Monday, January 20, 2014

capoeira – an offer you can’t refuse?

Banano in Chacauha
If Capoeira is an expression of anti-stateism, of anti-authority, of anti-rule, of anti-slavery, how does this mesh with the near monotheistic adoration of individual figures within our cult? This article looks at the role of Mestres in the world of Capoeira how they exert influence over their groups and how some short-comings are often overlooked by us. Yes, this is all about sex, drugs and Rock’nroll. And some Capoeira.

Capoeira Mestres inhabit a unique space. They are the living embodiment of an art form rooted in some mystery. An art form that defies classification constantly evolves and has little international organization. Mestres bear responsibility for Capoeira’s practice and development. Through continuous involvement they must ensure that Capoeira’s inherent freedom does not lead to a dilution of the art and vice versa, that a necessary conservation of traditions does not result in a curtailing of a central basic idea of individual expression. Capoeira takes a lot from the individuals who mean to walk its path. On a life-long journey of this kind the opportunities to err by far outnumber all those perfectly white grains of sand on Copacabana Beach.

Yet when we are witnesses to our leaders’ errors we still put them up on our pedestal. And keep them there, though we hold ourselves and others to higher standards. What is this zeal born out of? This sect-like behavior. This inadequate examination of our voluntarily accepted commanders in chief. Is it because they can easily beat our ass anytime they want? A return to rather basic behavior patterns. Or do we mislike judging our judgement? Once we made a call we don’t want to admit that we were wrong. Maybe it is because deep inside we know s/he owns the roda that we play in and therefor also our Capoeira. Or do we just happily soak in this inexpensive letting go? We live in a world in which we are always supposed to be in control; of our selves, our family, our career, our emotions, our country. Or else that tree will be watered with a patriot’s blood. In this world it may just be plain nice to give in to an age old comfort of not being responsible. More positively and maybe realistically put, of being part of something larger than yourself. But if humanity’s behavior patterns are based on clearly established lines of command, what does it mean that those have mostly disappeared outside of the dictatorship we call work? Maybe following certain leaders in a religion, in a cult or in a martial art is a natural expression of needing a place in a pecking order.

Be that as it may, it is fascinating to watch Capoeira Mestres do their thing. If you are lucky enough to interact with many of them it stands out even more. It is extremely interesting for me (Don’t want to know how many Martellos that will earn me) to watch Mestres exert their influence over a group of people who don’t usually follow anyone’s orders unless it is within the context of that dictatorship thingy.

Most of us are usually too involved in our own closed system (read: daily grind) to examine ourselves and the people closest to us. We don’t see the forest for all the trees. And we are also too busy just keeping our lives straight. But maybe it is easier to try to examine your Mestre, since they take up so much space anyway. Think of your Mestre as just another person that you may see walking down the street. S/he doesn’t do backflips or randomly rasteras people, right? No lethal speed and strange interlingual philosophical depictions that somehow often seem to make complete sense, you just don’t know how. Would you think the person walking down the street is steeped in an ancient, heavily ritualized art? Would you think that they can open a place for you, inside of you, that you can not reach without help? In an unfinal analysis we are all complex human being, and it may be difficult to grasp a remotely complete picture of a person unless you spend years with them.

But sometimes we are allowed glimpses into other people’s worlds. Often those pass us by unnoticed. We are too full of living our own lives. And these other worlds can be too similar to our own to warrant closer attention. TV on the other hand, the story teller of our age, takes up a lot of our time. TV provides insights into other people’s realities. It fulfills a basic creative human interest for new food for thought. For seeing some greener grass on the other side. This is legitimate, right? We are surrounded by those who are much like us. And we are also pattern recognition machines. Made to recognize, file, store and ignore repeat inputs. So we constantly want new horizons and we tend to ignore repetitive inputs. All those ignored inputs make room and time for extraordinary events. It saves bandwidth for dangerous or cool shit. Basically, we are set up to be bored by life. Unless you go find cool shit.­

We can trick ourselves. We can put ourselves into situations that provide higher doses of outside input. Maybe our thirst for traveling is a result of this. On the road, we seem to become more in tune with the world around us. Less auto-piloted. Often this is jarring, yet rewarding. More so, if born with a smile worn. Also some professions are afforded a somewhat gratis fly-on-the-wall status into other people’s lives. Somewhat, because each must pay their particular price for the privilege of being a voyeur. Be you a paparazzi, a shrink or a priest.

I get to roll with a first class legend in a should-be Olympic sport that’s got a Public Relations problem worse than that thing on ice with a slow moving rock and some strange fellows rubbing the ground with brooms in front of it. B2B, Mestre Acordeon’s project to document the history of Capoeira’s development in the Americas and Capoeira’s influence on people’s lives is an amazing thing to be a part of. On so many different levels; the work of the documentary, capoeira, friendship, culture, personal journeys, meditation by bicycle. People tell us it’s the most amazing (loco) thing they have ever seen. And still they think we are a troupe of dancers.

To help with a better understanding of a Mestre’s world I could write up a quick long list of what happens in a Mestre Acordeon day, but like on TV you can see all that in the B2B videos, our pictures on Facebook and in our blogs. Instead it would be much more interesting to hear what you think a day as Mestre Acordeon on B2B is like. Here is a chance to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. And if you want to get really crazy you can do this little mind experiment with the opening sentence of this article in mind. So write us some lines, make a video, or paint a drawing (however you or your kids like to express yourselves). You can do it here, drop it on Facebook or tell it to your pet hamster. It all counts. In any language.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

mexico & capoeira

We have heard from tons of people about Mexican Capoeira. We have watched a bunch of Mexican Capoeira. We’ve played a couple of games here and there since we have been riding through Mexico for nearly three month. We have listened to Mexicans talk about Mexico, and about Capoeira. And about Mexican Capoeira. We are a Capoeira train with a super charged twin turbo diesel engine. What I am trying to say is that there is a lot of Capoeira going on for B2B in Mexico City. For those of you new to this adventure, B2B stands for Berkeley to Bahia. By Bicycle. It is a project of Mestre Acordeon - a crazy 70 year young (apparently) Capoeira Legend who has set out to discover the roots of Capoeira in the Americas. 14.000 Miles on a bicycle. This journey will result in a documentary, a music CD and a book. We get to roll with Mestre, through the Californias, Mexico and all of Central America. Have I told you that I love riding bike?

One thing stands out. If you want to think about Mexican Capoeira you can’t just separate the two entities. You have to consider both Capoeira and Mexico. You can take a taco guy out of his taco truck, but you can’t take the taco truck out of the taco guy. Even if he becomes a salad guy, he will toss your salad as fast and full of flair as if he was still making tacos.

So what is Capoeira in Mexico City all about? There is certainly a lot more than we thought. Maybe a few Professors, CMs and Mestres making a hard living teaching Capoeira in the USA are already thinking the same. Pack your bags. Forget your Greencard. The USA is not the promised land. Move south of the border. Yeah, I said it. There are 40-50 odd groups here. Where is that density in the US? Yes, Mexico City is a town of (a few uncounted) millions, but people with five or less years of Capoeira start groups here. And manage to make a living of it. We have seen the same in smaller towns all over the north of the country. Messy, mixed, mongrelized, Mexican. Happy. Maybe it is because many people in lots of countries do not have the luxury to choose between right and wrong, they choose between work and no work, food and no food.

Yes, some of these groups may seem commercial, zumba-ized even. They may not know the music. Or that the tocas in your roda are the tocas of your life. Tocas that can’t not be followed. But, as Capoeira grows, in the nooks and crannies of this dense and denser humanity, should we prefer some Capoeira, or should we accept all? Are we the judge of which Capoeira is worthwhile? Considering that none of us know an absolute truth of origin, do we have the ability, the right, to know the destination?

And how can Mexican Capoeira find its base? When Mexico itself has been working, justly, for centuries to know its own, to find its own and to accept it. If Capoeira is an expression of anti-colonialism, of anti-authority, of anti-rule, of anti-slavery, then how can it mesh with Mexico’s history? Or should it be a perfect marriage?

Two indigenous cultures on the tip of the spear of western, barely post-medieval society. A ruthless, greedy and blind society. A society that was surfing the accidental waves of geographical fortune and technological advantage. Raping and pillaging along the way, it left continents of confusion in its wake. Suddenly all power came from the barrel of a gun and the center of a cross. Each country eventually revolted against foreign rule, as did the Estados Unidos . Each revolution in its own way, leaving a legacy of historical influence, of deeply ingrained cultural memes. Do you wear feathers for equinox or are you from a quilombo? Are you a minute man or one of the child heroes of Mexico? Where is your past located and how does it impact your present?

Whenever you live these two narratives leave a lasting impact. It's beyond my experience and understanding to interpret this impact. As usual I only have questions for you. Does modern Mexico's self-image allow room for Capoeira, which is part of another nation’s creation myth? And do these two cultural constructs (big words, yes) complement/conflict? Someone could probably write a book about this.

One of the statements we heard about Mexican Capoeira is that players don’t speak to each other in a jogo. To speak one’s mind one must first know it, know one's foundation. And so, it may be that this stasis of expression remains caught either in a game of mutes or a fight. Mais nau um bom jogo.