I love capoeira. I have been training it seriously for about five years and it just makes my life better in so many ways. It is fantastic exercise – cardio, strength, flexibility – and it is interesting and challenging so its easy to stick with, unlike some other kinds of exercise. It’s challenging is different ways: there are challenging moves, with tricks and flips, but then it is also challenging to be good at playing the game, and engaging with your partner (and we do say partner rather than opponent), reading what they are going to do, responding approrpriately without really thinking, and controlling the roda. There is also the music, which creates the atmosphere for the roda, learning to play the instruments and sing the songs. And I find actually playing quite meditative. I find my mind clears, I’m not thinking while I am playing, I am responding from my training, reacting to what is happening and being guided by the music. I always find no matter what else has been happening that day, at the end of the session I feel light.
One of the other things I love about capoeira is the community. I find that capoeira attracts a certain type of person who is open, friendly, and not that worried about what other people think about them (before you get good you have to fall on your face in front of other people quite a lot). I think that this is one of the reasons I have found such good friends in my regular group, and always feel welcome when I visit other groups elsewhere.
While I say that capoeira attracts a certain type of person, one of the other things I love about it is that there are so many different ways to be good at it. Some people are amazing at tricks and you are always blown away by thier moves. Some people are great at reading people and controlling the game even when it looks like they aren’t doing very much – they don’t need to be able to do crazy tricks to impress. Then there are some who are just amazing at the music, and it is just mind boggling the sound they can get out of what is basically a stick with a wire on it that you hit!
However, this post is actually about one of the struggles of capeoira. As I said, one of the beauties of capoeira as a form of exercise is that you are always learning new things and challenging yourself in different ways. When you are a beginner you see progress quickly, and as you get more experience it slows down, and you experience more feelings of plateaus where the new skills are harder to acquire and so take longer, even when you are acquiring them they are more subtle than before so its not so obvious, and of course there are all the beginners who look like they are progressing so quickly in comparison to you. Plateaus are hard, and I feel I have just come out of the other side of a plateau.
Probably overthinking what is a natural part of the cycle, I put a lot of thought into how I might be able to push through this plateau, and I have come up with a list of thought.
Don’t give up! I think it is important to realise that feeling like you have hit a plateau is a part of the learning process. Of course you aren’t making progress as quickly as you were before when there was so much to learn – if in doubt watch any video footage of yourself from a few years ago and realise how far you have come! I find that there is a time when people start coming less often. Very often it is because they have got a girlfriend or had a kid and therefore have other draws on their time, but it is also at that time when they have got quite good, and progress slows down. Realise this is just a phase, that you are (probably) making progress even if you can’t see it and don’t give up!
Find inspiration! If you are training reguarly with the same group, made up of the same people, of course your inspiration can get stale. Looking to diversify the stimulus you come in contact with is a good idea. For me this is mainly trying to train with other groups. Not only does it mean playing with people who I find less predicatable, but also engaging in a different type of training session, and I find that groups ‘speacialise’ in different moves. Training with other groups isn’t straight forward for everyone, so digging into YouTube and Instagram for videos that inspire you is also an idea, but really I think finding people to engage with in person has the edge.
Focus on different skills. I said above that one of the things I love about capoeira is that there is so many different ways that you can be goods at it. This gives an opportunity, if you are a tricks person encountering a plateau, you could focus on your interaction for a while to look for progress; similarly if music isn’t your thing you could focus on that. This is a key thing that helped me through my plateau. I wouldn’t say that I was a tricks person, but playing a beautiful game with some fancy moves is, and being quite aggressive in my game isn’t. I was lucky a few weeks ago to have quite a small training group (the late December, early January lull) and our teacher asked us what we would like to train. I said I wanted to think about the idea of cornering people, both in how you can do it and how to get out of it, as one thing I noticed is that while I may have more fancy tricks, when playing with more advanced students they might push me into a corner. This gave my teacher a chance to understand what I was thinking when this happened to me in a game and then coach the whole group around controlling the roda. That session has been a major turning point for me in my plateau as I feel more comfortable and in control in the game.
Focus on technique. I have been reading a lot lately about deliberate practice and the sports coaches out there that are really great. One (of many things) that they emphasise is the idea of muscle memory. Apparently when playing baseball, your actual brain reaction time to a fast pitch is slower than the ball, so the people that hit those shots are responding with muscle memory from their training. This is why drilling and training is so important. The same is true in capoeira, a kick comes at you, and the esquiva and automatic counter attack aren’t things you have planned and executed, they are instinctive counter attacks from muscle memory. When you think about the importance of muscle memory it reiterates the importance of making sure you get the training right, as practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent, so if you are practising wrong, you are just embedding that wrong technique into your game, so spending time on the basics, drilling them and getting them 100% right is a worthwhile use of time. Also, the theory is that the reason that you have your best ideas when in the shower or doing tasks like driving to work are that these are things that you do on autopilot, and placing your actions on autopilot opens up the creative side of your brain, so, in theory, the more of your game you can make instinctual, the more space you have to do creative things along side that.
Anyway, just some personal thoughts – I hope someone finds them useful!