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Capoeira
Training Journal 2001
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September 2001 - The beginning

It was the first week of classes and everyone was outside enjoying the warm weather before the winter (which lasts from October to May) set in. People playing frisbee, soccer, baseball, football, and lacrosse competed with each other and with the sunbathers for space on the quad. All of us freshmen were still trying to make friends, get used to our roommates, and look cool; my way of doing this was to juggle my soccer ball outside, something I was good at. All sorts of cute soccer playin guys would come up to me, introduce themselves, and join the juggling. My first glimpse of capoeira was when I was inside for a minute and glanced out my window to see a guy in white training pants showing some kicks to some other guys. It was only a glance, so I just passed it off as some martial art. Whatever.

Then one day this guy happened to be practicing out on the quad at the same time I was out there reading a book. I began to watch him, turning a page every once in a while just to keep up the pretense of reading. And I was mesmerized, not so much by the high-flying acrobatics (which were certainly impressive), but just by the way he moved. A kick became a dodge became a handstand; every element flowed seamlessly into the next. The moves were rhythmic as well as fluid, as if he was dancing to some unheard melody. I was too shy to ask him about it, but I wanted to see more. From then on, every time I saw him practicing or teaching on the quad I headed out with my soccer ball to spy. I really wanted to learn, but the first thing he asked everyone to do was a cartwheel - which I had never been able to do! Some of the kicks and dodges looked like stuff I could learn, but I wasn't about to humiliate myself flopping around on the grass in a pathetic attempt at a cartwheel.

I mentioned it in an e-mail to my parents: "Today I was out on the quad reading my chemistry book, and I saw this guy doing these AWESOME karate-like moves, flips, jump kicks; he was really, really good and surprisingly graceful. I found out later that he was doing Brazilian martial arts; that it's a combination between self-defence and dance, and that he's willing to teach anyone who wants to learn - cool, huh? I most likely don't have the coordination for it, but I'd love to try!"

Soon this guy, whose name is Roberto, sent out an all-campus e-mail announcing the formation of a capoeira club. "No previous martial arts experience necessary," he claimed. "Anyone can learn." I debated whether or not to go. I'm the type of person who likes to be above average at anything I participate in, especially athletic endeavors, so I feared being bad at capoeira, being laughed at and looked down upon. However, my desire to learn won out over my pride - after all, you won't learn anything unless you're willing to be taught, right? - and I sent an e-mail back to Roberto saying, "I'll be the comic relief of the class, you know, the person who's so bad they make everyone else feel better about themselves by comparison!" He replied, saying he'd taught people worse than me. The only thing I could think was Yeah, right...

9/10/01 - First class

First capoeira class. I eyed the other nine people suspiciously, wondering how good they were, and if we were going to be training backflips right away. To my relief, Roberto first explained the history and background of capoeira, then taught us the meia lua de frente, quiexada, and esquiva. I was feeling pretty good about myself until the end of the hour, when he asked each person to do a cartwheel in front of the entire class. Wonderful. One by one the other students showcased their cartwheels - all perfect from my point of view. A graceful girl who had probably been a gymnast or cheerleader. A guy who did them with only one hand. I had strategically positioned myself last in line, figuring we'd run out of time, or Roberto would forget about me, or let me off without trying. Not a chance. I'll let what I wrote in an e-mail to a friend that afternoon speak for itself:

"...that was it for classes; I had an hour break for lunch and then went to capoeira - it was SOOOOO FUN!!! Guess what: I CAN do a cartwheel! I got it on my first attempt! I have a really hard time in the other direction though, gotta practice that. Roberto taught us two kicks and a dodge. I caught on pretty quickly, although there's still one tiny footing issue that puzzles me on the kicks. I stayed after class to work on cartwheels; I need to get that "slow-motion" cartwheel so it doesn't look so sloppy and rushed. My next major project is handstands and walking on my hands. Capoeira is addictive, like figure skating! :-) So I'm all psyched from the Cartwheel Victory, and I went to go check my mail..."

Looking back, I can see how uncontrolled those first cartwheels were. I was only attempting to imitate the others, throwing my hands down and launching my lower body up and over my head. I remember the foreignness of the motion, of going upside down, and how I sometimes over- or under-rotated and crashed. However, I was exultant over the fact that I did something I didn't think I could, and that was satisfaction enough for me.

9/15/01 - First roda

First time in the roda. I found it impossible to listen to the beat of the music and do moves while keeping track of what the other person was doing. Ginga, au, meia lua de frente, quiexada, esquiva, cocorinha, negativa, and queda de rins were pretty much the only moves I knew at this point. I remember feeling extraordinarily awkward, freezing up a lot, and having a lot of miscommunications with the other player - we'd both kick at the same time and collide, or neither of us would know what to do and we'd just ginga, etc. I resolved to practice my moves in sequence rather than just individually, so I'd be able to play better

9/24/01 - ouch

I think I sprained my right ankle working on au sem mao, which I should not have been doing only two weeks into my capoeira career! At this point, I still didn't have good control of regular aus, so throwing myself into an au sem mao was definitely a bad idea. I took one hard landing, and the next day my ankle was very swollen and very painful - and stayed that way for a week. Let this be a warning - don't work on moves you're not ready for yet! Injuries are not fun.

10/13/01 - front flip!

Just once, I pulled off a front flip - and I haven't really been able to do it consistently since!

10/27/01 - issues with my game

Roberto tells me I think too much when I play, and to stop doing that! Maybe it's the analytical, science-oriented part of my brain that likes to have everything planned out, but he was right - instead of playing naturally and instinctively, just reacting and going with the flow, I was trying to schedule moves and combinations, and I would also tend to just freeze and stop ginga-ing when I messed something up. I've never been good at anything improvisational - I can play almost any piece of music written for the piano but I can't improvise; I can't just dance unless there are defined steps that I can learn. Problem was, I had no idea how I was supposed to "stop thinking too much" in the roda!

11/6/01 - improvement... sort of

This was the point at which I started to get control over my aus - Roberto commented on the improvement, and I could tell that I was more sprawled out (not crunched up like I was in the beginning) and that I went over more slowly, without throwing myself.

This was also the point at which I realized that my macaco was really terrible: I couldn't go straight back, and I kept leading with one leg rather than jumping with both, effectively turning it into an au. I also resolved to work more on handstands.

12/3/01 - au sem mao!

First experience with maculele - Roberto just taught us some basics. I wasn't very good at it.

However, I got the au sem mao! It wasn't perfect; my legs are still too crunched in the air - but I got over the fear of not putting my hands down - it's all mental whether you do or not, and you can easily put them down and save yourself if you haven't jumped high enough. Today was also my first handspin - half a rotation. It has since become one of my favorite moves.