14 Years – Part I

From the second I started, I was passionate about Capoeira. Some people didn’t like that. Some people loved it and identified with it. My first teachers gave me much in that time in terms of technique, training and music, and I repayed it the best I could teaching kids classes after receiving my first colour cord. Those who didn’t like it were few but powerful. They were more advanced students.  Did they feel threatened at my progress and the attention I was getting?  At the time I didn’t even know they existed, to be honest. But once I did, every interaction I had with them was unpleasantly fake. Clicquey. As if I didn’t “meet the requirements” to be talking to them or to even play with them. Kelly. Gina. Lindsay. Karen… Many more names come to mind.

When I met the group’s Mestre a few months later I couldn’t contain my excitement. The training was grueling and it was the first time I had felt like puking from physical exertion. This spoke to me, in a language I could only understand with my body. I received my first colour cord in that event, and I was damned ready to pledge my life to this “cause.” When I approached this Mestre to express to him my interest in training with him he scoffed and told me to go away, betting me I wouldn’t even be there next year. Why? And, come to think of it, it didn’t cross my mind once in this entire 15 years of my Capoeira career until now… Did his reaction have anything to do with this small clique of “high cords” that weren’t so fond of me?” I don’t know. And the answer is, at this point, practically irrelevant.

After that event I went to California several times to train with this new teacher. I was picked on every time, but I enjoyed it — it validated my efforts. I was beaten as an example, but I took it as a learning experience — I’d tell myself it was a way for me to learn to be humble. But was it necessary? Three years later I moved to California, focusing my life in Capoeira in that group, under that man. I saw much. Too much. All I can begin to say is that I couldn’t have made that time if it hadn’t been for those I grew close to. They lent me their support, and words of comfort that served to make sense of what was happening around me and why.

Why me and others were getting beat up, others sometimes worse than me.

What entitled being “disrespectful.”

Why we had to “make examples” of visitors that came to our rodas.

What the Capoeira social strata were and why they “needed” to be enforced.

What my boundaries were in that regard and why I was being held back.

It made sense to me at the time. I just thought “it’s old-school like that,” dismissing the undeniable itch I felt telling me “you’re full of shit if you really believe that’s why.”

I had become effectively brainwashed. Everything was justifiable by whatever twisted philosophical talk my new teacher would preach, often after every practice. We’d stay an extra hour or two. Sometimes more. “That’s the lifestyle of a Capoeirista,” I kept telling myself. My reasoning always took me to a place of comfort where my admiration for this teacher and his “accomplishments” would placate my doubts about the process I was participating in. Those who weren’t fit, didn’t play well, were lazy in my mind or didn’t speak Portuguese became increasingly irritating; their complaints unjustified, like they hadn’t trained hard enough to have a right to complain. I had become the “elite.”

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