What would you do if someone kicked you a meia lua de frente? Depending on where or from whom did you learn different esquivas will come to your mind. Some might even think about a more combative approach with a cabeçada or a rasteira as an ‘answer’ to that kick. Which one would be ‘the right one’ then? Is there such an absolute answer? I don’t think so, for me most things in Capoeira are circumstantial, thus depending upon many variables. I was tell my students, however, that on a basic level, ‘if it saved your face of a kick or your butt from a rasteira, you must have done something right regardless of how clumsy or elegant your movement was’.
Some teachers don’t think so. One of my students just came back from Brazil with this exact experience in her luggage. She tried cocorinha, the mestre said ‘wrong!’, she tried dodging sideways in what we call in our school ‘esquiva lateral’ and again he said ‘wrong!’. Then, after showing how they dodge sideways in his school, the mestre said to her in front of many other students: “If you don’t know this, you know nothing at all!”. I don’t have to tell you that, even though sure of her answers, my student couldn’t help but feeling uneasy with the situation.
It amazes me how some senior teachers (professores, contra-mestres and mestres) choose to disregard (sometimes disrespect) other peoples’ knowledge to promote their own, and build up their ‘authority’ in crowded events. It amazes me even more how most students disregard their own judgement in a situation like this and begin feeling insecure about their knowledge, sometimes even about their own school. Usually, these students’ rationale is that the Mestre is ‘an specialist’ and therefore must not be doubted. As it often happens, these Mestres are ‘specialised’ in their own school, and have their reasons to believe that the best approach lies in their school. Whatever their reasons might be, at the end it’s a matter of taste, and what may be authentic or true for one may very well be fake or false for another.
This situation reminded of Taylor Gatto‘s Weapons of Mass Instruction. Among many other important concepts in his book, and I’ll come back to some of these soon, Gatto calls attention to how schools teach. He explains that ‘form is content'; implying that educational institutions have a hidden agenda imposed on students through how they’re asked, or obliged, to do things. Interestingly, for my argument’s sake, he mentions that drilling one-right-answer to their questions is the best way to prevent students of developing free-thinking. He also mentions how these institutions are forming emotionally and intellectually dependent students by teaching them that their achievements are always to be judged by an specialist, an authority in that field (in this case the teacher).
If you see Capoeira as a resistance culture, and if you happen to be involved with in Capoeira-related and community-oriented programs it’s worth it to check Gatto. As it’s always worth it to study Paulo Freire and Critical Pedagogy. The more we apply these principals to our practice the less space Capoeira will have for this sort of authoritarianism and manichean approach; in which ‘the absolute truth’ in Capoeira must always lie within one lineage only, and not in the complementary interaction of all lineages. Such an irony to find so many manichean Mestres within an art-form with its philosophical foundations in non-western cultures.