancient sports does see Nubian wrestling as a predecessor of Graeco-Roman wrestling, eventually, of modern wrestling. Why is that? The Nubian people had times when they were pretty dominant in Africa.

Nubia was home of various empires and states as early as 3500 BC and was for long times under the rule of Egypt, but there were also times when the Nubians did rule over the Egyptians (during the times of the Kush Empire, which existed between 1000 BC till 300 BC). So there was a 3000 year long cultural interdependence and cultural exchange. So Nubian wrestling started to get known to the Egyptians. And the influence of the Egyptian culture on Ancient Greek culture was quite strong and is well documented… But is Nubian wrestling just history? No, as the picture above shows clearly, Nubian wrestling is still a tradition among some people in Nubia. The Nuba people for example still practise it. Some hardcore readers will now say “So, but that’s clearly not Capoeira’s predecessor, right?”. There you might be right, but look at this description and try to imagine it and then try to find similarities to Capoeira. The description is from Oskar and Horst Luz and their article “Proud primitives” (National Geographics Magazine 130, 5: 672-699; published 1966):

A wrestler dances into the ring, looks challengingly around, assumes a fighting
stance, elbows on his knees-and waits. Whoever accepts the summons enters the
ring. . . . Now the two men take measure of each other, crouching, wary, flexing
bulging biceps. To over awe the opponent, they whirl with springy steps, shake
arms and shoulders, limber up, and ripple their muscles. One wrestler darts
forward, taps his head, feints probingly, backs away, flicks his tongue in and out,
advances again. The easy graceful movements resemble advance. The adversary
springs forward, reaches down, tries to seize his opponent’s legs. The two
grapple, arms coiled around each other. One lifts his opponent and attempts to
throw him to the ground, but the other, catlike, lands on his feet. It is only a
momentary reprieve. A quick fake, a rush, another clinch, another lift-and this
victim is slammed on his buttocks to the ground. Next match!
 

But there are other martial arts, all over Africa. Let’s go closer to the origins of most Afrobrazilian people, for example the Congo. For the Congo I found the mentioning of at least 3 martial arts, although most of them are poorly described (as always). There is Kipura, Mousondi and Gwindulumutu. There are already people saying that the word Capoeira comes from the Kipura martial art. As I am not an etymologist I won’t comment on that. Much more interesting is Gwindulumutu which is only described as a “headbashing martial art” (and I didnt find anything else on this martial art except this 3-word-description, would come in handy if somebody knows more details about it). I am kind of interested in that because there was the mentioning of Rugendas when he was describing Capoeira in the early 19th century where he write “Much more violent is another war game of the Negroes, Jogar capoeira, which consists in trying to knock one another down with headbutts in the chest, which one dodges which skilful side jumps and parrying. While they are throwing themselves against one another, more or less like rams, sometime heads run terribly into each other. Thus not infrequently the prank turns real fight and a bloody head or blade put an end to the game.” For the German original of that text click on this link.

And then there is the N’Golo or Engolo, which is often cited by Angoleiros as being a direct ancestor of Capoeira. This theory came up in the sixties where the Angolan Neves e Souza stated that the N’Golo is Capoeira. The N’Golo is a dance ritual of the Mucupe people in Southern Angola. It is a passage to adulthood and the champion of the N’Golo ceremony is allowed to marry the girl he wants, without paying the prize for her. The dance is believed to be derived from the way Zebras fight, it is also called the Zebra dance. In memory of this history a lot of Angola groups do have a Zebra in their logo and the one or other mestre does wear a zebra belt while playing in the Roda.

There is still a lot of doubts considering this version, especially as there are only few people who have seen this N’Golo. As far as I know Mr. Desh Obi does have video footage of the N’Golo and it is said to be very similar to Capoeira Angola. But this is only hearsay. If somebody can come up with some solid information, he/she would make me a very happy man 🙂

 

Capoeira d’Angola, Ladja and Jailhouse Rock

Now we are going over the Atlantic Ocean and try to see if there are African Martial arts and since when they are there. The problem here, as everywhere, is that the documentation is poor and that the African people (or those of African descent) were able to hide parts of their martial arts as ritual or dance. On the other side, the European slave masters were not stupid, so they found out. And when they found out, sometimes they documented. And one of the earliest documents I found about an African martial art in the Americas is actually about Capoeira. I found this document on two pages, on the Capoeira Connection page (who by the way just posted some brand new info on the Capoeira community!) and on the French Capoeira Palmares site. This document is from the year 1789 and the first documented evidence of Capoeira. Of course we dont know if there are older ones or if they were all burnt after the abolition. That is something we will see in the future. What this document shows is that Capoeira seems to be a known phenomenon back then. So it didnt just come up in 1789, but was around for a while already. How many years was that? Nobody knows. Here the text I copied from the Capoeira Connection site:

The capoeira

Adam, the mulatto boy that master Manoel Cardoso Fontes had bought a young lad, grew into a robust, hard-working and very obedient slave in household duties.

Manoel decided to rent him out as a mason assistant, a porter, or for any other hard labor. So Adam turned out to be a major source of income for his master.

With time, the shy slave who used to be fairly domesticated became more off-handed and independent and began to come back late, much later than the end of his working hours. Manoel asked repeatedly what was it that made Adam change so much — but his answers were weak and inconsistent. Until one day, fulfilling Manoel’s fears, Adam did not come home at all. He had certainly fled to one of the villages [quilombos] around the town.

To his surprise, Manoel found Adam behind the bars of the regional jail. He had been arrested with a gang of ruffians who practiced capoeira. A quarrel had broken out that day and one of them got killed in the action. These were extremely grave crimes under the laws of the time: practicing capoeira, and what’s more, causing a death.

The trial found Adam not guilty of the homicide, but confirmed his guilt on the charge of capoeira, and condemned him to 500 lashes and two years hard labor in public service.

After Adam had suffered the lashes in public and laboured some months in the public works, his master sent the king a plea in the name of the Passion of Christ, asking that his slave be released from the rest of his term, on the grounds that himself was a poor man and depended on the income that his slave brought him. He promised to take care that Adam would not join the capoeiras again. His plea was granted by the Regional Judge on April 25, 1789.

But Capoeira is by far not the only African martial art which came and developed in the Americas. There is for example Ladja. Ladja (or also Danmye or Ag’Ya) is a martial art which is practised on Martinique. Also here, drums and singing do give the competitors the energy they need for the fight. And like in Capoeira there is no easy distinction between fight and dance here. Just watch the video beneath and you will see what I mean. Capoeira and Ladja might be brothers, or at least cousins, coming from the same region or even from the same ritual. But there is no evidence for that. So maybe Ladja did develop it’s dance properties and it’s delusiveness because of the same needs Brazilian slaves had: Deception. There is no proof for both arguments, so this is the point where you believe this or believe that. For me the video footage clearly shows a martial art which is related to Capoeira and might have come from the same people.

 

But there are also other martial arts, also in the U.S. Here you’ll find the mentioning of Jailhouse Rock. Interestingly there is also very poor information on this martial art. Jailhouse Rock does go under many different names like 52 Blocks, peek-a-boo or Stato. It is believed to have been developed in the American penal system, spreading from jail to jail and – due to the very special circumstances in jails – quickly developing into “regional” styles (the regions were the different jails). Oral tradition says that Jailhouse rocks originates in the 17th and 18th centuries when first African people were put into jail. Today Jailhouse Rock is more a collective term trying to summarize very different Fighting Systems which are nowadays strongly influenced by boxing. Only few people believe that Jailhouse Rock does still have much of its old traditions in it. So the videos you find for that are oviously not that flashy or dance-like as Capoeira is. But the agility and dance-like stance of African martial arts does come through sometimes. For example in the following video footage, showing the martial art called 52 blocks.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVbqrz5XGE0

 

So…that’s it. This was the last post of the African roots series. That does not mean that I wont come back to these topics once I have some nice things to share with you (for example an N’Golo video footage!), but for now I think everybody has enough overview over the African influences on the Americas, especially on Brazil. And maybe I have convinced some people to see that Capoeira does have so many African features, that you can call it an African martial art. Yes, it did evolve in Brazil for the last 500 years and that’s something which has to be recognized. But even there the influence of Africans did dominate till the 19th century.

But as you also have seen, documents about the African Diaspora are extremely hard to find, especially documents which are not biased. I hope together with these posts I can persuade other people to research about African diasporic culture and make them publicly available.

Axé!

 

Some Sources used for this post:

Journal of Sport History 15, No.2, Summer 1988 – Ancient Nubian Wrestling

http://mcclungmuseum.utk.edu/research/renotes/rn-23txt.htm

http://wysinger.homestead.com/mapofnubia.html

Library of Congress for an interview on Ladja

An article about Ladja/Danmye (how reliable this is I dont know)

Capoeira – A Game-Dance-Fight for Life by Edward L.Brough Luna

Picture sources:

San Diego County Office for Education

www.wrestlingbest.com

Capoeira – A Game-Dance-Fight for Life by Edward L.Brough Luna

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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

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Revenge in Capoeira

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Surviving a Capoeira Angola Roda

This might be of high interest for all of you people who want to try playing Capoeira Angola in a Roda de Capoeira Angola. The reason I start this topic is because I have seen a couple of people who usually train Capoeira Contemporeana and then end up being very frustrated in a Capoeira Angola roda.

The first reason for this is quite obvious. You are a stranger in the group and have a different style, which usually leads to “mis-communication” in play. Even if you take care of all the subtle things you have to do when you show up in a new group (introducing yourself to the trainer of the group, sticking to the movements the trainer does show, dont put yourself into the first row while training and so on….), you will have problems orienting yourself in a Capoeira Angola roda.

I´ll just name the mistakes (in random order…)

Buying the game

Buying the game is far less common in Capoeira Angola rodas than in rodas of modern Capoeira. Usually the person being in charge of the roda (if you dont know it, a hint: it might be the guy with the gunga) does tell when a play starts and when it ends. You can “choose” your favorite game in positioning yourself in the circle of people, because usually the ones being closest to the batteria will play the next game, succeeded by those who are next in line. Do never attempt to buy a game without the headhoncho saying this explicitly.

Entering the Roda with an Aú

Actually it is not forbidden to start the game with an Aú. In some Contemporeana groups it is oligatory to do this. It definitely puts the two players directly into the middle of the Roda. But in a Capoeira Angola roda you start quite close to each other. If you start with an Aú mean players won´t insist giving you a straight Cabecada. And there is another reason for this. A good Capoeira Angola play does live from its development. You start being close, slow, almost ritualistic. In a Jogo de Dentro which takes a minute or two. And as you approach the middle of the roda, the players get more apart from each other. The game gets faster, higher and sometimes rougher (of course everything depends on the players, their experience, mood, relationship and maybe on daily constellations of the stars). In jumping into the Aú in the beginning you skip all the steps in between.

Fast start

If you are “lucky” and are chosen to play the first game, wait. Dont start playing when the music starts. This is actually common in every roda, but in Capoeira Angola rodas you always have the introducing songs (Ladainha and Saudacao) where you wait and stay sitting in front of the berimbaus. And even when they start singing the common capoeira songs (corridos), wait until the person in charge gives you a signal.

Hit the air

A capoeira angola game is usually played with the partners being close to each other. If you are in a certain distance and just do kicks into the air somewhere between you and your partner, it is disregarded as boring play or at least unneccessary play. This could result in the other player making jokes about you, while you are playing. Very embarrassing.

The Open Aú

This is an obvious issue. Don´t do Aús where your upper body is totally exposed. The Angoleiro in front of you will come to the idea that that´s a perfect target for a head-butt! In this case players of modern Capoeira must concentrate on doing a “close” Aú, having their knees and feet close to the torso, not stretched out. I know you can do it 😉

Taking the teasings serious

This is actually a problem EVERYbody encounters in an Angoleiro roda. In the game of Angola there is a lot of teasing the other. This can be in a theatrical and nicer way (e.g. when I did a flashy movement which was completely unneccessary, the mestre I was playing with stood in the roda and was mimicking a photographer) or in a less nice way (e.g. sitting at the bateria and your opponent turns to the bateria, sings with his whole voice, spreads his arms, and hits your head with the back of his hand). That’s part of the mailicia, that’s part of the game. Yeah, of course he is teasing YOU, but still it is nothing personal. It is as personal as a Meia Lua you couldnt dodge. Of course you have the full right to tease back or to revenge this with other actions in the roda. But if you take it personal and (in the worst case) apply a direct into-the-face kick just because he was teasing you, then it will be considered poor/brute/un-intelligent game of you. But if you take the teasings, repay them in a similar, or other but more creative way, then everybody will consider your play being smart!

Mistakes in the Chamada

A chamada

Actually the Chamada is a story of its own and I even now feel the need to explain it excessiveley. In short. A chamada is a very ritualistic part of the Capoeira Angola game. It exists for seceral reasons:

1. calm down the game when it got a little bit too rough

2. as a small pauze in between (as Angola games can take long sometimes you really need a second or two)

3. as a time for recovery when you just got a bad hit and now want to get back into the game

4. as stylistic intermezzo in the game.

5. as a test (how far you know about the ritual and the malicia of the Angola game)

The fifth reason is important in this case. The Chamada, with all it’s ritual and all it’s peaceful behaviour, is still part of the Capoeira game. And as everybody (who plays Capoeira) knows, hits and kicks are not forbidden as long as you are in the roda. So even while you are “dancing” in the chamada the other person might want to find out if your attention is all there. Of course, it’s good to know how to answer to a chamada. there are different chamadas. That means you should learn all of them. If you dont know a certain chamada, do not hesitate to show your uncertainity. Be very careful approaching a chamada. And – and this one is reaaally important: a chamada is a call. It is, as I said, also a kind of a test. So if you are playing with a Mestre, don’t call him into a chamada. Not all Mestres are sensitive about that. But there are some which are. And why? Well, who does give YOU the right to call a Mestre into a small test?

I think I forgot some things, but this is at least a good guideline. Feel free to add things or argue about one or other.

 P.S. not all points are equally important. And the importance of some things are changing from group to group. The possible pitfalls I have given are those I have seen personally.

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