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?

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