Obrigada Mestre Acordeon (Or: Meeting a Famous Mestre)

31 10 2008

So apparently, a god or goddess in the universe discovered I saved a busload of children, rid Europe of a plague, gave up a multimillion editorial position to feed the poor, and singlehandedly solved the affordable housing crisis in a past life, because recently, I was given a fluke opportunity at a capoeira workshop to meet Mestre Acordeon.

It was like Christmas, only replace the sacks of toys with irregularly shaped parcels of capoeira wisdom.

Okay, I’ll be honest with you.  When I first heard the news he would be there, the capoeirista part of me got about a nanosecond of reaction in before the journalist part of me hijacked the car and took it way beyond overdrive: “INTERVIEW!!!  YOUR BLOG!!!  YOUR READERS!!! THE SCOOP!!!!!

(So as not to lead you guys on, I’ll say right now that I didn’t actually get to do an interview with Mestre Acordeon, after all.  I know.  I’m sorry.  My heart broke a little bit, too.)

What was it like, seeing and hearing a famous—legendary—capoeira mestre in person for the first time? Well, I think that was the first and only time I’ve been “starstruck” by a capoeira mestre. So much so that I actually let the entire first of only two days go by before even just going up to introduce myself! Much of it was because Mestre Acordeon has broken ground (to put it mildly) in all THREE of this blog’s (so by extension, in a way, my) raison d’être: capoeira, gender equality, AND writing/publishing!! For me, meeting Mestre Acordeon was like meeting three stars/role models in one.

It was kind of surreal, actually.  He told us an anecdote I recognized from one of his articles—and it was the story, told to us firsthand.  When he sang—it was the CD track/voice, live in concert. And the capoeira?  Well, yes, it was our profesor disarmed and down in three seconds flat.

Slight correction to something above: although I didn’t get to do a bona fide interview with Mestre Acordeon, I did get to speak with him for maybe five minutes, which was about four minutes and thirty seconds longer than I would have ever expected. (See?  I do love you guys. :P)

There was one question particularly burning in my mind, and so on the last day, at the end no less (as people were pulling on their jackets and shoes and our teachers were kicking everyone out to avoid overtime rental fees), I slipped myself into a small group sitting on the ground in front of M. Acordeon, storytime-style, listened to the end of a story he was telling, waited out the usual “Look!  It’s Mestre and me!” photoshoot, then walked up and introduced myself, and asked my question.

Basically, I asked him about the whole “tradition vs. ‘modern-day’ values” issue in capoeira. I described some of the ideas we’d been struggling with here, such as changing capoeira and cultural appropriation, and asked him, essentially, how a capoeirista today can reconcile “modern” values like gender equality without losing the importance of “tradition” in capoeira?  I’ve run into this question several times since starting this blog (ex. here and here), and I figured, who better to answer it than a capoeira mestre of M. Acordeon’s reputation, experience, and standing?

A lot of what he said in response was, I think, more or less what you’d expect to hear. In the end, what it all came down to was this quote that stuck the most in my mind, which he’d also said in a talk earlier to everyone at the workshop:

Change is important, and capoeira has to change, because if something doesn’t change, then it grows stale, and dies.

(I was going to get into a discussion of that quote here, but I think it would go a little beyond the confines of this post, so I’ll save it for one of its own!)

In the end, I decided against asking Mestre Acordeon for an interview even if there had been more time, because while he was talking, it just seemed…like it wouldn’t really be right.  Not morally or anything like that, but just in the sense that he took time out of what’s probably an extremely busy life just to come to the workshop, and everybody wants to talk to him when he’s not already surrounded by the other mestres and teachers, and so it didn’t seem quite fair nor courteous to ask for even more of his time, on such short notice, to ask straight-out for answers to potentially heavy questions so I could publish what he said online.

However, one can always hope…!  Thus, just for interest’s (and temptation’s) sake, these are the other questions I had prepared to ask Mestre Acordeon in the event that a god or goddess in the universe had found out that in addition to all those things I did in my past life, I would one day in a future life save the universe from imploding into a giant black hole of DOOM (Feel free to add in Comments any burning questions of your own 😉 ):

Mestra Suelly was the first woman to become a mestra outside of Brazil.  As the mestre who graduated her, what reactions or controversy, if any, did you encounter from this?

What do you think about all-women rodas, or events?  Do you believe they are truly beneficial, or help to perpetuate sexist gender stereotypes in capoeira?  Do you think gender equality is a shrinking issue as capoeira spreads in North America and Europe, or if not, what needs to be done to address it?

In one of your articles, you mentioned the “extraordinary political potential” of capoeira.  I think that is one of the most exciting things to think about in capoeira, but how exactly would someone fully explore or even start to draw upon, I suppose, this potential?  What do people actually mean by saying “capoeira is a tool of civilization”, and how do you see this happening today, in real life…or is this something we have to wait for that will come in the future?

What do you think it is about capoeira that not only draws so many different varieties of people, but draws them all with the same incredible amount of strength and attraction to the art?


Strength and “Image” in Capoeira: Why Floreios DO Matter

24 10 2008

Floreios--important but not in the way you think?Image is everything—or so the saying goes. The use of floreios in capoeira, in a way, is all about image.  Ergo, aren’t floreios everything?

[NOTE: As you may have figured by now, this post might be more regional-centric than usual, and for all I know not even apply to many other regional groups, depending on how much they value strength and floreios in a capoeirista.  To angoleiro/as and others to whom this note applies, I apologize in advance!]

Alright, for those of you currently shaking your head going, “Dear lord, Joaninha, have you learned nothing?”, let me explain. Based on some observations I’ve made over the past few months, I’m going to argue that while floreios probably are as inessential to a good capoeirista’s game as most people like to say, the ability (or lack thereof) to do them does matter and does affect your training in the long run as a capoeirista in a typical academy setting, particularly beginners, which thus ultimately affects your overall level in capoeira.

Let’s (not) Get Physical

It has nothing to do with the floreios themselves. Physically, being able to throw your entire body over your head or spin 360 degrees sideways in the air has zero correlation to whether you can just as skillfully strategize, emote, manipulate, flow, and/or converse inside the roda. The thing is, physicality has to do with facts.  And as I once heard someone say, “Facts are clear, they’re straightforward, they’re organized, you can understand them.  It’s when people get involved that everything becomes all messy.”

And capoeira involves nothing if not people! This is where the notion of “image” comes in.

First Impressions

Basically, right or wrong, being able to do floreios is often associated in people’s minds with being a good or advanced capoeirista.  I also think this happens on a subconscious level more often than not; even if people consciously know—and dutifully say—that pulling off floreios doesn’t necessarily mean you’re good or advanced, it’s natural to be impressed whenever anyone, especially a beginner, does something fancy, and so that makes an impression on you, consciously or subconsciously.  For supporting evidence regarding image/impressions and the (sub)conscious: how do you think advertisements, the media, and political campaigns work?

What helps to make this impression on people (i.e. teachers and other students) is size and strength.  Naturally, capoeira training involves a lot of strengthed-based exercises. Since a lot of classes put advanced students in front based on the assumption they can do the exercise properly for more beginner students to watch, students who aren’t advanced but still strong are also put in front as examples, because their strength allows them to pull off the exercise equally well.

My point is that while these students are considered “advanced” for those exercises purely for their physical strength, it is all too easy to see them as more “advanced” overall, especially as strength-based exercises are common/frequent in training, and so one sees the stronger students put ahead more often. Thus the impression of those students’ “advanced-ness” continues to build in people’s minds and subconciousnesses.

Seeing Is Believing

The more often certain students are seen in a position considered “advanced”—given to them strictly through size/strength and not taking into account experience, technique, strategy, etc., simply because the nature of the drill doesn’t require it—the more people will believe in and treat them as advanced capoeiristas, or capoeiristas with more potential, pushing their training more and playing more challenging games with them (for instance), until, all other things being equal, they truly are good, advanced capoeiristas.

Now, what’s wrong with this?  Absolutely nothing.  It’s a nice, normal, great example of someone with some natural advantage being trained by their capoeira teachers so they can work their way to the top (since no amount of strength precludes some effort in capoeira). The only thing is—at the risk of sounding somewhat small-minded here—that sometimes, sometimes, that given prominence and pushing forward of bigger/physically stronger capoeira students comes at the expense of seemingly smaller/physically weaker capoeira students, regardless of other, non-physical factors. (And perhaps rightly so, but I’ll come back to that later.)

Case Study

For example, let’s say that a class is told to go into partners to practice a sequence. Now, so far I haven’t mentioned anything about gender because it’s not directly related to the point of this post (physically stronger/weaker students as opposed to female/male students), and often throwing feminist views into an argument seems to have the unfortunate side-effect of making people dismissive of the entire thing. But in this example, quite a few women in my group, beginner and advanced, are smaller and slighter, while there are a lot of pretty big guys, both beginner and advanced. So what happens in partner work is that all the guys end up with each other, and same for the girls (based mostly on size, I should point out, rather than gender).

So, let’s say there’s a male capoeira student and a female capoeira student looking for partners.  The woman is a higher level than the man, but being smaller, is “supposed to” go with a smaller partner.  So based on statistics (and observations), the guy ends up working with a more advanced student (as a higher percentage of advanced capoeiristas are male) and the girl ends up working with a more beginner student (as there are more beginner than advanced female capoeiristas).

Obviously, size and strength matters when you’re training something like martelo or chapa de costa.  If just practicing sequences, however, you’d almost want students to go with completely differently-sized partners, as, for instance, a really short person would learn to kick higher while a tall person is forced to esquiva lower. But in most cases, no matter what the exercise, you’d think the academy was a boxing ring with uptight referees, the way people zoom (or encourage others to zoom) towards their own weight class.

The thing is, whom you work with and are exposed to on a regular basis does affect your training in the long run. Imagine five years of consistently being partnered with more beginner students. Now imagine five years of consistently working with capoeiristas who have more skill, knowledge, and experience than you do.  This is important when you consider partner work isn’t just for one isolated drill, but for many exercises and activities over a long period of training capoeira.

Thus, returning to our example, what happens? The guy’s training is slightly but steadily “accelerated” by his constant training with advanced students, and the girl, while maybe not exactly “brought down”, repeatedly loses out on training with a partner her level or higher—purely because the guy is bigger and stronger (not, please notice I’m not saying, just because he’s a guy; that’s incidental). The only difference between the two, deciding what kind of training each gets, is strength and size thanks to “weight class mentality”, not experience, technique, game, or any of those “more important” aspects of capoeira.

All Capoeiristas Are Not Created Equal

Thus, all of the factors I’ve explained above—rooted in having physical strength which is often displayed through floreios—add up and build into a snowball effect of subtly yet consistently “enhanced” capoeira training for the student who happens to walk into the academy athletically blessed.

And though it may be hard to believe after reading all I’ve just written, I’m not grudging them that (much). How can I??  That’s what I meant by “perhaps rightly so”, earlier.  Shouldn’t those who have more potential be encouraged to get ahead? Isn’t that what happens everywhere else, from kindergarten to grad school to the workplace? At the least, it would be quite unfair to stronger students to hold them back and turn each class into some Communist-like capoeira camp, where carefully divided training is rationed out in equal portions to each and every capoeira student.

So, I really hope this post didn’t come off as ranting against what I wrote about, because it’s not supposed to be.  I didn’t write in order to decry the “floreio effect” (as I christened it as of 1 second ago); I wanted to simply point out it exists, at least in my experience.

The Floreio Effect

Being able to do floreios doesn’t matter for its own sake, but for the sake of the consequences and implications of you being able to do them as a beginner capoeirista, starting with the impression you make on the teachers and students around you with shows of physical strength. Because strength is the one immediately applicable attribute of capoeira that’s flashy when you’re a beginner with not much else, it helps to overtly build one’s image of “advancedness”.  This opens you to further attention and some advantages of training as someone who is more advanced even though you’re still a beginner, until you really are advanced, allowing you to reach that point sooner and more quickly than someone who lacks physical strength, connected to the the ability to do floreios. Thus, when it comes to training capoeira, in the long, overarching scheme of things: even if they don’t matter the most—floreios do matter.


p.s. I developed this theory a month or two ago, so I’ve had further thoughts relating to it since then.  They’re on a pretty different topic, though grown out of this one, so I will be articulating them in another, upcoming post.

p.p.s. The more I think about it, the even less I think this post might speak to many other groups besides my own. Mainly, I’m remembering the capoeira group I trained with in Europe all last year, also contemporanêa, and I don’t recall “weight class mentality” (or gender distinction) in partner work or rodas making an appearance at all.

New Links Page

23 10 2008

Just to let everyone know, I’ve cleaned up a bit and moved all my blogroll links to a page of their own, as the list was starting to seem a little anarchic to me!  It’s titled “Go Places” and you can find it right beside “Contact” on the navigation bar at the top. (Speaking of which, please contact me if you’d like swap or recommend a link, or if you have anything else to say, for that matter!) This also allowed me (finally) to organize the links themselves for better navigation. As it may have been a while since you last really looked at them, go ahead and check it out!  Be adventurous.  Go places.

p.s. This wasn’t my “next real post”!  That one’s coming out in two days. 🙂

p.p.s. I’ve only organized my existing links, but haven’t yet had the time to go through a bunch I’ve been meaning to add.  If you think you should be on there, feel free to send me a friendly reminder. =)

Sheepish Apology/Comeback #1001: Back-to-School (Er, Midterm) Edition

21 10 2008

Hey, guys.  Remember when there was this person (_______), who used to write this blog (________), about this Brazilian martial art (_________)?  If you were able to fill in all the missing blanks there, please give yourself a pat on the back, a gold star, and um abraço from me!

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I know it must be getting very, very old by now, considering practically every post since late spring has been a “sorry for not posting” post, but I am very much hoping that THIS post will serve as indication that Mandingueira has indeed survived (albeit somewhat scathed) the busiest and most jam-packed summer [and first half-semester, oops] I’ve ever had—especially with the blog’s 1-year anniversary (!!!!!) coming up!  Thank you so, so much for waiting it out, for continuing to check in and comment, and for coming back again!

As for excuses, I’m guessing “my dog ate my computer” won’t cut it, so I can only plead work, training, volunteering, the firm maintenance of a non-capoeira social life ( 😛 ) and, as you may have guessed, the start of my new school year.  And since I’m back in Canada, this means I no longer have the luxury of homework-free courses, a 4-day weekend, and two random classes cancelled every week, à la France.  So, I’ve also been experimenting with this new thing my friend suggested, called “time-management”, aka “not doing everything last-minute”, aka “certified all-nighter prevention strategy” (edit: which turned out to be not-so-certified, but that’s beside the point).

Now that things have settled down a bit (hah! read: now that I have more work than ever to procrastinate)(okay, really, more like I miss writing and I miss talking with all of you), I’m hoping to get back into a steady posting routine before the end of this month.  As a compromise between a perfect world and my sanity, I’ll be aiming for a modest rate of one post per week instead of my former one post per day (which, looking back now, I have no freaking idea how I EVER kept up!!!).

The upshot of this is that not once have I not posted because of lack of topics or ideas, so I’m hoping we can look forward to an ideas-building-up-pressure-into-a-giant-explosion-of-mind-blowing-prose sort of phenomenon here.  Thanks again for your unending (saintly, really) patience and…yes, loyalty (*please remove all capoeira grupo-cult connotations of word at your own discretion*), and I look forward to hearing lots from you as we work up even deeper levels and wider ranges of discussion on this blog!

Um GRANDE abraço,

p.s. Just so you know I’m serious, I’ve already written up a real post to follow this one, so come back in a few days to check it out! 😀