Back in June I headed to Rome, for I think for my fourth visit, but my first Capoeira visit! A group of us from Abolicao Oxford went to join the event for group Matumbe in Rome with the amazing Contra-Mestre Capacete. We met Capacete for the first time two years ago when he came for our Batizado, and he came again last year. I love his capoeira style, so relaxed and in control but elegant, so the opportunity to train with him and his group for the whole weekend was too good to miss!
Unlike a lot of capoeira groups, Matumbe trains both Regional and Angola so the event had a mix of both styles – this is probably the best description I have com across about the differences between the styles, but it is hard to explain. This was a challenge for me since my group only trains Regional – I occasionally train with the local Angola group but not often enough!! I’m definitely a ‘regionalista’ at heart, but I do really appreciate Angola and enjoy the challenge of trying something different. What I particularly like about Angola is the ‘style’: Regional is more ‘martial’, while Angola has more an acting element where they really express what they are doing with every part of their body; this is really beautiful and something that I feel can really enhance my game. Also, while the Angola game has fewer of the fancier acrobatic moves that I do love, their game can be much more interactive than a regional game. Of course an ideal Regional game is very interactive with every kick potentially landing its blow and calling for a response, but with the big kicks and the big moves, sometimes this can be lost a little, whereas in Angola that is definitely retained. I’m explaining this terribly, but my point is while I feel like Regional will always be my first love, I feel like I have a lot that I can learn from Angola and that working at it and training it can really improve my game.
After events, friends from the group who couldn’t go always ask me what I learned. While I can show them the sequences and moves, this never encompasses what I learn at the event in terms of attitude, approach and just way of conceptualizing and thinking about my game and capoeira in general. If I had to try really hard to try and share what I learned…
- Mestre KK Bonates (Matumbe) talked a lot about respecting interaction in the game. Basically, when you play with your friends and they are about to kick you in the face or pull your feet out from underneath you, they will (usually) stop short of doing that as they are your friend and they don’t want to hurt you – they will mark it, showing you that they could have done it, but not actually do it. But when that happens, you need to respect that like they did finish the attack, and not use that as an opportunity to launch a counter attack, or next time they might not pull their kick and you’ll find yourself with a black eye.
- Mestre Pedro (Senzala) gave a workshop which focussed on identifying your range. He described the game as a push and pull with each player trying to get the other to their ideal range for landing an attack (which differs a lot between individuals), which gives you the advantage. He also worked a lot of the idea of how you use your moves and your body language to maneuver your opponent into the right position so that you can execute that killer blow.
- Contra-Mestre Capacete (Matumbe) spoke to us about being true to yourself. No matter who you are playing with always play your game. Play with you partner, but don’t try to adjust your game to their style, especially if it is unfamiliar, as you are automatically putting yourself at a disadvantage – you should play your game, what you train, what you know, what gives you confidence. So when I go to an Angola roda, I shouldn’t try and play the game of an Angoleiro. I should engage with them in terms of their pace and distance and vibe, but not suddenly ignore all the capoeira you have been training for years, and try and do something completely unfamiliar.
As well as the workshops with these and other masters, we had lots or roda (yay), lots of opportunities to test and stretch ourselves, which was fantastic. One particularly memorable moment… At events, often you end up watching a lot when you want to play!! The mestres are constantly in the roda, wanting to play with one another, stopping you from playing. This is completely understandable. The mestres are usually in their own cities with their own groups, training their students, and they don’t have the opportunity to play with each other, so they come to an event and it is also an opportunity for them to stretch and enjoy themselves. Just watching these games is also an education! But there was a great moment on the weekend where Mestre KK Bonates told off the mestres for playing too much and not letting the student play, and he made them all pick up instruments to stop them from playing. Ha!! That said, I had some really great, challenging, and educational games with a number of the mestres. Check out my game with Mestre Manel (Acorda), and a lot of other amazing games, that my talented friend captured in the day.
One of the benefits of all events is putting your capoeira in another context. Training with your own group and friends all the time, you can start to think that you are very good – you are accustomed to how everyone plays, it is easy to predict what is going to happen, and you feel confident. When you go to another group and you have to deal with the unpredictable and the unexpected, it pushes you and questions your confidence. I always think that one of the things I notice when I watch advanced people play is that they are confident wherever they go, and that is something I aspire too. It also reminds you that you aren’t as good as you think you are and that you still have a lot of work to do. Perhaps counter-intuitively, I like a reminder of this, it just drives me on to train harder!
A great thing to see when we were in Rome was how the group wasn’t just people showing up to get exercise a couple of days a week, but a community – that is one of the things I love about capoeira, it is so much more than just a sport or a martial art. In particular, in Rome they had a really large and strong group of kids training with the group, and so on the Sunday they put on a great event for the students to get their belts, with their parents and friends watching, and little things to raise awareness of Brasilian culture. It was great to be part of this and plat with the kids!
Of course, while this was definitively a capoeira weekend, there was also the obligatory sightseeing, which for me was mainly an opportunity to revisit some of my favourite sites from my student days, in particular in the Forum Romanum. Oh and of course the ice cream! On separate occasions I had an amazing mango sorbet, and a nutella scoop that literally just tasted like cold nutella. So good!!!!