[I went to Brazil for the first time this past August, with my capoeira group. This is something I wrote last night and seeing as the thoughts in it have been seminal to my personal development as a capoeirista, thought I’d share it with all of you…or whomever still visits! Thank you all as well for the “birthday” wishes on Facebook—that date is actually not my birthday but the birthday of this blog, so the timing of this post works out kind of nicely, as well. Apologies for disappearing off the face of the planet, and I hope you are all doing awesome, in capoeira and otherwise! -Joaninha]
[Note: I think it will become clear that this post is very much rooted in the specific context and values of my capoeira group, our academy culture, collective philosophy, etc. I only mention this in case some parts seem a bit cold or harsh, and realize that not all of what I wrote may click with everyone. Also please note that despite any of that, I’m still the same friendly and approachable (ex?)blogger as ever!]
Before I went to Brazil, so many capoeiristas talked it up as if it were some miracle procedure–it’ll change you, you’ll be a different person, you’ll never be the same, etc. Well, after returning back to normal classes at home, I can’t say they were completely wrong.
If I had to say I gained anything by going to Brazil, it would be: an edge. Not in the sense of a competitive edge (though in light of how perception and presence works in capoeira, possibly, but that’s a whole other post in itself), but personality-wise. In the sense of a hard, if not necessarily sharp, edge.
But the more time passes, the more I’ve felt “the Brazil effect” wearing off. So I’m writing this as a reminder to myself of what I learned and to capture some of that post-Brazil essence back, before I blithely slip into post-post-Brazil (which would equal pre-Brazil) mode.
Basically, I learned–and learned to live–four major lessons:
1. Fight, fight, fight.
I didn’t get into any actual fights while inside the roda, but on one level, it’s practically all I did while out of it. I learned to fight for my place in the roda, fight to see what was going on, fight to be seen, fight not be blocked by people just because I was below their eye-levels, fight not to be effortlessly shoved out of the way by arrogant higher-belts, fight to play, fight to even train, fight to prove that lower-belt/female/small/asian/whatever doesn’t equal sucky training partner or a lightweight capoeirista.
I think the best class of my life was during one of the batizado workshop days. Our mestre’s wife started a dance class with all the girls during lunch, and shortly after we’d started…the mestre started a capoeira class with the rest of the students–i.e. all the guys. This was the second time in as many days a class was “accidentally” all guys, and there I was in a freakin’ ad hoc colheita audition thinking I don’t even dance in the classes back home and was this what I came to Brazil for? So I mentally apologized to all the actual dancers for thinking “f this” and ran across to join the capoeira class.
And I swear I had never felt in more top form than in that class where I was the only girl in a class of at least 30-40 guys and from which I was initially excluded (however “inadvertently”). I got every sequence right away, my macacos were perfect, and I made sure every vingativa went in hard (as someone found out the hard way…sorry again dude, you were the absolute last person in the class I would’ve wished that on!). The mestre even walked by me once, made a correction to my vingativa, and…nothing else. Validation!
That’s when I realized that alongside all the unspoken rules in capoeira, each of us also has an unspoken amount of agency. Though it didn’t seem like it due to environmental factors, attitudes, assumptions, event structure, etc., theoretically any other (non-performance) girls could’ve also left dance for capoeira. Maybe a rule is unspoken because it’s actually non-existent, but the onus is on us to use our personal agency to discover that. They just make itreally hard to figure out, so you have to fight to realize and to take advantage of the fact.
2. It IS all about me.
In my implementation of lesson #1, it’s possible that there was maybe this one roda where in my eagerness to buy in and play I maybe possibly slightly accidentally not-proud-of-ly more-than-bumped into one of our profesors umm hypothetically 3 times in a row. Needless to say, he wasn’t pleased about it. So afterwards when I went to apologize properly he lectured me about how there’s a time to play but how I also have to be aware of other people in the roda and “it’s not all about you”.
But here’s the thing. I completely get what the profesor meant, and I agree with everything he said, in principle. The thing is, my natural setting is to be aware of all others first. I spent years going from letting anyone who showed inclination buy in before me when I wanted to, to just letting people I knew, to just friends/teachers, to only holding back when to still buy in would be blatant, shameless game-“stealing” (and maybe even then, since I suspect there’s no such thing as it’d imply the game “belonged” to the other person when clearly they were just too slow). And the only way I’ve been able to do that, to “de-Canadianize” as my teacher would say, IS to force myself into an “it’s all about me” mentality.
The rodas in Brazil were especially helpful in bringing this out, when I was so roda-starved to the point that I’d have broken games between advanced students without a second thought because I JUST DIDN’T CARE. And that’s the lesson I brought back: to play as much as I’m told I’m supposed to, I have to want it beyond caring, about consequences or anyone else or what they might think. And if that seems arrogant…that’s actually a bonus, because I’ve also come to believe that arrogant-seeming behaviour is rewarded more often than not, and WAY more often than the alternative, in capoeira (at least where my group is concerned).
3. Don’t be nice.
Also known as: if you have a choice, assume you’re going it alone, since you’ll likely end up doing so anyway and this way you’ll actually be prepared. Strangely enough it was North Americans who taught me this one, not Brazilians. This doesn’t actually have that much to do directly with capoeira in itself, and doesn’t apply so much now that we’re not traveling anymore, but as it was also a MAJOR Brazil lesson, thought I should mention it for the record. With a more community-oriented friend’s amendment, the final decree reads, “Be nice to others where you can, but don’t expect others to be nice to/for you.” Not unless you’re with close friends. ESPECIALLY where anything logistics-related is concerned.
If you really wanted, I suppose this applies to capoeira in terms of buying in. Letting other people go in front of you is being nice. Letting other people go in front also means not playing. So being nice = not playing. Don’t be nice = eu jogo capoeira!
4. Getting into trouble is REALLY, ACTUALLY, LITERALLY okay.
This one kind of combines all of the above: taking agency for your own access to capoeira & the roda, fighting to challenge unspoken rules, not caring about what others may think, and not projecting bonds of loyalty or courtesy where there is none. This one actually applies when all of the above goes wrong and instead of getting a huge boost of confidence that your audaciousness paid off, you end up getting reprimanded by a teacher or mestre–like yours truly.
So, there was the profesor thing. Then during a practice roda, also during the all-guys-plus-me class (Mestre & Sons Plus One?…sorry, couldn’t resist xD), I guess I bought in too “early” and the mestre stopped me and said to let the higher belts play first. Both times…that was all there was to me “getting in trouble”.
I didn’t lose my belt. I didn’t get kicked out of the group. I didn’t get hurt, or get detention or expelled from school or a failing grade. I didn’t get fired or arrested or fined.
Looking at that list, I wonder if that’s why Canadians (or whoever) are so scared of getting in trouble, in class? Since in the society we’ve been raised and conditioned in, “getting in trouble” has always meant material consequences: a note to take home, freedom restricted, money to pay, repeating a course–some sort of tangible loss. Not to mention the stigma attached to “getting in trouble” itself. (Cue third-grade class: “OOOHHHHHHH.”)
But in this case, there is no real “loss”. (In fact there’s gain, because as mentioned earlier, it pays in capoeira to show too much initiative rather than too little. Case in point: “You got in trouble already? Good!” -one of our teachers) But really, it’s all psychological. Getting yelled at may hurt your pride or be embarrassing for a bit, but in the larger scheme of things–nothing more. It’s like practicing floreios on cement your whole life and then entering a room with a mat. Why would you hold back as if the floor is still cement? Falling no longer means broken bones.
[DISCLAIMER: This refers to being scared of getting into trouble for stepping up or any keenness-related mistakes. Obviously if someone actually has lost a belt or been expelled from a group, what I wrote doesn’t apply and those cases are probably a completely different story.]
Anyway, this last lesson is what gives me confidence to follow through on all the others. It’s the knowledge that even if I do overstep some actual rule, for instance, it’s OKAY. Gratuitously quoting now, “…bought in to play. I got in trouble, I got yelled at, but so what? The point is, I got to play.“
And when it comes to capoeira, isn’t that the whole point?