007: Quantum of Progress (A Vignette)

14 11 2008

Quantum of Progress

Computer: target proper?  Negative.

Her eyes narrow as she scans the crowds.

I know they’re here somewhere.

She furtively flits to a better vantage point, unnoticed by the individuals around her.  Let the commotion distract them; she has an appointment to keep.

Computer—no, she already sees it is wrong.

This is harder than I thought it would be.

Her first assignment back.  Already she feels each wasted, unforgiving second dropping away, like bullets on steel.

In, execute, out.  What more is there to it? OH SH—

She leaps into the air, cursing herself for losing focus.  Away, down, regroup, now! There are foreign parties here, with the same assignment, she is harshly reminded.  If she does not find her target soon…

Safe now, she resets.  Warily reapproaches the epicentre; the target is here, she was told.  But where?

Computer: profile: global-scan:

Too old. Too loud. Too short.  Wait—no, too troubled.  Damnit!

Her ammunition begins to self-activate.  A warning sign: she should have begun her next assignment by now.  No panic, but thinking fast.  What’s missing?  One more try.

Computer: Recalibrate assignment parameters: Profile: Global-scan:

What?!  What’s going on?!!

Target proper: positive.  Target proper: positive.  Target proper: positive.  Target proper: positive.

Her eyes furiously sweep the scene.  Unlike before, no matter where they land, her orders mandate it is appropriate to take action.

They’re ALL targets?!!  Every one?!!

Then, she realizes. Not every one.  Anyone.

The data…it was corrupt.

She circumvents the crowds, darts straight towards the centre of the ring, where her assignment had been all along.

Who was it who just bought in, again?

It doesn’t matter at all.  She begins to play.

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Videos: Mestra Paulinha

29 02 2008

A while ago I wrote about Mestra Paulinha, co-founder and sociologist of Grupo Nzinga, but somehow left out videos of her playing.  The following angola videos feature her, and thank you to Steven for the links!

This is a really old video of Mestra Paulinha playing João Pequeno!  If you don’t want to wait through the introductory music, the actual playing starts at about 1:50.

This next video takes place in Costa Rica, with Mestra Paulinha playing capoeira in a roda with a FICA student.

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Dentro da Roda: Organize the Game

22 12 2007

Organize the game.

What does this mean, exactly? It’s something I remember hearing once, and I haven’t been able to puzzle it out further than that it probably involves more deliberation in the roda than I’m capable of at present. It struck me because what goes on in a capoeira roda seems like the last thing you’d associate with organization—flow, circle, unrestriction versus boxed, square, and categorized. At the same time, I can definitely see how the concept would apply in terms of strategizing, placement of moves and yourself, maxi-/minimization of space, etc.

The only thing is, those things will work for organizing your game; organizing the game seems to imply a degree of influence over what your opponent does as well, and over the game’s given situation(s). Maybe it just means constantly thinking ahead, predicting what your opponent will do and where they will go, and then organizing yourself or your strategy accordingly. Or it could mean organizing a specific set-up or situation: doing something to make your opponent move one way, predicting their reaction (correctly), and then completing the set-up you planned.

How do you (can you) control the game in the roda?In any case, the bottom line seems to be the need for constant thinking in the roda, whether it’s evaluating the immediate past, analyzing the present, or synthesizing information to use in the immediate future. It’s not enough to just react instinctively to each separate action of your opponent, with knee-jerk reflexes (although being able to do so probably helps), without fitting your (and maybe their) movements into the larger picture of the game…organizing them, I suppose.

Well, that’s my out-loud musing for the day. If you have any thoughts/advice/ideas on this, the floor is wide open!

Picture Source:





The Feminine in Capoeira, Part 1 (Malicia)

12 12 2007

Malicia - the feminine in capoeira?

In my very first post, I mentioned that capoeira seemed to be an art form mostly dominated by men; in fact, it’s one of the main reasons this blog exists in the first place.  What’s interesting is that while some of capoeira may be male-dominated, it is not traditionally masculine, the way people might consider football or rugby to be.  Several fundamental aspects of capoeira have been characterized as belonging to the feminine, in ways I find in equal parts inspiring, thought-provoking, and problematic.

I first encountered this in Nestor Capoeira’s book, Capoeira: Roots of the Dance-Fight-Game, in which he deems malicia a manisfestation of the feminine in capoeira.  Unfortunately, I’m living away from home right now and thoughtlessly left the book there, so I can’t quote his exact words to you…but his thoughts were reiterated later on in the book by scholar Muniz Sodré, and due to a brilliant stroke of luck, this particular passage was reproduced in Google’s Book Search Preview:

You also say that malicia belongs to the Feminine aspect of things. I like that. While Masculine is the gender of the defined, the understandable, rational—the gender of power—the Feminine is, on the other hand, the reverse of all this. It is the void. Its power is also of the sort that you don’t know exactly what it is. Its power is “not to be clear” about power itself. It’s the power of the void. Because malicia is exactly that: to go around what is clear and established. And in that sense it is Feminine.  (Sodré as quoted by Capoeira, p. 30)

You can see for yourself (I hope) why statements like that are problematic.  The “void”?  The reverse of “rational”, of “power”?  This is where things get tricky.  As a capoeirista and English lit major, I can appreciate the symbolism in that, the evoked nature of malicia and the dimension it adds to capoeira and the jogo.  And as a feminist, I feel (with all due respect to Nestor Capoeira and Muniz Sodré) that that can’t be right, there must be another way to put it, and that the whole thing should be torn up and sent back into the 19th century, where that kind of thinking belongs!  How exactly do I go about doing this while maintaining the integrity of both capoeira and modern-day/feminist thinking?

The main issue here, I think, is the seemingly necessary genderizing of things, when in fact it’s not necessary at all (let alone the use of capital letters, which just makes the terms look way more qualified than they should).  It’s cool to think of malicia as the “power of the void”, as that unexplainable, irrational thing that gets in through the cracks and hits you where you thought there was nowhere to hit.  When you say that malicia is all these things though–void, irrational, unclear, evanescent–and therefore feminine, that’s where you lose me.  “Void” is exactly what we are not supposed to be! And you can say that assigning feminine and masculine aspects to capoeira adds meaning and depth, similarly to nuance and capoeira movements in the roda, but I think there is a way around that.

The whole reason it’s appealing to associate malicia with the feminine is because of all the things that have been associated with the feminine throughout history.  When you say malicia is “feminine”, you are really saying malicia is mysterious, elusive, intangible, and all those other things that Nestor Capoeira and Muniz Sodré said, thanks to stereotypes that have been entrenched probably since humans first learned to discriminate.  I believe it’s possible to “de-genderize” concepts like malicia while retaining the things one actually means when labelling them “feminine” or “masculine”.  Referring again to the nuance in movements analogy, we do not say that a chapa is “masculine” because it’s aggressive, or that a bait-and-switch sequence is “feminine” because it’s deceptive (or “went around what was clear”)–they are just aggressive and deceptive, respectively.  So why can’t malicia just be what it is, without perpetuating outdated stereotypes at the expense of women and the feminist movement today?


Update:
To read Part 2 (Context), please click here.


Picture source: http://www.baurock.ru/kostik/capoeira.htm





A martelo / By any other name would hit as fast: Nuance in the Capoeira Game

10 12 2007

What message are you sending with your kicks in the roda?One of the first things I remember learning vividly in capoeira is the concept of nuance (so this first bit will pretty much all be taken from my teachers’ mouths).  Every kick, every move you do has a certain meaning.  When you enter the roda, you enter a foreign world–and so you better know the language.  Questions are posed by your body, not your mouth; smalltalk is delivered with armada, esquiva, quexada; and silent screaming matches are played out in the form of chapa, tesouro, martelo, and the like.  Don’t give a certain kick or do a certain move if you’re not prepared for the consequences, because you never know how the other person will react to the provocation. 

This all makes sense, and it’s beautiful to think of every movement in the roda as meaningful as words, the game a dialogue with as much potential and as many implications as a scene from Hamlet.  However, recently I’ve been thinking about something new: what if there were no nuance? 

My initial reaction was: “Well, that would be weird.  Then people could do anything.”  Then: “Wait a minute…people could do anything.”  Think about it!  Let’s say you’ve just been working really hard on something–a new rasteira set-up, for example–and wanted to try it out in the roda (because we all know that executing a move in class is nothing like trying to execute it in a real game).  How are you going to do that?  You don’t want to go after someone who has a lower belt than you, and if you try it on anyone else they might become mad and get aggressive on you, which you’re not really looking for at the time.  Of course, this is not always necessarily the case, but “better safe than sorry” if you’re paranoid like I am about these things.  If moves had no nuance and everything was fair game, you could go in and test yourself without worrying about inadvertently offending the other person (unless you did a particularly poor rasteira and rammed your foot into their ankle, or something). 

But that’s only a tiny part of it; let’s look at how having no nuances would impact the game overall.  Well, for one thing, no one would have to hold back!  You could do anything without worrying about unduly offending the other person, within reason (i.e. you’d still have to use legitimate capoeira moves…and we’ll leave “But what is legitimate?” for another time).  Which, in a way, makes sense…because if you think about it, anything you do could be considered just part of the game, part of capoeira.  The very unexpectedness of a sudden chapa de costa could be considered just a part of what capoeira is, and the other person shouldn’t get mad because 1) being a capoeirista, you could say s/he should know to expect the unexpected and 2) to reiterate, it’d all just be part of the capoeira game. 

[Now watch me get killed by a sudden chapa de costa the next time I train at my academy XD]

And what games, if people didn’t hold back!  You could put the heat on and play aggressive but in a fun and challenging way for both players, without the game becoming negative.  Instead of smalltalk versus argument, you now just have constant banter, all the way through.  (From Hamlet to Much Ado About Nothing, you might say =P)

Of course, people do all of this on their own anyway, without necessarily having an academy-wide “anything goes” philosophy.  And teaching that every kick has a difference nuance is good for protecting beginners from getting accidentally harmed in the roda, and for making sure they really know something before trying it out on a more experienced player without thinking.

Also, by “anything goes” and lack of nuance, I don’t mean that you can do anything and get away with it, without any consequences–not at all!  The other person can still retaliate, at any time, and they have the right to.  The difference is that they won’t suddenly lose their temper on you, they won’t take offense and hold it against you, and you’ll both know that whatever happens, it’s nothing personal, just all part of capoeira and the game, and both players would probably be the better for it.

Personally, I’m actually fine with nuance, since I was trained in it, and like I mentioned, the drawing of parallels between capoeira and words and language really appeals to me.  However, it might be something worth thinking about, for the next time you enter the roda!





Playing Women in the Roda

9 12 2007

Never underestimate your opponent in the roda, no matter who she is. 

I came across something written by a capoeirista the other day that pretty much infuriated me.  However, I did promise in my very first post that there would be no ranting, so I will restrain myself! 

(Actually, what I would most like to do is copy and paste what I read here and then carefully, logically, thoroughly deconstruct it line by line for all of you.  However, doing things like that sometimes has repercussions, here in cyberspace.  As a result, we’ll all have to settle for a general post on the same topic, but with a slightly different [read: enlightened =P] point of view.)


When playing women in the roda, do not hold back.
  It irritates me even to be writing this post, as you’d think playing women in the roda (technique-wise, not dynamics-wise) is no different from playing men in the roda; basically, this should be a completely pointless post, with a pointless title, except for the fact that there are people out there who sadly believe otherwise!

Their argument goes like this: Women are naturally physically weaker than men (how true this statement is and its implications, etc., we’ll leave for now).  Thus, men–and let’s say stronger women–should play “down to their level” to level the field, or to protect the woman from accidentally getting hurt in the roda.  Let’s call this the Chauvinist Theory.

Now, there is nothing wrong with the basic intentions behind this way of thinking.  The exact same idea is legitimately applied to beginners: play more slowly and carefully against them because they don’t know quite what they’re doing yet or aren’t strong/quick/good enough yet and might get hurt.  That’s for beginners, people who presumably have little to no capoeira skills yet, and so that makes sense.  It’s relatively safe to assume that you need to go easy on beginners in the roda, because as beginners, they are less skilled by definition.  However, the Chauvinist Theory incorrectly links just strength directly to one’s joga ablity, then assumes that as women, we are less skilled by definition.  Which is interesting, because since there are countless female capoeiristas at levels higher than beginner, do these people think that their mestres have one corda graduation standard for women and another, harder graduation standard for men? 

I’m reminded of a line in the Antigone Magazine blog post to which I directed all of you in my “Why Write About Female Mestres?  The Feminist Catch-22” post.  According to the Antigone post, which was on misogyny in anti-Hillary Clinton facebook groups, “If you dislike a male politician, then there is something wrong with that particular politician. If you dislike a female politician then you often find something lacking in the entire female sex.”  People who buy into the Chauvinist Theory seem to suffer from the same mental lapse: if you accidentally hit a man in the roda, it’s because he wasn’t paying attention or wasn’t quick enough or just basically needs to improve his capoeira skills; if you accidentally hit a woman in the roda, however, it’s because she’s a woman and therefore you should go easy on every woman you play from now on. 

I can hear the bulls bellowing…I think they want their crap back.

What people should do–and this is supposed to be common sense–is assess each opponent individually.  (I’m honestly cringing at this paragraph already; it seems like such a given!)  Maybe she’s a woman who definitely is not athletically gifted, so in this case yes, give her a chance to do something while playing.  And maybe she’s a natural at capoeira, better than you are, and she’s really adjusting her game down to your level.  The point is, you don’t judge someone’s capoeira ability based purely on their gender.  There is absolutely no logic in that–none, whatsoever!  By playing down to all women, you are not only holding yourself back from a chance to improve and from what might’ve become a really good game, you are deliberately stunting the progress of the person you are playing.  This is even worse if you are supposed to be the person’s teacher; your role is to challenge and improve your student’s game, not pander to what you think is their beginner’s comfort zone (if they haven’t progressed beyond it already)!

I know/hope that this post was entirely unecessary for most of you, but I felt it still needed to be put out there.  (Plus, it was either that or physically hunt down the guy and drag him into a few games with some of the girls from my academy, and I don’t have the time for that right now.)

p.s. This entry’s picture was done by a friend of mine!  Isn’t it awesome? 😀

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Videos: Mestras Edna and Suelly in Action

7 12 2007

It dawned on me that my previous posts on Mestras Edna and Suelly were kind of like trying to teach someone about an artist without showing them a single one of the artist’s paintings. Thus without further ado, I’d like to present to you the following videos!


This first one shows Mestra Edna Lima playing (now-) Mestranda Marcia, which is perfect as she’s whom I’ll be writing about next! It’s an old 90’s video from a roda in California. Mestra Edna is the one in the sports top, and their game lasts for about the first 50 seconds. This video is cool also because it shows Mestre Marcelo playing after, capoeira’s own real-life video game character =D:




Second, we have Mestra Suelly in a batizado roda from earlier this year. I like the double kick she does towards the end!




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