Lessons from Brazil: Whetting Attitude on the Stone of Capoeira

7 12 2009

[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?

RELEASE: Mais Uma Volta: Mandingueira’s One-Year Retrospect Magazine

8 03 2009

Well, it finally happened: at long (long, long, long, long…) last, I’ve completed Mandingueira’s one-year retrospect magazine!

And yes, I do realize that I’d promised to release this by about three months ago.  I apologize once again for having dropped completely off the radar for the past while. And I particularly apologize to all those who have been leaving comments that I haven’t replied to. (Heck, I get annoyed when someone just doesn’t reply on MSN, so I’m sorry for being horrible!!)

This will sound super lame, but pretty much my only excuse here is…Montreal is just way too much fun. That, plus a 1.5-hour commute to/from work (each way), and the rest of the time I’ve been taking  a prep course/studying to take the MCAT in a couple months (the entrance exam for applying to medical schools in North America…please don’t ask, it’s a long story).

I’ve barely even been training, to be honest. I haven’t really been “feministing”, either, if not actually doing the opposite. So I suppose it kind of makes sense that someone taking a semi-hiatus from both capoeira and feminism wouldn’t be posting very much on a feminist capoeira blog!  (Provided I ever find time to post again, this paragraph will be elaborated upon hopefully in the near future.)

At any rate, lest we forget, today is International Women’s Day. And oh god, do we have a long way to go.

So, I figured, what better timing for the release of a commemorative magazine about a feminist capoeira blog?

Just so you know, I haven’t actually been working on this for the past three months straight. In fact, I’d completed all but the table of contents & editor’s note right before leaving for Montreal, and just didn’t manage to return to it until the other day!

Now, there are a couple ways you can view the publication. First, I HIGHLY recommend clicking on the main image link provided below. It leads to an absolutely beautiful set-up by issuu.com, where you can virtually flip through the magazine as if it were on a table in front of you.

Next, I’ve provided two pdf files you may download for (1) easier reading or (2) printing! The first file has the magazine’s spread layouts retained (from which you could print out the centerfold as a poster), and the second splits it up into all single pages.

Finally, you may have noticed a new widget on the sidebar featuring the magazine. This is so it’ll always be available for anyone new or returning to Mandingueira to check it out!  Also, please do make sure to check out the final two pages.

I loved, loved, LOVED putting this magazine together, and think it’s one of the best projects I’ve ever done. I hope you enjoy it!

Um abraço,


Celebrating one year of Mandingueira! (click on image to open)


Mais Uma Volta PDF (spreads)

Mais Uma Volta PDF (single pages)

Capoeira Funnies: “Are You Sure You Don’t Want Any?”

5 02 2009

For today’s post, I’m linking to a piece that was written by one of Mandingueira’s readers, Mree, who was kind enough to share her work with me!  She asked me if I would mind passing it on to all of you, and I’m more than happy to do so. =)


At least, don’t if you work in a cubicle, surrounded by other cubicles, in a relatively quiet work environment.  I made that mistake earlier today upon opening the email (note: it was a slow day), and almost burst out into uncontrollable laughter partway through, which really wouldn’t have done anything for my reputation as a thus far non-crazy person.

Having said that, this was a really great read, and I think much of what Mree touches on in this one post would resonate with a lot of training capoeiristas (or at least, it did with me).


“Are you sure you don’t want any?”, by Mree (click here)

Review: Capoeira Beyond Brazil

29 01 2009

Back to apologies mode…sorry, guys.  My new schedule thanks to work is insane, and I barely have time to cook and clean, let alone read or write anything of substance!  I may be going on another hiatus soon, but not before I release the Mandingueira Retrospect Magazine (only table of contents left!!!).  For now, here is my long-promised review of Capoeira Beyond Brazil!

Capoeira Beyond Brazil is written by Aniefre Essien and published by Blue Snake Books. I was really looking forward to reading this book because of the “international aspect” it seemed to have, and was really interested in seeing how capoeira would be treated in an international context.  Having said that, the book had both its ups and downs.

When I was in high school (please excuse the temporary non-sequitar; this is related, I swear!), our social studies teacher gave us a tour of the school library’s references section. There was Encyclopedia Britannica, World, Canadiana, etc., and there were racks of Time Magazine, as well.  Upon showing us the latter, our teacher told us, “Here we have Time World, which is about the United States, and here we have Time Canada, which is about the world.” (That’s still one of my all-time favourite quotes, by the way.)

Well, reading Capoeira Beyond Brazil, unfortunately, brings that quote to mind. I suppose you could say it goes beyond Brazil—but only as far as the United States (skipping over Mexico and Central America along the way). Maybe it was just me, but for some reason I’d been expecting a slightly more academic, ambitious piece with a larger scope than it had. I was expecting to read about capoeira in Asia, Australia, and (present-day!) Africa, about globalization or international relations (and capoeira’s influence from or on them, of course) and sociological theory more so than personal anecdotes and basic/typical introductory capoeira lore.

However, the book does have it good points, as well.  Essien touches interestingly on some topics that I don’t think I’ve seen quite touched on the same way before, such as the horridly ironic phenomenon of some capoeira teachers using capoeira as a “tool of oppression” on their students. The book is healthily “progressive” from a feminist point of view, and I enjoyed reading the capoeirista interviews at the end (though again, the interviews, similarly to the rest of the book, only feature “A Few U.S. Capoeiristas”).

One interview which especially resonated with me was the first one, by a former capoeirista who left the game because he felt that people were beginning to bring too much ugliness into the art and violating the spirit of the game. He said a lot of things that I found insightful and agreed with, especially in regards to fighting in the roda/in capoeira, mentioning how “students have been trained to fight in the name of the instructor, not necessarily because that student feels that s/he has to fight”. The capoeirista being interviewed concludes, “I have to separate the concept of capoeira from how it’s actually practiced by individuals who tend to bring in the element of machismo.”

Overall, Capoeira Beyond Brazil was an okay read. It just didn’t turn out to be what I’d expected it to be, which is the only reason I was disappointed. I think it would be an ideal gift to give to a beginner capoeira student, and even more so for an American beginner capoeira student. The writing itself is fine, Essien’s experience as a capoeirista and capoeira teacher shows through with no question, and I’m always up for a good capoeira anecdote, so in that respect the book is great.  For what I mentioned earlier, I guess I’ll just have to wait till some international affairs post-doc gets hooked on capoeira!

What I Get Out of Capoeira

10 01 2009

This post is nearly verbatim from a personal Montreal blog I started for my friends back home. Capoeira doesn’t come up until about two-thirds of the way through, but it was kind of a revelation, and an important one for me about capoeira, so I thought I’d share it with you guys and see if it resonated with any of you at all.  Montreal, by the way, is awesome!  Work hasn’t started yet, but I’ve already started training with a new group, I love my place, my roommates are great, and I love being in this city.

SATURDAY JANUARY 10 | 3:28 am | Musings

So, I moved back into the living room because I’d thought everyone was done but somehow my two roommates had ended up in the living room drinking more wine and chatting, so thought it probably wasn’t a very good idea to miss out on roommate bonding right from the start.

Ended up having a really interesting talk with Annick, that was both slightly inspiring and slightly depressing.

I was telling them how I’ve been coming to realize that a lot of big things I’ve decided to do (living in France, moving to Montreal, going to Brazil) have been fueled by me looking for that life-changing metamorphosis that I feel people are supposed to get from going away to university and that I never got (due to never moving out and my university just being a bigger version of my high school). Not only that, but my life has always been pretty…stable. I’ve never needed an adjustment period for anything—starting university, moving to France, moving back to Canada, moving to Montreal—and these are supposed to be defining events, during formative years. If someone were to chart my emotional/life-living state on a graph, I feel like it would consist of shallow peaks and troughs all the way through, whereas with most other people it seems like there are at least intermittent spikes in both directions.

Take exchange, for instance. Most people I know LOVED LOVED LOVED exchange, and then were genuinely depressed upon returning home. I had fun and enjoyed myself, but I don’t yearn for or dream of France each night (…or at all), and as I said, I slipped back into my life at home within a day—it was, in fact, almost disconcertingly as if I’d never left at all. I was absolutely dismayed when the first thing someone said to me was, “Wow, you’re exactly the same as you were in high school. You haven’t changed at all.” So what was the point? I’m still looking for something big to happen to me, something exciting and if not life-changing, something-changing. So if Montreal doesn’t do it, there’s still Brazil.

At least, that’s what I told Annick. But she said this, something she’s learned now that she’s left her 20’s and gone well into her 30’s, and after working at a job that was going great and leaving it to travel around the world for a year: There is no major change. There is no one big thing that happens to you and then changes the person you are. At the very core, everyone is the same person at 30 as they are at 20, 5, and 90. It’s only gradual little changes that happen to us, day by day, until one day we look up and realize, “Wow, I’ve changed.” But even then, it’s not so much your personality that has changed, as your values and what you want and expect out of life.

But then, what about all those people you knew in high school and then barely recognize five years later? “Well, yes, teenagers they are still changing.”

EXACTLY. So now I’m just afraid that the “same at 90 same at 20” rule only starts applying at twenty. What if your formative years don’t stretch into your 20’s, but include only your teens? It’s as a teenager, after all, that most people start “practicing” for all of life’s major mechanisms: moving away from home (independence), getting their first job (self-sufficiency), dating people (mating? life companionship? perpetuating the species? throwback to Megan: negotiation and compromise?), etc. Does that mean the “window” for truly major change has closed, and that anything I do from now on will have but little effect on who I am, because I’ll always stay who I am anyway? I found the idea of gradual/minute but perpetual change inspiring/encouraging, but this last thought is kind of discouraging.

Plus, I still don’t know if I buy it. I think people can and do change.

Actually, I should take back what I said earlier. I think capoeira has come the closest to doing what I’ve been looking for. During dinner, Annick asked me what I get out of capoeira. I told her all the usual reasons—a good work-out, music, the endless variety, the atmosphere/people, etc. It wasn’t until later that I realized what’s probably been THE reason for my devotion to capoeira, the one thing I get out of it that I couldn’t get anywhere else. I know I’m not the same now as I was as a new beginner. In terms of experience/outlook and character, let alone physical changes, sticking to capoeira has probably contributed more to my development than France and Montreal will combined. If any changes occurred within me while in France, I can name them and they all came from my experiences doing French capoeira, not living in France alone.

One of my friends said that you don’t grow if you’re “comfortable” (a.k.a. “stable”) all the time. And I’ve had an almost shamefully comfortable childhood, in all senses of the word, and been comfortable with pretty much every major transition in life, including both inter- and transnational moves. But I’m pretty sure I have never, in my life, been more uncomfortable than during that first class at the community centre—followed by first roda-viewing at the academy—and probably every capoeira class following over the subsequent year.* So, if discomfort equals growing, then within the context of capoeira, I’ve grown a lot.

(*Actually, a berimbau-stringing incident my friend refers to as “getting banished to the storage room” in France might eke out a win in that one, but it was still capoeira.)

So, I think this is how I’ve finally put my finger on what it is about capoeira that completely sucks me in and holds me fast. But not even just clear, overt and internal personal growth/change, but also constant acknowledgement and affirmation of it, from your friends, your capoeira teachers, other capoeira students, and perhaps most importantly, yourself, empirically (i.e. by actually doing something you wouldn’t’ve been able or even dared to do at an earlier point in your life). What do you get out of capoeira? Why do you do it, really?

Mandingueira Holiday Giveaway Winners: Congratulations!

3 01 2009

Blue Snake Books

First off, thank you to everyone who participated in this contest!  It was genuinely nice to hear from all of you, and whether or not you participated this time, I hope all of you are further encouraged to comment for whatever reasons in the future. Now, without further ado…

The winner of the Mandingueira on Facebook exclusive draw is Isabella Chan.  Congratulations, Isabella! Please send me your mailing address ASAP so I may send you your copy of Capoeira Beyond Brazil.

As for the general draw…okay, well, so here’s the deal.  I thought I’d do something REALLY COOL, and actually filmed the draw (I used my cabaça as the receptacle) so you guys could watch and all be in on the process.  Unfortunately, everything but my camera refused to cooperate (i.e. WordPress, QuickTime, Youtube, and this other file management site I used to rely on), so I wasn’t able to upload the video. And believe me, I tried!  There was background capoeira music and a little “Congratulations!” sign at the end and everything!  So in (sad) lieu, please imagine the berimbau equivalent of a drum roll as you read the following:


Please click here to view the giveaway draw😀

The winners are…

  • earthsoulmind[at]hotmail[dot]com

  • skymandr

  • ebcpirulito[at]gmail[dot]com

  • Inglijh

Congratulations to all the winners!  Please send me your mailing address BEFORE MONDAY so I can post your copies of Capoeira Beyond Brazil out to you before I leave for Montreal (again, my flight is on Wednesday and I would seriously appreciate not having to include 5 copies of the same book within my 23kg baggage limit!). If for whatever reason you don’t want or can’t have the book, also let me know ASAP, please, so I can draw a new winner. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy Capoeira Beyond Brazil, and to reiterate, I will be writing a review of it within the upcoming weeks.

Thank you so much again to everyone for participating. If you didn’t win this time, look on the bright side: the universe now owes you some other form of good karma. :)  Finally, thank you to Blue Snake Books for sponsoring this contest.

I look forward to hearing more from and meeting more of you in 2009!

Mandingueira Holiday Giveaway: CLOSED

2 01 2009

The contest for Mandingueira’s reader giveaway has now closed. I will select and notify winners before the end of this week, and hope to have the books sent out before the end of next week. Thank you very much to all who participated, and I look forward to seeing you again once Mandingueira’s “regular programming” has resumed!

p.s. And lest I forget: FELIZ ANO NOVO, CAMARA!