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It’s a Game, It’s a Fight, It’s a Dance

It's a Game,
It's a Fight,
It's a Dance

By Brazzil Magazine

A sweet memory, the birth of inspiration, the flame of desire, an unquenchable
thirst… I was in Santa Cruz, California, at a dance party. Lost somewhere in a trance
dominated by the solid pounding of bass… Suddenly my eyelids flicked open like an
insomniac, hypnotized by a new type of movement that transcended my dance realm knowledge.
What in the hell is that? My attention was so fixated
to this interesting interaction between two people that I almost forgot to blink. It
appeared as if they were dancing, fighting, and somehow playing at the same time.

The glow of joy in their faces lit up the room with more intensity and truth than the
pulse of the disco ball. The smooth circular motions that they performed flowed in such a
harmony, that it appeared as though they had choreographed this together many times
before. It wasn’t any typical fight or dance that I had ever witnessed, and I struggled
with myself to label it as one or the other. A game perhaps? Before I had the
slightest chance to analyze this beautiful enigma, the lights turned on, and people were
being pushed out the door. Ah, uh, uh…Wait! But I, I just, oh my God! Did you see?
Hey! But did anyone see that?

I had to do a little investigating before I was able to find out that I had witnessed capoeira
for the first time. In modern day Brazil capoeira is a social activity and a
national sport. The game of capoeira started out as a resistance to slavery. The
African slaves brought a beautiful culture with them to Brazil, one that differed from the
European world. This intensely vivid culture perseveres today, a culture so vibrant
because it denotes freedom. It is an expression of living life with passion. It is a type
of enlightenment that comes from deep within—within mind, heart, and soul. This
untouchable culture has been handed down through blood, from father to son, generation to
generation. It has the power to transcend the barriers and dimensions of everyday life as
we know it—all you have to do is believe in it.

Capoeira is a challenging activity built with strategies that exercise both the
body and the mind. It is a martial art in its own class. Capoeira has many unique
characteristics which distinguish it from all other types of self-defense. The truth is
that it is a game, it is a fight, it is a dance, it is religious, ritualistic, and
spiritual, and at times it even is an acrobatic exhibition. The magical ambiance in which capoeira
is played is unique as well. Therefore capoeira deserves more recognition than
it would receive if it were classified into any one specific category. One who grew up in
the world of western philosophy especially might have difficulty with this. We all want
simple answers—to define things we analyze, dissect, label, and categorize everything
within everything. But capoeira is capoeira.

The two players of capoeira are embraced in a constant flow of graceful and
circular movements. It should be noted that capoeira is not just some type of
beef-head battle played to win or to survive, to beat or to be defeated. These days the
truest capoeira philosophy is that it is a peaceful sport, and most often played
without making contact with the other players (especially the style of capoeira Angola).
It is more common to mimic blows and kicks instead of connecting all the way through with
them.

The players also do not block offensive movements. In the art of capoeira the
goal is to use ‘body evasion,’ sometimes avoiding or dodging offensive movements all
together. And while defending, one also goes with the same motion and direction of an
offensive kick when possible. Then, the next movement is built on top of the same
defensive motion to form the attack. The result is one harmonious movement shared between
two players. This unity of movements is unique to capoeira, for in all other
martial arts all movements of defense and attack are executed separately.

The philosophy of capoeira entails that the competitors truly enjoy themselves
while playing capoeira. It is a celebration of being an individual, and most
importantly it’s a celebration of being alive! There is music, hand clapping, singing,
positive energy, and an irreplaceable passion for life involved. Creativity,
individuality, philosophy, and poetry are also indispensable characteristics of capoeira,
thus making it a manifestation of freedom and liberty in its purest form. To
understand it, all you have to do is listen to your senses, and let the tale of capoeira
take you on a journey, perhaps learning and discovering things about yourself that you
never even knew existed…

O Jogo (The Game)

Jogo in the Portuguese language means ‘game’ or ‘play’. The jogo itself
is the fundamental interaction—the energy exchange between two people playing capoeira.
The jogo always takes place inside of the roda da capoeira. Roda literally
means wheel or circle, and is formed by people surrounding the two competitors.1
The people that form the roda all participate in the game of capoeira as
well. Some have the duty of playing the instruments, such as the Mestre or Master.
He is the most experienced player of all, usually having 25 or more years of experience.
The others sing and clap to the beat, their eyes and energies never once leaving the
attention of the two players in constant motion inside.

Inside of the roda, the performance can represent a type of mini-skit, or
screenplay. It is a unique body dialogue, made up of movements instead of words. Although
arms, legs, and even bodies often swing faster than speculating eyes can follow, the heads
and necks of the two players are always sustained in fixed positions, never allowing their
eyes to move away from the opponent. Only hands and feet are supposed to touch the ground
in this constant harmony of attack and defense movements, mixed in with character,
individuality, intensity, and life.

The two players are suspended in the moment—they know nothing about the world
around them. The distractions on the exterior of the roda such as the
spectators—or the problems of the subconscious mind like whatever drama you
have—be it family or social problems, or daily frustrations, etc., all lose their
existence. It’s all about being in the moment. All that remains in this thing called life
is the berimbau, and the fixed eyes of the competitor. A human stare so powerful
that one becomes suspended in it. Dangling inside a sea of exuberant color, breathless, as
you wait for the slightest flicker of light inside of the only reflection that you see. An
intuitive message rolling on the back of the wave of the mysterious berimbau calls
you, and your senses react. Oh yes, caught in the marvelous capoeira trance, what a
feeling…

And that’s when the mini-skit, or screenplay is born. The jogo for an
experienced capoeirista (one who plays capoeira) also has the power to
transcend its significance into every day life. It is about how humans behave, how they
play the game of life with one another. Here I present an example of a typical capoeira
scenario:

· Player 1 attacks with a high kick.

· Player 2 dodges the kick by going along with its motion, and he tries to
counterattack by using the offensive kick as a base for his new movement.

· Player 1 pretends that he will not do anything, pretending he is scared or weaker
than player 2. While player 2 is not looking, or lowers his guard thinking that he has
already won the battle, player 1 comes back with a deceitful blow!

Malícia is a vital characteristic of the jogo da capoeira. This style of
behavior or state of mind is both more common in and also the basis of capoeira Angola.
It can be defined as a way to behave, think, or interact. It is a mixture of slyness,
skill, and most of all intuition, perhaps better labeled ‘street smarts’. Malícia
entails being aware of the idiosyncrasies and personality types of all human beings.
Personality types which could be anything from shyness, to intelligence, to
aggressiveness, to arrogance, to fear, or violent natured, etc. And malícia also
requires having the ability to distinguish and perceive these same traits in the behavior,
aura, or image of your competitor, and to use it as an advantage. If a capoeirista is
skilled with malícia (malicioso), he may dodge a movement before his opponent
finishes executing it, while he hits the opponent with his own offensive movement. He
might also fake one move, and try another, such as in the scenario presented above. Malícia
can be used in the everyday game of life as well—there is nothing more
advantageous than to be able to sense the superficiality of another.

In the game of capoeira, one often confronts his enemy in a deceitful manner. He
plays this game, simulating that he is one type of person or player, when he is someone
else—smarter perhaps. He uses his intelligence and intuitive skill to fake out the
other player, pretending to have no experience, to be a coward or a weakling, and then he
nails his opponent when the competitor least expects it. This is one of the most
beautiful, meaningful, and symbolic things that I have learned about capoeira—for
this can be thought of as a mimic of times of slavery.

This is a way of survival that started with the personalities of the slaves, and
eventually evolved into the game of capoeira. One has to understand that during the
times of slavery, there was no one to be trusted, especially the enemy. Slaves were never
even considered to be human. The slave masters were so demented—they raped, battered,
and killed. So the slaves too had to learn how to be deceitful, it was a form of survival.
The only way (if any) to beat the slave master was through the power of the mind.

Axé is another very important characteristic of the jogo to the capoeirista.
According to Afro-Brazilian religions such as Candomblé, axé is the
supernatural force, which is responsible for moving all things in the universe. Axé
exists in all realms of life. To a capoeirista, axé is about having a strong
connection to the roots and unity of the universe. It is a divine energy developed by capoeiristas,
and is responsible for the momentum in various acrobatic movements such as the au (cartwheel),
au sem mão (aerial), and mortal (backflip).

Today many capoeira groups begin the roda with capoeira Angola. After
paying respects to the berimbau, the first two players enter slowly and gracefully
usually with an au or another type of movement in which the head touches the floor.
All the movements to capoeira Angola—both dance and battle-like—are meant
to be slow and peaceful. Although sometimes a player who is skilled at malícia
(malicioso), may fake out his opponent and give him a harmful blow mimicking times of
slavery and distrust, typically the movements to Angola are more artistic. They are
performed gradually and with respect to the other player, so that he has plenty of time to
react in perfect harmony.

Some examples of the non-violent motions could be the au batido (one-handed
handstand with one knee resting on one elbow), macaco (the monkey, a funky type of
back bend/cartwheel), queda de rins (kidney stand, sort of like a sideways
handstand), and many other movements such as variations of headstands. One should note
that the competitors never look away from each other during the game, a good capoeirista
never lets his guard down or loses his attention span.

Eventually the game changes into the faster style of capoeira regional. Many
of these non-violent movements mentioned above are executed as well, but usually faster
and with more awareness because you never know what will happen if you take your eyes off
your opponent. As the jogo continues, the intensity of the game speeds up with the
rhythm of the berimbau and the beating of the atabaque (conga drum). They
say that the sound of a loud drumbeat has a link to primal human instincts. The louder and
faster the beat, especially the lower bass tones, the more primal we become. The drumbeat
influences our behavior, as if it has the power to take control of the soul. The drumbeats
in capoeira regional are much faster than those of capoeira Angola. Perhaps
the fact that regional uses connective blows—and sometimes the music drives
aggression to the point that even fights do break out—can be attributed to the faster
drumbeats.

The capoeiristas’ hearts throb faster and faster with the beating of the drum
and the intense strokes of the berimbau. Faster, until the butterflies inside feel
so intense you begin to wonder if the blood is in fact making it to every vital organ, or
if your system is functioning so fast that the blood is merely squirting by? As your
thoughts race wildly, you wonder how they can be so vivid or colorful without being able
to place them significantly or with origin. And as you try to put your finger on it, on
that something, while being so absorbed in the game, IT arrives.

This feeling. This feeling like a great entity is about to be revealed to you. It’s oh,
so on the tip of your tongue, and then BAM! It’s over, and you just want more…

It is the game, the challenge, the combined energy of the people, but most of all it is
the music that is responsible for igniting the fire of capoeira. A flame made up of
the purest white light burning from a source deep within. I never realized, nor fully
believed in the truth of the berimbau until I started playing capoeira myself…

The Berimbau

The berimbau is the bow-shaped instrument that commands the jogo da
capoeira. It is like the thunder that launches the storm; the enigmatic gust of wind
responsible for the action of the players during the battle. The berimbau is
absolutely essential to the game of capoeira, uttermostly respected, and considered
as holy to the capoeiristas as the Catholic religion to the Baianas (the
native peoples of the state of Bahia). The berimbau is usually played with other
instruments such as the atabaque (conga drum), pandeiro (tambourine),
agogô (cowbell), and reco-reco. But the berimbau is the master
of the jogo da capoeira—the players must obey and respect its mighty rhythm,
its knowledge, and its supernatural powers.

The berimbau dominates the roda by setting the speed of the jogo.
It dictates the style of the game, both the mood and the rhythm. In the beginning of the roda,
the first two players kneel down below the berimbau, as if taking part in a sacred
ritual. After paying their respects by making the sign of the cross across their chest,
saying a brief prayer, and kissing their fingers, they make reference to the berimbau, and
wait for the right moment for it to take them on that familiar voyage, the journey inside
the roda…

Whether the group of Capoeristas are playing capoeira Angola or capoeira
regional, the roda always starts out with the toque or beat of capoeira
Angola. It is both a form of respect for the original style of capoeira—the
roots—and the slower rhythm and style is also more beneficial as a warm up for the
faster more strenuous movements of capoeira regional. The chanting, singing, and
hand clapping are also kept in rhythm with the omnipotent berimbau during the roda.

The berimbau has a history in other nations as well as Brazil. And in all of
them it expresses divine meaning or power:2

* It is said that in certain parts of Africa it was forbidden for the young who cared
for the livestock to play this instrument; it was thought that its sound would take the
soul of the youth—which was still inexperienced—to the "land of no
return"

* In Cuba, where it is known as burumbumba, it is used to communicate with the
spirit of the dead ancestors (eguns) in ceremonies of necromancy (Fernando Ortiz, Los
Instrumentos de la Musica Afro-Cubana, Dirección de Cultura Ministerios de
Educación, Havana, 1952).

* The berimbau was also used in many parts of Africa and Brazil during the
nineteenth century to accompany chants, storytelling, and poetry (Debret, Voyage
Pitoresque et Historique au Brésil, Firmin Didot Fréres, Paris, 1834).

I have been told that the berimbau was used once in the open street markets of
Brazil as a type of attention-getter to sell food products. I have also heard that the berimbau
was originally used to hypnotize animals. The berimbau possess special powers
for it has the ability to deeply affect or alter states of being in people or animals. The
berimbau is a sacred instrument, perhaps from an unexplainable realm.

There are three different types of berimbaus—the size of the gourd or cabaça
is mostly responsible for the various tones. The rhythm, sound, and most of all the
spirit of the roda is ultimate when all three are present:

* The gunga is the bass; it has the deepest sound, the responsibility for the
rhythm of which the other berimbaus follow as well as the rhythm of the jogo,
and is usually played by the Mestre—the most experienced player.

* The médio plays the opposite rhythm of the gunga; it is the mid-range
sound and it plays a role similar to a rhythm guitar.

* The viola is like the treble. It has the sharpest tone, and is responsible for
improvisation. It can be compared to the role of a lead guitar.

All types of berimbaus realistically only play two notes. But the sound of these
two tones is so enchanting that it is capable of revealing so much more. The various parts
of the berimbau are very simple as well, like the uncomplicated people who
created it. The strength of the berimbau is the verga or bow, which is
usually about 5ft tall, and about 3/4 of an inch to 1 inch in diameter thick. Attached to
the verga is a steel wire known as the arame. The cabaça is a dry,
hollowed out gourd, attached to the lower inside part of the verga, and serves to
amplify the sound.

The berimbau itself is usually held in the left hand, with the pinky finger
supporting most of the balance and weight of the instrument. The dobrão, which is
in fact a coin or more commonly in Bahia a stone, is also held between the thumb
and index finger, sturdy against the arame. Meanwhile the right hand holds the vaqueta
or also baqueta—a wooden stick, and simultaneously the caxixi—the
shaker which is made of straw and filled with pebbles, beans, or the like.

Capoeira is but one expression of culture found in modern-day Brazil, the
culture of the repressed! In regions such as Bahia, it was these repressed people
themselves who have contributed more to the rich culture of Brazil than any other racial
group. To have culture is to celebrate being an individual. Culture is a celebration of
life, because when Brazil began, the slaves knew that any free moment that they would ever
have, they would cherish for all of eternity. Capoeira back then was a medium to
develop the personality. It promoted inner-growth, and it also was a means to study and
understand other human beings. It was an expression of self, affiliated with the desire
for freedom.

The practice of capoeira held on to many of the same elements as it did when it
began; that is one of its beauties. Just like its history, today the participants of capoeira
often denote the poor, the lower classes of society, and even street people—the
people who struggle to survive among both the continuing racism, and the current economic
crisis of Brazil. And one must never forget that it was in fact those same people who
created capoeira.

Capoeira is a simple art; simple but yet complex. Capoeira is a
symbol of a simple people whose lives were made complex by their domination. Domination by
a society who lost touch with the pure things in life in order to live a life of greed and
corruption. Capoeira prevailed from that time period because of its connection to
purity. There is so much truth in the statement that the most beautiful things are simple.
Capoeira is a solid proof that life beyond the material realm exists as something
much more important and deep…

I have read tales of mestres and players that are so experienced, they have been
known to make the impossible possible. Mestres with old age, stiff joints, and slow
reflexes, that can still beat any player. Corpo fechados (closed bodies) are
those who attain (perhaps through magic rituals) almost complete impenetrability against
weapons when used against them in jogos. Some of these more experienced mestres are
able to play with the minds of their opponents. They are skilled with malícia
(maliciosos) and it appears as if they can silently order their competitor to do
whatever they want them to do. They have been taught very well by the game of capoeira,
and they can read other people in the game of life just as easily. Although I have
been searching, it appears as if these tales are rare these days, and were more commonly
told in the days of Bimba and Pastinha.

One aspect of the infinite beauty of capoeira, is that for every capoeirista
it has its own intimate meaning and sacredness. There are few written words on the
philosophies of capoeira. Most of this knowledge is passed on directly from mestre
to aluno (student). One also has to experience a roda to even begin to
understand; only your participation will make it real…

My first experience of a true roda de capoeira was such an emotional one that it
almost brought me to tears. It was a long-awaited dream of mine to witness a true roda with
instruments, singing, clapping, energy, and of course in the homeland of capoeira itself—Salvador
da Bahia. I do not exaggerate in the slightest when I say that this roda was so
powerful and uplifting that it gave me the chills—just like hearing a beautiful song
on the radio that gives you nostalgia of your youth. It was as if my soul had literally
jumped out of my body and stood beside me dancing and clapping. I felt like capoeira
was something that had always lived inside of me, and I just needed to liberate it once to
feel it again. For myself, this feeling continues anytime that I allow it. Every roda has
the power to make me feel like I did the first time, whether I am on the outside with the
rest of the people, or on the inside as the center of attention.

And this feeling becomes something deeper and deeper each time, with each new day of
experience. It is not only the beautiful movements, nor the energy of the people, nor the
singing, the clapping, nor the instruments, nor the heat of the game, that makes me want
to cry out with joy. It is also the history, the culture, the lives, and understanding of
the people who created it. Although that is what makes capoeira such a beautiful
entity, one must never forget all the pain and the suffering of the people who created
it…

There is a state of being known as ‘transe capoeira’. It is a state of
consciousness when the roda actually takes control of a capoeirista. It is a
special moment composed with the elements of the magical berimbau, the energy of
all the people chanting and clapping, and even the power of the circle itself (it is a
common spiritualistic belief that circles are powerful). So somehow this energy suddenly
manifests itself inside of one of the players, and before he/she knows it he/she is
capable of doing things that he/she has never done before.

Incredible movements and sequences done with such grace and skill, but never thought of
or practiced by the player until that very second when they are invented inside of the roda.
This has already happened to me once or twice. In those moments, my movements and
reactions just flowed together like they never had before; I had no fear. And perhaps it
is those very experiences which have gotten me so addicted to capoeira, always
searching for more.

Sometimes when I am on the inside of the roda, all that I hear, breathe, and
feel, is the berimbau. The more advanced players know to follow the berimbau, to
allow it to have its control. When I am entranced by this magical instrument, it’s
also about being in tune with my own life—it’s this incredible feeling of
balance and belonging. That same sense of belonging that people spend their entire lives
in church and prayer searching to find. To feel the rhythm of the berimbau is to
feel the pulse of the universe. It is the same pulse that I have felt once, while inside
of a deep underground cave, knowing that I was so close to Mother Earth, to the answers
and secret forces which lie within…

A Strategy for Social Change

Although capoeira is such a beautiful thing to watch, to the experienced players
the truths it reveals over time have far more splendor than the exterior appearance of
this marvelous art. Beside of all the physical elements such as strength, beauty, ability,
grace, and flexibility; in the intellectual realm capoeira promises much more for
its participants. If one can learn that some of the best and purest things in life are
often simple, he/she will also learn to appreciate the uncomplicated people who created
this wonderful phenomenon of dance, fight, and game.

The philosophies of capoeira provide infinite possibilities, which can be
integrated into daily life and used as a mechanism for the individual to survive, or as a
strategy for social change. Most of all, the path of capoeira has the capacity to
enrich the soul amongst the difficulties and contradictions that today’s societies face.

The first and most important thing about capoeira is that capoeira is not
just another sport, martial art, or even a simple game between two people; capoeira belongs
in an existence of its own. For those of us used to the methods of the western world—capoeira
might seem like an absurd fairytale. It cannot be labeled, categorized, analyzed, nor
dissected by any processes of western thought or philosophy. That’s because one can never
completely understand capoeira, there is absolutely nothing scientific about it. Capoeria
uses other senses and types of knowledge; it is about a 6th sense. The
entity of capoeira is often as mysterious as the universe itself. And to even begin
to experience it, just like life itself, one must be aware of its never-ending
possibilities because some of the best things in life just don’t have explanations.

Capoeira was first materialized as a resistance to slavery. Capoeira was
a form of self-expression driven by a cry for freedom. When slavery was abolished in
Brazil in 1888, the game continued to be played by newly freed slaves, among other
citizens who lived in poverty and lower class societies. In the early decades of the 20th
century, the game was illegal basically because of the types of people who played it.
After it was legalized in the 30s, the harsh labels continued to stick to the game and its
people, despite the fact it was considered both a cultural expression and a national
sport.

In modern day Brazil where its people are well aware of the existence of this art, many
still continue to scrutinize its participants. I have often heard many Brazilians say that
capoeira and capoeristas are dirty. Many capoeiristas are
black—black in a society where racism although concealed, is very alive. Many capoeiristas
are also poor. I believe that the upper-class folks who are cynical towards capoeira,
jump to the conclusion that it is a bad thing because they immediately associate it
with the types of people who play it. Personally I think this is a fear controlled by
ignorance. (How can capoeira be so bad if the idea of a party to a capoeirista is
a roda?)

The truth is that it has been only the types of people who are scrutinized by society
that have made the game so real to a person such as myself who has experienced it from the
inside. The creators of capoeira have demonstrated extraordinary strength and
perseverance in dealing with the harsh realities that confronted them—and capoeira
itself is the proof. By appreciating the people who created capoeira, I have
learned that by looking past the harsh labels and judgments of society and following the
heart and intuition instead, the reward can be an absolutely surreal experience.

Capoeira teaches to always be in the moment. To practice being in the moment is
a type of meditation. Both meditation and capoeira have the power to unite one with
the universe. When unity is accomplished, thoughts are clearer and everyday chores and
processes are also easier to achieve. During the jogo da capoeira, you must always
keep your eyes fixed on the opponent. Just like in the game of life there is often a time
to be serious, and a time to concentrate—if you lose your focus you can suffer
irreversible consequences.

Under almost all situations which demand focus and concentration, if we take heed we
will always be repaid in the end. Just like a good capoerista who pays attention
during the jogo. A capoeirista learns through practice that when he/she
loses that moment of concentration, he/she is often hurt during the game. This alertness
also follows the capoeirista outside of the roda. If you don’t pay attention
in life there is often someone or something there to take advantage of you that very
second that you drop your guard.

One of the most important skills for a capoeirista to develop is malícia. The
easiest definition to malícia perhaps is ‘intuition’—but like mentioned
earlier, capoeira cannot be defined, labeled or categorized, and so malícia is
really something with much more complexity to it. Malícia is the ability to read
other people—their personality traits, intentions, and even thoughts. Inside of the roda,
the capoeirista who is malicioso has the skill to perceive the movements
that his/her opponent will execute before the same opponent has even begun. A malicioso
player also has the skill to learn about what type of person the opponent is in real
life by the way that he/she plays capoeira. Therefore, a player with more
experience is a great judge of character, he/she has a wonderful sense of ‘feeling people
out’. For example, he/she knows how to choose his/her friends wisely, and also knows to
what extent someone should be trusted.

An experienced capoeirista also uses his/her malícia to deceive the
other opponent. He/she knows how to fake out the other player with his/her
movements—he/she pretends to do one thing but does something else. In the game of
life a capoeirista malicioso could be a hard person to figure out, he/she seems to
be one person but acts like another perhaps to protect themselves from the deceitful
enemy, which originally was the slave driver.

The game of capoeira is all about being an individual because it was a created
with a desire for freedom by those who did not know freedom, independence, nor
individuality. When playing capoeira there are certain guidelines and beliefs, but
in reality there are not many strict rules because that would only limit the individual.
In a roda of capoeira, there is no winner or loser; no one is better than
the other.

Capoeira teaches to not let what others think bother you; the roda is
your personal space of freedom to do your own movement, it is your place to become whoever
you want to be, and do whatever you want to do. The spectators on the outside of the roda
give you their energy, strength and support, as you make your fantasies come true on
the inside. As long as we are playing the same game where we are all individuals, everyone
has a fair opportunity to play, and only equality shall exist.

As human beings, many of us have built up frustration inside as a response to the
difficult world around us, and the daily problems that we face. Depending on the
individual, that frustration has the power to eventually manifest into other emotions, one
of which is violence. For those of us who do have a touch of violence inside, capoeira
can be a promising approach to release the tension. Capoeira teaches to channel
that frustration out productively instead of using it to dominate one another. It is only
natural to have such feelings, but we can also learn to use them in a positive manner, for
we also have the power to bring them to a higher level. By not connecting all the way
through with blows and kicks, and turning it into a type of jokeful play instead, one lets
not only our opponent know, but everyone around the roda as well, that one really
has no intention to hurt the other player.3

The berimbau also teaches the capoeirista important strategies for
living. An experienced player has felt the almighty power of the berimbau and knows
that when he/she is in tune with this instrument, magic occurs. Transe-capoeira is
a special moment inside of the roda where an unknown force propels a capoeirista
to move with more grace and dexterity than ever before. During transe-capoeira, awesome
movements and sequences are executed which the capoeirista has never practiced
before. The only explanation for this momentum is that there is no logical explanation.

A good Capoeirista learns to respect the berimbau by moving together with
its mighty rhythm. Just like in real life, if you go with the flow whether than go against
it, time will prove that you are on the right path, and magical things will occur to
remind and reward you. Destiny, like transe-capoeira, has no logical explanation.
But it is the truest path to follow in life, if you are in tune with it, it will bring you
in harmony with the universe, just like a capoeirista in tune with the berimbau.
And if we were all in tune with ourselves, with our lives, and with the others around us,
wouldn’t this world be a marvelous place?

One of the best strategies for social change is to start with the individual. Capoeira
is a great way to develop people and communication skills. Even though one of the
elements of capoeira is a fight, capoeira is one of the most positive ways
that I have ever seen to justify this human frustration. It is only natural that we might
have a little violence inside ourselves, but there are productive ways to channel this
fury. A good Capoeirista does no actually use that violence; he/she plays with it
instead. The unrestricted movements of capoeira also denote the power and freedom
of the individual.

After the individual comes the family, and then the community. A roda de capoeira is
a wonderful example of a functioning community. Within a group or community of capoeira,
competition does not exist. Capoeira is a social activity shared between people
with the objective of joining together to help overcome the contradictions of world. It is
only after we have strong communities that we will be able to move to the greater
societies—societies which are very problematic in today’s world. The teachings and
philosophies of capoeira have the power to bring the classes of society to a
different level, but only by individual participation do we have the power to materialize
this goal.

Capoeira is a useful tool, not only for the Third World, but for the First World
as well. A roda da capoeira is a place where we can all be together and share
something. Something so simple, yet so moving. Capoeira is a special existence of
purity and happiness, where everyone has a wonderful time by singing, dancing, clapping,
and freeing minds and spirits. In the First World, sometimes it seems as if imagination
and creativity no longer exist; the only expressions of culture which have prevailed are
materialism and an electrical box known as television. Capoeira was created by
people who had nothing—they didn’t even have freedom or individuality. But they were
rich and experienced in self-expression. Capoeira is a revelation that denotes
their beautiful strength and perseverance; it is a strategy for social change in today’s
world of conflict. Capoeira is a guide on the path of spirituality, and the
individual has the power to make it happen if he/she believes it. Capoeira is proof
that life beyond the material realm can promise something so much better, for it is a cry
out loud from the soul within, and the soul is what is truly eternal.

1 It is believed that the element of the roda used in capoeira
was introduced by the religion of Candomblé. Candomblé is an
Afro-Brazilian religion that was rooted in Africa, but practiced among all the diverse
tribes that were brought to Brazil. Many of its rituals and ceremonies are held in sacred
circles. Candomblé is believed to have influenced many other aspects of capoeira
as well.

2 Capoeira, Nestor. The Little capoeira Book. Berkeley, California:
North Atlantic Books, 1995.

3 Although violence is wrong, sometimes it is also necessary to survive- as
in the case of slaves who wanted freedom. It is a common belief that the movements of capoeira
that mimic fighting were derived from times of slavery. Slaves in captivity practiced capoeira
as self-defense but disguised it as a type of play among themselves so that the owners
would not fear a slave rebellion and prohibit them from continuing. When capoeira is
played in modern times, this poignant historical period is portrayed in the roda as
a reminder and a way to honor those who suffered for freedom and individuality.

Jihan Abdalla, 23, studies photojournalism and language in an
independent program sponsored by Long Island University. This study abroad program focuses
on cultural awareness and understanding, global knowledge, and social change. She has
spent over a year and a half in Latin America and is passionate for capoeira. She
will eventually settle down in California one day, but for now please send comments to jittypop@hotmail.com

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