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Capoeira
Training Journal 2002
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1/1/02 - the holidays

I received Nestor Capoeira's The Little Capoeira Book and Mestre Acordeon's Capoeira: A Brazilian Art Form for Christmas, as well as the Only the Strong soundtrack and another capoeira CD. I read the books and listened to the CDs over and over in the following few days, and was dying to practice some capoeira! During New Years', which we spent at a friend's beach house, I found a big bay window in the living room and practiced in front of it at night - watching my reflection was really helpful. Meia lua de frente and quiexada looked good, armada was good as long as I remembered to twist my torso before releasing the kick, but the meia lua de compasso I still had a hard time with; I thought it felt rather awkward. I also noticed the huge difference between my parafuso to the left (spectacular) and my parafuso to the right (pretty pathetic). After celebrating New Years', I played capoeira in the living room again until Mom and Dad said I was making too much noise and had to go to bed.

1/25/02 - malicia

First experience with malicia - a visiting capoeira instructor named Gil joined our class, and during the game he bought in with me and immediately began a volta ao mundo, noticing that I was tired. As we trotted around the circle, he asked if I'd caught my breath yet. I nodded, and he motioned me back to the foot of the circle. I crouched down and extended my hand, and BAM! his foot comes out of nowhere and bencaos me square in the chest, and I just fell over! I had not expected that at all, and afterwards he lectured me about never letting my guard down and always being alert to an attack. Playing with Gil, the best capoeirista I had played thusfar, was humbling but extremely fun - I felt like I could learn a lot.

2/23/02 - what a class!

I think we set a record time for the length of capoeira class - three hours! We played an awesome game of Regional, in which I was able to just go with he flow and interact with the other player - by this point, I was starting to get the hang of just reacting within the context of the game and not thinking too much. Today we practiced a lot of moves in combinations, and did sequences of moves with partners - very helpful for developing game skills.

3/19/02 - first time in a "real" class

While home for spring break, I visited the class in Danbury, taught by instructor Diney Nunes. I was the only one there not fluent in Portuguese. When I asked one of the students what style they play (meaning Angola or Regional), he sort of snapped, "We play capoeira - ever heard of it?" None of this helped ease my nervousness. Diney warmed us up and then separated us into beginning students and more advanced students, and began to teach us beginners the ginga and basic kicks. He noticed that I caught on quickly, and asked if I'd had any training before, and what else I knew. He made me demonstrate each of the basic kicks for him, and made some helpful adjustments to my technique. In the roda there were real berimbaus and everything - I tried to sing along, but I didn't know any of the words, and kept getting distracted by watching the game. I didn't play particularly well because I was still nervous, but Diney said he liked the way I play anyway. So it was fun, but I left determined to do better next time...

3/21/02 - "real" class, take II

Another class with Diney. We worked on kicks, especially the quiexada. I learned some traditions/rules of the roda, like when you buy in you never cut out the higher cord player, and when you end a game you give a nod of appreciation to the instruments. Good to know. I was playing well! You could tell I'd trained some Angola because I spent more time close to the ground. I got to play with all the advanced students, which was great! I played a very good game with Diney even though I was tiring; I had some timely dodges and moves. His group plays a little farther apart than my group does; they don't dodge much because kicks are out of range, but Diney and I played a fast, closer game with more interaction, which I like. I tried an au sem mao in the roda and the first time I fell but the second time I got it ok. Diney complimented me on my game and started talking about how I'd need white pants and the group t-shirt for the demonstration in April, and when I told them I wouldn't be around for it they were like "What?" Hopefully I'll be back though, with more moves and a smoother game.

3/26/02 - ...and the third one

We did basic kicks and negativa de frente, a dodge. Before class Diney tried to teach me the handspin, but he was doing it to my bad side so I couldn't get it well. The roda was good (always too short!) but I played pretty well.

4/5/02 - Capoeira cheers me up :-)

Last night was terrible; I was upset for several reasons which I won't go into here. I felt better after talking to Mom, but was still discouraged. So I went to the gym to try out my new capoeira pants before Saturday's class. It was so fun! All I did was basic kicks and aus, but afterwards I felt so much more confident and energized... capoeira works wonders.

4/13/02 - Jogo de Capoeira

During April we played a lot in class, doing roda de quatro, angola, and regional. I didn't particularly like roda de quatro; I felt too constrained by the small space. I liked playing Angola, but Roberto said my Angola is a little too aggressive, and that I probably learned that from Gil. I did well in Regional, but I needed to mix it up more and use more moves when I play: I knew a lot of moves, but I felt like I keep doing the same ones over and over. I found it really interesting how different people play different games, and how it's easier to play with some people than with others:

Phil - his game is smooth and stylistically a lot like Roberto's, so I play pretty well with him.
Jeremy - I play pretty well with him too, he doesn't have a lot of experience playing but has great natural ability.
Bret - although playing with him is fun because it's aggressive, our styles don't mesh well for some reason and there's a bit of a communication gap. Roberto thinks if we play together more we'll get used to each other.
Emily - she throws a lot of kicks, so I have to be on the alert, and I try to play close to the ground. I've been playing well with her lately.
Roberto - playing with him is the best because he knows what he's doing. I can throw kicks at full speed because I know he can dodge them. We seem to have decent communication in our games, although I find it hard to predict what he's doing.

4/18/02 - New moves

I hadn't learned any new moves lately; had just been working on old ones and concentrating on my game, but today I learned the headspring (it has a similar motion to the kip-up) and the escorpiao - the one where you sort of do a handstand on your elbows/forearms, and your back arches so your feet come forward over your head. I was really excited to get these!

4/26/02 - a couple important lessons...

I discovered two things: 1) I'm really bad at the caracol; and 2) kip-ups should not be attempted at 9 AM.

5/4/02 - workin on my game

I've been slowly incorporating more moves, such as the kip-up and s-dobrado, into my game; unfortunately, today I tended to forget about the other player and not react to what they were doing - gotta focus more on that.

5/7/02 - balance and energy

Yuck. The energy just wasn't there today. There are two ways I gauge how well I'm going to do in capoeira on any particular day:

- the handstand: how well I do on my handstands lets me know how much balance I'm feeling. On a good balance day, I'm able to execute my handstands, aus, and kicks with control. On a bad balance day, everything's a little "off" and I can't stay on my hands or kick without being off-balance.

- the kip-up: this is my indicator of energy. If I have a solid kip-up with a lot of whip, I know my muscles have that energy and spring. I'll do well on explosive movements such as the headspring and au sem mao. On a really bad energy day, I don't even try to flip.

5/10/02 - woohoo!

I got the no-handed kip-up! :-) I decided that what I wanted to practice more was just moving like a capoeirista - not using any really fancy moves, just basics, but flowing, changing directions, and moving to the music. 

6/8/02 - Strength exercises

Been practicing handstands and handstand push-ups in my room. Next time I have to undergo some kind of wimpy fitness testing where they ask the girls to do ten knee-assisted push-ups, I'm gonna whip upside down and do ten handstand push-ups! Just to show that girls can have that kind of strength. I'll have to keep practicing though, 'cause right now I can only do three.

6/13/02 - blah

I re-discovered two things about capoeira - that it's really hard to practice it 1) on your own; and 2) without music. Both add so much energy to the atmosphere.

I can't help 1; at the moment I have no one here to play with. And as for 2, I lugged my stereo all the way across Minor Field because it was a nice day so I wanted to play outside, and had previously observed a power outlet by the bleachers. Except the power outlet didn't work. Maybe they turn them off in the summer. I could buy batteries, but it needs about $25 worth of C batteries. Hmmm.

6/14/02 - A breakthrough!

YES!!! I HAVE DISCOVERED THE SECRET TO THE AU BATIDO!!!

Some people pick up this move really quickly (especially guys, it seems) but I haven't been able to get it at all - until today! My problem before was that I kept launching myself sideways; I'd get up on one hand and kick and then just keep going in that direction, and my arm would often collapse under me. Occasionally I'd get a decent one but I couldn't figure out what I was doing that made it good. Today I realized that it was a problem with the orientation of the planted hand, and once I fixed it my au batidos were fine - I can even do them to both sides! It's cool when something "clicks," the proverbial light bulb blinks on over your head, that enables you to get a move you could never do before.

6/23/02 - Inspiration

Okay, THAT was amazing! This weekend I went to Grupo Capoeira Brasil's 2002 Encounter... I'll quote myself from an e-mail I wrote someone though the experience really cannot be conveyed in words. This was the first time I'd been to a "real" group's event, and seen really good capoeiristas play:

"Watching all the Instructores and Professores play each other - I have never seen capoeira played like that before - the way they moved was absolutely incredible. I was mesmerized, and the hours seemed to pass like seconds.

"I was glad to see Contra-Mestre Jo play, since I hadn't ever seen a really good female capoeirista; she had an awesome game. I also watched Mestre Jelon Viera play in the street roda - he's so quick and unpredictable, and can take anyone down in the blink of an eye. I shook his hand afterwards. I met Instructor Maranhao, who teaches at Rutgers University, and he introduced me to Professor Ubaldo, who teaches in CT - I might be able to join his class when I get home in August.

"At the encounter they had a small batizado, and then an open roda. I played for about 30 seconds; was scared to death, and I don't play particularly well when I'm nervous. This event was in memory of Instructor Aladin, who died in January at the age of 22. They did a heartbreakingly beautiful Angola roda that was dedicated to him.

"Going to this was good for me in several ways, I think. The instructores, professores, etc. were so excited to play that Mestre Jelon had to restrain them from jumping into the roda every two seconds; you could see that they were "hungry for capoeira," as Maranhao put it. Seeing such experienced capoeiristas play reminded me that I still have a loooong way to go in my capoeira journey, but it was very inspiring because I was thinking "wow, I really want to play like that someday." I also got a taste of the richness of capoeira beyond just the moves - the music was amazing, I was happy that I was able to pick up some of the songs and sing along. The sense of community was powerful - it's like everyone's family.

"...in short, it was incredible. I am counting the days; I can't WAIT to get home and train in a real class, even if only for a month..."

6/24/02 - more thoughts

Continuing thoughts from Capoeira Brasil's events - one thing that really surprised me was that although the street roda drew a fairly sizable crowd, not that many people came to the batizado the next day (they handed out flyers for it at the street roda). How can you watch capoeira and not want to learn more about it?!? Or at the very least want to watch some more?

One thing that puzzles me is how to make my game smoother - I often feel like I'm sloppy and slightly off-balance. The balance is actually improving; practicing moves at slow speeds and then working up in speed is quite effective, and I'll continue to practice that way. I'm also trying to develop an ear for moving to the music: I'm not the most graceful person in the world so this doesn't come easily, but I think it may help my rhythm and flow.

10/7/02 - Experimenting with the backflip...

Lately I've been completely disregarding the approved method of learning the backflip through the macaco and the back handspring and going straight to the flip. I started out doing it on a big, squishy mat, just to get the feeling. Later, I moved to a somewhat thinner mat with Roberto spotting me, and I've tried it a few times on my own, but I keep forgetting to jump high and tuck - two somewhat important elements of a backflip!

The couple times I've sort of landed it (albeit in a crouch) were when I threw it explosively without thinking too much about it - I always fail if I let myself get psyched out by the fear of jumping high and rotating backwards. It's actually not a hard move physically at all - it's a matter of the mind... and of timing.

I also started backflipping off the mat (about a foot above the ground) onto the floor... can land that solidly, but it trained me not to tuck as much, and to rely on the springiness of the mat rather than the launch of my legs for height - great. You know what would probably help me get it? If I flipped off of hard things (not squishy like the mat) that got progressively lower in height (i.e. start a foot off the ground, then lower it to ten inches, then eight, etc). I'd make the necessary adjustment for the height difference and gradually learn to tuck faster, until I could do it on level ground.

It would be nice to have the backflip, but it's not essential. What I really need to do is learn how to macaco properly.

11/9/02 - our capoeira club gives its first public performance!

10 PM, Saturday night, backstage in the annex during the 4th act - the seven of us stretched out as best we could, did a few handstands and a light warm-up. Before we went on, we exchanged handshakes and tried not to be so annoyingly nervous. We took the stage and set up the mat, then the music started and Roberto flipped in and introduced capoeira. Each of us performed a short solo (I exited mine thinking "what the heck was that? I didn't pull a single move that I wanted to, and probably looked ridiculously uncoordinated!") and then the games began.

Once everyone got their solo out of the way and calmed down, we all played really well! The games were fluid, energetic, and beautiful; everyone interacted well with each other and pulled off some pretty sweet moves. Roberto's hollowback aerial in his solo looked absolutely ridiculous, and Ben threw one of the best backflips we've seen from him. Andrew had a tight au-macaco entrance to his solo and played quite well... Phil had some nice back handsprings during his typical very smooth games... Emily pulled her trademark spider-walking... Tom had a beautiful hollowback and a great game for someone who just started a few months ago... and as for me, well, I never quite pulled off the au sem mao, but I did get in some headsprings and a couple sweeeeet handspins :-)

By the end of the performance we were ecstatic; it was so much fun and the crowd loved us! In fact, we got so exuberant that we took down Tom while rolling up the mat :-p - whoops. Our games looked great on the video, and what can I say... I can't wait till we perform again!

11/16/02 - old school capoeira

Today in class we cut lengths of cord and tied our wrists together about shoulder-width apart, and practiced capoeira. This simulates the slaves' hands being chained together. At first it felt really different, but it helped my technique so much! I tend to flail my arms on kicks, and the cord prevented me from doing that and kept them close together and in front of me, protecting myself - and I felt more balanced. It helps your hand placement on the meia lua de compasso, too, as well as correcting swinging arms in the ginga. I tried playing some games with the cord on, and it did limit some of my movements at first, but eventually I stopped even noticing I was wearing it. I plan to practice more with my hands tied; it's a fun challenge!

I wasn't playing especially well today for some reason - I had very little energy and kept getting worn out quickly. Gotta increase my endurance... I guess the only way to do that is to keep pushing myself and keep playing. Then again, I am getting over a nasty cold, so that may have zapped my energy as well. However, I did have a couple good games with everyone... I alternated between good games with nice interaction and not-so-great games where my timing was off.

11/20/02 - woohoo!

Some exciting things may be happening with our capoeira club soon! We're applying for official recognition as a club and funding from the school for next semester. With this funding, we could:

- get instruments and learn how to play them

- buy a new mat and set up a permanent space to practice, perhaps in one of the old squash courts that no one uses. This way, we won't be in the field house interfering with indoor track practice, and our music won't bother anyone.

- coordinate some intercollegiate capoeira; visits to other college capo clubs and stuff like that

- perhaps pay a mestre or other instructor to come here and give a weekend workshop or something!

Any and all of the above would absolutely ROCK! I can't wait... I hope we get the funding. Add to that a demo at a cultural festival in town in a few weeks, and another one at FebFest... the more people that see capoeira the better; it'd be great to get some new members. The only problem with publicizing capoeira via demonstration is that a lot of people say "that's cool, but I could never do that" - somehow, we need to get across the point that anyone can learn capoeira if they're willing to try - heck, I couldn't cartwheel when I started!

Anyway, today's class was not bad. My handstand walking was feeling pretty solid. And I was actually able to do the exercise where you walk your hands down a wall into a bridge, then walk back up to a standing position - maybe, just maybe, my back is getting more flexible! yay!

11/23/02 - more progress :-)

I almost got the meia lua reversao today! I'm getting all the necessary rotation and not stopping myself on the landing. It still feels a little awkward, but I feel like I'm a lot closer than I was before. The other combination I worked on was handstand to an elbow handstand to headstand to headspring - that one's cool when I get it right. Ben suggested au to queda de rins to kip-up, which is nifty as well. Also, some of my handstands have been feeling unusually stable lately - sweet!

12/8/02 - another performance, and BERIMBAU-MANIA!

On Friday our capoeira club gave a short performance at a dance festival thingy in town. It was shorter than our CultureFest performance and a bit more nerve-wracking, being on a rather small wooden stage. I did well on my solo but wasn't playing so great - I didn't feel the same level of energy as in our other performance. Still, it's a little more experience for us playing capoeira in front of an audience, so it can't hurt!

Okay, so Roberto lent me Gil's berimbau for the day! :-D

I've been playing this thing non-stop... it's so much fun!!! The results are that my suitemates think I'm crazy and my left pinky finger is permanently bent out of shape, but it's worth it :-p I've been reading some berimbau notation and trying to teach myself the toques. I can't wait until I get a berimbau of my own, or get to some real capoeira music classes. Who would've thought that a simple one-stringed instrument could be so addictive?

12/11/02 - NEWS FLASH - SHAYNA'S MACACO IS IMPROVING!!!

That's right folks, I've gotten a tiny bit closer to that elusive macaco! Roberto gave me a few very helpful pieces of advice today:

- throw that free hand back, and follow it! What I was doing was launching my legs and just sort of letting the hand go back instead of throwing it.

- make sure to rotate on the planted hand

- don't try to stall it in a handstand and then come down; make it one fluid motion

Mainly the first one really helped me to get closer to the right motion... it's still not completely correct, but I'm a lil bit closer than I was before. Phil said "we'll have to have a huge party when Shayna gets the macaco!"

The other really encouraging thing today was my au sem mao to the left (bad side, on which I never practice) - I was actually landing it, albeit a bit sloppy, and not as high and explosive as my one to the right. Doing it out of a meia lua de compasso really helps; for some reason I have less reservations about springing high into the air after coming out of a meia lua de compasso than when I do it out of the ginga.

12/16/02 - some good classes

The last few capoeira classes have felt unusually good. On Wednesday I learned the flatspin and mortal americano (which I then proceeded to lose by Friday), two extremely fun moves which are not that hard to do once you have the au sem mao. Incidentally, my au sem mao to the left is feeling better and better every time I practice it - will have to keep that up.

On Friday we had a sweet roda de tres. I didn't used to be such a fan of this game, I always felt too contstrained by the small space, and kept tying myself in knots and/or doing negativa switching over and over. However, the games on Friday were smooth, beautiful, and full of strategy and deception - everyone was playing really well. Perhaps it was the fact that we were playing to the slow, steady rhythm of an actual berimbau this time, but I definitely noticed an improvement in everyone's movements. The players were moving around each other and interacting well, and there wasn't as much loss of control/falling out of the circle as there sometimes is - I know I only did once. Each game was like a chess game, the players thinking and strategizing as they traded moves, and every once in a while there would be a "checkmate" as one player showed that he or she could've kicked/tripped/taken down the other. I hope more of our small rodas have that kind of character.