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).
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!