Balancing the Berimbau

There is simply no way that a non-participant could understand the differences between kicks in two martial arts as well as Trovao can, because he embodies the experience. Bruxa could watch karate and capoeira for many hours and never get that experience. This dialogue goes on.

Bruxa: Did your karate experience help with learning capoeira kicks?

T: I did karate for quite I long time and I got quite good at it so I mean some of the more advanced techniques strayed a little bit more into kind of momentum territory

B: Right

Trovao stands up, moves into a space and demonstrates a kick that Bruxa has seen taught many times and used in many games.

T: What in karate is called Mawashi-geri which is when you bring your foot around like that. Martelo in capoeira. That is exactly the same as in karate but a lot of capoeira kicks like the Queixadas and the Armadas, the spinning kicks, they don’t feature in karate at all. I guess it wasn’t too hard for me to pick up capoeira……..

B. Though you hadn’t trained for two or three years?

T. But I always felt that I had some sort of latent flexibility in me and I could co-ordinate well

B. Mmmm

T. So that all helps me. If you look at my game now my kicking and the things that are closest to karate I’m much better at than things like head stands and hand stands which are alien. I’m really quite poor at them if truth be known. [laughs]

Bruxa reflects on how several of the men had come to capoeira from other martial arts and would share Trovao’s self-evaluation. Some of the women have come from gymnastics, or yoga and find the handstands and headstands more familiar than the kicks. This gives Bruxa a whole set of research questions to follow up.



Falling Over

On another occasion, later in the fieldwork, Bruxa asks Trovao to expand upon a remark he had made during a weekend long training event, again about the embodied expertise of the disciplined body. In capoeira when two people play and fight, if one succeeds in throwing, knocking or tricking the other into falling to the floor, he or she is the winner. Expert players can always defeat novices, and sometimes choose to do so. In the USA and Europe capoeira is taught as a non-contact sport, and throws are discouraged, as are kicks that make contact. In Brazil, especially in male working class street games, actual fights take place. Outside Brazil in novices’ baptism ceremony (batizado) they are ceremonially thrown by a superior player, as their formal entry to the craft. In training classes, attacking moves are taught, usually by the teacher knocking over one of the students. Bruxa, who has no experience of a contact sport, again seeks to learn from the embodied expertise of Trovao:

B: Now you said at the weekend that with your karate background you were good at falling,

T: Mm

B: Can you just talk that through again?

T: Yeah, I mean that’s not necessarily a formal mechanism that they taught me in karate. It was my kind of coping strategy within karate when I was a kid

B: Yes

T: We trained in an old church hall with a firm wooden floor and when you do a takedown in karate it’s much more “bam whack” and you hit the person across the neck and they go “thud” down. I would just get used to falling. You knew it was coming

B: Yes

T: And you would just make all your muscles really loose

B: Yes

T: So that you’d just fall down really easily as soon as they touched you

B: Yes

T: You fall. You don’t fight him, let them force you down

B: Right

T: You just flop down and when you go on the floor you don’t mind. You spin around and the momentum goes away instead of you stopping it on one thud.

Here Trovao has used embodied adolescent memories of karate, and how he learnt to fall so he was not hurt, even though the floor was hard, in his new hobby of capoeira. The embodied skills, of ‘going loose’ and spinning on the floor, are made explicit. Trovao goes on to contrast the regular ‘takedowns’ in karate with the rare knockdowns in capoeira.

T: You don’t get that when you’re training with the other pupils in the class it’s only when Achilles pulls you out to demonstrate takedowns against you because he’s the only one who can do it properly

B: Yes

T: And he’s the one that could [laughs] do a takedown especially when he’s demonstrating. You also never know what takedown he’s going to do.

B: No

T. That‘s that’s the worst thing because he’ll show you a takedown and all of a sudden he’ll say “You could do this one as well” and attack and you fall in the other direction. But as soon as I go I just let myself go and a nice comfortable floor means I don’t really remember being hurt by falling over which you could be