Be a GOOD Bystander: Preventing Sexual Assault

16 05 2008

If you saw someone being attacked—a man being mugged on the street, a woman being raped in an alley—would you do something? Would you intervene, call for help, phone the police…or avert your gaze, speed up your footsteps, and pretend it never happened?

I want to focus on one particular aspect of the incident I wrote about on Sunday, when a woman was sexually assaulted on-stage by a comedian (“comedian”) as part of his “act”. I’m not talking about the comedian himself, certainly not the woman (unless you’re the victim-blaming type), and not even the culture that allowed it to happen—but the audience. The audience who sat there and watched it happen—and let it happen. As written in The Guardian:

How on earth can these people solemnly preach to us all about the terrible trauma his poor victim must have felt when they all sat in the audience and watched without lifting a finger, then went home and sat in front of their laptops sanctimoniously tapping away at a self-righteous denouncement of his actions which they had just sat and allowed to happen?

You know what the saddest part is? I can understand it.

The bystander effect is one of the most well-known psychological studies in examining how our social consciences work, and what it says is:

When there is an attack or crime being committed, the more bystanders there are, the less likely it is that any of them will actually help.

In other words, if you see a man or woman being attacked in an empty street, and no one else is around, you are much, much more likely to help them or call the police; and you will almost certainly not help them or do anything if they were being attacked in broad daylight, on the busiest street in your city, during rush hour. Unless, of course, you’re genuinely good and brave and valiant like that—which, let’s be honest, many of us aren’t. (Although, if someone would like to do a study on the effects of exposure to capoeira music on a given group of bystanders while witnessing an attack, I’m open to suggestions!)

The following is literally the textbook case of the bystander effect—it’s what started the whole study of this phenomenon in the first place (emphasis mine):

Forty years ago, Kitty Genovese was attacked and murdered outside her New York City apartment building. Thirty-eight people heard her calls for help as they watched from behind their apartment windows. The attack lasted more than half an hour. After it was over, someone called the police, who arrived within two minutes.

Pretty astounding, don’t you think? And I’ve touched on the bystander effect personally here, describing how on my way home one night I wasn’t sure whether I was witnessing a woman being attacked or not, and didn’t know how to react. That led to a discussion in which a very important question was raised:

How do we overcome the bystander effect?

After all, nobody wants to be the insecure, self-justifying, crowd-mentality loser who let a woman get knifed or a man suffer hate crime in front of their very eyes, right?

Although I am the last person who has any concrete solutions to this problem, I firmly believe that the more you know about something, the more you’ll be capable of fighting against it when you need to. So first, I’ll list some things that I’ve picked up along the way. If you witness an attack:

Use your cellphone (or any phone). It’s relatively risk-free, you can do it at a distance from the attack, and you can probably remain anonymous if you’re that concerned about it. The important thing is: just pick up and dial! 9-1-1 [or whatever the emergency number is in your region]. It’s not hard; or it is hard, but not so hard that you can’t force yourself to do it in order to save somebody’s life.

Follow your gut instinct. If you think something’s not right, it probably isn’t. If your stomache, chest, throat, and blood pulse are telling you something’s not right, then it almost definitely isn’t.

Suppress your “What if I’m wrong/What if I embarrass myself?” inside voice. After all, what’s worse: the effects of a little embarassment on you, or the effects of a sexual and/or violent attack on the victim?

Empathize. Studies show that a bystander is more likely to intervene if they see themselves as being a part of the same social group as the victim, or if they have a connection with them in some way. That is, white bystanders are more likely to help if the victim is white, women are more likely to help (than not help) if the victim is a woman, and so on.

The interesting thing is that apparently, this perception can be expanded to include larger and larger groups. So if you see someone being attacked or assaulted, maybe instead of seeing them as a stranger who doesn’t look, think, or live like you, make yourself realize that it’s another student being assaulted there, or another <insert job title>, or another <insert nationality>, or another brother/sister/father/mother, or, in fact, another human being…just like you.

Get training. As capoeiristas, we arguably have a slight advantage over the average non-martial artist when it comes to attacks and self-defense. However, this doesn’t matter if you believe you can’t use capoeira in “real-life” situations. Why? One major reason that bystanders don’t intervene in emergency situations is, quite simply, they don’t know how.

They know they should do something, but have no idea what course of action to take, and are scared they’ll do something wrong, or make things worse. So, if you are serious about wanting to be able to prevent sexual assault when you see it, research ways to identify and stop such situations, so that you’ll be prepared and have confidence in what you’re doing when the necessary time comes.

Know your help will help, no matter what. Having suggested “get training” above, just a reminder that training is not AT ALL necessary in preventing sexual assault or any attack. You don’t need special training in order to shout outloud, yell for help, or call the police. In a study, assault perpetrators said they were able to succeed with their crimes because they knew people would let them. They counted on the bystander effect! Prove them wrong.

Learn how it works. Finally, what I said earlier: the more you know about something, the more capable you will be of fighting it. If you can tell yourself in a situation that your discomfort in helping is due purely to this phenomenon that is distorting your judgement, then you are more likely to overcome it and take action. In that vein, I’m linking to several articles below that are definitely worth a read to find out more about being a good (or bad) bystander, so please take the time to read them.

  • Stepping up to stop sexual assault – A really informative article that discusses the bystander effect in the comedian/assaulted woman case and talks about bystander training (what it can do and how it works).
  • Failing to Fight the Good Fight – It’s not just sexual assault that the bystander effect applies to. This article describes how the author was the only one to stand up against racism in a crowded London metro.
  • As individuals, we help. As a corporate whole, we don’t. – An article about the bystander effect, inspired by a recent incident where cars in traffic swerved around a woman lying in the middle of the road with her head bleeding. Just read the first page (it kind of goes off-track after that).

The first article makes a really good point, that applies to this post as well: Nobody needs bystander training. None of you need to have read this post in order to increase the chances you will help someone you see being victimized, in the future. As I said, any person off the street, any one of us, has the power to intervene when we see someone doing something wrong to another person. More often than not, all it takes is a single word or gesture that shows the perpetrator that people notice. The only problem is overcoming the social forces and tiny voice in our head that says we can’t, for this or that or whatever (non-)reason.

In other words, don’t be a lemming, and don’t be insecure or afraid to take action. Yes, it might be difficult, and I’m not saying or even sure that I’ll be able to do something the next time it’s asked of me, but…someone’s life (which includes life as they know it, e.g. rape is a horrifically life-changing event) could depend on it.





Capoeira Book Reviews

19 04 2008

To follow up my Capoeira Addict’s Ultimate Guide to Capoeira Books (and in response to Xixarro’s feedback), I’m going to give brief reviews of all the capoeira books I’ve read.  (So keep this page marked, as I will be adding reviews as I read more capoeira books, as well!)  To be honest, I’ve never felt comfortable writing reviews on anything, because how do I know whether it’s good or not, and who am I to tell other people, especially when reviews are usually done on such subjective works such as music, or literature?  So just consider this a disclaimer that everything here is (obviously) my own personal opinion!

Capoeira: Roots of the Dance-Fight-Game (Nestor Capoeira)

This was the very first capoeira book I read, and I loved it…at least the first time around.  As I’ve mentioned in a (much) earlier post, some parts of it felt like Nestor Capoeira had read my mind, especially when he talked about the beginner’s experience when first learning capoeira.  This was also my first major introduction to capoeira history, capoeira myths and legends, and all the complexities and variations that they involved.  It was engaging, interesting, and informative, and I thought it was a really good pick to have read as my very first capoeira book.  Nestor Capoeira also uses a lot of long passages from others’ works (so much that I almost put it as a negative point), so you get some exposure to other well-known capoeira scholars as well.

There were just a couple things that bugged me about the book, just a little at first and then became more pronounced as I read it more and the novelty of it being a capoeira book wore off.  The first was that in certain turns of phrases or sentences, I thought Nestor Capoeira seemed to be pushing an ”agenda” or ”ideology” a bit too much to make the whole read completely enjoyable.  I know I may be on thin ice saying this considering my own blog is angled, but it was just something that kept coming up through the book.

The second thing I wasn’t crazy about, and this became more obvious when I started reading A Street-Smart Song, was the style of Nestor Capoeira’s writing when describing certain concepts.  I don’t know if I or he wasn’t sure who the book’s target audience was, or if he was just trying really, really hard to be completely accessible to people with all education levels, but at several points I felt that the writing was almost…talking down to me, or gimmick-ifying (for lack of a better term) normal but just not often mentioned things.  The one example off the top of my head is from Street-Smart Song (which I won’t review now because I’ve only gotten a few pages in), when he describes solar flares, ending the description with something to the effect of ”These are what are known as ‘solar flares”’ (with the quotation marks).  Maybe it’s just my own neurosis on this one, but I didn’t really like the way outside examples were introduced like the water cycle is introduced to kindergarteners. 

Overall though, still a good read!

Capoeira: A Brazilian Art Form (Bira Almeida / Mestre Acordeon)

Now this one, I really liked.  I don’t actually quite know why I like it so much, but it seemed like the perfect all-around introduction to general capoeira history/philosophy/mythology to me, and without the bits of ”obvious agenda-soaked text” and over-simplified writing that irked me in Roots.  The writing overall is much more polished, and the entire book is pretty well written.  I liked pretty much everything in this book, but highlights included: a poetic description of the different stages of being a capoeirista, from beginner to mestre; a chapter made almost entirely of song lyrics and English translations (I liked to cover up the translations and test how well I could get the gist of the Portuguese first, and pick up some vocabulary along the way); and a really beautiful capoeira parable, an excerpt of which you can read here.

Learning Capoeira: Lessons in Cunning from an Afro-Brazilian Art (Greg Downey)

This book was so cool!!  Purely because I’m a nerd and really enjoyed seeing the words ”capoeira” and ”ginga” alongside other words like ”ethnographical” and ”Foucault”.  XD  Seriously speaking though, reading this book was a really good way to find out more about capoeira angola, since the author’s research consisted mainly of training (to a fairly high level) with GCAP.  This book is an anthropological study of capoeira and how it changes us, physiologically as well as in all the other ways we (will) know and love so well.  It talks about historical as well as modern-day capoeira, and brings in contemporary issues such as racism in Brazil, and capoeira’s role in it all.  Learning Capoeira was the first academic capoeira book I read, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone!

p.s. Thank you so much to everyone who commented on my last post!  I haven’t had time to respond to them yet (because I want to do it properly), but I will as soon as possible.  Just so you know, I’ve actually been travelling since the 16th and will be doing so until the 28th, but I will try my best to keep blogging as normal all the while!





What Capoeiristas Can Learn from the Fall of Enron

10 04 2008

Goodness knows you’ve heard enough of this if you have me on facebook (and if you dont, why not?), but I thought, what better way to say good riddance to my monster, life-sucking sociology paper once and for all than by sending it off with a dedicated blog post!? And with all the capoeira time it stole from me, it might as well give something back. XD So without further ado, here is what you as a capoeirista can learn from the biggest and most sensational bankruptcy and business scandal in U.S. history:

How will you profit in the capoeira roda?Enron was one of the largest and fastest growing energy and trade companies in the U.S., until it very publicly went bust in 2001, taking along all of its investors, stockholders, and employees with it. The company turned out to be a case study in corruption, with accounting fraud, insider trading, conflict of interest issues, the works. The CEO, COO, and CFO were all brilliant men who used their genius for purely personal gain, at the expense of everyone else. In a way, Enron’s executives were kind of like white-collar malandros—except, of course, a real malandro would never have gotten caught. So, what did they do wrong, and how can we profit from their mistakes inside the capoeira roda?

1. Bad Planning / Not Thinking Ahead

Some people say Enron was doomed from the beginning, for two reasons. First, one of their early branches was caught for corporate crime and they didn’t really do anything about it, opening the way to more corruption in the future. Second, part of the reason behind the “creative accounting” was Enron trying to succeed in two contradicting business strategies: one needed them to invest money and suck up a lot of debt, but the other needed them to have good credit (ie. no debt), so obviously, something had to give. Both these cases showed poor planning and a lack of thinking ahead.

When you go into the roda, what are you thinking? Do you buy in with a certain goal in mind, or just jump in ready to wing it? Although you can’t—and shouldn’t—actually buy into rodas determined to roll out entire set sequences no matter what, it can’t hurt to focus your game just a little. Especially if you’re a beginner, a super helpful tip I read that works for me is to think of just one move, like a kick or a certain esquiva that you really want to master, and try to fit that somewhere into the game when you get the chance. As you become more advanced, you can start buying in with things like a specific feint combo or a certain floreio in mind.

By having these one or two tiny goals each time you play a game in capoeira, you practice looking for opportunities and integrating those movements into your game. At the same time, by keeping them simple you are not distracting or restricting yourself from going along with the general flow of the game and being able to work with whatever happens.

2. Digging the Hole Deeper

One of Enron’s schemes involved making up basically fake companies specifically to “do business” with them, so they could record the “profits” and push their debt onto the records of the other companies. When Enron started losing more money, instead of coming clean, they ended up pushing more and more debt onto the fake companies, so that by the end they’d hidden over $1 billion in losses, which of course only made things worse when they were found out anyway.

Does this situation sound familiar? You’re playing someone in the roda, and decide you want to get them with rasteira. You miss the first time, but instead of withdrawing you keep on trying, and get so caught up in giving (bad) rasteira after (sloppy) rasteira that you practically forget about actually playing the game. (And if that didn’t sound familiar to you…ummm…me neither. XD)

If an attempted take-down fails, give yourself time to recover. “Retreat”, let yourself ginga, and continue with the flow of the game; then try again when a good opportunity comes up. By recognizing when something you tried didn’t work and cutting your losses instead of building them upon each other, you give yourself a chance to regroup, which will increase your chances of success overall.

3. Not Taking Advice

One of the more sensational moments in the Enron scandal was when a then-anonymous memo sent to Enron’s CEO came out, telling him about the iffy business going on and advising him to do something about it. Of course, the CEO was already somewhat aware of what was happening, and instead of bringing in outsiders to investigate, as the memo advised, he assigned the investigation to Enron’s own auditors and lawyers—who were in on their schemes to begin with! Then he did nothing else, until it all came crashing down on his head.

This one’s pretty obvious. If someone has something to tell you, listen to them! Whether it’s your teacher, another student during training, or—if you’re lucky enough to understand Portuguese—a mestre singing certain lyrics while you’re playing inside the roda, more often than not you’ll benefit from hearing what they have to say. Conversely, if you ignore or miss out on advice or information, you can easily end up making an ignorant fool of yourself!

4. Bad Timing

Kenneth Lay (Enron’s CEO) and his wife Linda Lay definitely did not show a lot of malicía when it came to insider trading. Kenneth was caught out for sending an email to all of Enron’s employees encouraging them to not sell their stock but to buy more, calling it “an incredible bargain”, while he was selling off all his own shares of the stock at the same time. As for Linda, one day between 10:00-10:20am, she sold off all her foundation’s shares of Enron stock. At 10:30am, Enron released news that basically said the company would soon go into bankruptcy. Coincidence, much?

Even if you won’t be criminally charged for it, having bad timing in the roda never helps. Someone chapas their opponent straight into the chest? Think twice before you buy in. Going in for a take-down? Wait till you’re not right beside the instruments! Whether it’s something as basic as esquiva-ing the right way at the right time or making sure your opponent is actually where you’re kicking, or something requiring more finesse like a feint and last-minute trap, don’t let a few measly seconds or minutes be the cause of your demise.

This also applies to the timing of your overall game and movement—that is, your rhythm. Have you ever seen someone moving a little too quickly and frantically for the berimbau toque that was playing? It looks just as funny when you’re the one doing it (and does nothing for your game, either!). 😛

5. Telling Too Many People

After all was said and done, the Enron fiasco turned out to be an entire ring of corruption: everyone from the Board of Directors, to their accountants, to their bank partners, to credit raters and Wall Street analysts seemed to have been in on it in one way or another. With all these accomplices and potential witnesses, do you think prosecutors had much trouble making their case against Enron?

Similarly, I’m reminded of what I read in Greg Downey’s Learning Capoeira. He said that old mestres were shocked that modern day capoeiristas actually tattooed capoeira images onto themselves, because in the pre-acceptance days, you wanted to announce anything but the fact you were a capoeirista!  The fewer the people who knew, the better. Others are more likely to let down their guard if you give them no reason to put one up, and this is related to something on the Capoeira Connection list that Faisca posted: “When you play with a stranger, don’t show all of your game. Save your best hits for the decisive hour, if necessary.

Even if you’re not playing any strangers, it could be a good idea to draw on some subtlety and/or modesty as you add new moves to your repertoire. Not only does nobody like a braggart, but the element of surprise is always invaluable (and gratifying :P) when you’re playing capoeira in the roda!

Well, now that you’ve learned more than you ever felt you needed to know about Enron Corporation…you know how I’ve felt for the past two weeks! But I hope you got something for capoeira out of the lessons they learned, so that you can avoid being taught them yourself in the roda. Axé!





The Capoeira Addict’s Ultimate Guide to Capoeira Books

5 04 2008

Looking for a good book about capoeira?  Look no further!  This book list is a compilation of every philosophical / historical / theoretical / academic / anecdotal (English) capoeira book in publication right now. I haven’t included “practical guides” to learning capoeira because I still don’t know how much use people would get out of them in general (tiny bit of elaboration here or here). I’ve included links to more information (reviews, publication details, page previews) at the bottom of each entry, and will continue adding to this list as new capoeira books come out, and may nevertheless expand it to include the practical capoeira books as well.

Please note that unless otherwise stated, all “Descriptions” are from the books/book publishers themselves.

Capoeira: A Brazilian Art Form [Recommended]
by Bira Almeida / Mestre Acordeon

Description:

A Brazilian Art FormCapoeira weaves fighting, music, dance, prayer, and ritual into an urgent strategy by which people live, struggle, celebrate, and survive together. In this book Bira Almeida—or Mestre Acordeon as he is respectfully called in capoeira circles—documents his own tradition with both the panoramic eye of the historian and the passionate heart of the capoeirista. He transports the reader from the damn of New World history in Brazil to the streets of twentieth-century Bahia (the spiritual home of capoeira) to the giant urban centers of North America (where capoeira is now spreading in new lineages from the old masters).

This book is valuable for anyone interested in ethnocultural traditions, martial arts, and music, as well as for those who want to listen to the words of an actual mestre dedicated to preserving his Afro-Brazilian legacy.

More information, reviews, and preview on Amazon

Learning Capoeira: Lessons in Cunning from an
Afro-Brazilian Art
[Recommended]
by Greg Downey

Description:

Learning Capoeira, by Greg DowneyLearning Capoeira: Lessons in Cunning from an Afro-Brazilian Art is a provocative look at capoeira, a demanding acrobatic art that combines dance, ritual, music, and fighting style. First created by slaves, freemen, and gang members, capoeira is a study in contrasts that integrates African-descended rhythms and flowing dance steps with hard lessons from the street. According to veteran teachers, capoeira will transform novices, instilling in them a sense of malicia, or “cunning,” and changing how they walk, hear, and interact.

Learning Capoeira is an ethnographic study based on author Greg Downey’s extensive research about capoeira and more than ten years of apprenticeship. It looks at lessons from traditional capoeira teachers in Salvador, Brazil, capturing the spoken and unspoken ways in which they pass on the art to future generations. Downey explores how bodily training can affect players’ perceptions and social interactions, both within the circular roda, the “ring” where the game takes place, as well as outside it, in their daily lives. He brings together an experience-centered, phenomenological analysis of the art with recent discoveries in psychology and the neurosciences about the effects of physical education on perception. The text is enhanced by more than twenty photos of capoeira sessions, many taken by veteran teacher, Mestre Cobra Mansa.

Learning Capoeira breaks from many contemporary trends in cultural studies of all sorts, looking at practice, education, music, nonverbal communication, perception, and interaction. It will be of interest to students of African Diaspora culture, performance, sport, and anthropology. For anyone who has wondered how physical training affects our perceptions, this close study of capoeira will open new avenues for understanding how culture shapes the ways we carry ourselves and see the world.

More information, reviews, and preview on Amazon

Capoeira: The History of an Afro-Brazilian Martial Art
by Matthias Röhrig Assunção

Description (from The American Historical Review):

The History of an Afro-Brazilian Martial ArtThis is by a wide margin the best book yet published on the history of capoeira, in any language. Matthias Röhrig Assunção has done the archival digging that most previous authors have been unable or unwilling to undertake, and has avoided the essentialism and willful invention of tradition that pervade the most popular accounts. Instead, he makes the competing and overlapping accounts of capoeira’s origins part of his subject, emerging with a rich account not only of the game itself but of the ways in which it has been understood and its place in larger debates on the meanings of Afro-Brazilian culture.

He also incorporates and builds on exciting recent Brazilian scholarship on capoeira and nineteenth-century social history more generally, and he connects these inquiries to capoeira’s globalization over the past two decades. The result, as they say in capoeira, is a compelling and authoritative volta do mundo—a trip around the capoeira ring that is at the same time a trip around the world.

More information, reviews, and preview on Amazon

The Little Capoeira Book
by Nestor Capoeira

Description:

The Little Capoeira BookThe book starts off by giving an in-depth history of the Brazilian art of Capoeira. The last half of the book deals with the movements and techniques of Capoeira, including: offensive and defensive movements, basic kicks, takedowns, advanced kicks and movements, head butts, hand strikes, and knee and elbow strikes. Each of the techniques and maneuvers are vividly depicted by drawings that are very easy to understand and learn from. There is also an explanation of both Angolan and Regional versions of most of the techniques.

This book gives a very good description of the history, game, and philosophy of Capoeira. The book contains diagrams showing various positions and movements and discusses attacking and defending strategies and the critical aspects of feinting. Over 100 photographs and illustrations are included.

More information, reviews, and preview on Amazon

The Little Capoeira Book, Second Edition
by Nestor Capoeira

Description:

The Little Capoeira Book, Second EditionNestor Capoeira, a long-time teacher of capoeira and noted mestre (master), begins this revised edition of his bestseller with an in-depth history of the Brazilian art, giving the most popular theories for the origins and purposes of this movement that combines the grace of dance with lethal self-defense techniques in a unique game-song structure. He discusses some of the most famous capoeristas and their influence on the art. In addition, he describes how the two major branches of capoeira (Angola and Regional) came about and the differences between them.

The Little Capoeira Book’s clear descriptions of the game, or jogo, explain the actual application of capoeira, vaguely similar to sparring but very different in purpose and style. The music of capoeira, which is played during all jogo, is also examined, along with its main instrument, the berimbau.

The author includes a how-to guide with photographs showing basic moves for beginners, with offensive and defensive applications for simple kicks, takedowns, advanced kicks and movements, head butts, hand strikes, and knee and elbow strikes. Each technique is vividly depicted with drawings that are easy to understand and learn from, and Nestor Capoeira includes an explanation of both Angola and Regional versions.

More information, reviews, and preview on Amazon

Capoeira: Roots of the Dance-Fight-Game [Recommended]
by Nestor Capoeira

Description:

Roots of the Dance-Fight-GameCapoeira is simultaneously a dance, a fight, and a game. Created by the Africans brought to Brazil as slaves beginning in 1500, capoeira was forbidden by law but survived underground. When open practice was allowed in the 1930s it soon became very popular. Capoeira came to America around 1975, and has become widely recognized by dancers and martial artists. The author discusses capoeira’s evolution from Brazilian street play into a way of life. The philosophy of capoeira, and the practical and spiritual benefits of that philosophy, are also discussed. Instructions and exercises in intermediate and advanced skills take up where the author’s previous book left off. The book includes 100 black-and-white photos and illustrations.

More information, reviews, and preview on Amazon

A Street-Smart Song: Capoeira Philosophy and Inner Life
by Nestor Capoeira

Description:

A Street-Smart SongA Street-Smart Song delves into the boundless philosophical depths of capoeira, the fascinating synthesis of Brazilian dance and self-defense. Drawing from a wide range of sources—the streets of Salvador and Rio de Janeiro, the teachings of the old masters Pastinha, Bimba, and Leopoldina, and the brutal economic realities inflicted on the poorest of Brazil—Nestor Capoeira paints an indelible portrait of this living art, its spiritual heritage, and its vital place in a world hypnotized by media and crushed by poverty.

The traditional poems and songs of capoeira are here, along with the author’s lively discussions of everything from the space age and television’s impact on third world culture to Candomble and capoeira’s life-changing lessons. Rounding out this absorbing cultural survey are historical photos, sketches of weapons and instruments, and fully illustrated fighting movements, taught step by step.

More information, reviews, and preview on Amazon

Capoeira: The Jogo de Angola from Luanda to Cyberspace
by Gerard Taylor

Description:

The Jogo de Angola from Luanda to CyberspaceThe first in a two-volume series on capoeira, Volume One traces the origins of the popular martial art and dance form from the beginning of the slave trade in the Americas in the 1500s to the early years of the Brazilian Republic in the 20th century. Focusing on the people and events that shaped the art form in Brazil prior to the “academy” period of the last century, Capoeira: The Jogo de Angola from Luanda to Cyberspace explores the subject from many vantage points.

Author Gerard Taylor explains how the fighting techniques of African forces laid the groundwork for capoeira movements. He shows how work songs, religion, and various percussive traditions and instruments shaped capoeira music over the years. Drawing on archival sources and historical accounts, the book paints a vivid picture of capoeira’s dramatic evolution from the sugar plantations of Pernambuco through the brutal backstreets of Rio and the Minas Gerais goldmines on its way to becoming a world-class practice.

More information, reviews, and preview on Amazon

Capoeira: The Jogo de Angola from Luanda to Cyberspace, Volume Two
by Gerard Taylor

Description:

The Jogo de Angola from Luanda to Cyberspace, Volume TwoCapoeira evolved as a Brazilian martial art developed initially by that country’s African slaves. Marked by deft, deceptive movements played on the ground or completely inverted, the form started gaining worldwide popularity in the early 20th century, when this second volume of Gerard Taylor’s wide-ranging history begins.

The book opens with a study of the capoeira “Bamba,” Mestre Bimba, who became renowned as a fighting champion in Bahia and opened the first legal academy during the dictatorship of Getulio Vargas. Taylor investigates the dramatic development of the schism that resulted in the competing styles of Regional and Angola. Moving into contemporary capoeira, the author provides an overview of new trends, such as international encounters, long distance “mail-order mestres,” mass membership capoeira associations, cyber-capoeira, and grading systems.

The book features the wisdom of a number of important mestres recounting their experiences teaching capoeira professionally around the world. In frank, inspiring interviews they talk about the highs and lows of the capoeira life, and how its lessons can enrich people’s lives.

Photographs, illustrations, and an extensive glossary of terms illuminate the complex history of this fighting art.

More information at Amazon

Capoeira Beyond Brazil
by Aniefre Essien

Note: This book doesn’t come out until October 2008!

Description:

Capoeira Beyond BrazilUntil recently, Brazilians dominated the market on capoeira books, yet the form has spread across the globe over the last four decades. This expansion from the favellas (slums) to the world stage has introduced a host of new capoeira practitioners with varied lineages, techniques, and traditions. In Capoeira Beyond Brazil, Aniefre Essien brings an international, political perspective to capoeira, speaking to both the novice and aficionado, as well as to historians, martial artists, social justice organizers, and youth development professionals.

Essien shows capoeira in its complete historical context, providing not only technical instruction but a critical history that highlights the political milestones of the form. Author Essien doesn’t shy away from the realities of the capoeira community, directly illustrating principles that should be embraced, as well as established norms in practice and instruction worth questioning.

Capoeira Beyond Brazil expands the meaning of capoeira with a sociocultural consideration of the effects internalization has had on the form. Showcasing Essien’s own experiences using capoeira training at-risk youth, the book articulates the form’s empowering aspects with strategies for using martial arts to foster individual self-reliance and confidence, as well as a commitment to community development.

More information at Amazon

Ring of Liberation: Deceptive Discourse in Brazilian Capoeira
by J. Lowell Lewis

Description:

Ring of LiberationBased on eighteen months of intensive participant-observation, Ring of Liberation offers both an in-depth description of capoeira—a complex Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines feats of great strength and athleticism with music and poetry—and a pioneering synthetic approach to the analysis of complex cultural performance.

Capoeira originated in early slave culture and is practiced widely today by urban Brazilians and others. At once game, sport, mock combat, and ritualized performance, it involves two players who dance and “battle” within a ring of musicians and singers. Stunning physical performances combine with music and poetry in a form as expressive in movement as it is in word.

J. Lowell Lewis explores the convergence of form and content in capoeira. The many components and characteristics of this elaborate black art form—for example, competing genre frameworks and the necessary fusion of multiple modes of expression—demand, Lewis feels, to be given “body” as well as “voice.” In response, he uses Peircean semiotics and recent work in discourse and performance theory to map the connections between physical, musical, and linguistic play in capoeira and to reflect on the general relations between semiotic systems and the creation and recording of cultural meaning.

More information, reviews, and preview on Amazon

The Hidden History of Capoeira: A Collision of Cultures in the Brazilian Battle Dance
by Maya Talmon-Chvaicer

The Hidden History of CapoeiraCapoeira, a Brazilian battle dance and national sport, has become popular all over the world. First brought to Brazil by African slaves and first documented in the late eighteenth century, capoeira has undergone many transformations as it has diffused throughout Brazilian society and beyond, taking on a multiplicity of meanings for those who participate in it and for the societies in which it is practiced. In this book, Maya Talmon-Chvaicer combines cultural history with anthropological research to offer an in-depth study of the development and meaning of capoeira, starting with the African cultures in which it originated and continuing up to the present day.

Using a wealth of primary sources, Talmon-Chvaicer analyzes the outlooks on life, symbols, and rituals of the three major cultures that inspired capoeira—the Congolese (the historic area known today as Congo-Angola), the Yoruban, and the Catholic Portuguese cultures. As she traces the evolution of capoeira through successive historical eras, Talmon-Chvaicer maintains a dual perspective, depicting capoeira as it was experienced, observed, and understood by both Europeans and Africans, as well as by their descendants. This dual perspective uncovers many covert aspects of capoeira that have been repressed by the dominant Brazilian culture.

This rich study reclaims the African origins and meanings of capoeira, while also acknowledging the many ways in which Catholic-Christian culture has contributed to it. The book will be fascinating reading not only for scholars but also for capoeira participants who may not know the deeper spiritual meanings of the customs, amulets, and rituals of this jogo da vida, “game of life.”

More information at Amazon
Preview at University of Texas Press

Capoeira and Condomblé: Conformity and Resistance through Afro-Brazilian Experience
by Floyd Merrell

Note: This book got a couple of pretty bad reviews on Amazon, in addition to good ones. I haven’t read it before so I can’t really comment, but you might want to check them out first if you’re considering getting this book.

Description:

Capoeira and CandombléCapoeira is a unique music-dance-sport-play activity created by African slaves in Brazil, and Candomblé is a hybrid religion combining Catholic and African beliefs and practices. The two are closely interconnected. Capoeira and Candomblé have for centuries made up a coherent form of Brazilian life, despite having been suppressed by the dominant cultures. Now they are not only widely recognized in Brazil, but have become popular in North America and Europe as a new blend of sports, dance, and holistic approach to many facets of life.

For Western audiences, Capoeira performance and Candomblé services are fun to watch and participate in, but difficult to understand. Both have apparently familiar elements, but this seeming conformity with the dominant cultures was for 400 years a strategy of resistance by Brazilian slaves. The author offers his own reflections about Capoeira and Candomblé, combining personal experiences with anecdotes, historical facts, and research as well as religious and philosophical interpretations, both Western and non-Western. The result is informative and entertaining, a description and analysis that allows readers to get a feeling, understanding, and even experience of the spirit of Capoeira and Candomblé.

More information, reviews, and preview on Amazon

Capoeira: A Martial Art and a Cultural Tradition
by Jane Atwood

Note: This one’s for the kids! Why should us adult capoeiristas have all the fun? Caveat: another so-so review.

Description (from School Library Journal):

Capoeira book for kidsGrade 5-8 | Few Americans have heard of capoeira, though it is rising in popularity and will be featured at the 2004 Olympic Games [sic?]. Atwood offers an enthusiastic if flawed presentation to fill in the information gap. The full-color photographs are energetic, showing players of both genders, a variety of ethnic backgrounds, and a broad range of ages. The format is colorful and vibrant but it is sometimes confusing. Several pictures at the tops of the pages have captions buried under paragraphs of type. Sidebars are set off only by a change of background color that varies randomly from page to page; therefore, children are likely to continue reading the mainstream text directly into a side topic and wonder what happened.

The author does a thorough job of explaining capoeira’s background; this same thoroughness in introducing the sport’s unique vocabulary leads to frustration. So many foreign terms are presented that not even the glossary is of use in keeping them straight. Despite its shortcomings, this book would be a better purchase than yet another karate or judo title. (-Laura Santoro, Coventry Library, Cleveland Heights, OH)

More information and reviews on Amazon

Fighting on the Beaches: A Year of Capoeira in Brazil
by Neil Gleadall

Description:

A Year of Capoeira in BrazilMany people have dreams but few have the guts to follow them. This is the story of a young Englishman whose passion for Capoeira took him on an incredible journey from the sedate surroundings of the English Home Counties to the heart of Rio de Janeiro’s toughest shanty towns. This book is a must for anyone who wants to study Capoeira in Brazil, and any martial arts student will admire Gleadall’s dedication to Capoeira – his enthusiasm fizzes off every paragraph. His tenacity in the face of a brutal training regime, injuries and the gun violence of the Favelas is a lesson in focus for any aspiring martial artist. And the book has an appeal far beyond the world of martial arts. It is also a wake up call to anyone who has a passion and is afraid to take the leap of faith to pursue it. Above all this tale is a testament to the power of following your heart.

More information at Amazon

Capoeira: A Tale of Martial Arts Mastery, Mysticism, and Love
by Khafra K. Om-Ra-Seti

Note: I saved the best for last! This is supposed to be a novel about capoeira, and though I don’t know about the story/plotline itself, based on some of the reviews and a brief excerpt I read…pick this one up when you get tired of laughing at lines from Only the Strong. 😛

Description:

Mystery, drama, and adventure, capoeira-style In his first novel, Khafra Om-Ra-Seti flows with the spirit of ancient African wisdom and martial arts mastership. This book brings together many of his beliefs and visions regarding the search for a true meaning in life. The saga of the Dogon family, and the ancient beauty and spirit of Capoeira, moves the reader into the realms of msyticism, power and deceit, love and hate, freedom and redemption, and the burning passion to reach the highest level of self-mastery in one’s lifetime.

Ptah, a versatile and highly confident martial artist, has been the welterweight champion of his division for the past five years. His prowess in the ring is near legendary and he is popularly known as Ptah the Wizard. As a member of the Dogon clan, Ptah’s family has been instrumental in establishing the multi-million dollar earnings for fighters that truly proved themselves in the arena.

But lying just below the competitive struggles in the arena is a universal struggle of good vs. evil, of revenge and deception, of mysticism and history, and of the ultimate test to achieve mastership in one’s life. Ptah’s confrontation with the ancient beauty and brilliance of Capoeira is the ultimate test to discover the true master in himself.

More information and reviews on Amazon
Excerpt found on this page





Capoeira Song Lyrics List (Songs about Women)

28 03 2008

If you’re looking for a “pro-women” capoeira song to sing in the roda (like maybe when the mestra and contra-mestra of your capoeira group are playing each other 🙂 ), or want to know about more “women-unfriendly” capoeira songs, then you’re in the right place!  Below are two lists of both “pro” and “anti” women capoeira songs, with links to full lyrics and their translations.  I’m not naive (or arrogant?) enough to label the “anti” list “Capoeira Songs You Shouldn’t Sing” or something like that, but they are there purely for informational purposes and your own awareness.  Think of and bookmark this as a resource for the next time it’s your turn to lead the roda!

These lists will continually be updated as I discover more songs that fit under either heading.  Please contact me if you would like to add a song to either list, or believe you see a song on the wrong list!  Also, if I didn’t find a song already translated into English, then it was put at the mercy of Google Translation and my own non-Portuguese-speaking judgement, so feel free to suggest corrections there, as well. 🙂

To find out more about the representation of women in capoeira song lyrics, please read “Women in Capoeira Songs and the Roar on the Other Side of Silence“.

Update: You would be doing yourself a great disservice not to read Shayna’s suggestions and wisdom regarding singing capoeira songs in the roda (about women and in general)!  Check out her advice in the Comments thread, here and here.

Capoeira Songs about Women (positive)

Deixa Menina Jogar
Dona Maria do Camboatá
Dona Maria, Como Vai Você
Ginga Menina
Ingazeira o Ingá
Lagoa do Abaete
Sai, Sai Caterina
Santa Barbara de Relampué

Misogynistic Capoeira Song Lyrics

Retracted (4 September 2009)





What Oscar Wilde Can Teach You About Capoeira

12 03 2008

“A little sincerity is a dangerous thing,
and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”

I know, what does HE know about capoeira, right?  Well, read and see!Known for sayings such as the above and “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it,” Oscar Wilde is one of my favourite authors.  It occurred to me the other day that despite his Oxford schooling, 19th century dandyism, and the fact that he was gay—he might actually have made a pretty good malandro [Edit: a pretty good typical/traditional malandro].  After mining through a huge list of famous quips and witticisms, I’ve shortlisted 8 gems that hold valuable lessons for us about capoeira.  Who’d have thought?  Now read on and yield to the temptation…

 

“Always forgive your enemies—nothing annoys them so much.”

Have you ever seen someone get taken down in the roda, and then immediately go into ultra-agression mode, doing everything with the sole intent of getting the other person back?  It didn’t get much results—or look very good—did it?  If you get taken down in the roda, or find yourself playing someone with whom you have a score to settle, relax.  There’s no hurry.  Laugh it off, keep having fun, and don’t show that you’re bothered (better yet, genuinely don’t be bothered at all!).  You’ll either perplex your opponent (an advantage), or keep the game fun and above-board; then, when they’re least expecting it, you can strike!

“It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously.”

This lesson is similar to the one above, but has wider context.  If you read Nestor Capoeira’s Roots of the Dance-Fight-Game, there’s a story in there about a capoeira instructor he met once, who used the word “work” in some form or another every other sentence while talking about capoeira.  That instructor proceeded to get his corda served to him on a plate in the roda, getting angrier and angrier all along for being made a fool of and for the imagined (or not-so-imagined!) insult to his pride and dignity.  Do you think people were taking him seriously then?  If you ever feel yourself getting too intense or upset about capoeira, just remember all its other names: vadiação, brincadeira, malandragem.  “Loitering”, “frolic”, and “roguery”—nothing very serious about those!

“There is no sin except stupidity.”

In his book Learning Capoeira, Greg Downey tells how the worst thing someone could be, to a capoeirista, is stupid, or naive (which is what I meant by the quote at the top of this post).  This one reminds us to always be on the alert, pay attention to what’s going on around you, don’t get cocky in the roda, know what’s going on in the roda even when you’re not in it or especially if you want to buy in, and to never let down your guard or make a rash decision.  Even if we no longer have to fear hidden razors to the throat, your pride won’t care if you end up on your butt thanks to an unexpected yet avoidable attack!

“Truth, in matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.”

Whether or not you agree with this regarding religion, you can’t argue if you replace the word with “capoeira”!  How many different versions have you heard of how many different histories, origins, techniques, personalities, stories, rumors, or philosophies, just to name a few?  I carelessly got caught out the other day while chatting with Compromisso of Capoeira Espaco: “…I can’t imagine what true angola must be like.”  Well, as he pointed out, what’s “true angola”?  What’s true capoeira?  When it comes to capoeira, there is no one, universal Truth, so take everything you hear or read with a grain of salt, and never forget or be afraid to think for yourself.

“People who love only once in their lives are. . . shallow people. What they call their loyalty, and their fidelity, I call either the lethargy of custom or their lack of imagination.”

Though slightly controversial, I agree with this sentiment regarding capoeira “group loyalty”.  As I explained in my post “Think Global, Play Local: Broadening Your Capoeira Horizons“, this does not mean I advocate group jumping!  I believe in this only as far as not restricting yourself to your own group to the extent that you don’t even interact or check out other groups, for the exposure.  “Lethargy of custom”, of course, would refer to going along with what you’re told because “that’s the way it is”, at the expense of your own growth in capoeira, and “lack of imagination” could be a cause, but more importantly also a result of such “fidelity”, in the long run.  (An example is, as I’ve been told by multiple people, when capoeiristas in one group play together so often and without new blood that they begin to memorize each other’s favourite moves and combinations!)

“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

Kind of a nice transition from the last quote, this one is a given!  If you find yourself doing the same moves over and over again in the roda, or end up with conversational lulls of doing ginga back and forth with your opponent, that might be a sign it’s time to get your capoeira sequence drawing board (or thinking cap, or magic eight ball—hey, to each their own!) out.  Capoeira is all about being creative and imaginative, moving unpredictably, doing the unexpected; the only thing you should be doing consistently is training! 

“A man who pays his bills on time is soon forgotten.”

Now this one I wouldn’t have picked a year or two ago, but things change. 🙂  If you play nice (and boring), following all of what you think are the rules, then—for the most part—people are going to play nice (and boring) with you.  When you play someone like that, what happens?  You play them, someone buys them out, and you move on to the next person.  What if the other person suddenly gave you a martelo to the face (just marked, of course, not actually), or attempted to take you down?  You’d suddenly be a lot more into the game, wouldn’t you, and they would definitely have caught your attention, wouldn’t they?  “Nice” and “proper” (whatever that is) is okay, but it’s also forgettable, and unremarkable.  If you push the envelope a little bit (and within reason), you get onto the radar, people won’t be afraid to do the same to you, and together that’s how you help each other grow.

“I may have said the same thing before…but my explanation, I am sure, will always be different.”

Ah, how many times have we asked for an explanation from a teacher, only to good-naturedly accept a completely contradictory version the next week?  Similar to there not being any one Truth in capoeira, there is also never just one way to do things, or one way to describe or explain things.  You can have one instructor insist on you practicing au sem mão one way, then five minutes later have that exact method derogated by another (true story)!  The key to this one is to always be mentally flexible, open-minded, and receptive of new ideas.  Being perceptive wouldn’t hurt either, in case someone is repeatedly telling you something you clearly need to know, but just in a different way each time!

Well, I hope you enjoyed this introduction to or reacquaintance with Oscar Wilde!  And hopefully you learned a couple of things, too. 😉

p.s. This was inspired while commenting on a post by the newest capoeira blogger on the block, Angoleiro! It’s all angola, all the time, and all awesome! You guys should definitely head over and check it out.

p.p.s. For those of you who have commented over the past two days or so, thank you so much for your thoughtful and extensive responses, and I’m sorry I haven’t replied yet!  I’ve been completely time-strapped by non-capoeira, non-blog things this week (I actually had to bail a couple times on my in-person friends, as well), but I promise I will get to them eventually, no matter what!  Keep checking back!

————————————————————————————
If you found this post interesting or useful, please
click to subscribe to my blog, by
RSS feed or email!
————————————————————————————





Capoeira Batizados: Further Worst-Case Scenarios

27 02 2008

The batizado I went to this past weekend—Grilocapoeira’s Encontro de Inverno 2008, in Amsterdam, Netherlands—was awesome!  It was so much fun, and I met a lot of nice people.  Having said that, it was also during the event that I realized my “survival guide” had let a few things fall through the cracks.  Hence: further worst-case scenarios, and what to do about them!  (P.S.  I will be posting pictures of the event tomorrow!)

Encontro de Inverno Capoeira Batizado and Troca de Corda

How to Prepare for a Spontaneous Party/Club Roda

Expect one to happen (because it will), and dress/plan accordingly.  Wear comfortable pants you can move in, and shoes you can play in or take off/put back on quickly and easily.  Make sure said shoes, if you’re planning to play with them, will not be flung off with a sudden meia lua de compasso, or turn your ginga into slow-motion speed-skating.  For women, if you care, wear a top that won’t slip down/off/around while playing, and watch out for jewellery!  (Either wear pieces that won’t get in the way, or plan where you’ll put them in your bag or bring a little pouch for them.)  For guys, don’t put too many things in your pockets (as you’ll have to empty them to play), and scope out a safe place to leave your wallet, keys, etc., or ask to leave them with a friend.  While actually playing, although this probably does not matter too much, it also can’t hurt to keep in mind that this is more of a “show” roda than an actual/training roda, so you can try adusting your game and playing accordingly (more expression, more fun dialogue, etc.).

How to Survive Dance Party “Partner Work”

To be honest, I didn’t, unless you count reading Bridget Jones’ Diary, stilted conversation with a mestre, and honing my photography skills!  Needless to say, I actually have no idea how; would anyone like to write a “guest paragraph” for Mandingueira?  (This question is only half-rhetorical; drop a comment or email if you have something to put here!)

How to Leave a Wrap-Up Party in 30 Minutes or Less

Begin your good-byes about 30-45 minutes before the time you actually need to leave.  This may seem like an exaggeration, but trust me, it’s not.  Say good-bye to everybody once.  Do it fully, and try not to approach them again afterwards.  (This might seem mean when it’s written out like this here, but in reality it’s just practical and you’ve already done the whole “good-bye, it was great to see you, come visit our group some time, until next year!” so you’ve already established “closure”.) 

This especially goes for all mestres, contra-mestres, etc., anyone who would tend to start effusive (read: long) exchanges of affection and/or conversation.  Speaking of which, get to these people early as if the entire party is ending, there will likely be a crowd of people lining up to give thanks and say good-bye, all of whom will either have questions or also be drawn into more conversation!

Exchange contact information with people throughout the night, so you don’t have to wait through or go through a frenzy of paper and pen scavenging during each good-bye.  If people are occupied/in conversation with others, it’s okay to (politely) interrupt and explain you’re leaving and just wanted to say good-bye/thank-you to them.  Once you’ve finished making the rounds, don’t hang around—get out of there!

How to Take Photos of the Event without Sacrificing Own Participation in Event

The best time to take photos is during a batizado or troca de corda ceremony, when you for sure would not be playing anyway and will have time to get and put away your camera before and after.  If you are up for a corda, take pictures while others play for and receive theirs, then ask a friend to take care of your camera when it’s your turn.  Just don’t forget to relieve them of it right after!  This is also a good chance to have pictures of yourself taken, if your friend doesn’t mind.  (Editor’s Note:  I try and leave the flash off as much as possible when taking photos of rodas/people playing capoeira, so as not to distract/interrupt the players.)

If you want pictures of workshops/training or general rodas, grab your camera during the break or right before the activity starts.  Snap shots as soon as most people are assembled, then quickly put your camera away and get into place right before the class or roda starts.  Since it’s right at the beginning, you will not have missed much even if it started before you managed to run back in time.  Leave your camera in an accessible but safe spot, or in an easily accessible part of your bag, but check that your bag isn’t burried at the bottom of a pile of stuff after everyone has arrived!

How to Get Over Post-Batizado Blues or Maintain Post-Batizado High

Train!  Train, train, train.  There is nothing like the very first class back after a batizado.  Upload the photos you took of/at the event, and have fun going through and commenting on others’.  Get in touch with the other capoeiristas you befriended at the batizado (that’s why you exchanged contact informationa after all, right?).  Review or write down anything new you learned from the workshops, and practice them in class so you don’t forget.  There’s also nothing more fun than reminiscing (in writing, on your own, or verbally, with friends) over memorable moments, funny stories, dramatic events, quotable lines, etc.  Finally, start preparing for the next one!

How to Recover from Capoeira Overkill

From Leopardo:

I don’t even want to hear a berimbau for about 12-24 hours after our own event! The planning, craziness, training, playing, etc. just wear me out.
I do usually try to hit up a class or two in that initial week after—and definitely a lot of picture/vid trading going on.
Then, of course, it’s back up to hard training. But I usually do tell students to take a few days off and just absorb the experience afterwards—regain their enthusiasm and then get back to it.
I equate it to a family reunion—I love how much tighter the family feels after a successful get together, but I’m happy to say goodbye when it’s over.  )