Capoeira na roda; capoeira na vida.
This means “capoeira in the roda (circle in which capoeira is played); capoeira in life.” It’s an idiom synonymous with the teachings of Mestre (Master) Norival de Oliveira of Bahia, Brazil.
Benefit #1—The Pressure Cooker Effect
The roda of Capoeira is akin to a pressure cooker. What would take a lifetime to learn, capoeira teaches in the span of one to five years. Trickery is a frequent element in the game of capoeira. While an opponent is smiling and extending a hand to shake, s/he might be sweeping a foot towards you that will bring you down to the floor. The lesson: not everyone who extends a hand has an intention of helping you up. Of course, everyone is different—some of us take longer to learn than others. Some of us learn the hard way, while others learn by being mindful and watching other people. This first benefit informs the remaining benefits. not everyone who extends a hand has an intention of helping you up
Benefit #2—Greater Awareness
The purpose of most martial arts is to build awareness and preparation for physical danger. Some, including Bruce Lee, speak about this as a sixth sense. Capoeira’s approach begins on day one. In the old days, and in some academies today, the teacher extends his or her hand to shake, gives you a front push kick, called a bencao (blessing), then says, “Always keep your guard up!”
Capoeira originated among the Africans enslaved in Brazil. The Africans, oppressed and impoverished, developed capoeira in part to protect themselves from the Portuguese and from the crime-ridden streets of the favelas (ghettoes). Consequently, a greater sense of awareness, even (or especially) when things seemed safe, was required in order to survive. for the African, whose life was in constant peril, this ability or awareness was not only necessary for survival but for enjoyment of life
This awareness is developed in three stages: malicia, malandragem, and mandinga. How these are developed is not the purpose of this entry. Suffice it to say, this awareness is one of the essential aspects/gifts/lessons of capoeira. At its highest level, mandinga is “magical” in that it can turn a negative into a positive, a loss into a gain, and danger into opportunity. In addition, for the African, whose life was in constant peril, this ability or awareness was not only necessary for survival but for enjoyment of life.
And therein is the paradox, maintaining constant awareness would undoubtedly be very stressful but without it one could not take advantage of life’s opportunities. We all know the pain of “missed opportunities.” How does one enjoy the beauty of life while also maintaining the awareness of its dangers? Without the former, one would become so hypersensitive that it would cause post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, inhabitants of America’s most violent cities such as Chicago, Baltimore, and Detroit are reporting cases of PTSD. Without the appreciation of the beauty and joy life offers, especially within a violent context, life becomes unbearable. Capoeira teaches this lesson in every session—this is the pressure cooker effect mentioned above. How does one enjoy the beauty of life while also maintaining the awareness of its dangers?
There are three essential components of capoeira: the physical movements (physical game), playing instruments, and singing. The physical game is informed by the instruments and singing. The instruments set the tone and tempo of the physical game. Initially, the orchestra of instruments may have included only drums and tambourines but has since evolved to include a bowed percussion instrument called a berimbau (there are traditionally three), pandeiros (tambourine), a ganzua (reco-reco which is a scraping instrument), an agogo (cow-bell), and an atabaque (a conga-like drum). However, it is the singing which, I believe, offers the most benefit. Singing increases the release of endorphins, decreases cortisol (stress hormone) and releases stored muscle tension—it is a natural anti-depressant. For the African in Brazil, the call and response style of singing that occurs in capoeira not only promotes a sense of euphoria, but reinforces the bonds of community which itself serves to fight depression and the accompanying loneliness.
Capoeira reminds us how important it is to sing; something many of us did freely as children, but lost as we “matured” and became overly concerned with others’ evaluation of our behavior. So while capoeira reminds us of this importance it is simultaneously releasing endorphins and rehabilitating our inhibitions of singing in public specifically and rebuilding our self-worth and confidence in general as we become re-accustomed to the natural power of our own voices.
Within the first six to twelve months of beginning capoeira, the practitioner will have learned all basic physical movements, begun (if they couldn’t already) playing four to five instruments and singing the responses to several songs and maybe even leading songs if she or he is confident enough. This last skill is often the biggest obstacle, because when it is an obstacle it is likely the result of years of fear or even psychological damage. reinforces the bonds of community which itself serves to fight depression and the accompanying loneliness
Capoeira is not a cure all, but it has moved me to overcome both physical and psychological fear. It has been the only constant in the last eighteen years of this author’s life. In the fast paced society we live in, lessons must be learned sooner, because innocence and youth are not exemptions to hardship. Times change but the ways of people do not. For as long as history has been documented, there is evidence that you must not let your guard down and you must always be aware of what’s going on around you. There is a strength and a security that develops when you are intentional about building families and communities. In closing, if capoeira offered the African in Brazil a path out of mental and physical slavery and oppression, it has something to offer the modern wo/man who finds her or himself bogged down by the demands of industrialization and technology.there is a strength and a security that develops when you are intentional about building families and communities
About the Author: Randall Duval is an educator and advocate for social justice. He teaches and mentors teachers at DCIS-Montbello High School in Denver, Colorado.