Tag Archives: Capoeira

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).

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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.

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.

Some thinkings about capoeira

I’ve been thinking a lot about capoeira and what lies underneath what Kibe is teaching. I won’t talk about the specific sequences but rather what I am getting out of them.

First there is some emphasis on speed. I dont feel as though I’ve had much emphasis on this in my training for a while although Parente brings it up regularly in his classes. I’m at a definite disadvantage in the faster games they have here and much less comfortable with it.
Second and probably more important is timing, I don’t think he’s expressly mentioned it (although he could have in one of the parts I didn’t understand), but the concept seems pretty rooted in the sequences we are practicing. The difficulty then becomes being able to translate this into good timing during the game. Any ideas here? I guess the basic thing is just to drill the timing into your subconcious.
Thirdly positioning. This seems to encompass knowing where you and the other player are and also knowing things like a martello has a longer reach than an armada.
Lastly, because kibe is a badass, some interesting movements which are pretty standard for capoeira on the outside but to which he adds some interesting variations. I’ve noticed CM. Papa’s students in particular doing this in the past and its definitely something I need to swipe for my own training. Say you add 2 different details you can use on every technique you know, you’ve just essentially tripled your repertoire. Plus they will each (if they are worthwhile variants) give you a small edge when used in the right place.

One more thing I have noticed unconnected with any particular capoeira teacher is that the more you train the little eurekas that help you learn a skill seem to increase in frequency exponentially. So for at least that aspect training 3 or 4 times a week isn’t 3 or 4 times as good as training once, but 9 or 16 times as good. Damn, I’d committed to resting my feet tonight to make sure I can still walk to go visit CM. Kuata tomorrow but now I really want to train…

Lots to think about. Lots of training to do. Capoeira is awesome and life is good. ❤

1st Week Retrospective

Today I saw a dog wearing tiny shoes.

After being here for a week I feel like a pro (ha! I lie!). The simple conversations are getting easier but that means that people use harder words. I also found the most dangerous thing in brasil: pay by weight buffet. Anyone who has lived with me can probably see where this is going. Anyway, I’d heard these things were cheap but forgot I was in a foodcourt, and naturally with all these new foods I wanted to try a bit of this and a bit of that and ooh that looks interesting and… Yeah… so this ended up costing 3x what I’ve been paying for lunch elsewhere. It was good though. The 3 deserts I had were great too.

After the last update I went to train at the matriz again and got to meet CM. Gaiola (such a dude) and some more people. I’ve already got to meet and play with more amazing capoeiristas than any time outside of an event. Here’s hoping some of it rubs off. Hells I’ve been to classes with less students than there were contramestres on Thursday. Picked up some handspin tips from CM. Kibe to take home as well.

Ended up having 3 days without capoeira after thurs, which felt bad on the emotive side but good on the legs. Instead I saw the finale of Brasil’s most obsessed-about novela Avenida Brasil (the most controversial character spent the whole time crying… Get a grip) and went to the museum of independence museu do ipiranga. That was a pretty cool place, with a statue of the emperor waving a sword from horseback at the spot he actually sat on a donkey and suffered dysentry, so it was very historic.

Last night I was back at capoeira in 34 degree heat, so today has been spent constantly drinking water to try and catch back up! Great roda though, I played a bunch including with CM. Kibe, although I was pretty destroyed by that point. Had one of those survival games with an instructor I didn’t know who decided to test my reflexes. Fun all round!

So after 1 week here I at feel fairly settled, know my way to the most important places and some cool people. Finally got the tickets for our internal flights sorted as well so I’m looking forwards to plenty of adventures with Mel. Tchau!