mulher na roda: women in capoeira

Being a woman in what still can be called a man’s world is not always easy. I’m lucky I found a hobby which is very including and welcoming towards women. Yep, this is going to be another capoeira post. I don’t intend to give a complete overview or discuss different points of view, but just share some of my musings with you. A very important element of capoeira is music and the songs sung in Portuguese. I don’t speak Portuguese and don’t understand a lot, but by trying to understand lyrics (with the help of existing translations and checking words in google translator) I’m getting a grasp on some basic phrases. There are two excerpts of lyrics I want to share with you today. “Capoeira é pra homem, menino e mulher” This is something very basic and profound, but I like this line nevertheless. It means “capoeira is for man, woman, and boy”  (Maybe menino can also mean “child”, which would make more sense to me, but I’m not sure if this would be a valid translation.) For me it means that I don’t have to fight for my right to play capoeira, that I don’t have to worry about people sending me away because of weird clichés like all women being sissies or that they should be in the kitchen. There are not as many mestras as mestres, but there are some nevertheless. Somewhere I read that women are more likely to stop capoeira at a lower level because of pregnancies and raising children. I get the first part – you wouldn’t want to be kicked in your belly while it’s inhabited! – but with a good support structure of family and friends it should be possible to pick up training very soon. Having more than one child would mean further delay, of course. There is one problem I see, though – classes tend to take place late in the evening, so I guess it would become more complicated when the child’s bedtime falls in these hours. So again, a good support structure and planning would be required (e.g. taking turns with spouse/grandparents/nanny to be present at bedtime every second day or so).

If I had a child, I’d put them into capoeira class (or something similar) as soon as possible, especially if it was a girl, so she’d learn to take pride in her strength and intelligence instead of relying on beauty alone to distinguish herself. This brings us to the second song snippet I want to share with you. I think it was written by  the singer Carolina Soares, but I’m not totally sure. “Mulher na roda Não e pra enféitar Mulher na roda E pra ensinar” This loosely translates to something like “Woman in the circle, not to adorn/spruce herself, woman in the circle, but to teach” To me this is something very essential. Of course I want to be pleasant enough to look upon not to attract disgusted looks all the time, but I don’t want to be covered in make-up and the latest fashion in itchy pastel polymer fibre all the time, neither in university, nor in my free time. I wear clothes I’m comfortable in to class, but more important than my clothes being fashionable is that they are modest (hey, there is a lot of cartwheeling and sometimes you even get into close contact with a body belonging to someone of the opposite sex). I’d never spend money on waterproof make-up to wear while doing sports and to be honest, I don’t know anyone who does it. My hair is up in a braided bun so it doesn’t move around. It doesn’t look very hip and is not very flattering in combination with the shape of my face, but it’s practical, and in capoeira, this is me. Most of the guys from class have never seen me with my braid hanging down, not to mention wearing my hair down without any device holding it together, and to my surprise indeed nobody every felt the need to comment on this. If you’ve ever been whipped across your face by your own braid with full force you know why I prefer the bun when moving around. Some girls I know wear their jewellery while playing, but mostly just because they aren’t bothered by it and too lazy to take it off each time, and it’s totally fine as long as nobody gets hurt by a bangle or whatever. I for myself just prefer to leave my earrings behind with my shoes, and I’m annoyed by loose bangles or even necklaces most days even when I’m not doing sports so it’s no surprise I look rather plain when leaving the dressing room. When I enter the roda (the circle in which it is played) it is to interact with others, and to prove to myself and others I have the right heart for doing this and that I’m getting better with every month. And, what is more important, in playing I learn from my opponent. Everybody is a student, and everybody has something to teach. Even if I’m not very good yet just my being part of the roda and trying to kick at some big guy can teach some other girl to have faith in herself so she’ll find the courage to join the game after having learned her first few movements. Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, and to me there is more beauty in strength and courage than in following the mainstream idea of painting beauty on your face and believing it’s the only way to find the approval of others. Of course a woman can decide to play in a very graceful and “feminine” style, but as capoeira is a graceful martial art in itself this is not a very big thing, I believe. Still, I guess it could be one way to trick your opponent into believing you’re weak. A woman’s brand of malícia (malice), so to speak. Using this trick and then taking down the guy you play against would teach others that women are not to be underestimated just because of a pretty face or swaying hips. And of course there are the higher graded female capoeiristas (and, as I mentioned above, even some mestras) who teach students of all ages and colours, regardless of sex/gender. Just like male teachers they encourage them to be gentle with the beginners, to expect the trickery of more advanced capoeiristas, to face challenges, and to help each other to grow. In capoeira, we’re all the same – white pants and the heart of a warrior. Peace to you.

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