Saturday, February 24, 2007

Carnavale, 2007

Shot at the Brazilian Carnaval Festival, February 23, 2007

Friday, February 23, 2007

O cordão está pesado

("the belt is heavy")

Over the past few months, I've been wrestling with myself on several levels, mostly due to changes within the academy's structure, especially in regards to class attendance. At my current level, amarelo escuro (dark yellow), there are many more levels to go before attaining any level of authority, which is not to say that a 6th level belt is anything to sneeze at. I realize that it wasn't earned overnight, but I have to do certain things in order to maintain my level.

Separating knowledge and feeling becomes fundamental at this point. One class, I bore witness to a younger student having difficulty executing matelo de angola (kick launched from the front leg in a crouched defensive position known as esquiva de frente). In frustration, he punched a wall. I came up to him, asked him to relax, and pointed to my belt, saying, "I didn't get this overnight."

In some respects, his frustration mirrors my own, which is something I realize. Capoeira is an incredibly solid metaphor for life in general. Within my own rank, executing basic movements is not a problem due to muscle memory. This is based on the principle that through repetitive movements, complex body movements no longer require conscious thought in order to do them. This is why it is important to practice movements to the point that they are second nature, so that when one is in the roda, one is able to pull out an appropriate movement without having to dig through the library, as it were.

But, more on my frustration. As nothing in life is static, so is the enrollment. As a result, there are times when despite my level, I end up being the top ranked student in any given session. This is a lot of responsibility, as this student will often be the one used as an example. Also, considering the closer proximity in rank between a novice student and an advanced student (rather than an instructor), the advanced student will be more likely approached.

This is where I lack the appropriate "muscle memory" (read: experience) to act accordingly, but am working on changing. It is important to do so, as the situation is not necessarily going to improve in the near future, as I rise up the ranks and the dynamics between students change (new students come, old students leave).

The solution to simply train more is a tempting one, as it's the simplest solution, although not necessarily the brightest one. Given my age, my body no longer heals as fast as it used to, so aches and strains require a certain amount of time to heal. But, it is also tempting because of the addictive adrenaline and endorphine rush I get during and after a class.

But, brute force solutions will not usually fix the problem, as I will increase the likelihood of injury. After talking to an older student and making an off-hand comment about how 95% of my doctor's appointments were to treat or diagnose a condition related to Capoeira training, she pointed out that at one point I was training almost every day for a month. Considering how much time I've been forced to take off due to injury (2.5 weeks from my hamstring tendon injury), it would probably balance out between a more regularly spaced training schedule.

So, how DOES one deal with the responsibility? Acceptance would probably be the first step. Realization that there are limits to what I'm physically capable of doing, and that I'm human, and by nature, I'm going to mess up a few times. And, while I may be the most advanced student in the class, I'm still not the instructor. So, while it is imperative that I set a good example, it should be an example of trying my best, rather than getting it perfect.

But more importantly, I should step back and figure out why I'm doing Capoeira in the first place, and for who I'm doing this. I didn't necessarily get into this so I could teach (although it is something I've developed an interest in). I didn't do this so I could compete or work in Hollywood (although I would consider it if the opportunity came up). And, I'm not necessarily doing this to impress anyone.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

noticia bom

("Good News")

With my last physiotherapy appointment, I am given a clean bill of health. I still have a slight decrease in normal range of motion with my left leg and I won't likely be able to do quixada up to head-height like I used to (at least not for a few weeks), but the bottom line is that I'm back.

Today, I ease back into it with one of the lower-level classes. But hey, at least I get to be one of the bigger than the other kids. (that's a reference to The Simpsons, sorry.)

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Jogo de Dentro, Jogo de Fora, Jogo Bonito é o Jogo de Angola

("Inside Game, Outside Game, the Game of Angola is a Beautiful Game")

Toquinha (in white) and Instrutore Sapo at the 2005 Batizado, Vancouver BC

Okay, so this is anything BUT a close game, and most of it consists of me pulling out as many floreios (acrobatic movements) as possible, doing (not including basic kicks) mortal (backflip), au malandro (one-handed L-kick), au sem mao (aerial / no-hand cartwheel) and sacha rolha (spinning handstand, literally, "corkscrew"). During the whole thing, I'm maintaining a large distance, almost pulling out kicks for their own sake. But, I start playing closer, right before I appear to take a shot to the face, further underscoring the importance of keeping one's guard up.

This is where we start emphasizing the importance of jogo de dentro, or inside game. It's quite counterintuitive, as instinctively, one would want to keep their distance from their opponent in any sort of combat situation. But, on a physics standpoint, in many respects, it's actually safer to stand closer to the opponent. This is akin to cracking a whip. The arm itself is harmless, yet the end of the whip is what breaks the skin.

Jogo de dentro is one of the more challenging aspects of Capoeira to master and understand, but is important, not only for safety, but for the development of one's game. Even though it is essentially a conversation in movement, there is a huge temptation to pull out one's tricks and attempt to plan combinations, especially with novice students. I still remember my first Batizado, where I attempted to do a combination of quixada (circular kick from forward leg), armada de costa (spinning circular kick from back leg), and au malandro. I was on the floor before I was able to finish the second kick.

At four feet away, sure, there's a really good chance that the opponent will never connect. But, why do it? There is no motivation to dodge, escape, or even respond with an appropriate movement. There is no growth, no evolution, and nothing learned. A student instructor referred to it as trying to talk about Capoeira, when the other person starts talking about hockey.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Mais um semana

"One more week"

Still slogging through my physiotherapy and stretching exercises. I have significantly decreased range of motion in my left hamstring and have appointment scheduled for next Thursday. The physiotherapist says I'll possibly have to take another week for full recovery to minimize the risk of additional injury.

I came to realize that about every single visit that I've made to my doctor has been related to an injury sustained in training. It's the catch-22: either I'm in there because of the weekend warrior stuff, or because of health problems related to an inactive lifestyle. My family doctor recommends that I take up swimming. I hate swimming.

But, on the plus side, I've learned another song in Capoeira.

Ele é braço forte, (he has a strong arm)
ele é perna dura, (he has a hard leg)
ele e meu mestre, (he is my mestre)
ele ninguém segura (no one can hold him)

Ele é ligeiro (he is agile)
no martelo a meia-lua (of the martelo, meia-lua)
da macaco esse dobrado (and macaco and s. dobrado)
mas não faz isto na rua (but not doing it in the streets)

E meu mestre e (and my mestre)
E meu mestre a (and my mestre)
ele e meu mestre, (he is my mestre)
ninguém vai me segurar (no one will hold me)

Thursday, February 1, 2007

"Vou dizer minha mulher, Capoeira me venceu."

("Go tell my wife that Capoeira has me")

With most sports, there is a notable disparity between genders, and Capoeira isn't that much different. With some very notable exceptions (Mestranda Edna Lima being one of them), it is largely male dominated, especially in higher ranks.

Given the parallels between Capoeira, gymnastics, and modern dance, one would think that there would be slightly less disparity (especially considering female dominance of gymnastics and dance), but this isn't always the case.

All attempts to avoid degenerating into male chauvinism aside, the physical differences are fairly obvious, which is much harder for me to take into account when I am asked for pointers on certain movements. That, and I still have a hard time understanding why it's more difficult for women to do regular push-ups (i.e.: legs extended). While there is the narrower shoulder width, there's also the much lower overall weight to consider. Upper-body strength is great and all, but strength-to-weight ratio should probably be more heavily considered, right?

Given my history with Capoeira (casually studying between 1997-1999, then studying seriously and regularly from 2003 onwards), certain movements can executed with relative ease. For example, it took me a while to figure out macaco lateral (one-handed back handspring), but within a week or two, I could pull it off without thinking. But, it is something that I see some female students struggle with, which is often attributed to having a different body composition.

When considering acrobatic movements, this does have some level of merit. Compare half-pipe snowboarders (ESPN X-Games, Winter Olympics), and male snowboarders often get much higher verticals and larger rotations. Even without a university degree in physics, one could easily surmise that this is due to a different centre of gravity and larger body mass (more force going down the pipe converts more potential energy into kinetic energy, leading to higher speed and verticals).

But on the other hand, considering that people who are not necessarily "naturally" physically gifted, yet are able to perform these movements, it could be a simple (note: that's "simple", not "easy") matter of just putting in the effort and removing whatever psychological barriers are in the way.

One particularly interesting moment occurred when I was coaching another student (one level below mine) on macaco lateral, which she indicated that I was "naturally athletic." Considering that I was always the last to be picked for teams, I thought it was sort of flattering. Yet, after some coaching, I was able to get another student with a much less athletic body type to perform a macaco lateral (albeit with some minor improvements to be made).

In some respects, women have a very distinct advantage, as guys will have a tendency to hold back or "play down" to their level. I should know - I do it a lot too. I remember during a training exercise, remembering not to "hold back" (as I've been told, the person should know to esquiva), I accidentally hit a woman in the face with a godeme (back fist), thinking that she was going to block with cutela alta (open palm block). I felt really, really bad when that happened. As it is, when playing against women, I've made a point of holding back, or at least executing movements with a lot more control than necessary. This is probably why I've been known to get taken down by some female members of my academy.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A importância de equilibrio

("The importance of balance")

With any activity, excellence is achieved through dedication, effort, and pushing one's limits. Anything physical also promotes the release of endorphins and adrenaline, which can be somewhat addictive. But, any serious stress of the body requires rest to heal. Injuries, however, require a bit more time.

A trip to the physiotherapist had me lying on the table while my upper hamstring was prodded with an ultrasound device, which is supposed to help break down of scar tissue and promote blood flow, which is kinda important when tendons don't have a lot of blood vessels to begin with, which will naturally make them take longer to heal than any other body part. After giving me a list of stretching and exercises, I am advised to stop training for two weeks. At least.

Because it's addictive, it becomes a little difficult to know when to quit, so having a life outside of Capoeira is very important. Being that I essentially DON'T, it's tempting to spend all of my free time at the Capoeira studio (of which I have plenty). That, and compounded with my age (I turn 30 this summer), I don't nearly heal as fast as I used to.

It also underscores the importance of proper warm-up and stretching. This was actually brought about due to an older injury (two weeks previous) with an improper stretch (trust is very important with a partnered stretching exercise), which I wasn't really expecting last Friday, considering that I was warmed up quite well and was playing some of my best Capoeira in the roda that night.

Apparently, it's only a grade 1-level tear, which doesn't require surgery, but still requires proper care and time for recovery. Time to start practicing my music.

"Super very good. You CRAZY, man!"

Superhomem ("Superman") plays pondeiro during roda at benefit event for Alexis Mazurin ("Urso Cabelo Duro," or "Bear with Hard Hair"), September 5th, 2005.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Batizado 2006: Amarelo Escuro

September 3rd, 2006. With students Casado, Jazz (not pictured), Dandara, and Toquinha.

Perguntas Mais Freqüentes

("Frequently Asked Questions")

Q: Why Capoeira?
A: A common complaint I have about many martial arts taught in North America is that it's excessively watered down, often taught by instructors with minimal understanding of the culture which spawned it. While I can make provisions for an instructor who isn't necessarily from the country of origin (eg: Japan for Karate, China for Kung-Fu, Korea for Tae Kwon Do, The Philippines for Escrima), there is often minimal attention paid to tradition and roots, and the form is often heavily modified. Worse is when emphasis is turned towards generating money and churning out black belts as fast as possible.

With Capoeira, heavy emphasis is placed on culture and history, much of which is told through music (ladainhas), and in order for students to advance, they must be well-rounded, with knowledge (and application) of movement, music, and history.

That, and on an aesthetic level, it's one of the most beautiful martial arts around.

Q: Isn't Capoeira useless in a fight?
A: My belief is that you don't need to know martial arts to hurt someone if you were so-inclined, and if those who are in martial arts to hurt people are in it for the wrong reasons. It's not so much about the art form, but the mentality of the individual. Even if a person is trained in every combat form, if they aren't psychologically prepared to defend themselves in a situation, then they'll freeze.

In a fast game, the kicks can be dangerous. If the guy wants to hit you and you aren't prepared, you are going to take a shot to the face and it's going to hurt. I should know. I've been on the receiving end and on the dispensing end.

A lot of it is flashy and fancy, but use your head. If someone wants your wallet and you want to increase your chances of survival, either give the person what he/she wants or run, or both. This applies to anyone of any martial arts discipline, regardless of skill level.

Q: Don't they just aim to miss?
A: Yes and no. In some respects, it can be compared to no-contact sparring, but it's not always like that. It's a conversation in movement in a game-like setting. Both players start with ginga (fundamental movement), and then play according to what the other player has. One launches armada de costa (spinning roundhouse), to which the other responds with esquiva para trás (dodge to the back) and quixada (stepping into roundhouse kick from front leg). In response, the first player does esquiva de frente (defensive dodge facing forward) and advances into vingativa (forward movement in preparation for take-down). Second player sees this, and responds with tesoura (scissors take-down).

The conversation aspect is what makes for a good game. Many newer students try to pull out a specific movement without any regard for what the other player is doing, while others play too far away. These can be dangerous as the movements lack control (eg: you throw a kick directly against someone else's kick, causing injury), while playing too far away actually makes you more prone to injury (it's a matter of physics...there is less windup and kinetic energy when there is a shorter distance between the foot and the target).

More often than not, the players execute movements with control, so if a more experienced player throws a meia lua de compasso (spinning heel kick) against a lower level student who is not fast enough to esquiva (dodge), the more experienced of the two will stop the movement or make very light contact.

Depending on the game, you can make full-contact, but expect the other person to hit back.

Q: Have you seen...what's that movie called...where that ex-Green Beret teaches martial arts to at-risk students in some inner-city high school?
A: That's Only the Strong, which in many respects, is not a very good movie. Certainly, one can do much, MUCH worse on their trip to the video store (The Quest, which has some Capoeira scenes, comes to mind), and currently, it is one of the only Hollywood films to feature Capoeira from beginning to end. That, and the film did expose Capoeira to the mainstream, introducing many non-Brazilians to the art form.

But if I'm watching it, I usually just fast-forward to the good scenes. The dialogue is pretty weak (Stevens: "What's your name?" Orland: "Eat $^!@$." Stevens: "Do you want your blade back, 'Eat $^!@%'?"), the characters are sorta silly (a character earns a Darwin award by going into a burning building to retrieve a berimbau) and it doesn't really delve into the history or culture. But, the first purpose of a film is usually to entertain. Not that OTS really does that in any great quantity.

Outside of various documentaries and DVDs on the subject, I'm at a loss to recommend a film that showcases Capoeira in an authentic and realistic manner, and I haven't seen Madame Satã or the really obscure Cordão De Ouro (with Nestor Capoeira). However, The Protector (aka Tom Yum Goong) has a fairly decent fight scene between Tony Jaa and Capoeira stunt player Lateef Crowder (who actually sorta looks like Eddy Gordo from the Tekken video games). I also sorta like the scene with Vincent Cassel in Oceans 12.

Q: Isn't it a lot like breakdancing?
Being that a b-boy isn't likely going to try to kick you in the face, I'd say no.

The more serious answer: this is currently still up for debate, as there are certain movements that are shared between both. Headspins are like pião de cabeça, L-kicks are similar to au malandro/batido, and the Valdez is similar macaco. That, and breakdancing first appeared in America in the 1980s, shortly after Capoeira was introduced in America in 1975 by Jelon Viera. But, early b-boy pioneers will mention not knowing of Capoeira until the 90s, saying that their inspiration came from Kung-Fu flicks. The debate rages on.

Q: Caperreira...Caperra...Capwerrra...
A: (clears throat loudly) ka·poh·EHR·a

Cada núvem negro tem forro prata

("Every black cloud has a silver lining.")

It finally happened...and I was having a really good day too. After two weeks of a tight hamstring, it finally pulled in the middle of a movement that I must have done a million times. Playing against a lower-belted student in the roda, I went in for au amazonas, only to feel a crunch sensation followed by a sharp pain from my left leg. Weakly limping out of the roda, I went home and hung out at a friend's place, sitting on an ice pack for the better part of three hours.

I initially intended this blog to be not so much as a resource, but some opinions, theories, and experiences in the art of Capoeira, an Afro-Brasilian art form which combines martial arts, dance, music, history, and culture. But right now, this blog is just about the only thing that's keeping me sane.

Regardless of what I'm going through in the day, everything disappears when I'm in the roda. The berimbau rhythms inspire aché which in turn is spread among others in the group. Regardless of who I play, I am never more alive even when I hit the ground.

So, with three weeks on the injured list, what else is there to do? I have a relatively large library of songs to learn and memorize, a berimbau cabaça which I was supposed to have custom painted a long time ago, and I can always brush up on my Portuguese. Onde e o banheiro?

That, and I can share my life in Capoeira in the blogosphere.