LIES THAT SEEM TRUE –
SOME SOPHISMS ABOUT CAPOEIRA
Luis Renato Vieira “Carioquinha” – Brasília/DF
Translation by Shayna McHugh
Violence is a characteristic trace
of contemporary society. It is manifested in different forms in daily life: in television, in movies, in video games, in the
various sports, in politics, and in the various spheres of human behavior. In global terms, the cost of wars is the item that
most consumes the budgets of the various countries of the world. This scenario is aggravated even more in countries, like
Brazil, that are marked by social inequalities. Violence, then, comes to be part
of our daily lives, and people are obliged to live with it in different forms.
Capoeira, being a fighting style,
is particularly subject to influence from the environment of aggressiveness present in our society. It is fitting, then, to
reflect on the problem and understand in what way a significant part of the practitioners of the Brazilian art-fight intends
to justify attitudes that often, although aiming to support themselves in the traditions of capoeira, injure the most elementary
ethical principles that should direct our social lives.
Without a doubt, overcoming the
current state in which capoeira finds itself comes to the analysis of the arguments most used by those who imagine that they
have the power of deciding the standards on which the Brazilian art is supported, or should be supported, according to such
people. In these brief commentaries we intend to detail some points of discussions that, in the name of capoeira’s traditions,
end up transforming it into a violent and anti-pedagogical practice.
Despite being people who do not know the Brazilian art-fight’s history
of conflicts and resistance, the supposed caretakers of this tradition have elaborated to exhaustion an argument to justify
the introduction of techniques foreign to capoeira and to evolve it in a deeply destructive spirit. We believe it to be possible
to expose the deceiving character of this argument, contributing thus (although within the strict limit of those capoeiristas
open to reflection about the practice that they develop) to avoid capoeira’s continuation in this paradoxical trajectory
of technical progress and ethical regression. Finally, while society is in the era of the computer, many capoeiristas are
still found in the era of the straight razor.
Therefore, we propose to enumerate some sophisms that are in the basis
of certain conceptions of capoeira promoted by various groups of practitioners throughout the whole country. Sophisms are
false forms of reasoning with the appearance of truth, and it is there that their capacity to produce false concepts resides.
We know that a half-truth lies more than a lie, exactly because its half truth lends it an appearance of correctness. Let’s
go, then, to that which more directly interests us.
Capoeira was created by the slaves in the fight for liberation, straightaway an essentially violent fight, since the
slave could not hold back in the effort to obtain liberty. Therefore, violence is an aspect without which capoeira loses its
This is perhaps the most cited
argument by those who intend to make capoeira into a species of “complete martial art,” involving everything from
traumatic blows with the feet and hands to throws, twists, and ground fighting, randomly hitting all the parts of the adversary’s
body, without any type of protection.
The first sophism is a good example
of our earlier explanation: part of a true fact and a false conclusion. The fact that the fight for liberty imposed on the
slave an extreme aggressiveness, in the form of resistance to an oppressor system, is an indisputable truth. It is because
man’s greatest good, without which it one may question if life is worth the pain – that is, liberty – was
involved. However, the mistake appears to be in transporting this fact to present times and imagining that, because of this
historical reality, capoeira could never be practiced over other bases, more adequate to our times, that no longer require
the fight for the freedom of the body, but instead a good ability to react critically to the processes of homogenization that
continues to make society uniform and imprison the consciences of men.
It is clear that, being a fighting style, capoeira must work the aggressiveness
of its practitioners, aiming to reach an elevated level of physical preparation in their blows. However, because capoeira
is also an institutionalized sporting practice, it is necessary that the principle of respect for the physical and moral integrity
of its practitioners be above everything. For that, it is necessary, in some cases, to establish rules and limits, without
which capoeira comes to be confused with vale-tudo, which, as it is known, is a type of competition and not a sporting style.
Capoeira until very recent times was a fight practiced exclusively by individuals of the marginalized classes, who
did not have the use of appropriate spaces for the development of their cultural manifestations. Thus capoeira was born and
developed in the streets. Therefore, the street is a place that, according to the traditions of capoeira, should be used for
its practice in modern times.
Yet again we can see the
appeal to traditions to justify all sorts of attitudes. Also, something new – we have a line of reasoning that does
not consider the historical change in our society, and considers even less the transformation of capoeira’s role in
this same society. It is true that capoeira is the fruit of the heroic resistance of the Brazilian social subordinates, where
the art was born and developed until the 1930s, when Mestre Bimba progressed to its insertion in the middle and upper social
layers. Without a doubt the street was – and continues being – a true “cultural space” for the classes
oppressed by an exclusive society. However, it is necessary to perceive that the social transformations and the changes that
occurred in the scope of capoeira itself command a reinterpretation of its practice in the streets.
Initially, it is appropriate to
observe that only in very few situations is capoeira still practiced in the streets because of the lack of a more appropriate
space. Besides this, since one of the principle banners of today’s capoeiristas consists in retaking capoeira from its
condition of marginality to elevate it to the plane of sport and recognized, respected cultural tradition, one must fight
so that the institutions continue to offer necessary conditions for the Brazilian fight to conquer more dignified cultural
spaces in its history of resistance. A more detailed analysis of this problem would also oblige us to detail the fact that
capoeira, as a space of cultural production, has significantly changed its role in Brazilian society in the last few decades.
We refer, mainly, to the phenomenon of violence that, as we know, assumes completely different configurations from the malandragem
of the old times.
[Translator’s note: The statement
here is actually missing from the text on Dr. Decânio’s website! However, from the paragraph below I can bet it went
something like this: Improvisation, spontaneity, and the lack of rigid rules are integral
parts of Brazilian culture. Therefore, we should not impose rules on capoeira.]
Yet again, we have a statement
that does not consider the current insertion of capoeira in Brazilian society. After all, from the moment that capoeiristas
intend to live with more or less formalized institutions in society, that is, teaching and practicing the martial art in clubs,
schools, universities, or associations of whatever type, one must recognize as necessary the rules of conduct and living together
that are valid in these institutions. Beyond this, the appeal to the allegation that Brazilian culture has “malandragem”
as a characteristic is deeply questionable, insofar as the construction of a truly democratic society comes to the surpassing
of certain traces that supposedly identify the national culture. In other words, when we state that in Brazil things work with the base of improvisation –
recognizing as a great quality our supposed ability to improvise and cheat the rules – we can be defending certain attitudes
that disrespect the most elementary human rights. In the case of a fight, for example, the freedom to cheat rules or propose
that rules do not exist can mean putting lives at risk.
The capoeirista, being a fighter, must not, for any reason, refuse to play with another capoeirista when in a roda
or other event, since proceeding thus he would act cowardly and would injure the principles of capoeira itself, a fight characterized
by its power of combat.
As in the other sophisms, we have
yet another statement that does not perceive the new determinations to which capoeira is subject. It does not make sense to
require that the capoeirista today aim to be guided by a type of “warrior ethic,” since, more and more, capoeira
must coexist with a wide universe of other activities present in the life of the individual. Now, would there be some sense
in imposing on the practitioners of karate or another martial art a conduct similar to that of the ancient samurais of the
Orient, without adaptations to the modern world? It is clear that the answer is no, and thus the capoeirista of today cannot
be associated with the figure of the slave who battled for his freedom. In this way, it is made necessary that the player
of capoeira has the good sense to require that the option of practicing it as a martial art that enriches his life –
and not as a desperate combat in which his life is put in danger – is respected. Finally, the greatest liberation that
capoeira can allow us in today’s world is to free us from the castrations that society imposes on us daily. The liberation
that the modern times require should not break the shackles that pin our legs or arms, but those that impede our thoughts
in the course of development of creative abilities and of the expression of our true identities.
The slave, when he fled to the quilombos, or had to kill in order to obtain
his liberty, acted motivated by the instincts of life, of preservation of his greatest good, freedom. As great as his sufferings
were, that slave was (as all men who fight for freedom are) the embodiment of the fight for survival. His blows were for equality
compared to the liberty that the master enjoyed.
Some capoeiristas of today, when they transcend the principles of our art-fight
and basic ethical values, are motivated by what type of instincts? Is the pursuit of liberty behind his often violent attitudes?
To the contrary of liberty, there is an attempt to dominate the other, to deny him freedom of movement, to physically and
morally injure him. That form of being makes capoeira seek the destruction of the other and produces the self-destruction
of the individual that practices it. That capoeira, if it comes to predominate over the other, will mean the failure of a
project begun even in Africa, when the black man was imprisoned and already began to think
about strategies of liberation.