Capoeira Update: May 2017

The promised update on my capoeira practise!

First things first: I’m getting closer and closer to a freestanding handstand. I’ve practised pushing off the wall a little and try to balance my weight before going back to the wall or the floor, as well as stopping right before my feet touch the wall. The wall is great to take away the fear of falling over with too much momentum. On a good day I can hold my balance three to five seconds. In addition I started practising without the wall, both handstand and underarm stand. I’m not yet able to get into a totally vertical position because I’m scared of falling over, but it’s much better than last year, so with building some more strength in my core, arms, and shoulders it should get even better soon.

I had a lot of colds this winter (and right now, because it’s still cold and wet outside – the shops display summer bikinis while I wear half-gloves and my warm, rain-proof anorak) and missed many classes, so I was thankful for the cheap, thick yoga mat I had bought on a whim. When I felt good enough I did some stretching, warrior poses, or even push-ups and planks. The worst was the month-long cough that caused me to lose a lot of core strength because I could do no crunches or similar exercises at all. I regained most of it by now, but my way to a six-pack has to start at zero again.

My knees hurt more than usual when doing lower movements like esquivas and rolés, so I have to be extra thorough with warming them up. I’m trying to loose a little bit of weight to take some stress off my joints (I’m not really overweight, but not in my ideal personal range for intense physical activity either) and eat even better food. I’ve learned to make yummy Thai curries and stir-fried noodles with lots of vegetables.

Some random things I’ve learnt/done: I went to an angola workshop with a friend and learnt a cool way to turn around on one leg – I don’t use it in real games, but it’s fun to throw into the mix in when we do warming up games without kicks. Last week or so I found a video tutorial that included a simple but cool transition from queda de rins to a turn (by extending the lower leg and crossing the upper one over it, standing up with the back to the other person, and then stepping around), which I started to use in slower games. On Wednesday I didn’t play in the roda because I was exhausted from the beginnings of my current cold, but I got the chance to sing two songs (with some help) while the others played, which made me really happy and a little proud.

Work in progress: slowing down/stopping in the cartwheel, getting back into doing more and different push-ups, the aforementioned handstand, not getting angry at myself when I have a bad day*.

If I feel well enough for training tomorrow I’ll try to start learning playing the atabaque in the music part of class. I tried the basic rhythm on my djembe already :)

 

*Sometimes I use my needed breaks to do sketches of capoeira movements, which is a nice way to spend time in class without feeling totally disconnected or useless. You can find some of my sketches and doodles on instagram.

 

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Arame Making

Last weekend we cut wire from a discarded car tyre (there was a huge pile of random trash in our street, again) to make arame (wire string) for my berimbau – my old wire snapped a few weeks ago while stringing.

Tools/materials: Carpet knife (not the best choice, a decent serrated knife would have been more effective), cut protection glove, gardening gloves, pliers, sanding paper, trash bag.

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Might sound like a weird way to spend a Sunday afternoon while nursing a headache, but it made me extremely happy and also a little proud. As a friend told me, there are many capoeiristas who have yet to make their own arame. I might not be a very good capoeirista (saw a video of me playing for the first time last week, looked horrible), but I’m pretty motivated right now. A little too motivated, maybe, my body is not happy right now. I’ll elaborate on that in one of my next posts.

The arame is not perfect – too thick wire – but good enough for practising at home.

Ding dong dong.

Berimbau Stringing

On Monday I finally made some progress with stringing my berimbau! The bottom third of the verga is very thick, so for the last week I had been struggling with it, despite trying different angles and techniques. But after practising for a while, using the method a friend had shown me, I was able to bend the verga far enough to string it so tight that there was some space between biriba and arame to move a small stone back and forth a little.

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I think it should be a little tighter still, because the cabaça sits a bit too high (not visible in this picture, as it was taking at an angle from slightly above) and I would like a little bit more space to move the stone. But it made some nice ding-dong-dong sounds already :)

Learning to Play the Berimbau

So today was the second time I had the chance to practise playing the berimbau, after I was allowed to hold one for the first time two weeks ago. I have a lot of trouble holding even a very light one due to problems with my finger joints (mostly the metacarpophalangeal joints), but today I managed to play at least for a few moments without any cheating. Last time I had supported the berimbau by leaning it against my forehead, which worked for me but weirded out some people, so today I heeded the advice of a friend and just kept the cabaça against my body most of the time instead of moving it back and forth, producing only muted sounds but not having to worry about the verga wobbling around in my hand all the time. 

I was also very happy when I discovered I have already internalised São Bento Grande de Angola far enough to sing along the chorus of a few easy familiar songs.

First time I played in a bateria!

Tonight in capoeira class we had a small roda. And for the first time I was a part of the bateria (the group of percussion instruments accompanying the game) for a moment. A friend of mine had been playing the agogô for a few songs, so when I was tired after my second game I decided to take his place in the bateria so he could play in the roda again. I didn’t do as well as I had hoped and missed a few beats here and there, but at least nobody stopped to correct me nor did anyone try to take the small instrument away from me (which happened the last time I was holding a pandeiro while a roda was being formed), therefore I guess it was okay for the start. So I played the agogô for the last few minutes of the roda. Dong-ding-dong, dong-ding-dong …

I’ll need to practise keeping time with my pandeiro so they’ll let me play that instrument as well.

Three cultures in one week.

Living in three different worlds, three cultures, all separated by nothing but half an hour of walking, three bus stops, a trainride to the other side of the city. European mainstream culture. Church. Capoeira.

Body image – objectification, purification, celebration. Make-up and diets, prudery and hiding, samba de roda and rejoicing in movement for its own sake.

Music – sex and money, worship and encouragement, community and fuelling the game.

Clothing – fashion, modesty, convenience.

So many other points, like cultural behaviour, that I can’t even begin to describe with just a few words. Language. Forming relationships. The view on history, politics, and globalisation. Sense of self.

I step in and out of cultures, I dress their way (more or less), I try to mold my ways of communicating to what is comfortable and acceptable for the people surrounding me at a given time. But in my heart, all three are present all the time. I’m more than the sum of the cultures and subcultures I’m part of. I’m still growing and learning to navigate this inner maze, deciding which paths to add to my map and which landmarks to reject for being misleading.

 

 

Täälla Pohjantähden alla (“Under the North Star”)

This is a Finnish song the choir of my school used to sing, but I never had seen the music sheets for it as it wasn’t sung anymore when I finally joined the choir for a short while. So I never knew how to write the title or the line I remembered; I wasn’t able to find it on the internet – but still its beautiful melody and some vaguely remembered fragments of words came to haunt me every now and then. Thanks to the wonders of social media some former choir members I’m still loosely in touch with finally dug up this Youtube video:

So beautiful.