Capoeira Again

Long time readers of this blog know I love cross-training. Some of you might recall that last year I attended the one-off Capoeira workshop offered as part of my employer’s annual Professional Development Day. That workshop was so much fun I signed up again this year. What the heck is Capoeira? Here’s a very nice 5-minute video (start near the 1 minute 45 second mark). Obviously a one hour introduction to any martial art is only going to cover just so much ground. And if this year’s workshop was pretty much the same as last year’s workshop, what the heck did I learn?

I learned plenty.

There was one movement I learned which wasn’t covered in last year’s workshop. Someone I know who studied one of the Filipino Martial Arts described training with drums. The idea is to catch your opponent on the off-beats. I’d been wondering if Capoeira players do that. Yes, they do. We were taught one movement that is meant to throw the other player a bit off. I’d like to work out how to translate that movement into my jiyu kumite (karate free sparring).

One new movement… First-time reader, I hear you asking, “So why did Joelle say she learned plenty?” Long term readers know I learn way more than what’s on the surface.

As I said, this year’s workshop wasn’t much different in content and format than last year’s. Even my Hapkido buddy was in attendance again. But here’s the thing – I’m a different karateka than I was a year ago. And as a second-time attendee, I came with a different perspective. I paid attention to things I hadn’t noticed last year. I kept tabs on my internal world too. With any martial art, one learns about oneself through being pushed outside one’s comfort zone.

Ahhh yes, the comfort zone. Autopilot. Muscle memory. Folks, muscle memory can be downright annoying sometimes. I’d memorized Kanku Dai kata (one of our forms) last year, but obviously the lessons from that kata have sunk in deeper this year. I kept wanting to drop to the ground exactly like in that kata rather than execute a proper esquiva. Also, I’ve been practicing a drill in which I execute an inside crescent kick then place the foot down in such a way that the leg I’ve been kicking with becomes the back leg – i.e. that leg is behind me. What I needed to do for the Capoeira workshop is set the foot down to the side so as to transition into something else.

“You can put your leg behind,” the instructor admitted, “But…”

He trailed off, so I finished with a grin, “For the purpose of this drill, I need to step to the side.”

Sticking to the drill is even more important when one is working with a partner. My partner was a newbie to boot. Yeah, I know, pot calling the kettle black. Last year I was actually nervous about working with anyone other than a fellow martial artist (my Hapkido buddy) and the instructor. I’m totally fine with people who are new to the art of karate, have been for quite some time. But last year the idea of working with a newbie in Capoeira when I myself was unfamiliar with the material was a bit too much. This year I was a lot more confident about adjusting what I was doing to accommodate someone who hasn’t had any martial arts training whatsoever. I’ve not practiced any of the Capoeira movements I learned last year, so my ability to adjust obviously doesn’t come from long practice in Capoeira. Perhaps all those self defense workshops and other cross-training experiences have helped me become more confident about working on unfamiliar techniques with people who are entirely new to all martial arts in general.

What about confidence in working directly with an instructor who is from a completely different art? Last year I had a little anxiety about that. This year, no problem. I knew I could be myself – strengths, weaknesses, everything.

I even did something I didn’t do last year – I showed the instructor a little karate before class. I took the broom from him and swept the floor. I explained to him that this is the job of the lowest-ranked student. Which I was – I hold no rank in any system of Capoeira. Although one could use a broom as a makeshift weapon, there are no hidden techniques in sweeping the floor. This wasn’t the 1980’s movie “The Karate Kid,” this was me showing respect for the place where I train and for my instructor. That’s karate.

Perhaps some of you dear readers are wondering if I showed some “real” karate – in other words, did I bust out some cool karate stuff while I was in the roda? Why yes, I did. I started by respectfully entering the roda and following the instructor’s lead for the etiquette involved. Yes, that level of respect is “real” karate. Respect is the gateway to learning.

Instead of bowing to the instructor, I squatted down facing him, held my crossed arms out to his, and locked eyes with him for a moment. That moment told each of us what we needed to know about the other. We saw confidence, trust, respect, and curiosity. Last year I was a little too nervous to truly appreciate that formality. Right then it hit me that I’m a different karateka than the one who entered a roda for the first time last year. Last year I was just trying to function with the limited tools I had. This year’s play was different.

Of course I stumbled all over myself frequently. I’m a newbie, after all, and to top it all off I hadn’t been to a Capoeira class in a year. So what was different? This year I was even more keenly aware of the ways in which the instructor and I were keeping one another safe. I saw exactly how he was adjusting for me. I adjusted too, once. I tried something and ended up way too close to the instructor. I backed off because I didn’t know how a Capoeirista would interpret my intent if I did what I’d do on the tatami (karate mats). I wanted to keep the play light and fun.

A couple of times, my muscle memory took over at least twice. Instead of executing a proper Capoeira esquiva, I dropped as per Kanku Dai kata. Actually, that muscle memory did come in handy once. I misread the instructor’s intent and ended up dropping instinctively at the last instant to avoid his kick. It wasn’t pretty like in the kata, but I did it without even thinking. Yep, I’m coming along in Karate, but I’m a total rube when it comes to Capoeira. And that’s OK.

The point of me entering the roda was not to show off or to prove Karate superior (it isn’t – apples and oranges, folks). The point was to learn about myself, about the man in the roda with me, and about the art of Capoeira. While playing, I made different mistakes this year than last – and that is to be expected. I’ve barely learned a little bit of “baby talk.”

There is an element of “conversation” in Capoeira games, in karate jiyu kumite, and in point sparring (except a referee keeps interrupting the conversation during point sparring). I wrote about this underlying conversation in last year’s blog post. One year, one belt rank, and one gold medal in kumite later, I still need to improve my karate “conversational skills.” I strongly suspect I always will.

It might seem like going to essentially the same workshop as last year would be pointless. But the very nature of any martial art is you can always go deeper into the material. There’s always some new insight and/or refinement to discover. I’m seeing this more and more as I progress in my Karate. What I love about cross-training is I can compare and contrast, and in the process learn more about my base art. I wish I could do more cross training… Sigh… So many martial arts and so little time.

Author: Joelle White

I began training in Karate in June of 2014 after a 27 year hiatus.

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