What does it take to be a good female capoeirista? Strength, flexibility – and a tough skin against sexism..?

 

Have you heard that a short capoeira video, uploaded the other week, [1] have started a wave of discussions within the capoeira world about violence in the roda, and about violence towards- and lack of respect for women?

Many of you have probably already seen it, the capoeira video which has circulated widely the last week, in which a male capoeira mestre is playing with a female capoeira instructor during a women’s capoeira event  in London (..just to makes matters worse..!). The 45 sec short video shows how the mestre, firstly fall on top of his opponent and another woman who is sitting in the roda. Followed by the mestre picks up his opponent and kiss her butt cheek before he puts her down. She reacts with attempting to hit him back, upon which he kicks her with such a force that she fly out from the roda.

Wow!

The violence this man used against this woman is brutal, and the disrespect of her is further amplified when she comes back into the roda, and give him her hand for a handshake,  he turns his back on her and start to walk away.  This only further demonstrates what  a kind of person he is.. ! He does eventually turn around and take her hand and another person grab the woman and lead her away from the man, to cool down the situation.

Thankfully the capoeira world has reacted with disgusts at the video, and apparently the mestre has been threatened,  as well as his family. The video on Facebook holds more than 500 comments about how disgusting his behavior his, and how he is disrespecting her and disrespecting capoeira by his behavior and the whole capoeira world by calling himself a mestre.

But really, is there anything new in this video that women doesn’t experience all the time in capoeira?

Inside and outside of the roda (capoeira game).

Just as mestre Ferradura is writing in his blog post [2] very many people has been very quick to condemn this situation, and everyone is distancing themselves far from this so called mestre. Of course! And that is a very good thing, because it was horrendously wrong!

But is it really all that different from experiences that women experiences, in a more subtle form, like, all the time?

Respect in capoeira

As soon as you start practicing capoeira you are taught about the importance of respect – respect for your teacher, respect for your mestre, respect for the berimbau (the main instrument played in the bateria, which leads the roda[3]). In most groups, you train by the system that the most experienced students stand in the front row, for the other students to see and observe them, and also, to show respect to the ones that have trained longer than you.

But, strangely, all of that respect seem to suddenly go straight out the window when the roda finish and is turned into samba dancing, or in events, turned into the after party. Suddenly then, the mestres, contra-mestres and teachers, you as a student are taught to respect, suddenly seem to have some sort of freedom to behave without any particular respect towards the (mainly female) students.

The behavior I am referring to, is nothing you would usually experience in capoeira classes rather in capoeira events with invited guests. And OF COURSE NOT all time or by everyone!! But, often enough for it to be something worth addressing.

I am not the first one observing this strange behavior, so let me instead quote a few lines from Mestre Ferraduras blog “Who has never seen a master or future master be inappropriate with women whether it be in the roda (game), through comments, at the samba or parties? (…) Sexual harassment in Capoeira is usually swept under the rug, with women having to distance themselves while constantly being put to the test as they deflect physical attacks that are much worse outside of the roda (game) than inside. Do you think that the time has come for male capoeiristas to reflect more seriously regarding their own proper actions? Is it possible that we are so different from the aggressor in question?”

I agree that mestre Ferradura brings up a very valid point, and I feel grateful that I did not have to say it first.. I’m just saying..

Subtle or in your face..

The scenario in the video is not just about this game or this particular event but a much larger question and commonly occurring manners within the world of capoeira, inside and outside the roda. Now that this video has gone viral, in line with mestre Ferradura’s blog suggests, we can start to discuss these issues. These issues can be really subtle thereby hard to address. The beauty of this video is that is NOTHING subtle in that man’s behavior, but sadly is a telling picture of the situation in many rodas and events. Thanks to the video, we have an opportunity to bring up the issues of violence, respect for woman, and the responsibility of the other participants in the roda (if any!?).

No rule book

There is no formal rule book of capoeira, and what is permitted and OK in the games is based on a mutual understanding of what is allowed and what is not. That makes it of course hard to judge when a line is crossed, and what is not appropriate. In one’s opinion a game could be too violent, but in someone else’s view it is OK. Praxis of a roda includes that a mestre or the person that is leading the roda, is allowed to stop a game if they find it out of order for a number of reasons, including to stop players from breaking into a fight.

This video has raised a lot of discussion, whereby  the vast majority of capoeiristas (capoeira practitioners) agree that this behavior was not OK and over the top and out of line. Good.  At least we a reference point we can agree upon, that the line was crossed!

But looking again at this video, no one is stopping the roda or interfering with the game.

How come the capoeira world has reacted with such disgust, including threatening the mestre, meanwhile, the participants in the roda is not reacting at all!? No one is trying to intervene in the game, or stop the roda, or buh at the mestre.

Nothing.

The roda just continues as before.

That makes the situation quite bizarre, that when the video goes viral, the seemingly whole capoeira world is disgusted by this behavior, but when it happened in real time, no one reacted at all. Do we then really have a mutual understanding of what is allowed and what is not?

It might be easier to have an opinion when you see the video in retrospect and have a screen in between you and the mestre in this video, as suppose to having to intervene live..

No reactions

If this was so shockingly wrong (which I believe it was!), is there no responsibility for the person leading the roda to intervene, or by any of the other participants in the roda for that matter? In the capoeira roda you do not have two people playing and an audience watching, no, everyone is participating in the roda by clapping the hands and singing the songs, and giving their energy (axe) to the roda. All of these people are participating in the roda, and anyone could have intervened and said it was wrong.

But no one did.

It is always a call of judgement what is OK since there is no rule book of capoeira only mutual understanding of what is allowed.

Why did no one react against the aggression in the roda? Why did not anyone think it was outrages with the kiss?

Could be that the kiss was not as noticeable in the live game, and even though the kick was over the top, perhaps the person leading the roda thought it was somehow, OK..

Since this man has the title mestre, many participants in the roda maybe assumed that it was OK to do what he did. Anyone less graduated than a mestre probably felt intimidated to stand up and say something against it, not to mention, not being sure if it would be OK to tell a mestre what he did was wrong. He is after all the mestre, master of the game, so we trust that he knows what is right and wrong, right?

And  also here, I feel that there is a link between how he behaved in the roda and what many women in capoeira can experience outside of the roda. When the same said mestres, after the roda, talk, dance and flirt with the women, there are, just as in the game, a fine line for what is OK and when it is not. Chatting after an event, dancing,  drinking and flirting if you wish, of course there is no problem that it is a part of the capoeira after-social! It is a great part of the capoeira and why me and many people love to practice, because it is so sociable!

..but I have also seen and experienced situations in which the line is crossed in regards to comments and in regards to how these men behave towards woman. And the same participants that were in the roda, and said nothing against the kick cause they trust that the mestre knows what is right and what is wrong, is suddenly on the dance floor and in the bar, and equally they trust that the mestres ought to know what is right and what is wrong..! and I can see that, just as these people in the roda found it hard to stand up and say something, so can these people when they move to the dance floor and bar find it hard to stand up for themselves and others when the mestres are subtly crossing the line of what is allowed and OK and acceptable behavior towards women.

It is a little tricky to address and discuss these issues without directly mentioning the examples I have experienced, but during my 10 years of practicing capoeira, I have seen, experienced and heard about more examples of when women has been disrespected, than I wish to write about here. Let my summaries by saying, I am glad about mestre Ferraduras post, and I agree that it is about time that a discussion about mutual respect for mestres and students, men and woman are brought to the forth, and it is about time to reflect upon the behavior within and outside of the roda.  Of course, it is not all the time that these things occurs, but it happens regularly enough for it to be an issue, and it’s a huge pink elephant in the capoeira world and now seem to be a good time to address it.

What is the view of the players in the game?

In the aftermath discussions that I have had with a male mestre and other students about the video and Ferradura’s blog, I have heard the criticism, that while seemingly the whole capoeira world is busy discussing the issue, neither the mestre nor the instructor has commented on the game. I personally do not think that they have to do that. Especially not her. She did nothing more than play her game, and she respected the game of capoeira by offering a handshake to the mestre by the end of the game, even thought he behaved so badly towards her. What can she say?

Really..? What is there to say?

We can all see how he behaved, and we can see how she behaved. There is nothing she needs to say about the game. How she feels about it, we can only guess, but really don’t need to know.

What is the view of the women?

Another criticism, brought forth, was that mestre Ferradura is a man, and that this discussion should be lead by women. Sure, that is a valid point. I still though am grateful that mestre Ferradura took a position by writing his blog, since it is a good starting point for a discussion. And the fact that it was written by a male mestre, who was not even present at the event, I actually think makes the points even stronger, since it shows that this video was not a one off occasion, but an example for a common occurring behavior.

And if you want a view of a woman, I cant speak for all women in capoeira, but I can give My view, as a woman who has practiced capoeira for 10 years in Europe and Brazil. Based on my experiences, I have seen, heard and experienced enough of inappropriate behavior within the capoeira world, for wanting to put my cords in the back of the wardrobe forever and give up on capoeira. Just as some women already have done. However, I  haven’t, because I love capoeira, and I love all that capoeira has given me and brought into my life! Friends, work, travels, and an endless amount of happiness and magical moments, on other wise seemingly ordinary days. And there are many groups and many mestres, contra-mestres and teachers who are really serious about their work and treat all students with respect.

That is how I want it to be.

Thus, there is room for improvement and I am grateful for the discussions which are following on the back of the video. I think it is a really good thing for capoeira if we are able to talk about, and address these issues in the open.

My spontaneous reaction when I read Ferraduras blog initially was “ YES! Amen to that!!” or I mean, yes I completely agree, that now is a very very good time to start to address violence and disrespect for women in capoeira and hopefully see a positive change from now on.

So isso! as is so often said in capoeira, Just that!

Nothing more, nothing less, just mutual respect between all players,  mestres and students, regardless gender, and mutual love for this beautiful art that we have been given the opportunity to explore and cultivate and bring forth to future generations!

Estamos juntos!

Axe camaradas!!

Yours Sincerely

Energia

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What are we teaching the future generation of capoeiristas?

Me and my beloved group from Vidigal Community Rio de Janeiro. I am glad to know, that no matter what, these kids, and all the other kids groups that I have lead in Rio have experienced being taught by a white, foreign woman (gringa!). Capoeira e’ para tudos! Homem, menina, mulher!

[1] https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fcapoeiracdobocarica%2Fvideos%2F1239528786144584%2F&hc_location=ufi

[2] http://www.capoeirariodejaneiro.com.br/en/2017/06/21/violence-sex-and-gossip/

(3) The berimbau, and the person who plays it play a rhythm which the players must follow. Not the other way around

 

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