Archive for November, 2008

Guest Article #1 – Layman’s Terms

Posted in Capoeira nuggets with tags , , , , , , , on November 14, 2008 by testcapo

Layman’s Terms

Explaining capoeira to the uninitiated is a singularly daunting task for any capoeirista. Beginners, eager to share their new-found sport with others, have clumsily compared capoeira to everything from breakdancing to gymnastics to kung fu, as though any of these bore more than a passing similarity to our art of choice. Honestly, comparing capoeira to breakdancing is like comparing a classical symphony to bass fishing; it’s wildly inaccurate and border-line insulting.

The crux of the problem is that the average American has neither the cultural perspective nor the necessary historical background to understand the game of capoeira without experiencing it first-hand. You can’t expect someone who’s never seen purple to understand it after having it described. “It’s kind of like red, but not.” doesn’t cut it. Not that that stops us capoeiristas from trying.

Relatives, friends, the curious and the ignorant will all ask a new capoeirista about his art. What is capoeira? What’s that thing that looks like a bow and arrow with a bowling ball nailed to it? Especially in American society where capoeira is still exotic and strange, confined for the most part to the fringe, the general populace has no frame of reference for understanding our game. To them it looks like a blurry, twisting hybrid of dance and gymnastics.

Another obstacle is that English doesn’t really have the proper vocabulary to explain capoeira. You could call it a non-choreographed dance, at least until a ‘dancer’ takes a martelo in the face and leaves the roda bloody and bruised, with a nose like a hockey veteran and teeth like Steve Buscemi. You could call it a martial art, until you see two ‘fighters’ flip through the air and throw a hundred kicks without ever landing a blow. Next time you’re in a bar fight, try doing a handstand and you’ll quickly see how martial your art really is.

More experienced capoeiristas than I have tried to clumsily force capoeira into categories and words an American would understand. Nestor Capoeira’s book Capoeira: Roots of the Dance-Fight Game comes to mind. Dance-Fight Game, how’s that for an elegant turn of phrase. Imagine a book titled Carpentry: Roots of Tool-Assisted Wood Arrangement for Buildings and Furniture. Or Baseball: Roots of the Stick-swing Balltossing Field Competition. Even if “Dance-Fight Game” wasn’t the ugliest trainwreck of a phrase I’d ever heard, it still overlooks huge swathes of capoeira’s essence; things like music, community, tradition, and acrobatics to name a few.

We poor American capoeiristas are left with few alternatives when it comes to addressing this problem. We can either fumble along with our graceless and inarticulate explanations, confusing our audience and contradicting ourselves at every turn, or we can do what the high cords do, which is skirt the problem by never associating with anyone who doesn’t also play capoeira.

Years ago, a few days after I was baptized and my parents were first exposed to this weird, cultish, violent art their son had become so taken with, I heard my mom trying to describe capoeira to one of my aunts. Listening to a middle-aged woman from Idaho try to explain capoeira brought to mind the singularly apt parable of the blind scientists describing the elephant.

So where do we go from here? How does one distill the complexities, vagaries, and subtleties of the roda into something palatable to the average clueless layman?

Since everyone else has, I’ll give it my best shot.

First and foremost, capoeira is a game, a game set to music and played by two people. It’s a game with few rules and regulations but rife with convention, etiquette, and tradition. The objectives of the game vary; it can be aggressive and combative, focused on dominance and physical prowess. It can be fluid and flashy, as much an aesthetic performance as a contest. It can be tricky and mischievous, humorous and childish at times. Capoeira is a game of ritualized combat, of attack and escape, of strength and agility, of strategy and instinct.

Don’t listen when sneering martial artists call it a dance, or when cow-eyed dancers call it a martial art. It’s neither, and yet so much more than both. Those who say otherwise can’t see the forest for the trees.

Bring the genuinely curious and confused to the roda. Their first game will give them a more complete understanding than words, charts, and illustrations ever could. Maybe, with luck, one of them will be able to sum up capoeira more elegantly than you or I have.

And then we can plagiarize the hell out of that person’s words, and life will be easier for us all.




Mestre Carlos Aceituno to be Inducted into the NEN Hall of Fame

Posted in Updates! with tags , , , , , , on November 13, 2008 by testcapo

Mestre Carlos will be honored this Thursday, November 13th at 6:30 by the Neighborhood Empowerment Network (NEN) and inducted into their hall of fame. The event will take place at San Francisco’s city hall and tickets are required. This should be a beautiful event and if you trained capoeira with carlos, danced or drummed with him or just plain knew him, you should try to attend the event. Did I mention that tickets are free???

So jump on it. Go to to reserve your tickets.

Capoeira Tourism….Part 2 (some words of advice)

Posted in Capoeira Etiquette, Capoeira nuggets with tags , , , , , , , on November 6, 2008 by testcapo

Okay. Yesterday I went on and on about how great traveling around and playing with other groups is. And this is true, but visiting other groups requires a little know how.

First and foremost, go with a couple of friends that can back you up. You never know what can happen in these rodas and so you need to have assurance that someone can buy you out.

Second, go with good energy and make friends and ALWAYS ask the instructor permission to play. For example, a few years ago, we went down to LA and visited another group’s class and played in the roda. When we do this, we ALWAYS make sure to introduce ourselves to the instructors and high cords of the group. We make sure that our presence is okay. We offer to play music (always offer, however, as I have mentioned in the past, typically, the capoeiristas want to have you play versus being locked up on music. But as our mothers always say, “it’s the thought that counts!”) In the roda, the energy was good. Their students challenged us but not out of spite but in the good spirit of capoeira. We had a great time.

BUT, there was a friend of ours that also trained capoeira with us back in the day and he met up with us at this roda. He is a gifted capoeirista but for some reason came into the space with a chip on his shoulder. He wasn’t friendly and made no effort to talk to the other students. Needless to say, he was not as welcomed in the roda. The capoeira school’s high cords went after him and were out for blood. I don’t blame them. We are guests and we should be gracious guests when going into someone else’s house.

Third, DO NOT be the first one in the roda unless you absolutely have to. Sit back, watch some games and try to figure out how people are playing and what they are about. 

Fourth, a word of advise to the ladies, be careful. I some cases you may come across the alpha female trying to hold things down and show who’s boss. (I can say this as a women that has been confronted several times by other female alphas). In most cases they will only go after intermediate or high cords but low cords should be careful as well. Watch the roda and try to see if anyone like that fits the bill. If you do see someone playing like that and if you end up playing them, open up your game and show them that you are just here to have fun. If they challenge you, challenge back but ALWAYS keeps the integrity of your game. NEVER reduce yourself to slapping and straight fighting. Thats just ugly. 

So to all capoeiristas reading this blog, visit some rodas. The more interaction we have between groups increases the community bridges between us all.

Capoeira Tourism PART 1

Posted in Capoeira nuggets with tags , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2008 by testcapo

My sister and I have done a lot of traveling together. She lives in Italy and we have gone to a lot of countries in Europe and I always seem to find a capoeira class or roda. When Palhaço and I take a trip down to LA or maybe visit my family in Chicago, thats right, we find a roda or capoeira class. Sometimes we hear the berimbau playing in the distance or we go online and try to see what is going on in the city we are visiting. 

This is what my sister lovingly calls capoeira tourism.

The truth of the matter is that there is nothing more exciting then discovering an open roda in a foreign place or scouting out a capoeira class in unknown terrain. Historically, I have found that capoeiristas overall can be incredibly open and really cool people when they embark on a visitor in their group. (That is, of course, if the visitor brings an equally positive energy.) In my experience, my capoeira brethren have welcomed me into their rodas and classes with open arms. In only a few cases I have gotten a little bit of an ‘icy’ introduction but after 15 minutes of playing and contributing to music, everyone warms up. 

Whats even better is, after playing capoeira, you have now made yourself some new friends in this foriegn land. After exchanging the typical questions of, “who do you train with?”, “how long have you been training”, and so on, maybe even playing some capoeira 6 degrees of separation, your new friends want to show you around town and give you some insiders advice on what to do and where to go. It’s quite fun!

Aside from making friends and expanding your capoeira rolodex, you also learn a lot about capoeira. When you visit other rodas you learn how to have deeper interactions with capoeiristas because often times the styles are different. You also find out that, well, not everyone is welcome to your presence. (Especially with the women.) But you learn how to work around that. 

Ultimately, practicing capoeira tourism is not only fun but you really grow as a capoeirista. Some of my fondest memories and biggest learning experiences come from visiting capoeira groups all over the map.

We have an opportunity to do some capoeira tourism in the next couple of weeks. Omulu Guanabara’s LA group will be hosting their batizado on November 15th with workshops taught by Mestre Di Mola and Mestre Preguiça on that Thursday and Friday. For our students reading this blog, this is our same group so you will not be forced completely out of your comfort zone, but it is still a different crop of people making the experience equally exciting. We will be driving down with a couple of cars so if you are interested, drop us an email.

Also, there will be a part 2 of my writing on capoeira tourism. There, I will give some tips on how to persue capoeira tourism that have worked for me. I will also give some examples of things that I have seen during my time in capoeira that DEFINITELY do not work and will, more times than not, have you end up getting your ass handed to you.