The Inner Circle - Capoeira is Like an Analogy

Capoeira is Like an Analogy

On the surface, capoeira is built out of movements and music.  A monolith pieced together over the last few hundred years out of stones labeled “martelo” and “au” and “Paranaué.”  The base of the monolith is wide, and you can spend years sliding horizontally from one section to another, learning how the underpinning all fits together.  But gradually your climbing skills improve.  The more fluid you are, the better you know those stones, the easier it is to scale the thing.  Up, down, sideways, wherever you please.  All the while the foundation stays buried, a vast underground structure holding everything from capoeira’s patchwork past—slavery, maltas, poverty, exportation, globalization.  And although we don’t always remember it’s there, the monolith would tip right over without it. 

Yeah, that’s a lousy metaphor.  Okay so on the surface capoeira is like a rubberband ball—each band is a movement or song or rhythm.  They all come together to form bewildering array of tangled colors with unpredictable reactions when force is applied.    

Actually, back up.  Capoeira is indeed a rubbery, bouncy thing, but it’s more like a big clump of silly putty, the kind that changes color when you hold it for a while.  Remember that stuff?  All of us capoeiristas are each putting a paw on this mass of putty, stretching and molding it to fit our needs.  Clutching it to our greedy chests, we change its form, sometimes even without realizing it.  Which means capoeira is really like a thing to be determined by observation, so like a cat in a box whose life depends on an atom that might decay at any moment.  More precisely, it’s like an elementary particle, say a gluon, living incognito in a quantum field, cruising along.  As long as we keep our pointy noses out of it, as long as we only think about doing pião de mão and don’t take it any further, then Schrödinger’s capoeira’s existence is, ontologically-speaking, hazy.  It lives in our minds but also in some nebulous form in the real world, somehow.  When we send in an obliging photon to find our gluon, when we look in the box to check on our cruelly-imprisoned kitty, when we decide to move from thinking about throwing pião de mão to actually throwing it, then the waveform collapses to a point and reveals our particle, we’ve killed an innocent cat, and we’ve subtly redefined for an instant just exactly what pião is.  Moving through a pião literally re-embodies it.  And the movement is putty in our hands, for the instant it exists in the here and now.

I can hear you grinding your teeth from here.  Okay, so capoeira is like writing fiction.  At a certain point, probably like high school or Graduado, you know all the words, it’s just a matter of putting them in the right order.  And most of the time you’re pretty much just copying someone else’s sentences, but every now and again you arrange things into a phrase so perfectly you that your readers feel a tremendous, palpable force slap them right upside their slack jaws.  Idle bystanders are idle no longer.  In that one magic moment you’ve converted a few followers to your cause. 

But you know, Mestre Acordeon says learning capoeira is like passing through a series of increasingly favorable environments.  First, when you’re starting out and nothing makes sense, you’re playing in the dark.  Things gradually get better clearer easier faster as you progress.  Next you’re playing in the water, then in the light, then with a crystal ball.  Like the ascension of some great ziggurat, bounding and running and occasionally plodding up massive stone steps that are shrouded in darkness and water and light and clairvoyance.  Which means capoeira is really like a mystical, ancient Central American religion—something practiced by the Aztecs, say (don’t tell me that a circle of people in suspiciously white pants all singing and clapping doesn’t somehow remind you of human sacrifice, because I know we’ve all had that thought).

But maybe you’re not the mystical type, and so capoeira is like that time you were less than honest with your parents about a certain social event where certain substances and a certain unusually attractive individual may or may not’ve been present, thus, obviously not an event to be missed—so the first time you stumbled home past curfew still bathed in that warm post-party glow your mother had in fact been waiting up for hours, none too pleased, wearing the floor thin with her impatient foot just tapping away, and needless to say scared you to death looming out of the darkness like some childhood nightmare, foot tap-tapping even harder as you completely fail to invent any sort of even remotely plausible explanation, standing there with your heart in your ears and snakes in your stomach, pissing your pants (figuratively), and sure enough judgement from on high was swift and severe, stripping away any modicum of teenage freedom and leaving the mood shall we say frosty for the next few days—but then, the next time an unavoidable social engagement with probable subsequent-late-night arrival pops up on your calendar you’re better prepared, casually reeling off a story concerning a drunk, I mean sick, friend who desperately needed a ride home and even though you knew very well the curfew was fast approaching, you also knew your own dear mother (who you’ve driven back into her foot-tapping ways and don’t feel un-guilty about, believe you me) would want you to demonstrate the good sense you’ve hitherto been lacking by taking responsibility and driving home said friend who was so sick from causes unknown as to be totally incapacitated and pitiful, really Mom if only you’d seen him, and but so the point is it’s not your fault when the brass tacks are gotten right down to, unless having a strong sense of duty to one’s friends is itself a fault, to which your mother continues her low-limb palsy but dismisses you sans lecture or even consequences, and the next morning when the parental unit greets you normally over breakfast you realize that by some combination of deceit, blame-shifting, and faux-innocence you’ve come out of the whole thing smelling like roses—which in turn leads you to an epiphany of Biblical proportions as a thunderbolt rips through your brain, setting your neurons crackling and fizzing, and it dawns on you the way a ton of bricks dawns on a man shading his eyes at the growing shadow overhead that, verily, malícia is both a state of mind and a matter of practice.  Now you may call yourself a capoeirista.


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