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.