14 Years – Part II

Many months had passed and I started thinking I was really going to stay in San Francisco forever. It was tough, but it was the only place that had ever felt like home.

My day began at 4 am, then off to San Rafael to work and come back by 4 PM to catch the teens class on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Harvey Milk Centre. We ran laps around the Centre and the dog park next to it. He’d make the least fit students run much harder and obsessively checked from the back windows to make sure nobody would walk or cut across the field. Once inside, the skinnier students often ended up made to do more push-ups. “Not enough muscle” he’d say. Then beginner adults at 6. Then intermediate from 7 until 8:30 and “special training” until 9 PM, only for higher cords. Mondays and Wednesdays and Fridays we trained at the Mission Dolores gym where training was all fighting, all the time, and I loved it. Look for the openings. Develop vision. Strength training should you need to overwhelm the other person if your “tight game” failed. We drilled kicks and sweeps and takedowns and sequences and setups… Us blue cords trained lots of ponteiras, pisões and lots and lots and lots of martelos and ganchos. Those damned ganchos. Accidents were not uncommon, and one time I walked out of the training floor dripping blood out of my left eye due to a perfectly placed sharp martelo by one of “his sons.” They weren’t really his sons, but I imagine that’s what he wanted other groups to perceive them as. We all wanted to fight like one and flow like the other more than almost anything.

Playfulness and theatre in the game was only for Angoleiro smelly hippie weaklings, he’d say. We were there to become mandingueiros quickly, and tune our game to be efficient and our kicks lethal; showing the superiority of our style and training method in the roda. But for what purpose and why us? Because of this approach we weren’t welcome in many rodas. At some point the excuse was that “we weren’t allowed to go to other teacher’s classes or other groups’ rodas without explicit authorization from him.” He only let us blue cords go, but only if we went with other higher cords, the heavy-hitters, “in case we needed backup.” Backup for what? Was that what we trained for? To behave like a bunch of thugs?! What exactly did WE have to prove? There were lots of arbitrary “rules” like that. Don’t play like this. Don’t sing that song. Don’t participate in that group’s rodas. Don’t say so and so’s name anymore. Don’t talk to that girl. Don’t ask. The excuse(s) being “respect,” “honour,” “hierarchy,” “loyalty,” “truth,” “tradition.” The more I heard those words, the more they lost significance. It wasn’t obvious to me then, that we had been molded –manipulated– to react to these words; and in time, I also learned the why to all of these peculiar rules…

I was more than ready to leave. I spoke about this with someone who I had become very close to — my friend Carlos. Most of the people I trained with weren’t fond of him for very superficial reasons, but I didn’t see evil or weakness in this man. He gave me my first apelido back when I met him. I could “see his soul” when we talked, before I could even understand that kind of thing. It was gentle and just “right.” Welcoming. Like himself. We spend a lot of time together. Working out. Eating. A handful of times I’d even go train with him and get to play with his students. Living in San Francisco, Oakland wasn’t that far away. I could have made it to much more than just a handful of classes, but we (or maybe just I) “weren’t supposed to.” Again I asked why, and again tradition… Respect… Honour… … ..

I had never noticed the change of seasons before living in my new home other than cold rain, but winters in San Francisco are very cold if you, like me, often feel the need to be around water.

I spent a lot of time by the sea. When it was warmer I’d take the N-Judah to Ocean Beach nearly every other day. I remember the familiar scene, jumping out of the bus and making my way through the dunes until I found a spot that talked to me. I’d sit and look at people, their pets, the birds above… Sometimes even ravens would make their way down there and find a log where they too sat and just watched. I waited for the sunset as the water flowed in and out, changing colours, leaving momentary darker spots on the sand, drawing a different line every time in its apparent monotony. I always went alone, except for one time when a lynx kept me company.


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