If you don’t know this, you no nothing at all!

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.

9 thoughts on “If you don’t know this, you no nothing at all!

  1. very good article!
    I will tell you a story about what happened to me when i was in Brazil.

    I just got my graduado belt, which is a big deal in our group, when i arrived in Brazil. When i was training with the Brazilian branch of our group i could not keep up with there graduados. They where faster, stronger and just had me at every move. People started asking me if i really was a graduado and for how long i have been playing.

    After weeks of training hard and trying to catch up i was very insecure and it was time for me to leave and travel around a bit. I was not going to spend 4 months in an academia and see nothing of this Beautiful country.
    When it was time to go home I spend 2 weeks at the academia training where i learnd that all these graduados had there belt for 6-8 years and that made me very angry.
    1. why judge some one who has the same grade as you but that you had for years.
    2. just letting your students at the same grade for years just so you can say that your graduados are better than the other is weak.

    • You are not wrong in your view on this. When you have a grade you are often judged on your quality but several factor have to be taken in accord.
      1) how long have you had the rank?
      2) How often per week can you train?
      3) how prepared were you when you attained the grade?
      As an example: I am a teacher in ICT on a daily basis in a secondary school and last year I attained the rank of professor. I was of the opinion that I wasn`t ready for the rank. Especially because 1) a colleague was far more advanced and 2) because i was insecure of my ability when I compared it to other professores across the globe. But an instructor talked to be just before the formatura and said:”Have you thought about the possibility that your mestre sees in you a potentially good professor. Maybe all you need (read: conquer your insecurity) is a little push to make you train harder, learn more and grow in the art.
      I hope to make my mestre proud of his decision to give me this rank within a few years.

  2. This happens a lot around the world. Especially with newly appointed professores/as. They want to make sure they abide by their schools rules. Sometimes it is not intentionally but they just haven`t considered the fact that there may be more solutions to one problem.
    In capoeira, when you go to Brazil (as non-brazillian) expect to be tested heavily. Often the teacher will discard your skills as unprofessional and not worthy of the name capoeirista. Most often the reason is you being non-brazilian.
    A teacher who publicly humiliates you with it, because humiliation is what it is, are themselves unworthy teachers. Not worth the name teacher. For teacher is more than having skills in the profession. It is the skill to !motivate! and guide your students to a higher level. A true mestre is someone who can see and respect other lines of thinking without losing his own vision or impose it.
    I will read about Gatto as he is unfamiliar to me.

  3. Valeu all,
    1st thanks for the articles.
    If you look at the context of many leading figures of Capoeira students you see, many are conservative of there own stile > the ‘teacher’ of the schools mostly and hardly make a living of Capoeira so they insist to ‘know’ when there is no write or wrong > it is simply insecureness.

    As you know, there are different philosophies out there. Some teachers ‘eat the wisdom with the big spoon’ some with the ‘big golden spoon’ the roda of live:)

    For example, we (Bidna Capoeira Charity) are having contractual obligations to our Donors who want consistency and at the same time we are employing teachers from different schools who are having different styles. We don’t want to narrow there often spontaneous approach to deal with the students so we have to find ‘guidelines’ – a common ground.

    It is our responsibility to communicate that there are different styles of Bateria, songs, names, movements etc. We are supporting the principle of escaping technics (to tolerate and deal with it) than block technics (resistance) – of course (again) there is no right or wrong – it is always the circumstance, in the context of psychological stress and traumata it makes more sense.

    At times we are faced with difficult decisions and our values guide us to do the right thing not the easy thing.

    Great Mestres inspire us, representing all that is good in capoeira.


    • Tarek,
      I agree with you on ‘principles’ or ‘guidelines’. This is very common in community development area where programs needs to tackle different realities, so there can’t be ‘rules’ or ‘universal truths’. I also believe you have gained a lot of wisdom having to deal with both different realities and teachers (once you told they come from various backgrounds).

      I can respect people being strict in how they practice and play; it’s a matter of taste. It’s too undermining regarding how new students are been educated, however, that a Mestre feel righteous to disrespect other people’s knowledge and practices to promote their own.

      Capoeira is a powerful tool, I believe, exactly because it was born out of peoples’ struggle to survive and uphold their culture within a diverse environment. It has always been an empowering too, a navigation system for those crossing cultures.

      But like you said we have plenty of good models to look up too!

  4. Thanks for the article, CM Eurico ! I look through your forum occasionally but this time I suddenly realized I have something to add, too :) I agree that it is silly and disrespectful for anyone to talk bad about the other styles and forms of capoeira, and the immediate effect of such talk will be confusion and alienation of the guest student. This being said, I observed that some degree of trash-talk can sometimes be directed to the mestre’s own disciples, but only those who trained long and hard enough. The relationship between the master and the disciple can be quite intimate, in a sense that some things said and done to the older student might seem a bit shocking to the outsider (and therefore are usually said when only the older students are present). As a part of the psychological training, an offending remark such as “you know nothing at all” might be purposed to stimulate the student to concentrate and work harder, whereas “where did you learned this?” is a way to demand that the student adhere to the methods and techniques taught in that particular class/school. I suspect this might be the way in many schools (especially in Brazil??) but seldom seen from the outside.

  5. errado, errado, errado!
    It happened to me as well. That Mestre was supposed to be a “grey eminence” in capoeira . everything I did was :”WRONG” ,my friend”.
    The funny thing is that the whole lot of my mistakes had been tought to me by other Mestres ! So they need to seat altogether in a conclave ,like the pope, bishops, etc. do sometimes, and decide what ‘s wrong and what’s right.AH! Ah!
    How can we explain this phenomenon: simple! The mentality of the slaver intruded the wisdom of capoeira. It is absolutely normal: spies are everywhere, are’nt them? ..and what about the business: this obviously is a westren thing.
    To use different words, but to agree with C.M.Eurico, when I breath an asphyxiating athmosphere in some academy, I go away: despite the pollution there is still plenty of good air around in the capoeira environment.
    “Me da meu dinheiro, me da meu dinheiro ,valentao…’
    Have fun guys


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