Capoeira Communities: setting an example towards a social take in Capoeira

In June of 2010 I made a twofold trip holding/attending workshops and doing part of my research’s fieldwork. During this trip I visited a group of friends who have established a social enterprise to run Capoeira-related programmes in the local schools and institutions of Norwich, England. They succeeded not only in establishing Capoeira as part of ‘after-school’ programmes, as they also did it in bringing it to the local schools’ curriculum.

Their group merges a Cordão de Ouro branch with Capoeira Communities, a social enterprise of young instructors open to inter-group and inter-style cooperation within their programmes. The way they connect the different activities they run shows that for them everyone around matters, regardless of being a child, a community member, or someone from another group/style. What turns out to bring even more people to practice with them and/or into their programmes.

Unfortunately for me when I was in Norwich neither Cascão nor Meduza, the two more experienced instructors and co-founders of their programmes were around. On the other hand though, it was very nice to see how their crew have been contributing to the success of their programmes and development of Capoeira in their area. There were friends from different capoeira, national, and academic backgrounds highly engaged in their activities and we hanged together for a few days visiting classes, rodas, and doing interviews with both instructors and school Principals.

Within a couple of schools visited I had a well balanced perspective of their programmes and of Capoeira as tool in general. One Principal was happy with Capoeira’s interdisciplinarity and supported the adoption of the art within the school’s curriculum. For him Capoeira was a great way to bring people from different ages and genres together while also engaging parents and local community. Things that would rarely happen with those deeply involved with football, according to him. The other Principal I spoke to, despite highly satisfied with the Capoeira programmes within his school, noted that while children and youth from diverse ethnicities and poorer neighbourhoods rapidly forged their networks and improved their behaviour within the Art-form, the cohesiveness inherent to Capoeira groups seemed to increase the barrier between these groups and the other students from local ‘mainstream’ community.

Jim ‘Cascão’, the head trainer of socially this engaged crew, shared with me his believes and takes on Capoeira as a socio-educative instrument world over. He also discussed some of the important and recurrent issues of our worldwide community, like the inclusion-exclusion of non-Brazilian teachers in Capoeira; the intricacies of establishing the Art-form within schools’ curriculums and social programmes; and how to give a local meaning to an originally Brazilian cultural manifestation.

Other engaged members of Capoeira Communities also honoured me with their experience and takes on Capoeira in statements for my research. Thanks for that camaradas!!

Questions

1 – 4CapoeiraThoughts (4CT) – Can you tell me how did you first get interested in Capoeira and about your background since the beginning?
Jim ‘Cascão’ – My interest stemmed from the media, films and computer games and their portrayal of acrobatic martial arts. As a kid I was always a fan of Bruce Lee, I liked the stealth, fight sequences, mysticism and skill. I liked a fighting game on the Sony Playstation called Tekken 3 it has a character called Eddy Gordo … I really loved the character but thought he was a breakdancer using his moves as a fantasy fighter…. then by chance I saw capoeira in the flesh at a street demonstration in Austria and realised that it actually existed as a real fighting art. I was desperate to try it, and eventually heard of a group in my area.

The group was founded in September 2000 by Rod Penn (Medusa). … He went to regular classes in Cambridge with the group “Senzala Anglia” and then went on to start the group in Norwich, teaching students at the University of East Anglia and later, members of the public in the Norwich area. So I went to my first lesson where I met Medusa in Easter 2001, who had 18 months of Capoeira experience. …

… My addiction to Capoeira meant that I was always thinking about it. If I had another job i would try and turn anything into a Capoeira movement or conditioning exercise! It was all I wanted to do with my time! … simply it transformed my life, because of who I was when it crossed paths with me! I feel that it had such an incredible effect in transforming elements of myself, and now I am aware that it doesn’t have that effect on every practitioner even if they love it as much as I do.

2 – 4CT – When and why did you decided to teach?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - My first experience of teaching Capoeira was simply to support our friend/teacher Medusa when he went travelling and the group of Capoeira fans in my town including myself tried our best to continue practising. So it was the most informal circumstances possible. Medusa offered me the chance to lead the group as I had been to Capoeirando, and trained for three months in Rio De Janeiro. So when I began teaching I was very reluctant to do so. I had less than one-year as a Capoeira student! The group grew over the next couple of years, before I left our Senzala group in 2007 we had 120 cords given out at our Batizado in November 2006.

3 – 4CT – And the idea of setting Capoeira programmes as part of community development endeavours, how did you came up with this approach and why?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - I did not come up with the approach for myself. We had a 12 year-old boy learning with us who’s father worked for NEAD (http://www.nead.org.uk/ ). NEAD work in community development in local schools; I was invited to teach for a day at one school as part of a multi-cultural experience. In the end, we took Mestre Gato our Mestre at the time along with us and I saw the potential for working in this way. It was a great success, we ended up getting more offers of work and we started to see the potential for cross-curricular education. Of course, initially it started out as just another way of earning money, as I had no other job at the time, and was training Capoeira constantly during the daytime and teaching it to the best of my ability, in the evenings.

4 – 4CT – How do you feel about teaching a cultural practice from another country?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - I don’t even think about it most of the time, as I am a Capoeirista, and live my whole lifestyle around my love for the art. I am a qualified Instructor trained by a high quality teacher; I speak Portuguese, and understand Brazilian culture. My teacher gets angry with me if I ever doubt my ‘Instructor’status on the basis of my nationality.

5 – 4CT – Do you feel welcomed to the Capoeira community by the Brazilian senior instructors?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - This is quite a poignant question for me. When I look over my relationships with senior instructors I have to say that I have been treated very well. For a start my own teacher is a man who sees the world with a very open mind. He welcomed me, as he does every Capoeirista, with open arms. I know that he treated me as a person eager to learn Capoeira. Anything that I did, that could be perceived incorrect from a Capoeira teachers point-of-view, he saw a result of lack of training, or contact with a teacher. I have been treated with respect by many senior teachers, thanks to the careful education in Capoeira etiquette that my teacher has passed on.

… I can see how, from my early experiences in Rio de Janeiro, I was originally taught to play in an overly aggressive way; without having solid technique to back myself up. Therefore senior instructors perceived that I was arrogant, or that I thought I was better than I was, yet simply, I was quite terrible at Capoeira at that time, I simply loved how it physically feels to play Capoeira!! I was very naive though; for thinking that Capoeira players are supportive of each other, whereas most are insecure and are trying to show that they are the best around! I am an addicted fan of Capoeira and wholly wished to enjoy the art-form, and stay away from negative attitudes of jealousy or arrogance. I think a few Brazilian teachers treated me quite patronisingly or condescendingly in the past perhaps because I was teaching too early, but I knew that I had been teaching due to circumstance, that I was teaching from my heart with great enthusiasm, and was always honest with students about my level. I never regarded myself as if I was at the same ability as the other teachers, I knew I was pretty bad at it, and I was such a fan of their Capoeira and was ‘desperately’ following in their footsteps!

6 – 4CT – You have organised your professional life around Capoeira. Have you ever came across prejudice being a non-Brazilian teaching Capoeira?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - When people ask me “Are you Brazilian?” they probably think I’m a bit pale/white! Obviously the general public value “authentic” teachers in any walk of life; In those moments I have to be self-assured and confident that it does not matter. My teacher gives me a lot of confidence as he reminds me that I have spent more social time and training time with famous Capoeira masters than 99% of Brazilian Capoeiristas. It is simple for people to accept you as authentic if you are Brazilian or teaching in your own country of origin. I think if you are English and then start to teach Brazilian Capoeira in a completely different country the public may doubt your ability. Of course in real terms, this means very little, what is respected, is to be taught by a person who is honest about how much they have to give, and their intentions for teaching. Nationality is of no value or significance if the teacher is simply an idiot. If you were to teach in cities like London, the bulk of your students are not from the UK and cultures are very integrated in every facet of daily life anyway.

The funny thing is Brazilians really respect me for what I do, it’s only Brazilian Capoeiristas that can be a bit threatened or dismissive.There have been some incidents of Brazilians coming to work for me, who obviously used to train Capoeira but had no idea how to teach at all, and where just using it as an excuse to make money. They tried to get schools to contact them directly after I had organised the work for them. They apparently tried to say to people that a non-Brazilian could not teach it properly and that I would be a poor substitute. The fact is whether or not they cared about me, they just wanted to make money, were very naive and tried to be malandros in England which just doesn’t work. The council, including a Brazilian women working for Race-relations all refused to help them unless they worked through my organisation! So it all back-fired on them and soon after they disappeared back to London.

7 – 4CT – What makes Capoeira so popular in so many countries on your opinion?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - I think the beauty of seeing the human body perform acrobatic movements appeals to anyone… Capoeira is a phenomenon like B-Boying, that changes how we perceive the human body in movement. It gives people the chance to move in exciting ways. It is simply beautiful and fun to do. Also people the world over love Brazilian culture for its football, carnival and Samba music. They are attracted to an exciting vibrant energy associated with Brazilian culture.

8 – 4CT – In regards to community development programmes like the ones you coordinate through CapoComms, what is in Capoeira that makes it an useful tool within different cultures and in diverse contexts (globalisation, social inclusion/exclusion, diversity intolerance, corporatism)?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - I think it is quite pure and free from many social barriers, and yet references a past of immense suffering of enslaved people. Many people in the world today, especially economically exploited countries can still relate to that exploitation, and need for self-expression to explore their experience of life. Capoeira is a vehicle, a platform for learning to interact with another person [in the roda] in a dynamic way, to be part of a local group, part of a national group, to travel or meet travelling Capoeira players from other countries and share the same hobby or interest. I use Capoeira history to open conversations about globalisation, slavery, free-trade, social migration and related exclusion, with school kids, prisoners, excluded teenagers, and I have always been stunned at the level of response and interest. Many young people are so interested and open to cultural history. It amazes me that they give it as much appreciation as the they give to the movement itself.

9 – 4CT – How do you address local community problems via a foreign cultural practice? Are there any issues there with local institutions, potential partnerships, and sponsors? How do you explain your ‘tool’ (Capoeira) to your partners?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - It has been hard at times, from simple issues like no-one knows what it is, no-one can pronounce it, -English people are terrible at saying foreign words, so they can instantly feel awkward or shy over the phone… the thousands of times I have people say ” Sorry, what do you do? Kapo-RarO? kapoleiro?cup-era? sorry can you spell that? sorry I still didn’t get that can you spell it again?!”
Local issues include financial deprivation, racial tension, lack of diversity, all the usual problems!… and really local governments are looking for new solutions to old persistent problems… Capoeira taught for social benefit is something new to try, a new solution for some individuals and communities.
In my area we have racial tension between the working class and immigrant workers from Portugal. Portuguese is the second language of my county due to the high number of Portuguese immigrant working families. We have tried to engage with some of these Portuguese kids, through social services, within their lessons at school to give them something to feel more of an affinity with, and to show the local ignorant children that other cultures have cool things that we respect.
There are no negative issues between partners; as always there is just an issue of funding.
We explain our tool through case studies and DVD’s of our work and of course meeting face-to-face. We use quotes from local newspapers like “”The classes at Catton Grove Primary School, which were part of the project in Case study 1, became so popular that three out-of-school groups were created, funded through Awards for All scheme. To top this, parents then helped fund a grading ceremony where their children got to meet and learn with some of the most famous Brazilian teachers of the art-form. There were over 40 gradings awarded and 150 parents in attendance.”

10 – 4CT – What are the main difficulties in establishing your life around Capoeira?
Jim ‘Cascão’ -
I think it is difficult to live on and justify a lifestyle just on the bare minimum of money by choice. I have an 11 year-old son, I am 36 year-old an Art-school graduate, and not the best Capoeira player by a long way, yet I define much of my life through Capoeira. This is always counterbalanced by my satisfaction in life and the distance that I have come in personal terms since I started following this path.
I had a varied life before I ever did it, so I try to remain in touch with that….and keep my head out of just this small universe as much as possible to not lose sight of normal life! It eats up such a lot of my time that it can be testing with regard to keeping relationships balanced!

11 – 4CT – Why did you decide to follow the path of Capoeira from the perspective of community development?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - Working in community development has brought me the most profound sense of a “reason to be” than anything else I have experienced in life. It has taught me the most valuable lessons and enabled meet to meet some amazing individuals.

I have met and worked with young offenders who I was scared of, then I felt pity for them and quickly after, just respected them for who they are. I came away with incredible memories of these people. I have seen Capoeira change people’s ideas about themselves very quickly. I have seen people break personal barriers in self-confidence, beat their fears, take life less seriously where appropriate, and in my own case; completely change their identity because of it.

The perspective of community development for me is best summed up in teaching disabled young people. I was interested in being an educational psychologist before going into the arts in my own education. In teaching them, I feel that I stretch myself, all my life-experiences are called into play, with Capoeira as my physical base, and many other personal skills that I have learned in my life. I have seen rehabilitation programmes with long-term prisoners looking after disabled adults and the effect that it has to give back and support others. I get the greatest sense of my own growth, out of working in these situations.

13 – 4CT – Would like to leave a message to other instructors, teachers and Mestres interested in developing similar approaches to Capoeira?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - I would like to leave everyone of a simple verbal rasteira….. Capoeira + an open mind = amazing personal development, Capoeira + ignorance = ignorance with style. Lets remember our first experience of Capoeira, remember how we wanted to be as good as the people we saw doing it, so think for a minute = remember that the strongest effect was on YOU as the audience! The roda is a stage/um palco.. with a critical audience, and it is very clear to see the size of your brain not just your body, if you want to fight, go and learn Vale Tudo, let the roda be a positive place; dedicate the roda to those who died in slavery and all times of the oppression of Capoeira, not your ego.
I think Capoeira has the power to create some amazing change in communities and peoples personal confidence, but it is stained by people being desperate and insecure, needing fragile egos to be bowed to. There is a big difference between being heavily into “group identity” and being desperate for personal recognition vs teaching it with a purely positive attitude.

14 – 4CT – What is the message Capoeira can deliver world over today?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - There is nothing in this world like Capoeira, it will surprise you, challenge you, entertain you and bring you closer to many cultures, and people all passionately on the same journey.

15 – 4CT – What could be jeopardising this message, given the actual context of constant internationalisation?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - I have two suggestions as to behaviour that jeopardises the joy that Capoeira can bring over the world. Firstly, I am against mysticism in Capoeira, and the trend for disguising bad behaviour or attitudes by sending confusing messages about what it is. Teachers acting as if they are superstars and then treating people very badly; taking their money; trying have sex with any girl they can; being simply rude and arrogant. Where the underlying truth is that they are a simple person of simple background, and quite insecure; I am talking about any of the Teachers who ‘milk’ their status, and act as if they are superior to other people, abuse others trust, and have no humility. I have heard so many complaints from female students for sexual harassment, yet also many girls are quite happy to recieve the attention! In defense of the situation we have to acknowledge very different cultural attitudes to seduction. Brazilians have an approach which comes across as intrusive to English people. We know that English people haven’t a leg to stand on when you remember the reputation we have in the Mediterranean for casual sex.
Another point is this; l feel that Brazilians have a very strong idea of group identity, not in terms of loyalty but in terms of the style that the group symbol represents to Brazilians; alunos wearing certain ‘group’ clothing means that the aluno is going to be typical of the Brazilian version of that group. For example, five beginners come to an event, each wearing different trousers, one in Muzenza, one Topazio, Filhos de Angola, Candeias and CDO, for example. The likelihood is that they are all terrible; and do not represent anything of the style their clothing represents … I hate seeing Brazilian teachers playing beginners as if the beginner knew what they were doing, hurting them, disrespecting them as people and then saying “… isso é a Capoeira, meu irmão!!” Its fair enough behavior in Brazil, but people here know nothing about Capoeira, they are totally innocent. I have seen this attitude OUTSIDE the roda as well.

15 – 4CT – What do you believe to be the Mestre’s (senior instructors) and teacher’s role within this context? And about the Capoeira’s groups role?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - I think this is dangerous territory especially for me as a new generation to judge what Mestre’s should do! But here goes…I think Mestres and Senior teachers need to educate their alunos to be a “Zelador de Capoeira”…to remember that they represent Brasil, Capoeira, their grupo, their Mestre, and lastly themselves and to act thinking of the consequences. If they act well, they will be a success. Those who wish to teach in the exterior, must understand that cultures around the world are very different and it takes time to understand the culture that is different to your own. Every culture has good and bad points; regardless, you should respect others if you want people to continue to respect you.

16 – 4CT – What do you think to be the role of Capoeira in the formation of the student’s character?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - Not more than the parents role model upon the individual, but it should take its potential seriously. I believe very strongly that if you spend hours and hours teaching someone then your influence it is inevitable, especially with young people and children. Some of them will want to BE you! You are their role model. I think that you should design content in lessons that build on their confidence; by giving respect and responsibility e.g. like looking after keeping things tidy in the academy; team building skills using structure and memory/concentration using, appropriate conditioning exercises and longish sequences.

17 – 4CT – Do you think Capoeira can contribute within the formal educational system? How?
Jim ‘Cascão - It is very easy to use Capoeira as a theme that incorporates Geography, history, Music, physical and social development. we use a cross-curricular approach using world maps, 5-minute question and answer sessions within the lesson etc and we have a workbook that I wrote and developed; its now a bit out of date, I want to improve it but I can send you a copy, Eurico for your reference. Its called the Capoeiristas Self-Achievement Record. Schools in my area use this to take our work further in the normal classroom.

18 – 4CT – How was your social life before start practising Capoeira? And how is it now?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - hahahaha… good question. My personal social life has changed dramatically since starting Capoeira because like gymnastics it demands daily practice, as a consequence I never had evenings free, and so lost contact with many old friends. At the same time I gained many new friends through Capoeira. My previous social life took quite a dramatic change. I think though I used to spend my time just drifting around sitting about with friends. I do miss my old friends sometimes, in an ideal timetable I would not train in the evenings, it would be a purely day-time routine. However the gains of meeting so many people from different cultures are an amazing bonus!

19 – 4CT – Does the practice of Capoeira affects your contact with other cultures? How?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - I remember going on holiday to Morocco and stumbling across local lads practicing Capoeira on the beach for fun. They trained really hard all day every day. I joined them and was invited into their homes. I would never had the chance to see how they actually live, who they really are as people without such a shared thirst for knowledge on how to play, execute movements, sing the songs etc etc. It is such an ice-breaker especially with people new to Capoeira.

20 – 4CT – How do you see the increasing number of non-Brazilians teaching Capoeira? Are they welcomed within the Capoeira community?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - It is natural, if Brazilians teach for long enough outside of Brazil it is the most logical result, but Brazilians need to be ready for the consequences, by looking at what happened to Karate and Kung-Fu.

21 – 4CT – How is your relationship with Brazilian instructors?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - My experience of being welcomed has varied from teacher to teacher. I am a new instructor for Cordao de Ouro, and so I am also learning to carry the title itself, having spent 99% of my time as a Capoeira student. Some of my best friends are Brazilian who grew up in Capoeira together, and are now Professors in other groups now. So some of my relationships are very important to me.

22 – 4CT – In general, do you believe they are prepared to teach a cultural practice in developed countries?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - Some are, some aren’t. It depends on the circumstance, needs and intentions of the individual teacher, in cases where they relate to people in developing countries in a way that reminds them of themselves- yes! If they need cash from teaching capoeira then-No!

23 – 4CT – What do you think of online resources like blogs, forums, and video-sharing as a way to learn Capoeira?
Jim ‘Cascão’ - Well I spent a long time trying to learn from videos and you can try a lot of things but it is very limited. Many people will not even perceive that they are doing things wrong.

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4 Responses to Capoeira Communities: setting an example towards a social take in Capoeira

  1. Great to hear your story and read about your work. The interview was very refreshing too. Great to hear your positive attitude. Go for it! A good/experienced capoeirista doesn’t always make a good teacher; far from it.
    I teach kids when I can (currently in Ethiopia), despite considering myself a novice. If they’re enjoying it, expressing themselves and learning in a safe way then I reckon that’s the most important bases covered.
    From what I can read it would be a pleasure to join one of your classes. Keep it going.
    Axé

  2. Mariola says:

    Hello! nice to hear your story is inspirating and true. It reminds me of many things in capoeira that i saw before but haven’t comment about only accept. But now you show me the alternative window through open mind body and soul.
    thanks for that man!
    It will help me on my future and present projects of capoeira
    AXE

  3. Janelle says:

    Eurico, thank you for sharing this experience with us, and thanks to Cascao as well. It is very encouraging to hear about how capoeira is being used as a tool for community development and in enriching the lives of people around the world. 4CT is a wonderful resource – inspirational, educational and developmental! :) thanks again for sharing!

  4. Pingback: The São Salomão Capoeira Centre and The Caxinguelês Project | 4capoeirathoughts

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