“Nobody Can Say!”: The “Roda” That Is Capoeira Arguments

7 07 2008

“There is only one thing a philosopher can be relied upon to do, and that is to contradict other philosophers.”

Capoeira is like philosophy. And I don’t mean it’s like a philosophy, as in “the philosophy of capoeira”. Capoeira is like the entire field of philosophy—at least when it comes to the discussions.

Who can say?  Maybe somewhere in the stars...

It struck me shortly after I came back home and finally broke it to my capoeira group (read: teachers) that I’d been training with another group in France. (I’d kept it a secret during all of last year…slightly long story there. But I digress.) What I then found amusing (as well as not so amusing) about the whole thing was how each side of the pond so readily disdained the other, even though I love and esteem both. And they all have their not-unreasonable explanations, including for why they’re each superior to a separate third group—who, I have no doubt, considers itself better than my two!

As one of my teachers pointed out, “…and it’s all opinion anyway! Maybe you think this capoeira group is better, but I think that capoeira group is better. Everyone has their own preference.” Most capoeiristas recognize this, yet many capoeira groups still claim, for one reason or another, to be the best (or at least pretty darn up there). It’s funny because with every capoeira group touting their own superiority, their claims kind of all cancel each other out, and so in the end it comes right back down to personal opinion anyway. After all, at least when it comes to capoeira style and capoeira philosophy, nobody can say!

Similarly, about a week later, I got into a conversation about fights breaking out in capoeira, and capoeiristas who “play” really to fight other group’s capoeiristas, and ended up saying something like, “It’s not capoeira!” (Since “just dancing” isn’t capoeira, so it’s okay to say “just fighting” isn’t capoeira either, right?) After I said that though, another one of my capoeira teachers ended it with the inevitable line: “But what is capoeira? Nobody can say.”

And therein lies the crux of the whole thing. Capoeira reminds me of philosophy because no matter how much capoeiristas—like philosophers—talk and discuss and debate and rationalize their respective arguments, you can almost never come to any ultimate conclusion because—who can say?! What can be proven?? No one capoeirista has enough authority or knowledge to decide for all, and for better or worse, Newton concentrated his efforts on gravity rather than capoeira when making his laws.

I think one of my friends from first-year put it best (paraphrased from memory): “The thing about philosophy [or in our case, capoeira] is that you can spend hours and hours talking and going through arguments and making your points, but in the end none of it matters because nobody can prove any of it anyway!”

Although that doesn’t quite work, either (clearly it matters some, or this blog wouldn’t exist!), I just found the irony or circularness (hence “roda”) of it all amusing. So sue me! 😛

Picture source (modified):
http://s272.photobucket.com/albums/jj161/masterplats3/

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14 responses

7 07 2008
hera

Hi Joaninha! It’s great to read your writing again.

You know…it’s funny and strange how isolated we become once we join a Capoeira group. I didn’t realize this mySelf until i left my Capoeira group…and i am still conflicted as to whether I will join another. Right now, since i want to focus on Capoeira Angola, I am restricted by geographical limitations—there is not an Angola school in my city. But I visit Angola schools in nearby cities whenever my pocketbook has any extra funds for gas and fees.

I learned so many wonderful things from my old group and instructor. I will never regret my time there. The group thrives here in my city and i do my best to help out and direct people their way whenever i can—It is wonderful and beautiful Capoeira… But what is taught there is simply not what I want to focus on in my Capoeira training. It is nothing personal—it just doesn’t feel right to ME.

Philosophy is based on BELIEF… On perspective…on that beautifullyskillful way of blending thought with experience gained during this Life.

It makes sense that each persons needs will change as they Grow. One group may not focus on what a person needs throughout their whole “Capoeira Life”.

I know the value of being a member of a group. I have tremendous respect for those who taught me my roots…and once i grow ((and move closer!)) to where i am ready to join a group, i will show tremendous respect, value and loyalty there as well.

But i think it is very narrow minded and shallow to believe that YOUR way is the ONLY way…that is where religion/politics/class becomes ugly and we should know that this sort of attitude in regards to Capoeira groups is ugly, too.

Yes—there are different styles/forms of capoeira. Yes—there are different approaches. The beauty breathes in the differences. Let it breathe, people!!!

We are all just Humans stumbling along, creating our way. Keep that grin on your face and that spark in your eye, breathe in the differences and exhale what is Real. Timing will place each of us where we need to Be.

everything is always OK in the end 🙂

7 07 2008
Panama

Yeah. Every capoeira group thinks its the best. But each person has to figure out what is the best fit for them.

7 07 2008
Highlander

Nobody can say, and everybody can say!

One of the main things that drew me to Capoeira and kept me coming back for more was that it can’t be easily quantified or analyzed. I like the fact that it’s hard to explain to people what Capoeira is! I also like the fact that my opinion is just as valid as any other capoeiristas while at the same time I can learn so much from those that have been playing for longer.

7 07 2008
Angoleiro

Alright, time for me to play the devil’s advocate here 😀

I agree with you people that Capoeira is very diverse and does not have a Codex of Set Truths or sth like that. And a lot of groups do consist of people who think alike. People who do not share the viewpoint of their group do usually a) leave the group for another b) stop capoeira or c) submit themselves to the coded truth. So after a time, a groups philosophy does form, some common values and priorities.

And that is good!

why? there are several reasons. I name the two who come into my mind directly (that is because I am right now sitting in a course and have reached the point of saturation of my attention…).
a) the integrity of the group is higher. Some people might not like it, but it is important that groups of people do have some common values. This is the case for states, religious communities, housing communities, workmates and…yep…for Capoeira. This is the truth regardless of what the actual truth is (“Capoeira is meant for killing” is also a truth for some groups…). With such an internatl bondage splitting of the group does not occur that often as it could happen!
b) (I have to hurry up, course is ending!) strong opinions about something does also lead to strong opinions in respect to other groups. is that good? well, as long as violence and oppression is not the tool of pushing through your own opinion, it is. Cause differences lead to competition, lead to more efforts to show that “your group is worse than mine” and so on…

Dont worry people, I try just to put in another viewpoint to this whole discussion. Diversity of opinion is a treasure we have to keep. I am also not fond of Capoeira politics, but they seem to be integral part of Capoeira. I am biologist and as such I think that if Capoeira has some traits, then these traits might be a product of a kind of selection. So the egocentric Capoeira group seems to have sth like a selective advantage. Does it mean that that HAS to stay like this? No. But for the last 50 years or so it was good for capoeira. You need a proof: Compare the number and quality of Capoeiristas between the years 1950 and 2000…

Gotta go. Course is finished!

8 07 2008
Joaninha

Hey Hera!

Thanks 🙂 I’m so happy to be writing it again!

Oh wow, so you are between groups right now? I think that takes strength actually, if you still love capoeira…even if you don’t completely agree with the philosophy, I don’t know what I’d do without the environment, the rodas, the background melee of tuning berimbaus and atabaques…not to mention no teachers yelling at me till I’ve finished my sequences of kicks! Although of course what you said is right too, that it would be hard to stay committed if you don’t feel like you truly believe in or agree with it all.

But wow, how is it, training with an angola group after leaving a regional one?

I loved what you said about philosophy there…that it’s thought blended with experience…somehow that seems like common sense, but it still sounds really good and apt when you put it like that!

And I completely agree about what you said, that the same divisions or narrow-mindedness in capoeira is of the *exact* same sort as in religion and class…although…actually, I think religion and class are one sort, and the type in capoeira and politics are another sort. At least in capoeira and politics there can be logic and more or less reasonable explanations behind people’s beliefs (not necessarily that a style is better, but that the styles are different and the teacher just prefers one, as long as they acknowledge it’s because of preference and not “Truth”). But in religion and class, or ethnicity, the reasons for such division or exclusion are ultimately traced back to…none. None that are based on logic or reason, at any rate. (Since they don’t acknowledge it’s opinion, and do say it’s “Truth”.)

Thanks for your words Hera, as always =)

8 07 2008
Joaninha

Ditto, Panama!

8 07 2008
Joaninha

Brilliant point, Highlander! Haha that’s kind of what I was getting at in reverse, but you put it so much more succinctly…everybody says because nobody can say, and vice versa. 😄

8 07 2008
Joaninha

Heeeyyyy Angoleiro! Lol, alright, shoot. =P

First of all…major props from me for applying the theory of evolution to capoeira! That was awesome. 😄 It was also a really interesting point that I’ve never heard before, at least not put in that way. I still think it could go both ways, though.

It could go how you said, with an egocentric or “indoctrinated” group being, because of this ideological control, stronger and more cohesive as a whole, whereas with a more philosophically relaxed group, people will take a more relaxed attitude as to committment, loyalties, etc., so the group membership might on the whole be more fluctuating and dispersed.

On the other hand, when you have a group run like that, with such a strong and inflexible hand ideologically…that just doesn’t seem sustainable. Like a dystopia, it appears to be an extremely tight ship, but cracks are bound to appear eventually. Fewer new people might take as easily to the philosophy being imposed on them as the “one and only”, and existing members of the group might start questioning. In a group that’s more flexible to begin with, members have room to explore, so if they stay, they have no doubt and know it’s because they want to be part of that group and philosophy. Whereas with the “egocentric” group, it might retain more members at first, but the “quality” of the membership (not their prowess in capoeira, but how much they value the group and being a member of that group) might not be as strong because they might also have more doubts and unanswered questions, and in the end something would have to give.

I see what you mean about differences leading to competition, but the only part that worries me is how you phrased it! As in, I would’ve said, “differences lead to competition and competition leads to self-improvement, to showing ‘my group is the best'”—not necessarily just that the other group is worse, lol. Even though I don’t think you meant it that way, my worry is that that’s precisely what some other capoeiristas are out to do, “prove” their own superiority just by trying to humiliate other groups, not actually just trying to improve themselves for the sake of improvement and progress.

Thanks, Angoleiro–overall I thought you made really good and interesting points!

8 07 2008
angoleiro

Hoi!

as I said. that is just the other viewpoint. It is not necessarily mine. What I have seen were two different kind of groups. The ones did have a broad and open mind, accepting everybody. There we had a huge fluctuation. A lot of people coming, alot of people going, few staying. Those who were staying, were staying out of free will and were good parts of the group. The others were not that broad minded or did have some unfavourable philosophy, a very authoritative teacher and so on. People who went there went there oce and were sure they wont go there again. So the flux of people was smaller. The amount of people who stayed was also saller. But those were much more into the group. At the end it does not make a big difference.

For inter-group relations: there will be always problems and issues between groups. I think that was prominent before the big expansion of capoeira, too. But nowadays capoeira is organized mainly in groups and academies, thus it is much more prominent. I dont participate in intergroup fights/arguments, but I also do not try to stop them. People have to sort that out and I think todays there is much more tolerance to other groups than it was before. Even between regionalistas and angoleiros, and that was, in former times, not always the case.

alright… course starts again. gotta do some work…

have a good one, mandingueira, and it is gooood that you are ONLINE again!

9 07 2008
Dan Tres Omi

I find it more to be like religion. Folks don’t like it when you dabble around in other sects. At least philosophers will admit that they can debate and argue. As all of my philosopher professors have claimed.

In Religion, people will say that the other religion is okay but behind closed doors will talk junk all day.

10 07 2008
Joaninha

Thanks, angoleiro! It’s good to BE online again ^^” And yeah, I agree with pretty much everything you said. I don’t try stopping intergroup conflicts either (I mean, it’s not really my business, nor do I have any power or authority or…right, I guess, if I’m not directly involved…to), but a lot of the conflicts, the ones that I’ve seen or heard of, at any rate, just seem really pointless to me, and basically the result of unfettered ego trips on one or both sides.

10 07 2008
Joaninha

Hey Dan,

Yeah, you definitely have a point there, but I think we’re just comparing different things. I meant capoeira reminded me of philosophy only in the sense that their discussions are both lengthy and can be taken really seriously, yet ultimately are kind of pointless, at least from a trying-to-reach-a-conclusion point of view!

But as for the actual sources of these discussions/arguments themselves, the divisions and attitudes and so on, you’re right on. My dad got really mad at me once because I said something without thinking about capoeira and he said it sounded too much like (organized) religion for him, everything was “all or nothing”/”with us or against us”.

Haha, you reminded me of this other quote I considered using for my intro, but decided it wasn’t as appropriate: “Philosophy consists very largely of one philosopher arguing that all others are jackasses.” 😄

13 07 2008
Pipoca

Capoeira is so awesome and at the same time it does have it’s troubles. There is always someone claiming to be the best. In this case you are correct in saying MANY of us claiming to be the best, but I think we can all agree on one thing…CAPOEIRA is THE best. Period. lol I don’t care how you do it or who you do it with so long as you are doing it to the best of your ability and progressing the game, never detracting from it. I’d never kick any of you out of a roda…well maybe Joaninha, but only because she thinks she’s the best or something ;P lol Just messin J! I love that quote about philosophers and jackasses…that’s a classic.

15 07 2008
Joaninha

Hahah, nice way to end it all Pipoca…now just wait for a couple tae kwon do-ists and mui thai-istas to swarm in and tell us we can’t say which martial art is the best, but that they’re the best! 😄

p.s. Hey! You’ll regret that. =P

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