Capoeira and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

22 01 2008

(semi-inspired by Pirulito/D-cal’s paper, Zen and Capoeira)

The roda, a place of logic, precision, art, and beauty.One of my favourite novels is called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig.  The novel explains how art and science, or “Romantic aesthetics” and “Classical reason” are not so much two opposing ways of looking at things as they are twin perspectives that were separated at birth by the likes of Plato and Aristotle, to the detriment of all Western society today.  The split occurs because Romantic appeal is tied to emotions and subjectivity (something appeals or seems beautiful to you “merely” if you like it), while Classical reason is associated with objectivity, the need for a complete lack of emotions. 

In fact, argues Pirsig, you need both to do anything worthwhile, and to do it well.  You need to at once see the cold logic underlying an original Van Gogh and the flaming beauty in the mathematical precision of a motorcycle engine.  At the crux of it all is a concept he calls Quality, which is the point at which Romantic appeal and Classical reason merge.  It all sounds a bit weird and out there when I describe it now, but you must read the book to have a chance at understanding it all (and read it anyway, because it’s amazing!). 

With that said (sorry for the long introduction), it occured to me that capoeira is a perfect example of this unification of science and art.  The novel’s title is explained by the fact that the philosophy of Zen codifies exactly the concept of what Quality is, so you can imagine my excitement at recalling the following quotation, from Nestor Capoeira’s Street-Smart Song:

In the East there is Zen;

Europe developed Psychoanalysis;

In Brazil we have the Capoeira Game.

(Alright, so by “recall”, I really meant “was reminded of by Pirulito’s paper”. :P)

With capoeira, it’s easy to see where the Romantic appeal aspect comes in.  The dialogue, the movement, the acrobatics, the expression, the flow—ask anyone to describe capoeira for you, and it probably won’t be long before the word “beautiful” or a synonym comes up.

I would argue, however, that the logic and science in capoeira is just as easy to perceive as the beauty is.  In fact, one of the first things about capoeira that I fell in love with was the seeming perfect logic of many of the take-down or take-down/counter-take-down sequences we learned.  Seeing them demonstrated, to me they each possessed all the elegance of a succinct, devastatingly proven math equation.  For instance, a successful tesouro was a logical progression from an attempted vingativa, which itself was the jigsaw-puzzle-perfect response to an attempted quexada—based on body positioning, players’ intentions, opportunity, and the laws of physics. 

According to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the reason many people today feel detached from technology and science is because all the Romantic appeal has been taken out of it—emotions are not involved, everything must remain objective and separate from the individual, and test tubes, metal parts, and theories, etc. are not very attractive aesthetically speaking.  What we must learn to do, says Pirsig, is put our emotions and individual values back into Classical reason.  When tuning a motorcycle, for simplified example, he can feel the point at which the screw takes on the exact needed amount of tightness.  When he thinks of the motorcycle as not an object outside of himself, but something that he is engaged with and cares about, he has a much better chance of working on it successfully, and the moment he feels satisfied and at peace is the moment his motorcycle is fixed. 

In other words, one must work with defined principles on which the game is based, but in a way that makes it your game, that makes it personal, and if you do it right—there is nothing but the moment, and everything goes with the efficiency of a well-tuned machine that also happens to make one feel they’re looking at a beautiful work of art.

Sound familiar?

Picture source:
http://www.swps.org/wrf/artist_05/Capoeira.jpg

P.S. Just a note to acknowledge Blog for Choice Day, that today is the 35th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade in the United States.  I haven’t thought enough about this topic yet to feel comfortable writing an actual post on it, but thought I should at least just recognize.

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3 responses

3 04 2008
Growing Crystals: FICA Capoeira Women’s Conference and Initiating Real Change « Blue Snake Books

[…] Growing Crystals: FICA Capoeira Women’s Conference and Initiating Real Change Before his eyes, as he walked, he saw a star of crystalline material in the solution appear and then grow suddenly and radiantly until it filled the entire vessel. He saw it grow. Where before was only clear liquid there was now a mass so solid he could turn the vessel upside down and nothing would come out. (-Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) […]

11 04 2008
Pirulito (D-cal)

i didn’t notice this till now lol

reading about the “perfect logic”.. i have to point out that these attempts to do vingativas and tesouras are sometimes just natural responses.. but when someone starts a game out consciously thinking “i’m going to do a vingativa in this game”, most of the time it comes out wrong,.. unnatural and out of this “perfect logic” you speak of..

this leaves the game lacking flow.. very un-zen..

my professor always described it as a “monkey-mind”.. grabbing from branch to branch.. from thought to thought.. when you should just let go..

13 04 2008
Joaninha

Hey!

I like your professor’s analogy…and your comment is actually really funny timing because that makes it the fourth time this week I’ve been told not to think so much. XD

As for the perfect logic of vingativas, etc. though, I actually didn’t mean at all the player’s own mental logic in the game. The idea I was trying to get across was that once they *did* the vingativa or tesouro, and successfully, to me it would’ve been executed so well that it seemed like that would’ve been the only “logical” response, as if it couldn’t have been any other way (like what you said actually, a natural response!). Obviously it could’ve been tons of other ways, but I meant that was just the impression I got when seeing moves like that demonstrated elegantly and well. They just…fit, into the sequence, right into the opening the other player gave. I hope that’s a bit clearer!

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