Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Back to Capoeira

Today, for the first time in about two months (since before Carnaval I believe) I went back to Capoeira.

I started training Capoeira over ten years ago, but I've taken many long breaks- once because I went travelling in Asia, once because I got a shoulder injury, once because I was renovating a house, planning a wedding, and tending to a pregnant wife- all at the same time. By comparison, this break was relatively short, if it has indeed ended.

These last couple years I've been asking myself if I even want to continue training Capoeira. Many groups wouldn't accept a student that is as irregular in attendance as I am, but that's part of what I like about this group. The thing is, I don't know if I accept myself as a student of Capoeira if I can't get it together to train more than once a week. I was a much more dedicated student when I lived in New York, but then again I was single and childless at the time. Since we had to pay for each individual class, rather than monthly like most schools, the amount I trained was only limited by what I could afford.

Now, I live in the city that probably has the highest number of Capoeira Angola groups in the entire world, and ever since I got here I've gotten increasingly less and less serious about my training.

The funny thing about it is: even though I keep leaving, I keep going back.

Capoeira, and I think especially Capoeira Angola, is a very strange art form. I'll never forget the fateful day when my then-roommate came back from a class all excited about this martial arts class he'd just done- African by way of Brazil and everybody singing and dancing and playing instruments- and fighting. All at the same time. You're nuts, I told him. It took him a long time to convince me to give it a try, and wouldn't you know it- of the four of us that were training together at that time I am the last to be sticking it out. I've survived an entire group in Brattleboro, Vermont and several others that have come and gone over the years in Western Massachusetts.

The thing is, to really love Capoeira Angola, you have to love a whole bunch of different things. It's not enough to want to work out and train a martial art. You have to play instruments. You also have to sing songs. In Portuguese. And it's not a straight up martial art- you do lots of peculiar movements, some of which are acrobatic and some of which aren't- some of which are downright weird. Then you have to mix all of this up together- playing, dancing, fighting, and singing to be a capoeirista. There's not a lot of people who can hang with all of these. The ones that do tend to be fanatical, at least for a little while, after which a large percentage of them drop out. The ones who don't are the Truly Strange.

I'm half joking when I say that, of course, because I am one of those Truly Strange. I wouldn't describe myself as fanatical about Capoeira, although I have certainly been quite passionate about it at different times of my life- it was the primary catalyst for my big move from Bucolic Brattleboro to Bustling Brooklyn. I think my lack of fanaticism is why I've stuck with it as long as I have, but this same lack of fanaticism is what keeps me from getting truly good at it. I used to look at the folks who were always there, for every class, and I'd think: Don't these people have other lives? Don't they have families? I suspect the answers are either no to the first question, or yes, but they take second place to the second. A line to the great Capoeira anthem Parana Ê is "Tell my woman, Parana, Capoeira has overcome me, Parana." Well, I opted not to follow that path.

It's funny to see the Capoeira tourists come here, they are like little kids let loose in an amusement park; running from roda to roda to this class with that group and that class with this group. I never really did that, although part of me wishes I had. My intention coming here was to complement my Capoeira experience by learning something about Brazil, and in that I succeeded in spades. I've tried to yank some of these tourists out of the Capoeira Vortex- "Hey, there's a Candomblé going on on Wednesday, you should try to make it." This almost never produced results so I gave up. But then again, I don't see as many Capoeira tourists here as I used to.

So I started out with a very brief mention of the class I attended, my first in two months. What should I say about it? It was great to see everyone, and as I expected there was a lot of surprised reaction to my drastic haircut. I did not pass out from overexertion, although I suspect after a couple more years I won't be so lucky after spending two months sitting on my ass.

Here's hoping I'm back for good.


A.L.R. said...

Buried post, I know, but you have described my Capoeira experience in a nutshell. For me, Capoeira used to be my connection to Brazil. It was great because it came in small and gratifying doses. Now I am surrounded by Brazil, and don't naturally don't have that same hunger to play that I once had.

Anyway...glad I'm not the only one.

markuza said...

Wow, really digging into the archives there! Although I have had to make a conscious effort at times to maintain my connection to capoeira, there have been other times that it has been a lifeline to my sanity. Anyhow, sorry we don't see you more around the academy senhor sumido.