The Inner Circle - Batizados, Traveling, and Life as a Not-So-Young Man

Batizados, Traveling, and Life as a Not-So-Young Man

Capoeira, as has been previously noted by just about everybody, is a paradoxical sport.  And for us teachers, one such paradox is the yearly push-pull of travel.  Capoeira’s deeply social nature makes it easy to build connections to far-off studios—there’s always a batizado going on somewhere.  But your home studio and your own training can suffer with too much traveling.   Balance is hard to find.  For me, traveling to events has always served a purpose, but that purpose is changing. 

When I was younger in capoeira, this ubiquitous-event atmosphere was The Thing, the wind in my sails, so to speak.  Two friends and I spent a weekend out of every four driving hither and thither to batizados all over the place.  Somehow, we cheerfully endured 12-hour drives across West Texas so we could spend a couple days training, eating, and chatting.  Then we’d drive back again, still buoyed by the weekend’s thrills.  Even after one insanely bad trip (12 hours became 25 when one car’s engine exploded, forcing us to rent a Uhaul truck to tow the useless vehicle, which in turn broke down [the Uhaul did] several times due to overheating, necessitating many stops to force-feed coolant into the engine, all done while we were suffering from some seriously pyrotechnical food-poisoning) we continued crisscrossing the American Southwest like the young, questionably-sane idiots we were (my older self looks back on this time with equal parts nostalgia and horror).  And it was these trips that formed the majority of my capoeira persona, probably even more than day-to-day training.  Such trips were a capoeira concentrate, intensely distilled and ground down and injected straight to the vein over and over until, for those 72 hours, everything in your body was buzzing and humming with fever and roda and a weird, movement-based debauchery built from kicks and dodges and ginga and no wonder no one’s getting any sleep at all because the axé carries over to 1am dinners and capoeira videos at the host’s house and an impromptu roda in the living room because at this point why not.  In short, those trips were dense.  It was lot of sensation, physical and emotional and social, in a short three days. 

And now?  Now I’m a grumpy old man who teaches most evenings and tells stories about the old days when doing a thousand kicks in an hour was considered fun.  I don’t quite eat, sleep, and breathe capoeira the way I used to; capoeira and I have a more sedate relationship—we’ve known each other for some time now, and neither of us is going anywhere.  My younger self was champing at the bit to drive all night and train all day; my current self likes going to bed before 11pm.

But travel, despite my old-man habits, still happens.  In the last six months I’ve been to more events than in the previous few years combined.  Traveling, as an instructor, is a different grab-bag.  It’s more relaxed, first off.  The whole weekend is a known quantity—sure, there’s still absurdly late nights and everyone’s off their faces on too much axé, but to this geezer it feels familiar and comforting.  Like seeing an elderly rock band launch a guitar through a window at a reunion concert, it’s good to know that the pensioners can still go a little crazy when the mood strikes.  There’s something correct about it all.  But most of the craziness stays inside previously-discovered territory: whether it’s armadillo hunting at 3am in San Antonio (long story) or impromptu late-night hot-tubbing in Colorado, I’m unfazed.  Batucada party in the living room at four in the morning?  Oh sure, just like last time. 

But familiarity breeds complacency.  The anxiety of those early events is gone—I’m not scared to buy the game anymore—but so is the singular excitement.  Batizados don’t sweep me off my feet anymore.  The great whirlwind romance of my early career has settled down to an occasional gust.  But there are compensations.  Living through an event in a relaxed, analytical state brings the weekend into a new focus.  As a student, the pervading sensation was an overwhelming energy, an electrifying current that rolled through the batizado, irradiating every little interaction until the whole three days became a blinding, white spot in my brain where details ran together and all I could remember was noise and fun.  Any deeper thought was impossible in the face of that explosion.  Now that the light is less intense, I can actually observe my environment.  All the different forms of capoeira on display are evident.  Slowly, a deeper, richer picture of what capoeira is, globally-speaking, starts to assemble itself.  If capoeira is like language, then I’m now appreciating the subtlest slang expressions.  It’s not the grand orators who impress me anymore, it’s the folks who have the tiniest, most nuanced take on an old idea.  I’ve seen au role a million times, but I’ve never seen it quite like that.

Most importantly, I’m no longer just a vessel to be filled.  As a youngster in capoeira I was there to learn—to take and take and take.  To build my own vocabulary.  But that passivity is gone now.  A teacher’s job is to contribute, to add something unique to the event.  A high school teacher of mine used to say that the most important form of intelligence was synthesis, which he defined as the ability to take in several ideas and form from them a new idea.  At a certain point, a teacher should be synthesizing her brain away, bubbling over with new things to say, new perspectives to offer.  The next generation laps these up, and then synthesizes them in turn.  Circle of life. 

So as much as I miss those early events—seeing the games with starry-eyed amazement, being too ignorant to be biased, feeling anxious and inspired and excited all at once—and as much as I bemoan my slow crystallization into a crotchety fuddy-duddy, I get more out of traveling now than I ever have.  As long as I can point to at least a single moment during the weekend where I feel like ah, that thing I said or did in that instant, that was all me, I can fly home satisfied that I had my nanosecond of synthesis.  Everything else is icing.

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