When it comes to respect—or rather, respecting hierarchy—in capoeira, how much is too much? How do you tell what is just capoeira, just context or politeness, and what is pure ridiculousness or taking things too far?
This post is slightly related to the “What is the Role of a Capoeira Mestre?” one, only looking at how students and mestres are specifically treated in capoeira groups. Before going on, I should clarify that in the headline, “respect” refers more to things done in the name of respect. There are two main issues here: 1) Just how much respect should be shown a mestre/mestra, and in what ways, before it goes too far? and 2) Respect in capoeira should go both ways.
1. Respecting Mestres
When your group’s mestre comes to town, how are they treated? Are they everyone’s pal, going around the room to shake every person’s hand, joking with beginners and graduadas alike, or is it as if your little academy village is hosting the Royal Entourage for a week, student serfs lining up to greet the king or queen, your normally alpha male and female teachers reduced to vassals and footrunners?
“Eating before Mestre does feels weird/wrong…it’s not about protocol; it’s about respect.”
Although these are slightly two extremes (slightly), the examples I’ve seen are really not too far off. And seeing such contrasts makes me wonder if the concept of “royalty” has a place in capoeira at all, if it’s taking respect too far? For instance, I can understand that at a group meal in a restaurant, it would be polite and a sign of respect to let the mestre order first. However, is it still right if the mestre becomes engaged in an hour-long conversation, and his students are still not allowed to order until he does?
In another case, is it okay, right, or normal to expect that, during meals, a mestra sits there while a student or teacher fetches her food for her? Would it be considered too “plebian” for the mestra to get her food on her own, or is that just simple hospitality and accomodation on the part of the event’s host teacher? It is not as if capoeira students would suddenly lose respect for a mestra who couldn’t snap her fingers and send people to fetch a drink or cutlery for her; in fact, the opposite is probably true.
How much “respect”, privilege, hospitality and accomodating at others’ expense, or going-out-of-one’s-way, is reasonable before one’s capoeira group could be mistaken for a cult of personality? And if the mestre or mestra comes to expect this attitude and attention, do they have the right to?
2. Respect is a two-way street.
In response to the questions above, some—or many—people would say that the mestre/mestra deserves it all, purely by virtue of what they have done and accomplished. I agree that they deserve respect and admiration for their accomplishments (provided that they are also good people who have managed to keep their feet on the ground), but there is a limit as well, and you will know when you’ve hit it by keeping in mind that simple respect between human beings should go both ways.
You know that saying, “My rights end where your rights begin”? I think the same concept applies here: “Respect” for high-ranking people in capoeira should end where disrespect for capoeira students begins.
“You wait for Mestre; Mestre doesn’t wait for you.”
For example, it is always stressed that students arrive on time for class, rodas, workshops, and events, and they usually get in trouble for being late. This is fair, makes sense, etc. Showing up on time shows you respect your teacher, the rest of the class, and everyone’s time, while being late implies you don’t (whether or not that is actually the case). Likewise, it’s fair enough to expect mestres and teachers will sometimes (or always) be late, especially during big capoeira events (read: logistical nightmares).
However, something is off when students are threatened with push-ups for being five minutes late so they show up on time, but then are kept waiting for 1-2 hours for the mestre to arrive so things can begin. I mentioned this to one of my non-capoeira friends the other day, and even then it didn’t hit me how extreme that actually is in the context of real life, until she stopped and stared at me in shock and possibly even a bit of horror.
Because it’s true, if you think about it—where or when else in life ever is it acceptable to keep someone waiting for 1-2 hours? I was an hour late for my friend once (ahh, it’s contagious!) and was actually almost scared to show up at all, because she was (rightly) in a more or less homocidal state by then, and in the end I baked her a batch of rice krispie squares to make it up to her. Has your mestre/mestra ever given you a batch of rice krispie squares for being 1-2 hours late? Come to think of it, have you even ever received so much as an apology?
“Yes in capoeira we have high belts and low belts and students and mestres, but outside of capoeira we’re all people, all human beings.”
If you think about it, making a group of people stand around waiting for 1-2 hours at every roda and event isn’t really a way of having them show extreme respect for the mestre, or it’s a completely unecessary way to show/ensure respect (and those who disagree need to ask themselves why their mestre is so insecure), but is really just blatant disrespect for the students and their time. Since we’re just lowly, star-struck capoeira students so obviously we have nothing else better to do in our lives than stand around waiting for two hours at a time.
Let’s see, that’s…dishes/laundry done and apartment cleaned, or half a book read, or half an afternoon’s work (and wages), or one blog post written, or one kid’s doctor’s appointment, or one or two job applications, or an exam crammed for, or a short date with your boyfriend/girlfriend, or a thesis outlined, or taxes done, or a car fixed…the list goes on. But of course, none of that is important if it means you’ll be on time for Mestre/Mestra, even if they have absolutely no compunction to even try being anywhere near on time themselves.
Moreover, late students don’t matter because the mestre/mestra doesn’t have to wait at all; they have every right to start the roda once they arrive, and too bad for the late students. However, it doesn’t work the other way around because students aren’t allowed to start the roda on their own.
Yes, a mestre/mestra probably does have dibs over students on not being kept waiting, but in fact, neither side should be expected to wait as long as capoeira students often are. Mestres and students should respect each other’s time. This is just one example of two-way respect in capoeira (or lack thereof) that I’ve gone into pretty deeply here, but I’m sure there are others.
“…as always, a lack of respect by teachers for their young students…”
All of the pull-quotes in this post are things I’ve heard said in capoeira, and this last one struck me for such an important reason that I felt compelled to write about it: it was the first and only time in my two and a half years of doing capoeira that I’d EVER heard someone talk about students in capoeira needing to be respected, instead of needing to respect.
That was definitely a wake-up call for me, and what inspired a lot of the other thoughts in this post.
Students have a responsibility to respect their teachers and mestres, but don’t mestres have a responsibility back to their students? Even if the capoeira world is slightly off-kilter from the “normal” world, aren’t we all still entitled to the same common courtesty and simple respect? Because the last time I checked, capoeira students are people, and mestres/mestras are people, too.