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Capoeira
Philosophical Reflections
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José Luiz Oliveira Cruz (Mestre Bola Sete) trained with Mestre Pessoa Bababá, who was a student of Mestre Pastinha. His own academy, the Centro de Cultura da Capoeira Tradicional Bahiana (Center for Traditional Bahian Capoeira Culture), was founded in 1980. Today, he is the president of the Council of Mestres of the Associação Brasileira de Capoeira Angola (Brazilian Capoeira Angola Association).

 

Here I have translated Chapter 6, "Philosophical Reflections," of his book Capoeira Angola: Do Iniciante Ao Mestre.

 

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Origin of capoeira angola: Afro-Brazilian.

 

The roots of capoeira, yes, came from Africa, mainly from Angola, arising from ancient rituals. But it was here in Brazil, initially in Bahia, in the fertile soil due to slavery, and in the name of liberty, that capoeira was cultivated and flourished, showing all her beauty.

 

Capoeira is not from Angola - Capoeira of Angola. Capoeira is angola - Capoeira angola. The style that we, angoleiros, practice. We are angoleiros and not Angolans. We play the traditional Bahian capoeira.

 

Capoeira in its beginnings was not, as some researchers believe, a dance that later became transformed into a fight, but on the contrary an extremely violent fight that was disguised in dance to camouflage the danger it contained.

 

Our philosophy is based in malícia (wisdom) and in manha (craftiness) and is expressed through malandragem (jogo de cintura), through the behavior of the capoeirista inside and outside the roda, allowing him to act with confidence in the right moments.

 

From the trainee to the contramestre, the capoeirista teaches what he learned with the mestre. The mestre teaches what he discovered by himself.

 

The mestre must teach the student the first steps of capoeira angola with the same dedication of a father who holds the hands of his son and teaches him to walk for the first time, with the objective of preparing him, according to his experience, not just for games in the roda, but also for various circumstances in life.

 

Not every mestre is a good capoeirista and not every good capoeirista is a mestre. Mestres can recognize the capoeirista who knows the fundamentals of capoeira angola, aiming above all for self-perfection and the spiritual and philosophical aspect of his art, and not just his performance in the game and in the fight.

 

The violence of capoeira must stay in the innermost part of the capoeirista, only manifesting itself in extreme situations, in defense of life.

 

Capoeira must be disguised to be practiced in the presence of our opposition, as the African slaves disguised it in the view of their masters.

 

Execute the hits smoothly in the game or note the distance necessary to safely apply them, without the need to hit your partner with deliberate violence.

 

The true capoeiristas are avoiding the rodas where violence occurs, because the mestres who command them don't have even the basic condition to assume that position. They are lacking education. They want to show a deceptive superiority, trying to win at any cost. Instead of playing capoeira in the roda, they fight like gladiators in the arena. The spectacular hits and the amazing flips are also much too valued to the detriment of the creativity and malícia of the old capoeiristas.

 

As long as the berimbau remains associated with the game of capoeira and is respected as it should be, there will be no place for violence.

 

In public demonstrations, present the game of angola, utilizing all the available resources in the other types of games, depending on the circumstances of the moment.

 

Avoid doing sudden movements in the beginning of the game; try instead to adequately warm up the body in the development of the low game.

 

In the ginga, stay as long as possible, as long as the situation allows, in a guarded position, during games and training, the objective being the strengthening of the internal organs, along with preventing injuries of the knees and giving better balance to the practitioner of capoeira angola.

 

The person who is searching for the fundamentals of capoeira angola will not be content with only its material side. A large number of the Physical Education professors that teach capoeira, after a few months of learning in a university, emphasize a long session of preparative stretching and exercises to compensate for the little knowledge that they possess.

 

As paradoxical as it may seem, certain people, as much as they expand their horizons of intellectual knowledge, diminish their perception about the simpler things life offers, finding greater difficulty in accepting them. It is similar to people with the visual deficiency that allows them to see things that are far away, but to see things at a short distance, they need the use of corrective lenses. If they would analyze the lessons they receive with the critical spirit, and not the spirit of criticism, they would certainly find in these things many answers to their inquiries.

 

Less experienced capoeiristas must look for the oldest mestres, of confirmed knowledge, so that later they will become capable of exercising their profession with the knowledge that the responsibility requires.

 

Through a simple language, Mestre Pastinha spoke great truths. Thus, I try to simplify as much as possible my form of teaching, transmitting my knowledge with a very specific language, acquired as a consequence of living with the great capoeiristas of the past, trying to rescue old customs that I consider of extreme importance to which refers the behavior of the traditional capoeirista and the preservation of the style of angola with its original characteristics.

 

Our teaching is characterized by the simplicity of its movements, allowing any person, from seven to seventy years of age, to learn capoeira angola.

 

Play very carefully, avoiding injuries that could put the physical integrity of your partner at risk, independent of the type of game that is developing in the roda.

 

Play the game, play instruments, sing, teach, form students, work in support of capoeira angola and preserve it in agreement with its fundamentals. These are the main requirements for the formation of a capoeirista.

 

Do the game in the roda, and not the fight, reserved for defense against our enemies.

 

The true capoeirista never takes the initiative of turning the game into a fight, always respecting the rhythm of the berimbau-mestre and the rules of capoeira. The lack of knowledge of capoeira's rituals and the disobedience to its rules and precepts are the main factors that contribute to violence in capoeira rodas.

 

Game, dance, and fight. The capoeirista must know exactly what he is doing and the right moment of change from one condition to another, depending on the need.

 

The angoleiro must always keep himself on the defensive, especially in street fights, having the caution to put himself in the position of the victim according to the testimonies.

 

In defense against enemies, we must threaten to attack them in a determined place, so that he worries too much about protecting it, allowing an attack to another place.

 

The game of capoeira angola is similar to the game of chess, where the rasteira and/or the cabeçada are the check-mate of the angoleiro.

 

The majority of the frontally applied hits, for example the chapa, are often used in street fights. However, the spinning hits are more useful in counterattacks, mainly when executed for deception.

 

The hits of capoeira angola, almost always executed with moderation in the roda, are very dangerous when used in the street, against enemies, as long as the practitioner possesses the necessary experience to utilize them in this circumstance; if this is not the case, the situation is inverted (the danger is to the practitioner).

 

When all my students tell me that they always get around a fight, when the easiest thing would be to begin a physical fight, I will have the certainty that we are on the right path, the course to our greatest objective of internal realization.

 

Not being able to avoid a fight, stay calm, concentrating mainly on defense, resolved and confident in what you have learned.

 

The capoeirista that never faced a weapon cannot say that he doesn't know how to defend himself against it. And the fact of him knowing all the techniques of defense against armed adversaries also doesn't mean that he is prepared to face them. The most important thing is that the capoeirista stays CALM in the hour of danger. To possess the self-control necessary to override fear.

 

The angoleiro must not lose his identity. If he practices other forms of fighting, he should acquire only some basic notions, keeping capoeira angola as his point of reference, his base.

 

Train a lot the movement of the ginga, of great importance in street fights and in the game of capoeira.

 

Try not to turn your back to the adversary, except to deceive him, aiming to catch him unprepared.

 

First I teach the hit in its full extension, to free the movement, and afterwards, with time, the diverse forms of execution, with malicia, according to the moment and the circumstances.

 

In the low game, always watch the head of your partner, obviously taking the necessary precautions to not hurt him.

 

When the game becomes closed, try not to force an exit utilizing physical force, since in our style this type of action is considered superficial. Try to undo a tangle and give continuity to our "playfulness" of angola.

 

The rasteira is a takedown movement very simple in its learning and at the same time complex in its execution; it must be applied subtly, avoiding kicking the shin of your partner, which shows the lack of technique of the executor.

 

Also, violent rasteiras must not be applied when your partner is with only one foot on the ground, in the exact moment of the execution of a hit, because the resulting fall from this type of takedown is one of the most dangerous, able to seriously hurt the person, even an experienced capoeirista.

 

The point of the rasteira and the many takedown movements in the game of capoeira angola is to take your partner to the ground, putting the body on the floor, which characterizes the takedown, and not the negativa, in whichever of its positions, which shows their defense.

 

However, when your partner is developing the low game, there is no reason to try to get him at all cost and at every instant, even if he brandishes a hit, because he will support himself on the ground, with the use of the hands and the feet. Proceeding this way, the other player will only confuse the game.

 

Train cabeçada in the mirror, to acquire control of the movement and keep the eyes open in its execution.

 

When you are playing close to your partner, try to close your guard well and use the floreio with the aim of deceiving him and make him become vulnerable.

 

To know the true potential of a capoeirista, it is necessary to see him acting in diverse situations: in academies, in street rodas, in less-well-known trainings, and in street fights, defending himself against his enemies, armed or unarmed.

 

Before the beginning of the game, at the pé do berimbau, during the intonation of the ladainha, the practitioner of Angola must concentrate and say his prayers, trying to assimilate the positive vibrations contained in the environment, asking the protection of his spiritual guide, his protector saint, or his orixás.

 

Also when you feel threatened in the roda, go to the pé do berimbau, do the sign of the cross asking its protection and that of your partner and return to the jogo de dentro, independently of the rhythm of the orchestra.

 

When a student is in doubt about which defense to utilize to free himself from a movement done by his partner, pass to the low game and immediately use a counterattack, according to the necessity of the moment.

 

If I know how to hit in various different forms, I must only apply one or two forms in each turn. And all-out hits, generally violent, use only in times of extreme danger, as a last resort, always in defense of life.

 

Some people in our midst have the custom of criticizing others’ playing styles, because they lift their legs very high or, by contrast, because they don’t usually lift them above the level of the waist, and other comments of this nature. If these people reflected on this type of attitude without vanity, which is unique to the human being of delayed evolution, they would certainly arrive at the obvious conclusion of the poverty, in terms of creativity, that there would be if all of us practiced the same style; and that this condition of diversity is what gives origin to the wealth of details present in rodas of capoeira, where the ego of the capoeristas manifests itself through their bodies’ movements, demonstrating that to play capoeira is a state of the spirit and that emotion is its essential component.

 

The capoeira roda is a mirror of life that reflects the traps of everyday life and where the exercise of deception has conquering our enemies as its objective.

 

In our style, we try to develop the game with much balance in the ginga, using slow movements, alternated with some rapid and explosive shots, according to the situation, where malícia always predominates.

 

The seqüências were never exclusive to capoeira regional, because it would be impossible to teach capoeira without the use of them. The difference is that Mestre Bimba, helped by some of his students, was the first to put them down on paper.

 

The teaching of the seven traditional collections of sequences and passages used in CCCTB aims to prime one’s physical condition, technique, and awaken the creativity of my students, in addition to disciplining them and integrating them even more into the group, practicing companionship, while the commitment given to the learning of the sequences will demonstrate all their dedication to the Center and the trust deposited in their mestre.

 

I always try to form pairs for training the sequences cited in the body of this book, according to the technical level of the students, substituting them according to time, always taking into consideration the existing affinity between them.

 

Capoeira, until the end of the 70s, used to involve a series of rituals, which gave it a magic aspect, inside the mystical atmosphere of the city of Bahia. The capoeirista had a unique philosophy of life, based in malícia, in cleverness.

 

The true angoleiro is known by the relaxed ginga with malícia, by the cleverness, by the calmness, security, and balance in attack and defense, in addition to the knowledge of the rituals and traditions of capoeira angola.

 

The student, beginning with their first year of learning, should frequent and little by little begin to participate in the traditional capoeira rodas in Bahia, with the aim of acquiring the experience necessary for his training.

 

The angoleiro should know mandinga, staying always with a closed body, through the balance of his energy fields, acquired principally through emotional control of his thoughts and acts, strengthening his faith through amulets and prayers, seeking always his spiritual development.

 

In truth, what is important is the knowledge of the fundamentals of capoeira angola, with its rituals and precepts, in addition to the mysticism that it involves. Without this, capoeira completely loses its sense, and technique comes to supersede creativity, thus ceasing to be the capoeirista’s greater form of expression.

 

At the end of the 70s, capoeira regional exploded in popularity and capoeira angola found itself in danger of extinction, making necessary a sufficiently radical position of angoleiros, when we were very criticized for that. However, when the balance hangs much on one side, we must situate ourselves on the other extreme to achieve BALANCE.

 

Today, we can find diverse trainees, professors, contramestres, and mestres in the same group of capoeira, which didn’t used to happen. What happens today is that many are confusing RESPONSIBILITIES with CLASSES. The classification was given according to the time and technical ability, while the positions, that could only be occupied by at the most two capoeiristas, beyond the time and the technical capacity, depended on the trust that the mestre placed in the person, this being the principal requisite.

 

Modern capoeira is similar to a young and beautiful woman that naturally rivets whoever sees her, although she is completely empty in her essence. Whereas the traditional capoeira of the past was more similar to a simple woman of the people, who does not stand out at first sight, but however possesses a truer beauty, interior, that only the people with a more acute sensitivity could immediately perceive.

 

No one is the owner of the absolute truth. Capoeira undergoes a constant process of creation and it fits us, as mestres, to extract the best out of the diverse forms of teaching, aiming to enrich each time our art, adapting it to our objectives and having the caution to know how to separate well the “chaff from the wheat,” eliminating all the movements that are foreign to our roots, that discharacterize the art, adding and conserving those that are in agreement with our traditions. It is no shame or sign of ignorance to copy what has value; much to the contrary, it is a sign of wisdom.

 

The capoeirista must know to live according to the time and the circumstance. Sometimes, what used to be considered a behavior with malícia, the example of passing unnoticed to not be known as a capoeirista, due to the persecution that was imposed on us, today, in certain moments, proceeding this way we are committing an error, because the opportunities that will arise will be given to those who show themselves.

 

I consider of extreme importance an informal chat of the possible student with some mestres, before choosing the one who will be his mentor.

 

Today, the student changes mestres as though changing suits, literally. With this behavior, he naïvely thinks that he will acquire greater knowledge, which is not true, much to the contrary. As soon as the mestre discovers that the student already passed through various academies, not staying in any of them, certainly he will not pass on to him his knowledge, until he is certain that the student has found his path.

 

The capoeiristas of the past never had a standardized uniform, because in the conditions in which they found themselves, first as slaves and later as outlaws, it would not be very clever on their part if they used a costume that identified them. However, beginning in the early twentieth century, around 1920, the completely white suit, straight or diagonal, came to be the preferred by the capoeira mestres in Bahia and became a tradition, while the yellow and black uniform was adopted by Mestre Pastinha in 1941, to be used by the students and capoeiristas of CECA, aiming to integrate them definitively in the society.

 

In my point of view, these two periods of our history are what we must remember, maintaining the tradition; and not the time of oppression, when the capoeiristas were persecuted and suffered the worst humiliations, practicing capoeira in secret, with dirty and almost always torn clothing, not by choice, but by the miserable condition in which they lived. However, all of us who love capoeira and respect our fellow man, must try to forget this sad epoch, except to serve as an example to our people, when capoeira had a relevant role in the fight against slavery.

 

The completely white suit has a very special significance and only graduated capoeiristas, who have reached a superior level in their capoeira, achieving the position of MESTRE, must use it.

 

I adopted the colors yellow and black in the costume of the students and capoeiristas of CCCTB, symbolizing my condition as a disciple of Mestre Pastinha and faithful follower of his work, having his teaching as a reference for my work.

 

In the academy of Mestre Pastinha, the son of a Spaniard and a black Bahian, as he could not cease to be, there was never a problem of racism. In the academy, whites, mulatos, and blacks lived together in the greatest harmony. Although I believe that here in Bahia this division does not exist; rather, there is a mixture of races, with different skin colors. To the contrary of how it should be, I see some people dividing themselves to combat racism. In my opinion, the problem of racial preconception should be combated by all people, independently of one’s race or skin color; brothers, fighting for the same ideal. To separate the races to resolve their problems against each other is to commit a big error, since all of us know that people who reject their own ancestry exist, so the problem is not in the color of the skin, but in the mind and spirit of each individual.

 

Capoeira does not have only one owner, nor only one color. It was born in Bahia; however, it has all the colors of the world and it belongs to everyone who has it in their heart and soul.

 

In the chamadas of capoeira angola, the capoeirista that answers must approach with much care not to be surprised with a deception. When walking down a dark street and someone calls you to light a cigarette, for example, don’t go; say that you don’t smoke and continue in front. However, if you absolutely must approach, advance with all your caution, prepared for everything, in the same way that you would proceed while answering a CHAMADA OF ANGOLA.

 

The factors that most contributed to the discharacterization of capoeira in recent times were, firstly, the formation of folkloric groups for exhibitions in theaters and variety shows, with purely commercial objectives, in which they tried to impress the audience with movements characteristic of acrobatic gymnastics. Secondly, the infiltration of practitioners of other martial arts, when they began to compare them to capoeira, incorporating new hits under the pretext of modernizing capoeira, without possessing the least knowledge about capoeira’s real fundamentals.

 

As a consequence of these facts, two types of behavior arose in capoeira rodas. The first is in disagreement with capoeira’s ancient precepts and the second is completely empty, where victory, by means of wild violence, became the principle objective.

 

Sometimes a ridiculous phrase, said with conviction and apparent seriousness, sounds strong and is accepted by many people as a great truth. The capoeirista must know how to identify the lie and the truth in order to not be deceived.

 

Mestres also make errors. Much is demanded of mestres, forgetting that he is also human, can commit errors and, like everyone, lives the constant struggle for his evolution. Nevertheless, the important thing is that we have a peaceful consciousness, internally accepting our acts, in agreement with a superior (cosmic) ethic, always seeking the absolute truth that frees us, at the same time knowing our current insignificance in this evolutionary stage.

 

The true angoleiro does not do capoeira, he lives capoeira. So don’t be in a hurry.

 

It is not important how many times I fall, but instead the certainty of getting up always with the firm conviction to continue fighting, in search of my ideas and my complete realization. Of course the best help that I can receive comes from myself, from my effort in growth, that provides knowledge. Determination is fundamental in the behavior of the capoeirista, inside and outside the rodas.

 

False feelings die; the true ones survive, despite death, in another life. The capoeirista must know how to identify them, to act with wisdom in the right moment to assess these feelings.

 

In punishing a homicide with a death sentence, we are committing the same error as the assassin. No one has the right to intentionally take the life of his fellow man, because this impedes the evolution of this individual. The capoeirista must avoid negative feelings, for example hate and revenge, that are the most obvious signs of the ignorance of a human being.

 

The best formula that I found to better understand my opponent, avoiding a rash and aggressive attitude, was putting myself in his place before critiquing him, which allows me to assume a clearer position. Couldn’t it be that I would act the same way if I was part of his generation? Or if I had passed through the same experiences? Could it be that a person today would make the same errors of years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and even seconds before, when we know that all living beings are in constant evolution?

 

Nevertheless, instead of judging others, which can generate aversion or even hate, the worst feeling, together with fear, principally for the students of capoeira angola, it will be much better to meditate about the subject, which will make us conscious of our own imperfection, bringing us to perceive the quantity of errors that we make and remake during our whole lives, as much as we criticize others, when we must understand that those same errors are the propelling motive of humanity and are of fundamental importance for our evolution, always remembering that the exercise of brotherhood was the main teaching that Jesus Christ preached here on earth.

 

When we understand that our enemy, while trying to defeat us, is helping us, albeit unconsciously, in our evolutionary advancement, we will no longer feel hate.

 

When questioned about the existence of God, something unimaginable that is found far beyond the reach of our limited human mind, and thus impossible to be proved scientifically, I respond that I believe in the INTERIOR FORCE that all of us possess, and that BROTHERLY LOVE, unconditional and extensive, for all living beings, should be the most important objective to be achieved in life.

 

Therefore, if God indeed exists and is found in the INTERIOR of each one of us, and since He is LOVE, seen in whole and absolute form, I am sure that this is the best manner of believing in his existence and of truly loving him.

 

Every evolutionary cycle corresponds to seven years of life. Each cycle in the past corresponds to another completed stage. The same thing happens with the teaching of capoeira angola in the CCCTB, in its different phases of learning, until the capoeirista reaches the position of mestre, when he assumes the leadership of his own group and, consequently, a great responsibility before his students, where his condition of educator is more evident, becoming his principle duty.

 

All the scientific, philosophical, and religious currents preach many truths. But none of them know the absolute truth.

 

The mestre must be an experienced capoeirista, fully conscious of his function, with deep knowledge of the fundamentals of capoeira angola, and who always worked in favor of his art, fighting for its preservation and aiming to emphasize the therapeutic benefits that its practice provides.

 

It is often said that “happiness is found inside ourselves.” I believe this to be true. But how is this search carried out? Actually, it is inaccessible to the majority of people on this planet. No one can ever be truly happy if they have still not acquired spiritual knowledge, even in unconscious form, and consequently brotherly love for all creatures in the universe.

 

How can one find happiness within oneself if one’s interior is empty? It will be necessary, before everything, that we fill this gap by means of the process of developing one’s consciousness. In this manner we will have access to paranormal faculties, inherent in all of us, which will certainly bring the person to the understanding of the whole evolutionary process of the living being. From there, brotherly love, the fruit of understanding and maturity, will spontaneously arise, when the individual understands the true sense of life. From that point on, the person will be able to initiate his search, which is associated primarily with the circle of people in his life, and later, in a more ample form, with all beings in nature. Only this way will personal realization, so longed for by all of us, be achieved in a full and definitive manner.

 

As a mestre, I aim to teach my students with much devotion, without any preconceptions, passing all my knowledge, according to time, will, the capacity to learn and the level of knowledge of each student, always remembering that the spiritual aspect is of immense importance in the formation of the capoeirista. I believe that this is my principle mission here on Earth and I will aim to carry it out in the best possible manner, until the end of my life.

 

The mestre is he who has full consciousness of his path. Wise is he who has begun to travel this path. Illuminated is he who arrived at the end of the path, reaching the stage of free consciousness.