One of the first things I remember learning vividly in capoeira is the concept of nuance (so this first bit will pretty much all be taken from my teachers’ mouths). Every kick, every move you do has a certain meaning. When you enter the roda, you enter a foreign world–and so you better know the language. Questions are posed by your body, not your mouth; smalltalk is delivered with armada, esquiva, quexada; and silent screaming matches are played out in the form of chapa, tesouro, martelo, and the like. Don’t give a certain kick or do a certain move if you’re not prepared for the consequences, because you never know how the other person will react to the provocation.
This all makes sense, and it’s beautiful to think of every movement in the roda as meaningful as words, the game a dialogue with as much potential and as many implications as a scene from Hamlet. However, recently I’ve been thinking about something new: what if there were no nuance?
My initial reaction was: “Well, that would be weird. Then people could do anything.” Then: “Wait a minute…people could do anything.” Think about it! Let’s say you’ve just been working really hard on something–a new rasteira set-up, for example–and wanted to try it out in the roda (because we all know that executing a move in class is nothing like trying to execute it in a real game). How are you going to do that? You don’t want to go after someone who has a lower belt than you, and if you try it on anyone else they might become mad and get aggressive on you, which you’re not really looking for at the time. Of course, this is not always necessarily the case, but “better safe than sorry” if you’re paranoid like I am about these things. If moves had no nuance and everything was fair game, you could go in and test yourself without worrying about inadvertently offending the other person (unless you did a particularly poor rasteira and rammed your foot into their ankle, or something).
But that’s only a tiny part of it; let’s look at how having no nuances would impact the game overall. Well, for one thing, no one would have to hold back! You could do anything without worrying about unduly offending the other person, within reason (i.e. you’d still have to use legitimate capoeira moves…and we’ll leave “But what is legitimate?” for another time). Which, in a way, makes sense…because if you think about it, anything you do could be considered just part of the game, part of capoeira. The very unexpectedness of a sudden chapa de costa could be considered just a part of what capoeira is, and the other person shouldn’t get mad because 1) being a capoeirista, you could say s/he should know to expect the unexpected and 2) to reiterate, it’d all just be part of the capoeira game.
[Now watch me get killed by a sudden chapa de costa the next time I train at my academy XD]
And what games, if people didn’t hold back! You could put the heat on and play aggressive but in a fun and challenging way for both players, without the game becoming negative. Instead of smalltalk versus argument, you now just have constant banter, all the way through. (From Hamlet to Much Ado About Nothing, you might say =P)
Of course, people do all of this on their own anyway, without necessarily having an academy-wide “anything goes” philosophy. And teaching that every kick has a difference nuance is good for protecting beginners from getting accidentally harmed in the roda, and for making sure they really know something before trying it out on a more experienced player without thinking.
Also, by “anything goes” and lack of nuance, I don’t mean that you can do anything and get away with it, without any consequences–not at all! The other person can still retaliate, at any time, and they have the right to. The difference is that they won’t suddenly lose their temper on you, they won’t take offense and hold it against you, and you’ll both know that whatever happens, it’s nothing personal, just all part of capoeira and the game, and both players would probably be the better for it.
Personally, I’m actually fine with nuance, since I was trained in it, and like I mentioned, the drawing of parallels between capoeira and words and language really appeals to me. However, it might be something worth thinking about, for the next time you enter the roda!