By Hakeem Alexander
(Exercising Your Mind) By now, in this environment saturated with Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and other professional combat institutions, it is quite obvious that one of the objectives in Boxing as a fighting art is to win by concussion or knock-out of your opponent. In Wrestling, it is a pin or submission. The goal has been clearly identified, and thus, it is readily attained by many adepts and masters of these arts as far as competitive combat and self-defense is concerned.
It has been a labor of love of mine to figure out how to intelligently, logically and seamlessly integrate these disciplines of Boxing and Wrestling with Capoeira for many years since the early 1990’s, and have come to a workable understanding that has satisfied my goals for now, though it will always be a “work-in-progress”. Here, I will focus solely on capoeira, since, as I have reiterated at the beginning, most of us are pretty clear on the rationale of boxing and wrestling styles, including Muy-Thai and Jiu-Jitsu.
Watching a lot of capoeira today, you will witness amazing athletes doing some very super-cool movements, displaying extreme levels of body awareness and physical control. It is fabulous with great music and some great “trikz” to learn.
The people that are watching and the superhuman athletes themselves may all be capoeiristas, or capoeira players; there is even a cool brazilian song about capoeira as the soundtrack….
But this is only a small part of capoeira, it is just super-amazing-gymnastics and acrobatics with a brazilian capoeira soundtrack. Please do not mistake it for the whole, these guys are outstanding, but capoeira is a game that is much more than just jumping around like spider-man.
Beside the fact that many groups can hardly agree about anything from the cord or belt ranking system, names of moves, types of rituals, instruments in the bateria (percussion orchestra) and what constitutes a “Mestre” or master of this wonderfully diverse and rich art; a lot of people have misconceptions about what is and is not capoeira.
Of course I also have misconceptions, this whole essay could be one, since I am not of a traditional lineage, or any martial arts line for that matter, and have decided to utilize the game and practice for specific and personally significant objectives. These objectives are very substantial if one considers carefully my application. However, I am aware of my “misconceptions” and welcome them as symptoms of taking what works for me and discarding the rest.
One phenomenon I have witnessed countless times over the past eleven(11) years, that I have not been able to grasp the reasons for, even as a form of disguise or treachery, is what is described in the following by Mestre Brasilia. Although, I do understand that there are games that specifically call for “floreis“, flourishes or flowers; being the flashy acro-gymnastics of capoeira contemporanea.
“Mestre Brasilia, one of the senior mestres of the Capoeira Federation, has remained a stalwart influence in the Sao Paulo scene for more than thirty years. Author of a book titled ‘Vivencia e Fundamentos de um Mestre de Capoeira, he has said:
Today, something called ‘capoeira contemporanea’ (contemporary capoeira) is spoken of; that, actually, is not capoeira: it is a small part of capoeira, the people are leaping—even if they do it in gear (in time)—however, each one still leaps and flips alone, individually. It is a badly organized circus; a circus of badly managed acrobats. However, it can be done in an organized way, with coordination and movements that are in gear, doing all those movements that exist today, because capoeira evolved. Forty years ago I saw capoeiristas doing back flips in the capoeira roda, beautiful, but in gear, one inside the movement of the other. …”
-Excerpt from CAPOEIRA: The Jogo de Angola from Luanda to Cyberspace by Gerard Taylor, page 153-154 – 2007
If you saw the UFC-101 fight of Griffin vs Silva, you will understand one aspect of why this contemporary “badly organized circus” does little in the way of combat effectiveness. This goes for any art form, for example, Shao-Lin Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do, Aikido and any other form with fantastic displays. Bruce Lee in the “Tao of Jeet Kune Do” calls this a “fancy mess”.
“Instead of facing combat in its suchness, then, most systems of martial art accumulate a “fancy mess’ that distorts and cramps their practitioners and distracts them from the actual reality of combat, which is simple and direct. Instead of going immediately to the heart of things, flowery forms (organized despair) and artificial techniques are ritualistically practiced to simulate actual combat. Thus instead of ‘being’ in combat these practitioners are ‘doing’ something ‘about’ combat.” -Bruce Lee
Specifically, you cannot strike an opponent from ten feet away in a fight, like those guys jumping around alone, or 10 feet away from each-other. However, if you learn how to remain in striking range as Anderson Silva did, while being deft enough to evade Forrest Griffin’s (your opponent’s) attack, a-la a very advanced Ali-like “rope-a-dope”, all while maintaining the positioning to deliver “killing-strikes” of your own, you then have an effective martial arts tool. You must learn through capoeira to be the “one inside the movement of the other”, as Silva did, if you decide to make capoeira a martial skill as well as a ritual and an art.
This is a very relevant consideration. You must set objectives for why you are using certain movements or they will just be flourishes, or “flowers”. All of capoeira’s arsenal, and that of other flashy styles may be useful. However, you must first determine how to use something and practice in this way, or else when the time comes, it will not be useful to you as a fighting tactic. This planning is a way of strategy, which is the main ingredient in competition and battle.
As I perceive it, Capoeira is really vale tudo, or anything goes. It uses movements close to the ground traditionally, and more so in the past hundred years, in the air. What is valuable to me is adopting and adapting these diverse and versatile movements to actual “mortal combat” –A term Bruce Lee et. al. used many years before the video game.
It is with this idea that I practice and reap the following, which is in no way a complete or detailed list of, but still very important benefits to consider:
(1) Muscular Strength and Functional Power; because of the agility built up and required by the movements. This is one of the benefits of using floreis, or acrobatics.
(2) Cardiovascular Conditioning and Endurance; from the constant flow of techniques, the types of techniques low to the ground and supported by the hands, upside down, and in the contemporary styles, performed very quickly and with powerful floreis.
(3) Defense and Countering; through deception, which is the heart of the game, strategy, to escape from attacks rather than blocking, with simultaneous counters and unbalancing sweeps and take-downs.
(4) Rhythm and Timing as Strategy; with in-sync to music and out-of-sync broken rhythms as trickery and confusion.
(5) Dynamic Flexibility; once again due to the nature and use of the moves during the game such as high kicks and low ground contortions and escapes.
(6) Balance, Recovery and Control; of strikes and movements that would normally leave an uninitiated one vulnerable.
There is much more to add to this list. But the point to make is that if you are seeking to use something in combat, you must “take what is useful and develop from there”, rather than just doing “trikz”, or learning moves without considering how to apply them. As I noted previously, capoeira is anything goes, but depending on your objectives, you must decide where this unlimited supply of movement will go, where it may take you, and what effect it will have on the outcome of your objective.
But consider that this may be the greatest trick that capoeira has ever pulled. Because after many centuries, many people only consider capoeira to be a dance more than a fight, and usually underestimate its value as a fighting form. This may be the undoing of anyone foolish enough to let their guard down when someone begins to ginga before, or, during a battle.
If this is the case, capoeira is the ultimate in strategy as many are still deceived by its “malicia‘ and “mandinga“, into trivializing its effectiveness as a deadly martial art and self defense practice.
Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, capoeira mata um!