Friday, May 9, 2008


Tonight I went and played in the roda of our Capoeira group. I brought Lucas with me, because he's been bugging me since Monday about how he wanted to go. Our group is very kid-friendly, we have a bunch of local kids who train and participate in the roda with us and provide a lot of energy in general, so I like to bring Lucas along. Everyone loves him there too, which is a bonus.

Because Lucas was with me, and I haven't been training much, my expectations were pretty low for the roda. I didn't even know if I'd get to play, or even if I should. I mostly just wanted to be there and see everyone and sing the songs. Going into the second hour of the roda, a friend of mine offered to distract Lucas for me so I could play. She told me to go directly to the pé do berimbau (literally 'foot of the berimbau') which is where the next in line to play sits. I did, and next thing I know I'm in the roda.

When I first started training Capoeira, the idea of playing in the roda was just about the scariest and most personally challenging thing I could have imagined myself ending up doing. You are in the middle of a circle of people, all singing and watching you play your game with one other person. Whatever you do, for good or bad, is there for everyone to see. I still find it challenging.

So I'm in the roda with a woman from our group who I have never played against before. She's a few years older than me- I being on the shy side of forty and she being a few years on the other side. She used to train with GCAP, as did several members of our group, and all three of our mestres.

GCAP is legendary in Capoeira Angola. Without wanting to get into it too much, it was essentially the group that saved Capoeira Angola when it was being snuffed out by Capoeira Regional. It is known as having been one of the most demanding and disciplined groups with one of the strictest mestres the art has ever known. Still is. It was responsible for the formation of many other groups started by ex-students- something one of my mestres refers to as the 'GCAP diaspora.'

The woman I was about to play had left Capoeira years before, and then come back to train with our group. I'd seen her play, and knew she still used a lot of the old GCAP moves. GCAP plays an aggressive game. I don't. I'm a mellow guy, most of the time, and most of my games in the roda are mellow too. Plus I was low energy- the adjectives 'heavy' and 'stiff' come to mind.

So we start to play- very slow and polite, which is how I always start a game. Very early on she starts to play more aggressively with me, kicking me when I'm open and picking up the pace. She got me with some move that left me on the floor, not much fun in front of all those people. It was not the game I had been hoping to play. One of my mestres made a comment that I didn't follow exactly, but the gist was that I was getting thumped and better do something about it.

At this point, I had to make a choice. I could have let her play this game against me, and continued to try to counter with a non-aggressive, mellow game. I've done this in the past with mixed results. If I'm really on top of my game, I can pull it off, but usually I just end up gettting kicked a lot and annoyed. The alternative is to ramp it up and play the game she is already playing.

I decided to ramp it up.

Let me say for those who aren't familiar with Angola that when I say 'kick' I don't mean kick in a kickboxing sense. Angola is much more about showing kicks, or planting a kick lightly, to show that you 'got' the other person. I've taken real kicks before, by accident and on purpose, and they generally mean the game is over.

So I will my soggy, leaden limbs to move faster and start getting serious. I'm not a brilliant capoeirista by any means, but I have a few moves. I even have some kinda 'dirty' moves, but I decided not to pull any of them out tonight. I whiz a couple kicks by her face and pull her foot out from under her and the game is on. She reacts by setting her mouth and playing harder. It became clear that she was trying hard to get me.

It wasn't a pretty game. I was stiff and out of practice. The crowning moment for me was a well-placed cabeçada (head butt) that put her gently on the floor- payback for earlier in the game. It went back and forth and I can't say if I really took the upper hand, I'm usually not real clear on what the game looks like to other people. At one point I was doing something or other and her foot hit me in the face. I didn't even see it coming. It didn't hit me hard, but I was already annoyed and this was even more annoying. She gave me a hug and figured it was the end of the game. I wanted to keep going and we were allowed to (the mestres, and whoever is playing the berimbau, decides when the game is over most of the time). We played a bit more and then we were done.

After a game like that, I never really know what people are thinking. I go and sit in the circle again, and sing and watch other people play, and I don't know if it was good or bad, if they think I did well or if I was an idiot. The worst is when you know you looked like an idiot. I hate asking people "So how was my game??" so generally I don't.

After the roda was over, someone I know from another Capoeira group asked if I would give her a ride, which I did. As we were walking to the car, she said that she enjoyed my game. I asked her why, because I thought it was pretty ugly. She said that she thought I'd been very gentlemanly in the way I had dealt with her- that she had pushed the game, been aggressive, and been asking for it. I had given it to her, but in a very nice way. She went on to say that she sees lots of women at her roda do this kind of thing, often with guys much more experienced than they, and the guys really let them have it. She doesn't approve of this kind of thing.

So I guess I'm flattered. I'm also wondering if anyone else had the same response to the game. I'm also really wanting to get my game back together so I don't feel like such a lunk in the roda. Next week I could come up against some young guy who trains every day and decides to go after me. That's also happened before.

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