Archive for the Capoeira Etiquette Category

Don’t get kicked in the face and other tips for beginners

Posted in Capoeira Etiquette, Capoeira nuggets with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2009 by testcapo

by Trevor Gregg (Trovão)

Trovão, a veteran capoeirista, good friend and excellent writer, has come up with an excellent assortment of tips and advice for beginners. This is a must read for all capoeira beginners (especially with batizado on the horizon).

Batizado season is upon us.  Panicked and eager, beginners are crowding our rodas and academies.  Slightly off-beat clapping and mispronounced, mumbled lyrics ring in the air.  Gearing up for our own batizado, our instructors have been teaching a series of fundamentals workshops just to get the white-belts ready for their big day.  Aww, look at them doing their little cartwheels.  They grow up so fast!

Seeing beginners struggle, train, and play brings back vivid memories of my own long and difficult initiation in capoeira.  Making mistakes, and hopefully learning from them, is every initiate’s burden to bear.  I consider myself somewhat of an authority on beginner mistakes, not because I have any sort of talent or ability but rather because I’ve made nearly every mistake possible.  Many of them several times over.

A few things I’ve been taught, then, to help the next generation survive the coming months.

1)  When in doubt, do what the higher belts do.

Capoeira has few ‘rules’ per se, but makes up for it with a staggering amount of traditions, manners, customs, and obscure points of etiquette.  There are far too many subtle but important tenets to learn early on in one’s capoeira career, and there is certainly no definitive list of them.  What few customs are explicitly told to you as a beginner are but the smallest pile of snowflakes atop the massive iceberg.  The poor man’s solution, then, is to watch how the veteran capoeiristas behave, especially towards their ‘betters’.  Watch the way your instructor enters a roda when playing a mestre.  How do they buy in?  Do they show straight kicks, rasteiras? (Hint: no.)  Do they stop the game?  Throw palmas and elbows?  (Hint: No also.)  Pick a couple of high cords, pay close attention to them, and if they aren’t getting yelled at or kicked by the mestres chances are whatever they’re doing is ‘right’ and can be safely emulated.

2)  Escape, don’t flinch.

There will come a day when your instincts, sharpened by years of intense training and abuse, will serve you so well that a solid escape will be a completely natural response to any assault.  Whether it’s kicks in the roda, fly balls at the baseball game, water balloons, wild pumas, whatever, you’ll be such an excellent capoeirista that you’ll esquiva any and all attacks with grace and dexterity.  That day is probably not today.  Thus, you must make a direct and conscious effort not to just flail away from kicks and takedowns.  When another player comes at you, even if you’re surprised, do not flinch or flop around on the ground.  Swatting the air like you’re battling bees is not proper technique.  Instead, evade carefully and discriminantly, like you’ve been taught.  Choose an esquiva from your repertoire and execute it.  Did you do it perfectly? Maybe.  Probably not.  But any esquiva you can walk away from is a good one.

3)  Make your kicks count.

Every kick you throw opens you up to a variety of counterattacks, sweeps, and takedowns.  To minimize this inherent vulnerability, make your kicks matter.  Many capoeiristas, particularly beginners, have a tendency to kick too often and with too little intent.  Setting aside technique, the two essential considerations in an effective kick are distance and aim.  You can throw a textbook perfect armada, the kind of beautiful movement that brings a tear to your mestre’s eye, but if you do it when you’re fifteen feet away from your opponent it’s completely wasted.  At best it’s a pointless and energy-wasting decoration.  At worst it’s an opportunity for your opponent to pull out your support leg and ruin your evening.  A kick that’s properly distanced, however, forces the recipient to escape before doing anything, including kicking you back.  Whether you’re playing a beginner or a veteran, it’s guaranteed that your opponent’s priorities will be as follows:

1) Get to safety

If they can skip number 1, it leaves them all the more time to work on number 2.

The second factor in an effective kick is intent.  Beginners are often overly sympathetic, which results in various sloppy habits: pulled kicks, ludicrously slow or stalled movements, and awkward roda apologies.  Forget all that.  Aim your kicks.  Strike to hit.  If you throw a clean, effective kick and your opponent doesn’t avoid it, that’s their fault, not yours.  Don’t mistake my meaning: intent is not the same thing as anger.  A kick can have intent and be still be controlled, courteous, even friendly.  I’m not suggesting you dive into the roda with murder in your heart, ready to lay waste to all comers and make a trophy necklace with their ears.  That’s low-class.  Simply make sure your opponent understands that there is a penalty, however slight, associated with not avoiding your attacks.

In the long run, effective kicks are just as important to your safety as good esquivas.  When you’re training, or playing with your friends, often times people will escape from your kicks even when it’s not necessary.  Don’t rely on this; you will come across people who only dodge when necessary, people who will take every advantage of your crappy kicks.  Getting the courtesy dodge from your opponent should be just as embarrassing as getting the courtesy laugh after telling a bland joke.

Don’t be that person that expects the courtesy laugh, or the courtesy esquiva.  He/she has no friends and is shunned at parties.

4)  Whatever happens in the roda, don’t stop.

Every beginner goes deer-in-the-headlights at some point.  Capoeira has a steep learning curve, and beginners lack both the vocabulary of moves and the understanding of the game to deal with every situation.  That being said, it’s always better to do something than nothing.  If you’re not sure how to react to what the other player is doing, just do what you know.  Ginga, au, kick, whatever.  However awkward and silly the thing you’re doing seems, it’s quite a bit better than just standing there.  Holding still gives your opponent an open invitation to force you to move, either by making you escape an attack or by pushing you out of the roda so they can interact with someone less catatonic.  Everyone, regardless of level, will encounter situations in the roda for which they’re not prepared.  It happens to me often: my opponent will be doing some crazy no-handed physics-defying backflippy thing that is entirely impossible to respond to and I’m left completely at a loss.  Still, I force myself to do something, ginga, floreo, handstands, whatever.  Waiting like a bump on a log, however, is not a viable option.

This point is especially applicable after a takedown.  Remember that a successful rasteira or vengativa is not always the end of the game.  If you’re a low cord, it’s best to let your opponent decide when or if to reset the game.  If you’re swept, do not lie prone and expect the other player to give you time to recover.  Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t.  There are players who are as likely to jump on you as give you a hand up.  So get back up, post haste.  Laying flat with a smile on one’s face or giving your opponent a thumb’s up is not a valid defensive posture.  Role away, keep your hands up, and do whatever you have to to regain your composure and continue the game.

5)  Stop looking at the ground.  Seriously.

The ground will not kick you, but the same cannot be said of the person you’re playing.  Watch them instead.  Recognize that your desire to look at the floor is like a toddler’s security blanket; it might make you feel better, but is of no practical use when you’re in danger.  The sooner you learn to live without it the better.  Don’t be that weird kid in fifth grade who still can’t leave the house without his binkie.

6)  Enjoy yourself.

You’ll reach an important milestone, a day when the enjoyment you get out of capoeira finally eclipses the sheer terror you feel when entering the roda.  This more than any other achievement will help you on your way to greatness.  You’ll quickly find yourself more relaxed, more creative, and more inspired to play.  It is a game, after all, and you’ll play better when you’re having a good time.  The more you play, the more comfortable you’ll get in the roda.

So go play.

Man, Myth, Legend?

Posted in Capoeira Etiquette, Capoeira nuggets with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2009 by testcapo

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.


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 Etiquette #4- The Angola Roda

Posted in Capoeira Etiquette with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2008 by testcapo
I pulled this off of another blog. This was written by an Angoleiro and is really great advice for all of us non-Angloeiros in interacting in an Angola roda. Many of you know that Angola rules are very different than ours. Here is the link to the actual posting. There is a lot of great info on this site that you will find helpful to learning more about the different aspects of capoeira. Check it out!

This might be of high interest for all of you people who want to try playing Capoeira Angola in a Roda de Capoeira Angola. The reason I start this topic is because I have seen a couple of people who usually train Capoeira Contemporeana and then end up being very frustrated in a Capoeira Angola roda.

The first reason for this is quite obvious. You are a stranger in the group and have a different style, which usually leads to “mis-communication” in play. Even if you take care of all the subtle things you have to do when you show up in a new group (introducing yourself to the trainer of the group, sticking to the movements the trainer does show, dont put yourself into the first row while training and so on….), you will have problems orienting yourself in a Capoeira Angola roda.

I´ll just name the mistakes (in random order…)

Buying the game

Buying the game is far less common in Capoeira Angola rodas than in rodas of modern Capoeira. Usually the person being in charge of the roda (if you dont know it, a hint: it might be the guy with the gunga) does tell when a play starts and when it ends. You can “choose” your favorite game in positioning yourself in the circle of people, because usually the ones being closest to the batteria will play the next game, succeeded by those who are next in line. Do never attempt to buy a game without the headhoncho saying this explicitly.

Entering the Roda with an Aú

Actually it is not forbidden to start the game with an Aú. In some Contemporeana groups it is oligatory to do this. It definitely puts the two players directly into the middle of the Roda. But in a Capoeira Angola roda you start quite close to each other. If you start with an Aú mean players won´t insist giving you a straight Cabecada. And there is another reason for this. A good Capoeira Angola play does live from its development. You start being close, slow, almost ritualistic. In a Jogo de Dentro which takes a minute or two. And as you approach the middle of the roda, the players get more apart from each other. The game gets faster, higher and sometimes rougher (of course everything depends on the players, their experience, mood, relationship and maybe on daily constellations of the stars). In jumping into the Aú in the beginning you skip all the steps in between.

Fast start

If you are “lucky” and are chosen to play the first game, wait. Dont start playing when the music starts. This is actually common in every roda, but in Capoeira Angola rodas you always have the introducing songs (Ladainha and Saudacao) where you wait and stay sitting in front of the berimbaus. And even when they start singing the common capoeira songs (corridos), wait until the person in charge gives you a signal.

Hit the air

A capoeira angola game is usually played with the partners being close to each other. If you are in a certain distance and just do kicks into the air somewhere between you and your partner, it is disregarded as boring play or at least unneccessary play. This could result in the other player making jokes about you, while you are playing. Very embarrassing.

The Open Aú

This is an obvious issue. Don´t do Aús where your upper body is totally exposed. The Angoleiro in front of you will come to the idea that that´s a perfect target for a head-butt! In this case players of modern Capoeira must concentrate on doing a “close” Aú, having their knees and feet close to the torso, not stretched out. I know you can do it ;)

Taking the teasings serious

This is actually a problem EVERYbody encounters in an Angoleiro roda. In the game of Angola there is a lot of teasing the other. This can be in a theatrical and nicer way (e.g. when I did a flashy movement which was completely unneccessary, the mestre I was playing with stood in the roda and was mimicking a photographer) or in a less nice way (e.g. sitting at the bateria and your opponent turns to the bateria, sings with his whole voice, spreads his arms, and hits your head with the back of his hand). That’s part of the mailicia, that’s part of the game. Yeah, of course he is teasing YOU, but still it is nothing personal. It is as personal as a Meia Lua you couldnt dodge. Of course you have the full right to tease back or to revenge this with other actions in the roda. But if you take it personal and (in the worst case) apply a direct into-the-face kick just because he was teasing you, then it will be considered poor/brute/un-intelligent game of you. But if you take the teasings, repay them in a similar, or other but more creative way, then everybody will consider your play being smart!

Mistakes in the Chamada

A chamada

Actually the Chamada is a story of its own and I even now feel the need to explain it excessiveley. In short. A chamada is a very ritualistic part of the Capoeira Angola game. It exists for seceral reasons:

1. calm down the game when it got a little bit too rough

2. as a small pauze in between (as Angola games can take long sometimes you really need a second or two)

3. as a time for recovery when you just got a bad hit and now want to get back into the game

4. as stylistic intermezzo in the game.

5. as a test (how far you know about the ritual and the malicia of the Angola game)

The fifth reason is important in this case. The Chamada, with all it’s ritual and all it’s peaceful behaviour, is still part of the Capoeira game. And as everybody (who plays Capoeira) knows, hits and kicks are not forbidden as long as you are in the roda. So even while you are “dancing” in the chamada the other person might want to find out if your attention is all there. Of course, it’s good to know how to answer to a chamada. there are different chamadas. That means you should learn all of them. If you dont know a certain chamada, do not hesitate to show your uncertainity. Be very careful approaching a chamada. And – and this one is reaaally important: a chamada is a call. It is, as I said, also a kind of a test. So if you are playing with a Mestre, don’t call him into a chamada. Not all Mestres are sensitive about that. But there are some which are. And why? Well, who does give YOU the right to call a Mestre into a small test?

I think I forgot some things, but this is at least a good guideline. Feel free to add things or argue about one or other.

P.S. not all points are equally important. And the importance of some things are changing from group to group. The possible pitfalls I have given are those I have seen personally.

Capoeira Etiquette #3

Posted in Capoeira Etiquette with tags , , , , , on April 29, 2008 by testcapo

Here is a quick rule:

Capoeira, like a lot of martial arts, works in a hierarchy. We have our cord system which helps establish beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. Each level is required to have a certain amount of skill and knowledge in the art. This hierarchy also helps classes run smoothly. For example, the highest cords help the instructor give examples of movements and sequences. The highest cords are also in the front rows so the lower cords can follow their movements. A common mistake made is when lower cords cut in front of higher cords during exercises. Unless otherwise stated, this is usually a ‘no-no.’ This mistake is made typically because those students aren’t aware of the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) rule. If you are new to a class or considered a lower cord, make sure to go behind the higher cords.

**Note: As everything in the capoeira etiquette series, this is a general rule. There will be times when the instructor wants the lower cords in front or when higher cords need to go to the back of class due to injuries or if they arrived to class late.

Capoeira Etiquette (Part 2)

Posted in Capoeira Etiquette with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2008 by testcapo

The Mestres at Instructora Cotonete’s Batizado in July, 2006

OK. Here is an easy one. This rule may not apply to all groups but it is always better to play it safe than sorry. Let’s talk about how you greet mestres when you are at your batizado or one of your school’s workshops. Here is the rule: When you enter the space, the first people that you have to greet are the mestres. AND!!! You need to greet them in the order of their level. For example, during our workshops we usually have Grand Mestre João Grande, Mestre Preguiça and Mestre Di Mola and we need to greet them in that order. Grand Mestre João Grande gets greeted first because he is the oldest and highest regarded mestre, then Mestre Preguiça because he is the next generation and student of Mestre Bimba, then Mestre Di Mola, whom is third generation, student of Mestre Camisa whom was a student of Mestre Bimba.

Disclaimer: This is what Mestre Di Mola has taught us. It may not be observed everywhere however, it can only look good if you enter a room and greet the Mestres according to these rules.

Capoeira Ettiquette (Part 1)

Posted in Capoeira Etiquette with tags , , , , on March 15, 2008 by testcapo

Have you ever been in a roda where everything appears to be going well. The energy seems good, everyone is having a good time, and then……BAM! someone is getting slapped up. What just happened? Why is that poor guy getting worked out there? Well, chances are that guy probably broke some sort of capoeira code.

The code that I talk about is the code that we caporeirstas use when we go to open rodas or visit another school’s roda. There are a lot of unspoken rules to the game. Sometimes mestres/instructors are so kind to share those rules with their students, but there are a lot of rules and many of these rules go untaught. To make things more complicated, these rules tend to vary depending on what region you are in. So with that said, this will be part 1 of a multiple part series on capoeira ettiquette. These are the things we have been taught by our mestres and what we have observed over the many years of playing in different rodas in Brazil, Europe and throughout the US.

Andorinha visiting a roda in NYC

Tip #1

How to visit an open roda….

Visiting rodas is a simple thing however we have witnessed so many students get themselves in trouble because they were oblivious to the ettiqutte. When visiting the roda you MUST ALWAYS identify the mestre or instructor leading the roda and find a way to awkknowlege them and ask permission to enter the roda. If you can’t figure out who this person is, ask. Once this person is identified, find a way to get permission to play. If they are playing the berimbau, often times this comes in the form of the visiting student giving them a nod and the leader will give them a nod of approval.

OK. You got the go ahead to play. Cool, but not so fast. There are a couple more rules that you need to follow before you get too comfortable.
Now that you got the in it is time for you to observe what is happening in the roda! What is the energy like, who is playing and what is the atmosphere of this roda? Is it really aggressive with only the big dogs playing or does it seem more relaxed with a mixed group of levels. If you are a beginner or even an intermediate student think twice about entering the roda if only really advanced students are playing. Even if you think you can hang, chances are you will kill the energy and folks will be thinking that you may be a little too confident.

Despite the energy, your next step is to offer to jump on the instruments. If you are not so good with the berimbau, stay away but offer to play the other instruments. Often times than not, the students will tell you to go play in the roda. Don’t take offense, you are the visitor and they want to see you play. You are merely offering to play instruments to show that you want to add to the energy of the roda and that your intentions are not to take advantage.

So you got permission to play, you checked out the energy and have decided that this roda is appropriate for you and you offer up your assistance to play instruments. You are now ready to play a little capoeira. I will leave you with the final rule, if they are buying the roda be careful where you buy from. Some schools buy at the berimbau and some buy from anywhere within the roda. Make sure to do whatever that school does. If they buy at the berimbau, then so are you. I have witnessed mestres stopping rodas because a visiting student bought wrong. You definitely don’t want that person to be you.