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.


  1. I love this post, greetings Pirata!

  2. I told you why I think about this post ;)


  3. It's a sensitive topic but the way you put the first sentence is exactly what i wish more people would discuss. How would the slaves who started the art think about us treating "masters" as gods who eat first and sleep on the better couch, and who must be obeyed and permission must be granted for traveling, etc.? Capoeira at it's best should be an art form that unites us all as the same, not stratifies us in order to treat people differently.

    1. ¿¿¿??? Well, i think each of us is responsible of the capoeristas we hang around with, including the mestres you respect. We are not chained slaves, held by gunpoint to do as a mestre says, we choose.
      Must of those dictatorial mestres (and professors, or even instructors) are what they are because a bunch of dumbasses follow them and permit those things. Me too, i had my "blind disciple phase". But not anymore, a mestre that dosen't shows me he/she deserves to be the first to eat and the one that gets better couch dosen't get it from me. And as with anything else, that people are usually the ones that want to be the last to be served or are the most happy to sleep on the floor.

  4. While I agree that some people treat mestres as you describe I don't think it's inherent in capoeira. What is inherent is a culture of respect for our elders, and this is a healthy thing. Consider your grandparents, if they came to visit you would they sleep on the floor or would you make sure they had a comfortable bed? I think it's the same with capoeira mestres, especially if you are a host and they have travelled some distance to teach you. It's not putting them on a pedestal to make sure they are well looked after and comfortable. If I was going to travel a long way and teach someone my expertise I would expect to be treated well too!

    Now my return question is: how does that compare to living with mestre(s) day in, day out, all day on the road?

  5. Thanks for reading and the comments :)
    I must admit that I was not referring to the best couch and a first plate at dinner when I spoke of Mestres making mistakes. As you say, that's a more basic respect for our elders. Some of our elders are wiser than others.

  6. Those are great questions at the beginning. How should we deal with bad behavior from mestres on pedestals? If we want to develop and retain more strong women and men who see women as equals in capoeira, these issues need to be addressed.

  7. Terrific! beautiful piece. The capoeira PR problem is nicely brought up. It's definitely something we all need to address, though this may require a level of coordination/collaboration far beyond anything the capoeira community normally likes to immerse itself in.

  8. Hey Capoeiristas, thank you for reading my piece. Its great to see people discussing this topic!!! Especially because what I write is a collection of thoughts arising out of conversations with capoeiristas all over the world. So its very much a collective thing.

    RIding with two Mestres day in and day out is just what you would think it is. Mindbogglingly amazing. These two are machines on their bicycles, and like Ancestro suggests they are also some of the humblest people I have had the pleasure to be around. Frequently doing dishes and other chores.

    There is so much goodwill and love among us. Capoeira is a family. The honor and work our Mestres put in for us are enormous. I for one want to keep it that way, help increase our positive messaging and internal dialogues about how we want our world to be. Because we are responsible for creating it.

    That's very true Molina, the difficulty in organizing could also be a result of that push and pull between freedom and organization. Glad to hear that Curling is widely known.

    Thank you for your comment thedirtybaker. Of course these are rather sensitive topics. Things like finances, friendships and relationships
    are magnified in a tightly knit community like Capoeira. Because we are so close to each other, we react strongly, maybe sometimes too strongly.

  9. I often wonder what its like for capoeira teachers in general to be teaching in the west, what they in their deepest heart think of their students an the lands they are in and how their thoughts are driven by their cultural backgrounds(as ours are by ours). I have met more than one teacher who simply cannot comprehend that students are not immensely wealthy for example charging large amounts for workshops on top of monthly class fees. I remember trying to explain to my first teacher that I couldnt afford the train ticket to her second class in the nearby town weekly(with the class it came to about £30) she turned away with pursed lips disapproval. At the time I couldn't understand how she couldn't step away from her selfish viewpoint. Then more recently I went to brazil and understood, they are surrounded by media that pushes the idealistic money and power capitalist dream, if you have none you are nothing, the west is portrayed as a mecca of endless money. There were also other things, behaviour patterns, what is viewed as right an wrong. For example the country people I met would happily kick their animals around but when a families cat was killed on the road they all wept. Brazil from my experience is so far away from western thinking that it is impossible to draw parrells really, like trying to compare an apple to a horse. I was only their for two weeks but suffered what I assume now was severe culture shock although my traveling companions seemed more immune,( talking to them they saw the similarities in events(rodas samba, people eat, go to school/bars etc etc) rather than the thoughts driving both the peoples actions an the cuture) what years of living in another culture does to you I can only imagine.
    Teachers are given a lot of power by their students purely by the unspoken agreement, `I will do as you say'. The way they view the world an resulting actions could well be seen as them abusing the students trust/exploiting them without the teacher ever intending to. Let alone those who I have met who deliberately exploit their students as a source of a easy sex, organisation of their group, and money for batizados which are more pyramid scheme style parties. An the students expect a lot of their teachers, that they will act as a moral compass in this art that is said to mirror life, if the teacher comes from a background of a big mega group where their mestre was more concerned about growing the group, making his teachers play in his style an beat other capoeiristas in rodas how are they going to cope when asked for guidance they never received even within their own cultural context...? Its complicated :D. Best of luck for the rest of your journey and safe passage, all of you are inspirational an reading your blogs an facebook updates have given me very itchy feet.

  10. As far as overlooking short-comings goes, it's like missing a tree for the forest - a trade-off I gladly make on a regular basis for those whom are close to me. We're all flawed with no exceptions. We need to be able to overlook those flaws to an extent. So long as that tree does not grow large enough to overshadow the rest of the forest, it can be overlooked. The problem arises when the tree starts small, grows slowly, and by the time it starts to tower over the other trees, we are standing so closely that we cannot see the shadow it casts.