On not photographing everything.

We were having a discussion after a roda recently, and the topic turned to recording famous people. One of the teachers present told us about how Mestre Acordeon had been playing some Samba after a good day at an event and a few glasses of wine, and got annoyed when people pulled out the video cameras. He said something along the lines of: “This moment is for us, enjoy it yourself, you don’t have to share everything all the time.”

I often wonder about this duality between experiencing everything as fully as you can, and the disconnect that occurs when you record (even watching the live game being played through the tiny digital screen of your camera instead of the full 360 degree reality that surrounds you). Between the one-time experience of living in the moment, or the repeatable satisfaction of being able to watch the recording as many times as you like.

It becomes more complicated when you are famous of course. Mestre Acordeon can’t relax under a video camera as much because he can be sure that the recording – and any mistakes he makes – will be broadcast to many people. The most the rest of us usually have to worry about is a bit of laughter and teasing from our friends. Even here, I’ve just repeated a story about him when he wasn’t being recorded, and it’s a third-hand story now too, so who knows how accurate it is.

Unlike some of my friends most of us are not journalists or professional photographers and don’t have to be (apologies to people who are and do: hi there!). If you get kicks out of taking pictures or video then certainly do so, but remember to live for yourself occasionally too. In the mean time at my wedding I found the perfect combination: when everyone else took pictures and video and then sent them to me! So I got to have the best party of my life, live every minute of it and can still watch the videos and see the pictures.

I was thinking about adding an image for this post, but I think it’s more appropriate not to, don’t you?

Capoeira in the land of Bruce Lee

I don’t think many people are going to argue that getting to know your piano teacher better will help your fingers get around the keys, but that’s precisely the claim made for capoeira. I believe it, which is why one Thursday morning recently found me getting off a plane in Hong Kong rather than my usual routine of a quick warmup and checking my emails.

 

It wasn’t an entirely capoeira centric trip. I’d wanted to check out HK for some time, especially since a couple of friends had moved there. They’d managed to bring our teacher over for a workshop, so with the promise of that plus checking out the sights the signs were aligned nicely.

 

Hong Kong is a crazy, bustling place. There doesn’t seem to be a building below 10 stories and everyone has somewhere important to get to. It’s impressive to see but after living in chilled out, stretched out Perth for a while I couldn’t imagine living there. Homem de Ferro and Zoinho seem to be doing pretty well for themselves there though, and we spent the days checking out the big Buddha, Bruce Lee’s statue and so on, the evenings playing capoeira and the nights talking (or partying!) til 5am.

HongKong

The workshops were great, it always feels good to train with M. Parente again. Most of the HK capoeira students are relatively new, but their dedication and energy were amazing to me, they were very advanced for the length of time they’d been training and put so much into every roda. I’m sure it helped that there is a legend like Mestra Jo teaching there and I liked the style of the other teachers I met too. It was a real inspiration and definitely gave me something to aim for with our little group here.

 

It was also just great fun hanging out with my teacher again and talking capoeira talk. It’s fun, it’s interesting and you do learn things that will help your game. We all know that capoeria is more than just a bunch of cool movements, and talking with someone who lives capoeira every day is a great way to pick up on the extra snippets of culture and malandragem. Mestre Parente always talks about how important it is for students to talk to and interact with visiting teachers, sit with them at dinner and chat away (assuming you share a language) because you can learn so much. It’s also true about your own teacher, and if you get the opportunity it’s well worth while. Capoeira is such a social activity, and that manifests in so many interesting ways. If nothing else, you can guarantee that any capoeira teacher worth learning from will have some crazy stories.

Competition

So rather than talking about competition in the roda (which is an entirely different and probably much longer post) I’d like to talk about competition between capoeira groups. When I first said I was going to start teaching capoeira I could see some of the other teachers looking at me warily. There’s a few schools around Perth, but the capoeira scene is not massive and I could practically hear them thinking about another face on the block competing for the limited number of students. As we’ve continued and shown that we’re not out to steal students from other people and that we respect the art they’ve softened to us a bit (but not all of them).

Image

I think this attitude is a mistake though – capoeiristas are not in competition with each other (outside the roda) except in the most limited, small minded sense. So let me backpedal a bit and say where the suspicious minds are right: when people have already heard about capoeira and come looking for you, whether they’ve done capoeira before in another city or whether they’ve just heard of it and are desperate to try. In that small case capoeira schools are competing fairly directly (although if you’re too far away, on the wrong nights of the week or etc. that person is not likely to stick around). There’s not a lot of these guys though, maybe 10 per year at most through the whole of Perth? (That’s probably an overestimate.) In which case 2 schools instead of 1 is a big hit, but 5 schools instead of 4 isn’t going to make much of a difference.

So where is the competition? In my opinion it’s between capoeira and all the other hobbies and sports out there. Instead of capoeira people are playing football, volleyball, computer games, going to boot camps… there’s literally millions of people out there that we could be trying to get into capoeira. If we could get our message out to 0.1% of those people every capoeira school would be rolling in students. And it’s not a zero-sum game either. If one of us does well we’re all going to benefit.

I was talking about other things with one of the capoeira teachers here recently, and he made a really good point. “When someone does a show, do you think they remember the name of the group? No, if it they like it or they hate it all they will remember is capoeira. Then they’ll go to the group most convenient for them. Or if it’s a bad show they’ll go away thinking they know what capoeira is now, and that it’s crap.” Pretty much any advertising we do is going to be similar. Putting out crap stuff will give a rasteira to us all, but if we build a great community we’ll all benefit.

We’ll benefit even if the students go to another group. If other groups around you are doing well there will be better rodas to visit, better events to go to, but also if you’ve got a good relationship going then there will be more people to come to your rodas and more people to come to your events. I don’t think there’s a capoeira teacher out there that would rather someone didn’t do capoeira at all than start at a different group, but for some reason we never see it like that.

Speaking for myself as well, I don’t want to pinch students from other groups, or undercut them or similar unpleasant “business” practices. As welcome as all the friends I’ve made here through capoeira are in our classes (and I love you guys) I want to get fresh faces and teach them to play capoeira the way I was brought up in it, to teach them the style I love. I don’t want to retrain styles from other groups, I want every capoeira student out there to train in the style they prefer. Whether that’s Cordao De Ouro style, pure Regional, Angola or whatever makes them happy and suits their body the best.

I know this all gets more complicated when people are making their living at it, rather than teaching on the side (which gives you a much more comfortable viewpoint), but these are my thoughts. I’d love to hear other people’s opinions about it. In the mean time, seasons best wishes to everyone and hope you have a fantastic and harmonious new year!

Expanding the group

I said before we needed to grow the group. As part of that we’re opening new capoeira classes in Perth, in the Bayswater suburb. We got very lucky with some contacts and they gave us the first month rent free, which allowed me to run some free capoeira classes to try and build up a bit of a buzz. So I’ve been spamming my facebook (sorry guys), putting up posters all over Bayswater, Yokine and Mount Lawley (I feel like I’ve been putting up posters over the whole of Perth), I made a meetup group…

Actually I discovered something pretty handy. Meetup groups cost money to set up, but if you go all the way through the setup and stop before you have to pay then after a few hours they’ll send you a 50% discount code. Better than a poke in the eye or a big rasteira. Lobo’s top tip for the day. 😉 Two people have signed up through meetup so far, but neither of them has attended yet. We’ll see if it was worth the investment.

The first free class was last Tuesday and we had 5 new people in to train, so that was great. Not a bad start at all. One of them wrote up a really nice report on his blog (here, lots about martial arts too) which made me smile. Everyone tried really hard, despite the often confusing and apparently unintuitive nature of your first capoeira class, and I was really impressed.

If we could get five students like that who came every week then I know our school would be amazing fun (to run and participate in) and the skill level would rocket. There’s one more free class this coming Tuesday and a few more people have promised to try it, so fingers crossed we can get some regulars going.

One last thing, the posters for all of this were a beautiful example of karma in action. I gave a friend a room in our shared house as a student for a few weeks years ago (it was a tiny room too, basically a closet with a window) and he came back and made me an amazing poster without my even asking. What a gent!Image

Adventures in starting a Perth capoeira group

So it turns out that starting a capoeira group is quite hard. Who knew? Well, basically everybody I’d talked to about it in advance, so at least I was prepared for that. My teacher Mestre Parente has quite a few students teaching for themselves now, both close to him around Liverpool and Manchester and far away in Paris, Oslo and Russia. It’s cool to be a part of that little group, as well as the bigger Cordão de Ouro family, but it also makes me aware of how painfully isolated we are here in Perth. Nearly all my capoeira contacts are spread across the UK and Europe and it’s not such a short trip. Still waiting on the teleportation devices. Still, this is my little story about the troubles of setting up our Perth capoeira group.

So let’s go through what it takes. First you have to have somewhere to train. This is actually one of the hardest parts, because nearly every good venue has already got some sort of club or dance group renting the space at the best times. It takes a huge amount of emails and phone calls to find somewhere, but I eventually managed it. The first couple of places we rented were set far too late (7.30 pm, so by the end of a class it was 9.30) and I think this caused some problems. Also, you’re committing to paying for somewhere before you have anyone guaranteed to actually show up! Which leads to the second problem:

Finding people to come to your classes. Now first I am a little lucky here. I’m not trying to set up this group on my own, I’m getting help from my friend Monitor Quebra, a French guy with years of capoeira experience and some fantastic acrobatic skills. Having two people means a circle of friends about twice as big to mine for anyone who might be interested in capoeira (or even more since I had basically just arrived and hardly knew anyone yet!), but even better it means that on the inevitable weeks when no one comes I wasn’t just sitting there on my own. I had a training buddy! Quebra’s also pretty handy with a computer and made our website www.capoeirawa.com and our first flyer.

From the first set of flyers we received precisely one student. Luckily he has also been our most dedicated and regular student, so the flyers definitely paid for themselves several times over both in money and less concrete value.  We received a few people attending thanks to our website as well, which is always nice, as well as a few friends who have come along (and who will always have a place in my heart as a result), even if they have a bad habit of leaving the country soon after.  It’s interesting – a single good turnout for a class and I find myself ecstatic, but those inevitable days where nobody comes are very depressing.

So the next step is growing the class, establishing it and training up some people to the point where we have a nice community of capoeira players. The whole point of starting the school instead of just attending other people’s is that we want to train in the style we love, so me and Quebra are lucky that our teachers M. Parente and CM. Estrangeiro have similar visions for capoeira. Even the other Cordão De Ouro school here in Perth (and the only other one in Australia!) have a different style of playing. As part of that though we want to be in the local capoeira community. One of the best things in capoeira for me is playing new people and playing against different styles and visions for the game. It introduces a whole range of experiences and game situations you don’t get if you only stick within your own school, plus it’s just nice to meet new people! We’ve been to visit a couple of the other capoeira schools around here so far and they’ve all been very welcoming. That’s good because I was naturally concerned about getting kicked in the face. Hopefully we can keep that friendliness going and work together to Imagemake a happy and fun community, but we’ll see how it goes. Capoeira can be pretty individual and suspicious of outsiders, but I don’t want much, just to attend as many exciting and skilled rodas as possible.

Amazon adventure

This entry is non-capoeira related and ties up my trip to Brazil. The last thing I’d been desperate to do in Brazil was take a trip to see the Amazon, this was also one of the big factors which motivated Mel to come with me and I’m glad she did as this part would have been less than half as fun on my own.  We got very lucky with this trip, for some definitions of luck, and it was very memorable.

It started off pretty badly in the airport from Salvador. There were no direct flights so we’d planned to fly through Brasilia, but our plane was getting delay and delayed…  and it turns out as well that Brazillians have no real idea what to do with my name. Glynn has no vowels that they recognise and as for Forsythe… I suspect they’d delayed calling us because of this, but in the end the announcer called Mel’s name. After that they stopped and you could almost hear the confusion as they tried to figure out what to do with this uniquely British combination of consonants in front of them, so to spare them the trouble we headed for the desk ourselves and found out that we were now on a plane to Sao Paulo and we had to go NOW. Luckily (yay, luck!) I somehow managed to get some free internet on the way and shoot off an email to our tour guide, but it was all very hurried. Flying to Manaus from Salvador via Sao Paulo is absolutely crazy in terms of routing, it’s essentially like going to London from Glasgow in order to get to Norway, but about 4 times as far, so we were very very late. By this point our guide had had time to get tired of waiting for us, go home, check his email and phone a driver to come pick us up, so we were very glad to see the guy.

Apparently all the guides had been hired in the area, as a couple of cruise ships had shown up and taken over the local tourism industry, so we got further luck in the we had the head of the tour company as our guide, a guy called Elso Lima with near perfect English. Further, we’d only paid for a group tour, but for the first day and a half we were the only tourists there, so we definitely got our money’s worth. (The company was Amazon Green Tours for anyone thinking about taking a trip from Manaus.)

It was a pretty big trek out of the city, but the environment is so different there it’s amazing all the way along. It’s a bit tragic how little the people that live there actually seem to care for their surroundings, but I guess it’s easy to judge when you’re a rich tourist and not a fisherman/farmer doing some serious manual labour to get by. Even after a whole day’s travel the banks of the river were mostly farmland and were all owned by somebody or other, but we had even more luck when we ended up in a room with aircon in a surprise free upgrade. Luxury in the middle of the jungle! Mel thought it was bliss to escape from the damp heat and although I was up for a bit of a “proper” jungle experience I had to agree. We had a bit of a recovery in there but that night we were off camping.

First we stopped off to grab some cachaca and limes. The cachaca was super-cheap (about £2 and a bit or $3.50) and the limes Elso sent us to pick. He was completely incorrect about the position of the lime tree, with the only thing there being a weird spiky green fruit. He laughed at me when I said they couldn’t be limes because they were spiky, so I picked a couple to demonstrate he was being a nobber and eventually we found the tree further away from the river. The limes were tiny and orange, and we ended up getting them by hitting them with a stick, which worked pretty well. When he saw the spiky fruit I got so much grief for “not knowing what a lime looks like”, but I sent some his way for sending us on a goose chase.

We camped further down the river, which was full of caiman, fish and two types of dolphin, made a fire and cooked up some tasty fish and chicken with rice. Elso showed us how to make a decent jungle capirinha (don’t use the middle of the limes, apparently this part is what makes it bitter, then add as much sugar as lime and mash it up with as much cachaca as you can handle). Him and the boat driver then successfully freaked us out by killing a snake that was trying to climb into the driver’s hammock and showing us how long its fangs were and how big its poison sack was. Both were massive for such a skinny snake. So we both climbed into our hammocks with our shoes (Mel wearing hers, I slept on mine) and went to sleep. We woke up the first time when the candle set fire to the table (I jumped up and put it out while our guide slept) and the second time with the hooting call of a jaguar no more than 10 metres away and probably less. They’d pointed the call out to us earlier that night, and had actually built the fire up when one started sounding a bit close to us, but by the point the fire was really low and we couldn’t see a thing. For a long time it was right there in the dark, I didn’t move a muscle and I could tell by the lack of breathing coming from my right that Mel was awake as well. I have never wanted to see wildlife less in my life. The next day the guide asked me what I would have done if it came into the camp – his answer was that he would take his machete and run for our little boat as fast as he could, which was less than reassuring. I was still less than certain that it was a jaguar (the guide was calling it a panther which apparently is a generic name for big cats) and not a large owl or something equally comical, so I looked up jaguar noises on the internet when we got back to Australia. That noise was definitely a jaguar and I hope I never get so close to one again.

We were pretty shattered after a night of non-sleep, but the next day we saw monkeys and a sloth, which is a story in itself and went piranha fishing. That was very entertaining, the rods were bamboo and before the hook the fishing line finished in thick wire so they couldn’t bite through. They were very easy to catch with just a bit of chicken skin on the hook and everyone (we now had 2 more people with us) managed to get at least a few. I caught 6 and what I claim was the biggest, although none of them were massive. Elso was showing off and got at least 12 very quickly. We had them for dinner, they tasted OK but there was only a tiny bit of meat covering a lot of bones. At night we went off caiman spotting, the highlight being Elso hypnotising a small one by catching it, turning it upside-down and stroking its belly. The Amazon is absolutely infested with caiman.

Our last day we went for a hike in the forest, with lots of talk about jungle food and remedies, they even made us toys out of fronds of some leaf, I got a grasshopper (it was impressive sculpture for a being a leaf). They also showed us a few tarantulas and managed to coax them out of the burrows with a long leaf. We also saw a couple of types of monkeys and heard howler monkeys a few times. In all we saw an impressive amount of wildlife and avoided seeing one particular type which was fine by me. The Amazon was absolutely an amazing and different world and we hadn’t even reached anywhere more than a day away from the city.

So that’s the end of our trip to Brazil. It was a fantastic experience and everywhere we went made us want to see somewhere else, so we will definitely go back even without the draw of capoeira. We were glad to get home and stop travelling for a while though, so my next adventures will have to be in Australia, at least for a little while. Coming up!

Rio and Salvador

So I didn’t update for a while… Sorry… I know from experience that I am bad at keeping a diary when I have a social life happening. Luckily though I had a bored moment and found this entry half way completed! Even though I am in Australia now, back to Brasil:

So Mel (which means honey in Portuguese, but who happens to be my beautiful fiancee) arrived and brought plenty more rain with her in case Brazil didnt have enough. São Paulo instantly lived up to its name for being untouristy but with fantastic food. We went to the occasional interesting but mostly bizarre museum of Afro-Brazillians and B’s parents took us out for an amazing meal and gave us plenty of things to take back and a big hug to pass on, as they obviously miss their daughter.

So with plenty (too much) to carry we packed off for Rio and my friend Herbert, who was amazing. He worked extra hard during the week before so he could take the weekend and a couple of days in the week to hang out with us and show us around. Once again the food and music were fantastic and it definitely helped having a local contact in Rio. We saw the zoo, the statue of Christ and the sugarloaf mountain, but the highlights were definitely the music nights we went to with Herbert. I tried to meet up with a friend from Scotland for some capoeira but it didn’t come through. No capoeira for me until:

Salvador! The home of modern capoeira. Oh. My. Giddy. Aunt. So many famous Angoleiro mestres and capoeira groups in one place. Allow me to explain: I was invited to a roda within 5 minutes of stepping into our pousada. Bliss.

The pousada is a Brazillian guest house, basically a bed and breakfast. Getting there was a bit worrying, as we negotiated a cheap rate with a taxi driver from the airport only to find he was just some guy with a car, nothing official. We drove through some really bad neighbourhoods hoping we hadn’t made a mistake and were going to get dropped off and mugged, but in the end we arrived perfectly safely for about half the rate of the overpriced airport taxis. Our pousada was a gorgeous red place right on the sea front with art everywhere, it was called Noa Noa. Like about half the pousadas in Salvador it was owned by a Frenchman. As soon as we were checked in the guy at the reception desk (Cristian) invited me along to a roda with his teacher (Mestre Valmir). I guess the berimbau case I was carrying was a bit of a giveaway, but I knew I’d come to a great place

It was a very fun roda, with long games and a good atmosphere. M. Valmir wasn’t there though, he was on a trip to the UK, but I did get to meet his incredibly acrobatic son (whose name I can’t remember, apologies). Cristian also turned out to be a skilled capoeirista and he was an awesome contact to have in Salvador.

We were only in Salvador for a week so we went on a few trips around the place and had a few adventures getting out to Praia de Forte and some of the islands. I also went a bit mental in Mestre Lua’s drum shop and bought a bunch of percussion, including an atabaque (big capoeira drum for the non-initiates) which I had to post home and is currently getting bathed in radiation courtesy of Australian customs. It wasn’t until the end of the week I discovered the most amazing thing in Salvador, the Forte do Santo Antonio, aka the Forte da Capoeira.

I was a bit confused at first, because it shares a name with the fort at Barra next to where we were staying, but I’m glad we made it out there while we were in Salvador. It is literally a fort full of capoeira, with classes from about 6 different schools of capoeira. I went for a roda and a class with the Centro Esportiva de Capoeira Angola, the old group of Mestre Joao Pequeno but there were also classes available with Mestre Moraes and Mestre Boca Rica and 4 others besides. This was without a doubt my favourite roda in Salvador, with amazing capoeira on show in techniques, skills and maladragem. Also I played. I got to play a student and a teacher from CECA and they were very entertaining games, I think I more or less held my own in the first and understandably got thrashed in the second, but in a very kind way. The professor definitely was testing me, as he wouldn’t let me leave the game (I had the stitch bad and wanted a rest, he wasn’t having any of it) but we played for a very long time so I took that as a complement. They kept a tight control over the roda, which was good as there was a guy in Krav Maga trousers who looked like a serial killer and kept trying to fight everyone. As soon as it went too far off that way – and these angoleiros were good, they gave it right back to him with icing on – the berimbau called everyone back and kicked the offenders off to cool down. The only thing I didn’t like about the Forte da Capoeira is the way everyone had teaching on the night the others had their open rodas, so the groups didn’t seem to mix even though they were right next to each other. This seemed like a waste. It was a really beautiful place though with great views of Salvador. I want one.

I suppose I should say something about touristying my way around Salvador. It’s a gorgeous place, let down only by the smell of piss along some of the streets (especially the waterfront at Barra). We were told we’d only want to spend a couple of days there, but with all the capoeira I could have spent much longer quite happily. We got out to a couple of the islands and a turtle sanctuary and they were all little paradises, so next time I’m going to hit up Salvador for the capoeira and then hopefully get out into Bahia a little more, especially to the Chapada Diamantina national park. And there will be a next time, oh yes.