Lessons from Brazil: Whetting Attitude on the Stone of Capoeira

7 12 2009

[I went to Brazil for the first time this past August, with my capoeira group. This is something I wrote last night and seeing as the thoughts in it have been seminal to my personal development as a capoeirista, thought I’d share it with all of you…or whomever still visits! Thank you all as well for the “birthday” wishes on Facebook—that date is actually not my birthday but the birthday of this blog, so the timing of this post works out kind of nicely, as well. Apologies for disappearing off the face of the planet, and I hope you are all doing awesome, in capoeira and otherwise! -Joaninha]

[Note: I think it will become clear that this post is very much rooted in the specific context and values of my capoeira group, our academy culture, collective philosophy, etc. I only mention this in case some parts seem a bit cold or harsh, and realize that not all of what I wrote may click with everyone. Also please note that despite any of that, I’m still the same friendly and approachable (ex?)blogger as ever!]

***

Before I went to Brazil, so many capoeiristas talked it up as if it were some miracle procedure–it’ll change you, you’ll be a different person, you’ll never be the same, etc. Well, after returning back to normal classes at home, I can’t say they were completely wrong.

If I had to say I gained anything by going to Brazil, it would be: an edge. Not in the sense of a competitive edge (though in light of how perception and presence works in capoeira, possibly, but that’s a whole other post in itself), but personality-wise. In the sense of a hard, if not necessarily sharp, edge.

But the more time passes, the more I’ve felt “the Brazil effect” wearing off. So I’m writing this as a reminder to myself of what I learned and to capture some of that post-Brazil essence back, before I blithely slip into post-post-Brazil (which would equal pre-Brazil) mode.

Basically, I learned–and learned to live–four major lessons:

1. Fight, fight, fight.

I didn’t get into any actual fights while inside the roda, but on one level, it’s practically all I did while out of it. I learned to fight for my place in the roda, fight to see what was going on, fight to be seen, fight not be blocked by people just because I was below their eye-levels, fight not to be effortlessly shoved out of the way by arrogant higher-belts, fight to play, fight to even train, fight to prove that lower-belt/female/small/asian/whatever doesn’t equal sucky training partner or a lightweight capoeirista.

I think the best class of my life was during one of the batizado workshop days. Our mestre’s wife started a dance class with all the girls during lunch, and shortly after we’d started…the mestre started a capoeira class with the rest of the students–i.e. all the guys. This was the second time in as many days a class was “accidentally” all guys, and there I was in a freakin’ ad hoc colheita audition thinking I don’t even dance in the classes back home and was this what I came to Brazil for? So I mentally apologized to all the actual dancers for thinking “f this” and ran across to join the capoeira class.

And I swear I had never felt in more top form than in that class where I was the only girl in a class of at least 30-40 guys and from which I was initially excluded (however “inadvertently”). I got every sequence right away, my macacos were perfect, and I made sure every vingativa went in hard (as someone found out the hard way…sorry again dude, you were the absolute last person in the class I would’ve wished that on!). The mestre even walked by me once, made a correction to my vingativa, and…nothing else. Validation!

That’s when I realized that alongside all the unspoken rules in capoeira, each of us also has an unspoken amount of agency. Though it didn’t seem like it due to environmental factors, attitudes, assumptions, event structure, etc., theoretically any other (non-performance) girls could’ve also left dance for capoeira. Maybe a rule is unspoken because it’s actually non-existent, but the onus is on us to use our personal agency to discover that. They just make itreally hard to figure out, so you have to fight to realize and to take advantage of the fact.

2. It IS all about me.

In my implementation of lesson #1, it’s possible that there was maybe this one roda where in my eagerness to buy in and play I maybe possibly slightly accidentally not-proud-of-ly more-than-bumped into one of our profesors umm hypothetically 3 times in a row. Needless to say, he wasn’t pleased about it. So afterwards when I went to apologize properly he lectured me about how there’s a time to play but how I also have to be aware of other people in the roda and “it’s not all about you”.

But here’s the thing. I completely get what the profesor meant, and I agree with everything he said, in principle. The thing is, my natural setting is to be aware of all others first. I spent years going from letting anyone who showed inclination buy in before me when I wanted to, to just letting people I knew, to just friends/teachers, to only holding back when to still buy in would be blatant, shameless game-“stealing” (and maybe even then, since I suspect there’s no such thing as it’d imply the game “belonged” to the other person when clearly they were just too slow). And the only way I’ve been able to do that, to “de-Canadianize” as my teacher would say, IS to force myself into an “it’s all about me” mentality.

The rodas in Brazil were especially helpful in bringing this out, when I was so roda-starved to the point that I’d have broken games between advanced students without a second thought because I JUST DIDN’T CARE. And that’s the lesson I brought back: to play as much as I’m told I’m supposed to, I have to want it beyond caring, about consequences or anyone else or what they might think. And if that seems arrogant…that’s actually a bonus, because I’ve also come to believe that arrogant-seeming behaviour is rewarded more often than not, and WAY more often than the alternative, in capoeira (at least where my group is concerned).

3. Don’t be nice.

Also known as: if you have a choice, assume you’re going it alone, since you’ll likely end up doing so anyway and this way you’ll actually be prepared. Strangely enough it was North Americans who taught me this one, not Brazilians. This doesn’t actually have that much to do directly with capoeira in itself, and doesn’t apply so much now that we’re not traveling anymore, but as it was also a MAJOR Brazil lesson, thought I should mention it for the record. With a more community-oriented friend’s amendment, the final decree reads, “Be nice to others where you can, but don’t expect others to be nice to/for you.” Not unless you’re with close friends. ESPECIALLY where anything logistics-related is concerned.

If you really wanted, I suppose this applies to capoeira in terms of buying in. Letting other people go in front of you is being nice. Letting other people go in front also means not playing. So being nice = not playing. Don’t be nice = eu jogo capoeira!

4. Getting into trouble is REALLY, ACTUALLY, LITERALLY okay.

This one kind of combines all of the above: taking agency for your own access to capoeira & the roda, fighting to challenge unspoken rules, not caring about what others may think, and not projecting bonds of loyalty or courtesy where there is none. This one actually applies when all of the above goes wrong and instead of getting a huge boost of confidence that your audaciousness paid off, you end up getting reprimanded by a teacher or mestre–like yours truly.

So, there was the profesor thing. Then during a practice roda, also during the all-guys-plus-me class (Mestre & Sons Plus One?…sorry, couldn’t resist xD), I guess I bought in too “early” and the mestre stopped me and said to let the higher belts play first. Both times…that was all there was to me “getting in trouble”.

I didn’t lose my belt. I didn’t get kicked out of the group. I didn’t get hurt, or get detention or expelled from school or a failing grade. I didn’t get fired or arrested or fined.

Looking at that list, I wonder if that’s why Canadians (or whoever) are so scared of getting in trouble, in class? Since in the society we’ve been raised and conditioned in, “getting in trouble” has always meant material consequences: a note to take home, freedom restricted, money to pay, repeating a course–some sort of tangible loss. Not to mention the stigma attached to “getting in trouble” itself. (Cue third-grade class: “OOOHHHHHHH.”)

But in this case, there is no real “loss”. (In fact there’s gain, because as mentioned earlier, it pays in capoeira to show too much initiative rather than too little. Case in point: “You got in trouble already? Good!” -one of our teachers) But really, it’s all psychological. Getting yelled at may hurt your pride or be embarrassing for a bit, but in the larger scheme of things–nothing more. It’s like practicing floreios on cement your whole life and then entering a room with a mat. Why would you hold back as if the floor is still cement? Falling no longer means broken bones.

[DISCLAIMER: This refers to being scared of getting into trouble for stepping up or any keenness-related mistakes. Obviously if someone actually has lost a belt or been expelled from a group, what I wrote doesn’t apply and those cases are probably a completely different story.]

Anyway, this last lesson is what gives me confidence to follow through on all the others. It’s the knowledge that even if I do overstep some actual rule, for instance, it’s OKAY. Gratuitously quoting now, “…bought in to play. I got in trouble, I got yelled at, but so what? The point is, I got to play.

And when it comes to capoeira, isn’t that the whole point?

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RELEASE: Mais Uma Volta: Mandingueira’s One-Year Retrospect Magazine

8 03 2009


Well, it finally happened: at long (long, long, long, long…) last, I’ve completed Mandingueira’s one-year retrospect magazine!

And yes, I do realize that I’d promised to release this by about three months ago.  I apologize once again for having dropped completely off the radar for the past while. And I particularly apologize to all those who have been leaving comments that I haven’t replied to. (Heck, I get annoyed when someone just doesn’t reply on MSN, so I’m sorry for being horrible!!)

This will sound super lame, but pretty much my only excuse here is…Montreal is just way too much fun. That, plus a 1.5-hour commute to/from work (each way), and the rest of the time I’ve been taking  a prep course/studying to take the MCAT in a couple months (the entrance exam for applying to medical schools in North America…please don’t ask, it’s a long story).

I’ve barely even been training, to be honest. I haven’t really been “feministing”, either, if not actually doing the opposite. So I suppose it kind of makes sense that someone taking a semi-hiatus from both capoeira and feminism wouldn’t be posting very much on a feminist capoeira blog!  (Provided I ever find time to post again, this paragraph will be elaborated upon hopefully in the near future.)

At any rate, lest we forget, today is International Women’s Day. And oh god, do we have a long way to go.

So, I figured, what better timing for the release of a commemorative magazine about a feminist capoeira blog?

Just so you know, I haven’t actually been working on this for the past three months straight. In fact, I’d completed all but the table of contents & editor’s note right before leaving for Montreal, and just didn’t manage to return to it until the other day!

Now, there are a couple ways you can view the publication. First, I HIGHLY recommend clicking on the main image link provided below. It leads to an absolutely beautiful set-up by issuu.com, where you can virtually flip through the magazine as if it were on a table in front of you.

Next, I’ve provided two pdf files you may download for (1) easier reading or (2) printing! The first file has the magazine’s spread layouts retained (from which you could print out the centerfold as a poster), and the second splits it up into all single pages.

Finally, you may have noticed a new widget on the sidebar featuring the magazine. This is so it’ll always be available for anyone new or returning to Mandingueira to check it out!  Also, please do make sure to check out the final two pages.

I loved, loved, LOVED putting this magazine together, and think it’s one of the best projects I’ve ever done. I hope you enjoy it!

Um abraço,

Joaninha

Celebrating one year of Mandingueira! (click on image to open)

Downloads:

Mais Uma Volta PDF (spreads)

Mais Uma Volta PDF (single pages)





What I Get Out of Capoeira

10 01 2009

This post is nearly verbatim from a personal Montreal blog I started for my friends back home. Capoeira doesn’t come up until about two-thirds of the way through, but it was kind of a revelation, and an important one for me about capoeira, so I thought I’d share it with you guys and see if it resonated with any of you at all.  Montreal, by the way, is awesome!  Work hasn’t started yet, but I’ve already started training with a new group, I love my place, my roommates are great, and I love being in this city.

SATURDAY JANUARY 10 | 3:28 am | Musings

So, I moved back into the living room because I’d thought everyone was done but somehow my two roommates had ended up in the living room drinking more wine and chatting, so thought it probably wasn’t a very good idea to miss out on roommate bonding right from the start.

Ended up having a really interesting talk with Annick, that was both slightly inspiring and slightly depressing.

I was telling them how I’ve been coming to realize that a lot of big things I’ve decided to do (living in France, moving to Montreal, going to Brazil) have been fueled by me looking for that life-changing metamorphosis that I feel people are supposed to get from going away to university and that I never got (due to never moving out and my university just being a bigger version of my high school). Not only that, but my life has always been pretty…stable. I’ve never needed an adjustment period for anything—starting university, moving to France, moving back to Canada, moving to Montreal—and these are supposed to be defining events, during formative years. If someone were to chart my emotional/life-living state on a graph, I feel like it would consist of shallow peaks and troughs all the way through, whereas with most other people it seems like there are at least intermittent spikes in both directions.

Take exchange, for instance. Most people I know LOVED LOVED LOVED exchange, and then were genuinely depressed upon returning home. I had fun and enjoyed myself, but I don’t yearn for or dream of France each night (…or at all), and as I said, I slipped back into my life at home within a day—it was, in fact, almost disconcertingly as if I’d never left at all. I was absolutely dismayed when the first thing someone said to me was, “Wow, you’re exactly the same as you were in high school. You haven’t changed at all.” So what was the point? I’m still looking for something big to happen to me, something exciting and if not life-changing, something-changing. So if Montreal doesn’t do it, there’s still Brazil.

At least, that’s what I told Annick. But she said this, something she’s learned now that she’s left her 20’s and gone well into her 30’s, and after working at a job that was going great and leaving it to travel around the world for a year: There is no major change. There is no one big thing that happens to you and then changes the person you are. At the very core, everyone is the same person at 30 as they are at 20, 5, and 90. It’s only gradual little changes that happen to us, day by day, until one day we look up and realize, “Wow, I’ve changed.” But even then, it’s not so much your personality that has changed, as your values and what you want and expect out of life.

But then, what about all those people you knew in high school and then barely recognize five years later? “Well, yes, teenagers they are still changing.”

EXACTLY. So now I’m just afraid that the “same at 90 same at 20” rule only starts applying at twenty. What if your formative years don’t stretch into your 20’s, but include only your teens? It’s as a teenager, after all, that most people start “practicing” for all of life’s major mechanisms: moving away from home (independence), getting their first job (self-sufficiency), dating people (mating? life companionship? perpetuating the species? throwback to Megan: negotiation and compromise?), etc. Does that mean the “window” for truly major change has closed, and that anything I do from now on will have but little effect on who I am, because I’ll always stay who I am anyway? I found the idea of gradual/minute but perpetual change inspiring/encouraging, but this last thought is kind of discouraging.

Plus, I still don’t know if I buy it. I think people can and do change.

Actually, I should take back what I said earlier. I think capoeira has come the closest to doing what I’ve been looking for. During dinner, Annick asked me what I get out of capoeira. I told her all the usual reasons—a good work-out, music, the endless variety, the atmosphere/people, etc. It wasn’t until later that I realized what’s probably been THE reason for my devotion to capoeira, the one thing I get out of it that I couldn’t get anywhere else. I know I’m not the same now as I was as a new beginner. In terms of experience/outlook and character, let alone physical changes, sticking to capoeira has probably contributed more to my development than France and Montreal will combined. If any changes occurred within me while in France, I can name them and they all came from my experiences doing French capoeira, not living in France alone.

One of my friends said that you don’t grow if you’re “comfortable” (a.k.a. “stable”) all the time. And I’ve had an almost shamefully comfortable childhood, in all senses of the word, and been comfortable with pretty much every major transition in life, including both inter- and transnational moves. But I’m pretty sure I have never, in my life, been more uncomfortable than during that first class at the community centre—followed by first roda-viewing at the academy—and probably every capoeira class following over the subsequent year.* So, if discomfort equals growing, then within the context of capoeira, I’ve grown a lot.

(*Actually, a berimbau-stringing incident my friend refers to as “getting banished to the storage room” in France might eke out a win in that one, but it was still capoeira.)

So, I think this is how I’ve finally put my finger on what it is about capoeira that completely sucks me in and holds me fast. But not even just clear, overt and internal personal growth/change, but also constant acknowledgement and affirmation of it, from your friends, your capoeira teachers, other capoeira students, and perhaps most importantly, yourself, empirically (i.e. by actually doing something you wouldn’t’ve been able or even dared to do at an earlier point in your life). What do you get out of capoeira? Why do you do it, really?





Capoeira and the Theatre of Cruelty

6 12 2008

(Or: What You Get When You Combine Capoeira and Pretentious Theatre Theory)
(with apologies to my completely UNpretentious friend who lives for and subsists on critical theory)

Capoeira and theatre

This semester, I took an English lit seminar on pain and suffering in the theatre. Each week, we were given a play to read, as well as one or two readings on theatre theory to do with things like the body on stage, the inexpressibility of pain, the didactic power of theatre, and stage-audience dynamics.

Now, let me try describing what, for me, reading critical theory about literature is like. Imagine doing capoeira.  Now, imagine reading a book analyzing how capoeira is or should be done. Now, imagine someone has read several books like that, and writes a book analyzing how people write or should write about analyzing how capoeira is or should be done.  Now imagine someone reading several of those books and writing a book about that and how it all supposedly works. By this point, all actual references to capoeira have in fact been removed altogether.

So, reading a novel or play is doing capoeira. Studying theory is reading chapters of various books from that last level. I have to write a paper pulling together half the theory we’ve studied this semester, for Monday.

The point of all of that being: the writer of Surprised by Soy (a great and fun new cooking blog) inspired me with her application of Aristotle to a cupcake disaster in the kitchen. Not only was it easy and entertaining to read, we now both more or less understand the Aristotelian theory we learned in class. So, as a way of prepping myself to write this paper, I’m going to take you through a tour of classical and contemporary theatre theory, using experiences from capoeira to illustrate, starting with…

Aristotle: “The instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood…through imitation he learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in things imitated.”

Basically, all theatre theory starts with Aristotle, who pinpointed the central idea of mimesis, which means imitation, which is what all theatre—and arguably, art—is based on. This emphasis on imitation actually lines right up with what I read in Greg Downey’s Learning Capoeira, where he discusses how central imitation is to how we learn capoeira. Every single movement we learn in capoeira, we learn by copying what we see somebody else do.  This becomes especially important if your capoeira teacher can’t or won’t describe outright what it is you’re supposed to do (like in learning how to use mandinga, for instance; how can you spell that out?). And personally, although I know it’s not the best thing to do, I find that I train best in class when I have someone else to keep an eye on; I use them to help pace (or challenge) myself, and I end up doing movements better and faster if I try matching the timing of an advanced capoeirista doing the same sequence in front of me.

Scarry: “The story of expressing physical pain eventually opens into the wider frame of invention.”

Scarry’s beat is that physical pain is completely inexpressible, that it in fact destroys language because there are no exact words to describe one’s pain. When you’re in pain, you know you’re in pain; at the same time, if your friend tells you they’re in pain, you can never know, for sure, because it’s invisible and indescribable.  You can only describe pain by comparing it to things it is not (“as if I stepped on needles”, “as though a hammer hit my head”), and this type of “storytelling” is what Scarry means by “invention”. Pain destroys language, but it also, in a way, forcibly expands its powers.

I think Scarry’s theory nicely explains a couple things about capoeira. First, it explains capoeira teachers’ seeming unsympathy to students’ pain during that extra set of “just 10 more!” <insert excruciating exercise here>. If to be in pain is to be certain (of the pain), and to hear of pain is to doubt (the pain, due to its un-share-ability), then theoretically, on some level, to our capoeira teachers we are not in pain at all, no matter how much we attempt to express the fact. 😛

Second, I don’t know about you, but my capoeira teachers come up with THE. BEST. ANALOGIES. EVER. They are hilarious and brilliant. So using Scarry, I would say that our mistakes as their capoeira students give them so much pain, that they are forced to come up with new ways to tell us how to do things right.  Hence the unprecedented degree of originality among capoeira teachers’ analogies.

Brecht: “If one wants to keep the scene free from wild excitement on the stage—excitement that spells destruction in whatever is remarkable in the scene—one must carry out certain ‘alientations’ especially carefully.”

Brecht was another major influence on playwrights and directors after his work was published. He said that audiences shouldn’t be so drawn into the play, with subtlety-drowning spectacle, that they stop thinking about it; they should be engaged, but “alienated” in a way that they remain critical observers of what is actually going on. This is so they can learn what the play is trying to teach (and Brecht says all plays should try to teach), and be inspired to go out and change the world, or themselves, or something, as soon as the play ends.

I suppose this relates to what our capoeira teachers mean when they tell us to always pay attention to what’s going on in the roda even if you aren’t actually the one playing capoeira at the moment. You should be engaged, but not so entranced that you get mesmerized and stop actively thinking about what’s going on in the game (and don’t realize, for instance, when the song’s changed, when they’ve moved around in the roda and someone’s about to land on you, etc.). Instead, you should be “distanced” enough that you’re able to observe when someone could’ve done something and didn’t, when a sly, subtle trick was played, or when an unwritten rule was somehow broken—then be inspired to buy in and change your own game for the better.

Graver: “To understand the ontological complexity of the actor’s body on stage we need to look not for two forms of existence there but (at least) seven. Actors are…characters, performers, commentators, personnages, members of socio-historical groups, physical flesh, and loci of private sensations.”

Simple enough: so are capoeiristas. Capoeiristas are characters invoked by their apelidos, and performers in the roda as well as a different type in public shows. They are commentators on capoeira through the ways they practice and teach capoeira, and they are personnages through the individual reputations they gain or cultivate in the capoeira world. Capoeiristas are “members of socio-historical groups”—to say the least, on several levels; and the last two are pretty self-explanatory.  Actually, I will expand a little and say that it was capoeira that made me realize my body (“flesh”) can do things. Before—and I know I’m stealing this from some source I can’t remember—my body basically was just a mobile vehicle for the rest of me.  But through capoeira, I’ve started to come to an appreciation of it for itself, like the physical muscles and joints and so forth, and what it can actually do (if I make it!).

Garner: “Phenomenology is the study…of the world as it is lived rather than the world as it is objectified, abstracted, and conceptualized. […] If theater is always…the house of false images, it is also the site of a radical actuality that surrounds and arrests the flight into otherness.”

Phenomenology = study of experiencing. Greg Downey describes his book as a phenomenological study of capoeira, because half his research was obtained by the actual experience of becoming a capoeira student and then a capoeira teacher, not just reading concepts and abstractions about capoeira. According to Garner, the “experience” of each moment in watching a play is what lets audiences appreciate theatre as a “house of false images” while fully realizing reality and thus not getting sucked into the “otherness” that is that world of the play.

In a way, the roda is the opposite of what Garner says theatre is: it’s a “house of true images”, so to speak. While theatre is set up to offer a form of experiential fiction, it is while experiencing a game in the roda, as it’s often said, that people become the most real.  Although the roda or game itself may arguably be a “contrived” situation (with the deliberate forming of the circle, etc.), it’s exactly our awareness of what the situation involves that makes what happens in it more real.

Sir Philip Sidney: “So that the right use of comedy will, I think, by nobody be blamed, and much less of the high and excellent tragedy, that openeth the greatest wounds…that maketh kings fear to be tyrants…”

Sidney is most known for his piece “In Defence of Poesy”, poesy being comedy and tragedy as the two classical genres of theatre. He wrote it to defend literature and theatre from his age’s version of “video games will corrupt our kids!” (Only in earlier days it also went, “Actresses will turn our women into prostitutes!”). So his message is, basically, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater; poetry, if used correctly, can be used effectively to move and teach people, not corrupt them.

The idea of something that can go well or badly, depending on how it’s used, makes me think of the attitude of suspicion capoeiristas are told to have at all times. I realize the importance of that, but I also can’t help wondering: if we consistently approach capoeiristas from outside and from other groups with antagonistic views to begin with, assuming they mean us harm before even giving them a chance to be friendly, could the “expected” results just then be a self-fulfilling prophecy, none of which would have happened if we didn’t have Bush-like pre-emptive strike grupo-pride attitudes in the first place? (I also realize that may have been a slightly more than idealistic question, but I still think it’s a valid one, too.)

Artaud: “I do believe that the theatre, utilized in the highest and most difficult sense possible, has the power to influence the aspect and formation of things… That is why I propose a theatre of cruelty.”

If Brecht wants the audience to be distanced from plays, Artaud is the exact opposite: he wants you COMPLETELY IMMERSED. By “theatre of cruelty”, he means he wants you to be able to smell the blood, to have the fanfare of a hundred trumpets, cymbals, French horns, and drums blaring right next to your ear, to be in the midst of it all and completely assaulted by all the sights, sounds, and sensations that is the play. Artaud wants SPECTACLE. Imagine watching Gladiator on IMAX, with the latest in surround sound, but all in 3D and LIVE. Artaud wants us to be so affronted by our experience inside the theatre, that we will forever change for the better upon leaving it—such as having been so terrifyingly assaulted with deafening, clashing, surrounding, in-your-face scenes of war, that upon leaving the theatre we will be completely turned off of violence of any kind against our fellow people.

Now, have you ever noticed the amount of sadism that actually occurs in capoeira? Forcing self-conscious beginners to do stuff in the centre of a circle of strangers who can easily kick their butts. Physical borderline torture. Basing new identities on unflattering/embarrassing traits. Making people watch horrible videos of themselves. Withholding water. Merciless teasing. Forcing a tone-deaf person to sing in front of an audience. Randomly tripping people. Pushing someone into the middle of a fight. And yet…somehow…all that “cruelty” makes us better people when we leave our respective theatres. Score one for Artaud. 😛

Alright, I’m going to say we’ve reached the end of the line here. One, because the post is already quite long and I’ve only gone through half the theorists on my list, and two: I should probably consider starting the paper I was writing this post for in the first place!  I hope you got something out of it, and that I didn’t butcher any of the theory too badly if you are actually a theorist yourself. And since we’re on the topic of acting, I’ll leave you with a quote I remember one of my teachers saying to us when I was a beginner-beginner, which I really liked, and was a good mental tactic against being exhausted.  It’s easy; all you do is—“Act like you’re not tired.”





Mandingueira’s 1-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

30 11 2008

Dear reader,

You are cordially invited to the celebration of the
first anniversary of Mandingueira blog
.

It will take place
at the locale of http://www.mandingueira.com
on November 30, 2008
at the hour of—NOW!

***

Today is Mandingueira’s One-Year Anniversary.  What with all the well-wishes and facebook posts, I almost felt as if it were my actual birthday! Thank you guys so, so much. 😀

Actually, thank you for EVERYTHING!  This blog would never have kept going if it weren’t for your constant support, encouragement, helpfulness, contributions, and downright awesome participation, comments, and discussions. I think I’ve said this before, but I’ve always felt extremely lucky to have a set of readers like you guys, who add so much to the Mandingueira reading and writing experience.

So, what have we built up together over the past twelve months? As of today, Mandingueira is:

  • 57,400 page views
  • 144 posts (including 4 series)
  • 1 guest post on The Capoeira Blog
  • 4 guest posts on Blue Snake Books Blog
  • 1060 comments(!!!)
  • 16 oz. of goodwill, 1 quart of intelligence, 2 pints of heart, and a whole lot of wicked capoeiristas

In celebration of this blog and everyone on it and everything we’ve accomplished through it, I’ve been working on a secret project that was to be released today in honour of the occasion.  Soooo…I have some good news and bad news.

The good news: a 16-page retrospective magazine commemorating one year of Mandingueira!!!

The bad news: …that will be available later tonight if not tomorrow…or in several days. (UPDATE: Or…in three weeks.  I know you guys are going to hate me, and I’m really sorry!!  The thing is, I’ve STILL been working on this non-stop with a significant way to go (let’s just say formatting and I have some issues to work out in the roda) and it just hit me how much it was actually eating into my study time, which is slightly a concern as my final exams start this week and I have more exams and yet-to-be-started papers due next week!!  Please accept my apologies for the delay…and enjoy the cheerful thought that you’ll receive a great publication just in time to leisurely peruse over the holidays!)

I still have a few things to complete on it as I’ve been working feverishly to get it done since Friday, only some parts have taken WAAAYYY longer than I expected them to.  However, I can’t wait until you guys get to see it!!  It will contain a collection of select posts from the blog as well several pages of all-new content.

To make up for the actual publication not being available yet, here’s a sneak preview of the new articles in it 😀 :

  • 5 Lessons from Writing a Feminist Capoeira Blog
  • If You Only Learn One Thing (“Mandingueira’s Ultimate Post”)
  • Anatomy of a Capoeirista
  • “Open Love Letter to Commenters”

Aaaaaand…here’s the cover! As you can see, I’ve titled the retrospect Mais Uma Volta (the symbolic interpretation is up to you, this time!): Mais Uma Volta

So, I hope that that’s enough proof that this thing DOES exist and WILL come out very soon!  I stayed up all night last night trying to get it done—resulting in 2 hours of sleep and consequently catching a martelo to the head in today’s roda for my efforts. XD

Once again, thank you so much, and congratulations from Mandingueira on making it through a whole year—to all of us!

Muito axé e um abraço,
Joaninha





Oi/Hallo/こんにちは/Ciao/Ni hao/привет? “Capoeira Cultures” Around the World

23 11 2008

We know that capoeira is part of a culture and has begun working its way into the hearts of many other cultures around the world. But have you ever looked at all the different cultures within capoeira itself?

What kind of capoeira cultures do different geographical cultures create?

A long time ago, I wrote a post about how it hit me that capoeira is truly an international sport. While I trained with a capoeira group in France, for instance, I would hear in French some of the exact same lessons and ideas I’d been taught in Canada, in English (which, of course, were all first conceived in Portuguese).

At the same time, I couldn’t help but notice a world of differences, as well. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it’s safe to say I experienced more culture shock within French capoeira than within France in general for a lot of other things on my exchange!

I was thinking about this recently, and it made me wonder: just putting aside for a minute the bottom line that capoeira is capoeira, no matter who, what, or where…how does (or might) being nested in a particular culture affect the capoeira that capoeiristas there practice?  Does “Capoeira” mean the same thing to people in Russia as it does to people in Spain?  If we all had a turn on Freud’s couch, would hearing “capoeira” trigger the same words and associations in a Swede’s mind as in that of a New Zealander’s?

I know my mental tag cloud for (my experience of) Canadian capoeira, infused with North American culture and mentality, would definitely hold a different set of words than the one for (my experience of) French capoeira.

The first would be something like “training, dedication, quality, tough love, relentless, standards”. Although capoeira still involves fun and games and playing around, at the end of the day, training, we’re told, is serious business. Being late is definitely not a smart thing to do (unless you enjoy push-ups, squats, and/or sprawls), and, except for total beginners, anything less than pushing yourself to the limits is not good enough.

The second tag cloud would feature words like “training, relaxed, laid-back, playful, casual”. People thought I was crazy when I trained with a frequency normal to my Canadian group, and I thought they were crazy for closing on weekends and school holidays! If someone was late, nobody batted an eye.

While in North America I’d always associated capoeira batizados with “training harder, goals, being ready”, in France (and Italy) I learned their new meaning as heralds of “road trips, partying, hooking up”.  Just last week, one of my teachers and some students laughed uproariously at the ridiculous and unheard-of idea of “going for drinks with Mestre”. In France, that’s totally what we did; the mestres bought the drinks!

Then, there’s this slightly amusing quote I found on Capoeira Connection, citing Mestre Val Boa Morte on capoeira in Australia:

“The only difference is that Australians are less spontaneous, they have a little less energy, and take a bit longer to fall in love with the art. In the roda, they’re slightly less competitive and they don’t have evil intent.”

(Chan, any comments? 😛 ) Finally, at a batizado in England I met a capoeira teacher from Poland whose students basically constitute his crew of friends, only nobody drinks or smokes because—he doesn’t allow them to.  Not that I necessarily condone drinking or smoking, but can you imagine that level of…integration…between you being a capoeirista and the other parts of your life, so much that someone who is essentially “one of the guys/girls”, by virtue of also happening to be your capoeira teacher, has that kind of “authority” over you? To me, at any rate, that’s mind-boggling—but to them, that’s capoeira.

At the same time, I absolutely realize that such comparisons/observations are to be taken with a grain of salt.  Leaving aside grupo-rooted (not country-rooted) differences, the very fact that they constituted a “culture shock” to me might have made such differences more pronounced than they actually were, and of course, that works both ways, between everyone. For instance, in France I saw my Canadian capoeira academy turn into a military regiment run by a brainwashing dictator, and back in Canada my French capoeira friends were revealed to be drunkards stumbling high around a roda. Neither, needless to say, is the truth!!

At any rate, that’s what I mean by capoeira being a different sort of activity depending on where you find it. And it’s not like the French capoeiristas I met cared or liked capoeira less, or that capoeira is more important to people in my Canadian group than in my French group.  In fact, I met a lot more students there who had already been to Brazil or knew some Portuguese, than I’d met in Canada.  It’s just that practicing capoeira, or being a capoeirista, connotes different things for each—and really, isn’t that just like capoeira?

——

REMINDER: November 30 is Mandingueira‘s ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY! I will be releasing my secret project on that day to celebrate, so be sure to drop by and check it out! I’m also hoping to have a second MAJOR surprise for you guys, but as it’s not yet a sure thing I’m waiting to announce it. One more week!!





Feminism and Other “-isms” in Capoeira: Explanations, Not Excuses

9 11 2008

Believing in an ism may not mean it works for EVERYTHING...

Last year, I randomly came across a blog that said something along the lines of, “Feminism is a crutch that self-indulgent people use as an excuse to keep themselves and other women in a state of perpetual, self-exonerating victimhood.”

(I tried to find an exact quote that summed up the argument, but had to stop after an unsuccessful and depressing hour and a half of trawling through antifeminism blogs and articles.)

Basically, the statement says that feminism is just an excuse for people who haven’t achieved more to go, “It’s not that I’m lazy; the system is working against me!”

While I firmly disagree with the overly reductive and pretty offensive idea that that’s all feminism is (the system and society DOES in one way or another work against practically anybody who isn’t all of white, heterosexual, and male), I have to say that I can see how becoming invested in an “ism” can cause somebody to inadvertently end up using it the way antifeminists mean it. Interestingly enough, I came to this conclusion through capoeira—more specifically, through a maturing of my ideas in last-last week’s post about floreios, strength, and image in capoeira.

When Explanations Go Wild

First off, let me make one thing clear: ISMS (feminism, sexism, racism, homophobia, agism, etc.) are meant to be explanations, not excuses.  If a woman who has earned and deserves a promotion does not get it because of sexism, that is an explanation, rightly used to point out social injustices in the world and how they work, in hopes of fixing the system. If, however, the woman has not earned nor deserves a promotion but cites sexism as the reason for not getting promoted, then she is using sexism as an excuse, in order to exonerate herself from the fact she didn’t work hard enough or needs to work harder in the future.

What I think is that while everybody starts off with -isms as explanations, the more they become immersed in the world of their particular -ism and the more they learn about it and see just how prevalent it is, eventually, there may emerge a potential danger of unconsciously using that -ism as a personal excuse in addition to a legitimate explanation for “failure” or lack of achievement.

As I mentioned, this thought came to me while further thinking through my views on the “floreio effect”. (If you have not yet read the post I wrote on that, it might be a good idea to do so before continuing, so you don’t get lost.  Click here to read it. Don’t worry; we’ll still be here when you return!)

One Thing Needful

In the floreios post, I pinpointed two things that I believe contribute to a capoeira training system that allows certain capoeira students to derive additional benefits from their capoeira training, as compared to less athletically-gifted capoeira students.  These were (1) having or looking as if you have much physical strength and (2) an academy-wide strength-oriented, floreio-centric attitude regarding capoeira training that I termed “weight-class mentality”.

In truth, there’s a third major factor involved, which I left out because I didn’t think of it until after having formed the full theory as I presented it, and because I was saving it for today’s post.  The third factor is the mentality of the “bigger/stronger” capoeira students themselves.

What I realized is that even though capoeira students do benefit hugely if the first two conditions of the “floreio effect” apply to them, it’s not as if they just sit back and do nothing all the while.  Part of how the floreio effect works is that not only are premature impressions of the student’s “advancedness” reinforced in other capoeira students’ and teachers’ minds, they are reinforced in said student themself. So then it becomes a case of them not just attracting “enriched” training, but one where they also gain the confidence to put themselves in positions that enriches their capoeira training.

For instance, sure big/strong capoeira students are challenged more often (and thus have their skills developed at an accelerated pace) by advanced belts in the roda, because some advanced belts assume that because they’re big and strong, of course they can take it, nevermind how long they’ve actually been training for.  But part of the reason that happens is that the students themselves have the confidence to, and do, regularly buy in to play with the advanced capoeiristas!

Are you turning your -ism into an excuse?

“Anything You Can Do…”

Here’s the important thing: That third factor?  It’s not an external circumstance. It’s completely in the person’s control how much confidence they exude and whether they behave like they’re a beginner (shying away) or a more advanced capoeirista (taking chances and putting yourself out there), triggering further impressions in others that affect their perceptions of you as a capoeirista, despite whether or not you actually are beginner or advanced.

Once I realized that, I felt that my floreio theory had begun to show a slight tear between the stitches.  In a way, it was another -ism. For the purposes of this post, let’s call it “strengthism”. So while I still believe “strengthism” provides a legitimate explanation, without recognizing that third factor it was also possibly functioning as an excuse.  Full disclosure: I never bought in with solidly more advanced capoeiristas in the roda, in my own group, before the “floreio effect” theory and everything I just wrote about occurred to me. I do now!!!

Returning to feminism, or sexism/misogyny, in the context of capoeira there is also a danger of falling back into that as an “excuse” for not advancing.  First, in no way am I discounting the sexism and misogyny that exists; it does, in all the forms and with all the effects on people that feminism describes. At the same time, the point where you take an -ism beyond what it can explain is when it turns into an excuse.  Thus, sexism affects women in capoeira, but since there are still many women succeeding and advancing in capoeira, if you are a woman who isn’t, then it’s probably (for the most part) not completely fair to blame non-success totally on sexism.  Does that make sense?

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

To make it really clear, I’ll use another “strengthism” example from my own experience.  Over the past couple months, for one reason or another, I’ve started to hear a refrain that goes, “technique’s fine, just need more strength [to do the move properly]”, or “good game, you would’ve killed if you were bigger”, and other similar comments that eventually did make me feel strength[ism] was the ONE thing holding me back from actually being good (or, to follow Angoleiro’s prudent example: “good” 😉 ). To be honest, I’m pretty sure my frustration over that was what brought the “floreio effect” to my attention in the first place.

What made me realize the danger of stretching an explanation into an excuse was just another normal instance of the above during a capoeira class: I couldn’t quite get a certain move, and sure enough…”your technique’s fine; it’s just strength”.  By then, I think I’d heard this message often enough that my mind reached a certain point and almost got sucked into some sort of ironic backwards somersault: “Okay, you would be good if you were stronger.  So basically, you are good, since the only thing missing is strength, and you can’t help that so it’s not your fault, especially with the floreio effect in play.” (The unsaid implication: “So now you can rest on your system-is-against-me laurels and become a complacent capoeira student.”)

So obviously, a few problems with that. Firstly, lack of strength is definitely not “the one thing missing”; it’s the weakest point, but that doesn’t automatically mean I’m particularly good at all the other stuff.  Secondly, not having more strength is my fault if I know that’s the problem but still do nothing about fixing it when I have the means to. (Just so you know, I started working out regularly for the first time in my life this past summer, precisely to get stronger for capoeira, and that was before all this came up. And yes, I am proud of myself for actually having kept it up, thank you very much. 😛 )

Finally, what?! “Would be” to “is” represents a somewhat large mental leap there.  It’s like that comic strip with a huge scientific equation on the chalkboard, and halfway through there’s step labelled “then a miracle happens”!  This is complacency: if I really did believe I was already “good” in all the non-strength aspects of capoeira (which I’m not, assuming good means “above average”), then it would be easy to blame all future non-success on lack of strength alone and not on possible weaknesses in those other areas. So then, I’d end up dismissive of moves I can’t get, stop paying attention to non-strength abilities, and ultimately become weakened in everything.  Complacency is sneaky like that.

Of course, that hasn’t really happened.  But it did make me realize the potential “trap” one could inadvertently slide into by investing too deeply in or drawing too deeply on the explanatory powers of a particular -ism.  It’s becoming complacent in the face of discrimination or extenuating circumstances, precisely because you’re so aware it exists. The ultimate irony is that if that happens, you will have kept yourself down even further than discrimination alone might have, completely defeating the purpose we have and learn about -isms in the first place.