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Only the strong - Capoeira and natural selection.

Capoeira and all the arts are entities with selection capabilities. Authentic innovations which are faithful to the central theme of the art will be embraced and preserved and inauthentic innovations will be discarded into its historical gutters. The arts operate according to the Darwinian law of natural selection and are influenced by external pressures and global trends, though unlike the law of natural selection, which is not teleological (goal-oriented), the arts are indeed teleological and are always in the midst of a refinment pr ocess.


Recently - following some youtube videos i saw of Mestre Cacique of Grupo Arte Negra - I began working with my students on a cooperative way to practice Quedas (takedowns). The emphasis was on allowing each other to give and receive techniques such as the Tizora, Vingativa and Banda and allow our counterpart to reverse every takedown with a counter takedown of his own and so forth. Eventually entering a flow of aggressive techniques in a cooperative game. What jiu-jitsu practitioners might call rolling softly.

In the end of class rodas we practiced exactly that. What I came to realize is that what started as an exercise aimed at improving technique, confidence and flow has the potential to become a game with its own rhythm and life.

Capoeira takes place in a circle and is played to the cadence of music. There are several different rhythms, each rhythm dictates a different style. Beginning at co-operation, all the way to combat and everything in between.

While watching my students playing in the roda with the notion of our practice in mind, the thought occurred to me that maybe this is how the Miudinho game (ultra-cooperative, semi-orographic rhythm) invented by Mestre Suassuna came to be.

Authentic and inauthentic innovation

About twenty years ago, a constant criticism heard about the style of Mestre Suassuna's group was that although the movements are very graceful, there is no dialogue, each player is busy with his own transitions and ‘floreios’ with no regard to the player in front of him. The Miudinho style invented by Suassuna preserves the beautiful florio while forcing the players to stay close and tight, and the semi choreographic nature requires the players to move in context. And so, perhaps something that started as an exercise turned into a rhythm and a game. Indeed, a short research I conducted following this thought revealed that I was right. Mestre Suassuna did originally develop the Miudinho as an exercise that simulates a more dynamic version of the 'jogo de dentro' (close game) taken from Capoeira Angola in order to force the players to move within the context of the game. Eventually the exercise turned into a rhythm and a game.

Today, the miudinho game has many critics claiming that its choreographic nature loses the spontaneity and the danger element essential for real capoeira, however, the beauty and style of this game and its influence on the wider world of capoeira cannot be ignored.

Mestre Bimba - the father of modern capoeira - on the other hand, created Capoeira Regional and the Sao Bento Grande de Regional rhythm not as an exercise that eventually became a game, but as a game, a rhythm and even as a new branch of Capoeira. He did not try to refine his students' understanding of the art but rather to fundamentally change it in order to restore its martial heritage. Today we can confidently claim that these changes Mestre Bimba implemented have passed the test of time and history and there is a consensus that Mestre Bimba has saved capoeira from extinction.

Mestre Camisa the head of Grupo Abada Capoeira recently added a wide range of new rhythms/games invented by him to his students. One of these rhythms/games he calls 'Kapushadama' (a fusion of the words capoeira, chess and checkers) in which the players must play capoeira with a checkerboard at the center of the circle, the players must move the pieces taking turns, using their body parts while performing capoeira moves.

Only the strong survives

Capoeira and all the arts are entities with selection capabilities. Authentic innovations which are faithful to the central theme of the art will be embraced and preserved and inauthentic innovations will be discarded into its historical gutters. The arts operate according to the Darwinian law of natural selection and are influenced by external pressures and global trends, though unlike the law of natural selection, which is not teleological (goal-oriented), the arts are indeed teleological and are always in the midst of a refining process.

Mathematics and art

Recently I started - after 26 years of exclusively practicing and studying capoeira - learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with the thought that capoeira is a martial art that is almost always played on the axis between the fight and the dance and only rarely does it reach its extremities. And if a capoeirista wants to feel completely comfortable in the middle of the axis where capoeira takes place (after a considerable number of years in the middle) one should get to know the extremities: The absolute fight and the absolute dance. After a few months of practicing jiu-jitsu I began to understand the huge appeal that this art has these days. It is completely practical and at the same time elegant in the same way that a mathematical equation can be elegant. Capoeira on the other hand while elegant as well has nothing to do with mathematics and equations in fact the relation between them is as distant as the relation between a cat and a bicycle. Capoeira is more like a beautiful painting. Its purpose is enigmatic and elusive but it moves the soul to excitement and you know, as you know with all the arts, that the world would be a cold, calculated and dull place without their magic.

What I’m trying to say is that in a martial art like jiu-jitsu there is not much space for thought about its purpose. Any jiu-jitsu teacher you ask will give you a similar answer about its purpose. Ask a hundred capoeira masters what the purpose of capoeira is and you will get a hundred and fifty different answers. Capoeira allows and demands for exploration and discourse regarding its ultimate goal and purpose.

So what do i think the ultimate goal of capoeira is?

The ultimate goal of capoeira is related to the reason why certain innovations are accepted and others disappear. Capoeira's ultimate goal is to be a practice and a mirror to reality. Life is not just a battle, it is not recommended and in fact impossible to live it in a constant state of combat . On the other hand, life is not just a dance and you can't always live it on the beat. One must be able to duck its obstacles at the price of sometimes losing one's rhythm. Life is complex, full of unsolved questions and gray areas, Its purpose is shrouded in fog and changes shape from one period to the other. The art of living forces us to play with its contrasts and compels us to maneuver with wisdom and grace between all the different elements of our inner and outer world. That is why Capoeira is called a game: we must learn how to play with the cooperative and the violent, the fluid and the rigid, the individual and the communal, the selfish and the altruistic, the graceful and the ugly. The capoarista recognizes this complexity and is in a constant quest for the graceful reconciliation of these opposites.



capoeira is
only the strong - capoeira and natural selection

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