Balancing the Berimbau

B: Right okay so it’s partly then because Perseus certainly spends more time talking about the philosophy and the history and all those kind of things

T: At the end of every session you’ll sit in a circle and he’ll ask “so what did you think of today’s session?”

B: Yes

T: And I’ll say “it was really special” [laughs]

Here Trovao is reminding Bruxa that introspection and sharing introspection are not part of his enjoyment of capoeira. He enjoys playing the dance, fight, game and the music: not the public philosophical musing Perseus encourages.

B: Because Achilles never does that. Cadmus used to do it didn’t he? You all had to say what you got what had got out of the day’s class.

T: Yeah yeah I forgot. Perseus is very much more about talking. One day, I think this was the first session I went to, we all went out for a drink then we went back to Raksha and Phao’s flat and we had some video tapes, some really good tapes of maculele (5) and things like that that Perseus showed us and he was going on in what seems to be fairly typical Perseus speak about “what good is the treasure at the bottom of the ocean?” he was saying “it has no value” and that was his metaphor. Then he started talking about Capoeira Masters who have lots of information but don’t share it and he says that’s why he shares information and that is quite important too.


Here the dialogue develops our insights into what makes good capoeira teaching, and what creates good axe. Bruxa has watched Perseus teach more often than Trovao has been a guest student in his classes. She has seen the differences between them. Trovao, though, has felt the axe in his muscles and his heart; and with most of his closest friends in capoeira has chosen Achilles over Perseus as his teacher. Therefore he can use his embodied knowledge to contrast the two regimes. Things that Bruxa can ‘see’ in a detached way, are ‘felt’ by Trovao.


Before and After the Batizado


This dialogic reflection can be seen in a conversation about what it feels like to achieve the first corda after a year’s training with one teacher, and how, when a cohort gain their first, blue, belt together they are all changed by the rite de passage. Again Bruxa and Trovao are seated in an office in the university, reflecting on how being ‘baptised’ into the capoeira lineage, gaining the blue belt, had altered Trovao’s experience, and that of his coevals. Trovao describes the first classes after the Batizado in response to an observation from Bruxa.

B: I thought everyone looked more confident after the Batizado but is that just me seeing a difference because I had been away for three weeks?

T: When we came back, we had what seemed to be our first proper session, in that club, for quite a while. And I think he definitely pushed us harder. Achilles – he decided, – we’ve got a blue corda now, he’s going to make us do better stuff, so – so we were pushed harder, and I felt that I grew in confidence from doing it – , so yeah, I can’t – I can’t see any reason why that wouldn’t be the case for everyone.

B: Mmm – You know I’m just standing here watching, it just struck me, some of the people who are not as fit as you, haven’t taken capoeira as seriously and aren’t as good as you – who I’ve been watching. They looked as though they had more confidence, that if they tried a kick they would be able to do it, as opposed to standing there, knowing they couldn’t do it. They looked as though they were practising moves they felt they could do, rather than trying to remember what it was that had been demonstrated to them.

T: Yeah – mmm. Well it’s – well it’s certainly not because we were trained really well at the Batizado because there was only one teaching session and that was all Angolan.(6) We basically did things we’d never done before – and things that don’t translate that well into the kinds of training that we do, you know, in the sessions. But since the Batizado the training sessions have changed. Everyone said, both that Achilles is pushing us a bit more which made you feel better, and it also just looks better if people are in the right clothes as well.(7) I used to train in shorts and then I just bought some white trousers and just by doing that I felt that I was better – cause you couldn’t see how bendy my knee was so much and things like that.

B: And did the group change socially?

T: Yeah, I mean everyone – it was really different between the training sessions before and after because, you know, before, a couple of times I’d gone to the pub with a few people, but – but afterwards I’ve been to quite a few of their houses and people started exchanging phone numbers and going out together and stuff.

Here Trovao is drawing on his own experiences to make four important points about the rite de passage. First, having the right clothes changes the capoeira novice’s self confidence and self presentation (Stephens and Delamont, forthcoming). Secondly the expectations of the instructor change. Thirdly, although there were some master classes appended to the Batizado, they were not immediately useful in improving technique. Fourthly, the social cohesion of the student group changed. These are all reported for Beribazu by Reis (2003) in his auto-ethnography of capoeira teaching in Warsaw. Bruxa because she does not wear the uniform, take the classes, mix socially with the students, or get knocked over by a mestre in a Batizado, feels particularly distant from these changes.