Man, Myth, Legend?

Somewhere, there exists the perfect capoeirista. I don’t know him personally, but certainly his reputation precedes him.

He’s got the speed and presence to control any roda. He has the grace and flexibility for effortless floreo, as well as the strength and size to fight when challenged. He’s got the awareness and training to play a tight inside game, the cunning and instincts to dive headlong into a regional roda, and the malícia to smile while he does it. On top of all that, he plays berimbau like a mestre, sings like Aretha Franklin, and always the clean whites.

I’ve asked around, watched for him at events and encounters, even looked him up on YouTube without success. Though I have yet to see him play, I’ve struggled to model my movements after his, to adopt his habits and imitate his techniques. To make his perfect game my own.

I’ve trained and toiled enviously in his shadow since the day I was baptized, and, secretly and bitterly, I have come to suspect that he is an asshole.

For the perfect capoeirista, movement comes easily, naturally, thoughtlessly. His game is clean and dangerous and creative all at the same time.

The rest of us, mestre and beginner alike, must survive in the roda with what meager talent and training we have. Such is the fate of us lesser mortals.

As one’s education in capoeira advances and one’s game matures, each person’s capoeira inevitably becomes more unique and individualized. About the time you’re throwing your ten-thousandth meia lua de compaso, you realize that your kicks, your escapes are no longer the rigid, textbook movements you learned as an initiate. The idea of “capoeira” that you had in your head, of a disciplined, discrete, and repeatable set of attacks and defenses you’ve copied from that mysterious perfect capoeirista, no longer exists. It has been replaced instead by your game, which through use and abuse has become broken in and worn as smooth as old shoes. It is this game, which is both familiar and infinitely adaptable, rather than some intangible ideal that defines a capoeirista’s presence and ability in the roda.

On many occasions, I’ve heard folks use chess as a metaphor for capoeira. It’s a poor comparison at best. True, they both offer nearly infinite combinations of movements, tactics, and strategies. But the similarity ends there. Imagine playing chess like you play capoeira; nobody starts with the same amount of pieces, the number of squares on the board is infinitely variable, nobody wins or loses, and the only sign you’ve violated a “rule” is when you’re beaten up and cussed out in Portuguese by an angry old man.

If playing capoeira is like playing chess, it’s like playing chess against a five year old, someone who makes up the rules as they go along, decides they’ll allow the use of the little shoe and racecar from Monopoly, and hands you a random assortment of what few remaining pawns, knights and bishops haven’t been lost beneath the couch cushions. No game is ever the same and the rules, structure, and limitations of the game are unreliable and haphazard at best.

And yet somehow, it works.

Understanding this, that the framework of a capoeira game is not the same kind of concrete and unyielding rule set one finds in chess, goes a long way in explaining why I have yet to meet the ‘perfect’ capoeirista. How can one be perfect when the criteria on which one is judged are endlessly changing? A technique or movement that might be right for one game, for one roda, for one instant, can get one kicked in the face in a nearly identical situation.

The idea that a universally correct, perfect capoeira can be learned, that it even exists, is a fallacy we as capoeiristas must all eventually outgrow. Too many capoeiristas, out of arrogance or ignorance, continue to believe in a perfect, ‘right’ capoeira, and that all other forms and techniques are ‘wrong’.

Maybe they’re right. Maybe the perfect capoeirista exists. Maybe the reason I haven’t met him yet is that he’s busy teaching his perfect capoeira to Santa Claus, Sasquatch and Elvis in his secret underground academy beneath Area 51.

Anything’s possible, I suppose.



2 Responses to “Man, Myth, Legend?”

  1. Hi,

    I enjoyed your post. I started Capoeira about 6 months ago, what I love is the fun of learning, pushing and seeing yourself improve.

    In Capoeira, “perfect” is a verb not an adjective.

    – Ben

    My blog:

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