What is the difference between spring training capoeira and Brazil versus training capoeira in the United States? Sometimes we think in the United States that capoeira can only be learned correctly in Brazil. However I don’t believe this is true, however I do think that there are some differences and this article is meant to highlight will we can learn as Americans from the way people train in Brazil.
What is the difference between training Capoeira in Brazil vs in America? A lot of times I’ll go on YouTube and look up capoeira, and the quality of the games seem out of this world. It might feel like the people who train in Brazil are superhumans, or that they’ve all been training since they were little kids; and there’s no way that you can reach the same level. This is not true. You can definitely reach a high level of Capoeira that many Brazilians would be jealous of. The question is what can we learn from our Capoeira brothers and sisters in Brazil.
Not everyone who trains in Brazil has a youtube highlight reel with them doing double flips on the beach. That being said, there is a difference to training in Brazil and the United States. And this does not just apply to Brazil vs the United States. We could just as easily compare Israel, the second Capoeira capital with England, etc. The question is really, what creates an environment to learn the art of Capoeira and what keeps us from reaching our full potential. Because I’ve trained in Brazil and the United States, I’ll be talking about these two places, but just know that these comparisons can be made with many different places.
The biggest indicator of your improvement is the hours you put into your training. I wrote an article about the amount of hours you need to put in to reach the coveted 10,000 hours of practice here.
From my experience visiting Brazil, I got the impression that it’s more common for students squeezed every minute out of their training opportunities. Not only that, but opportunities to practice were not often turned down. For example, while I was in Itacaré in January 2020, me and my friends ran into Mestre Marcelo de Angola. After dinner, he invited us to train at 6:00am with one of his students. We went to go train, but it wasn’t without its difficulty. We had to wake up at 5:00am and I don’t see many people making that effort.
This isn’t the norm. But the students who make those small sacrifices on a consistent basis are the ones who improve rapidly. If you currently train Capoeira, don’t miss class, and ask your teacher to train on off days. Be pushy and make sure they know you’re hungry. That doesn’t just help you train, but that energy feeds the rest of the class. People will see your energy and get inspired.
Don’t make excuses. We all have moments of weakness. We know we should be studying or working out, but instead we get on Youtube or Netflix and waste away on our butts. Don’t make excuses for yourself and fess up to the fact that either you want to train or you’d rather feel comfortable and be lazy. People like to make excuses, “it’s too cold”, “it’s raining”, “I’m tired”, etc. The fact is, if you want it, you’ll do it. But if you don’t want it, you’ll make excuses.
Don’t take for granted the opportunities you have to learn. Stay focused during class, as if this class will be the last one you ever take. If you look up to capoeiristas on instagram and youtube, if they’re really good, it’s likely because they have that mentality. A mentality that is not easily distracted, and maintains its focus for years – not days or minutes, but years!
If you train more, your capoeira will be better. But how do people fit so much time to train in their schedule? Let’s take a look…
In April 2019, I visited a well known academy space in Sao Paulo. The center had class at 7:30pm and I arrived by accident at 6:00pm (I thought class started at 6:30pm). When I arrived, I wasn’t the first one there. Two younger guys were already waiting for the teacher to open the door. After a few minutes, he arrived and let us in. At 6:30 the teacher and another student cleaned the studio while the two guys trained. Keep in mind, almost everyone who comes to train works a full time job.
By 7:00pm everyone was there and students started a makeshift roda. Everybody sat around, making a half circle and played. Everyone was observant – paying attention to the games and trying to learn. I wish I recorded a video because the games were good and challenging. The games were also educational, not just for the people watching, but for the people playing as well. It was a style of play that I’ll have to describe more fully in another article. Weirdly, there was no warm up or anything before doing this. Everyone jumped in without a thought to prepare their bodies. Brazil is warmer, and this does affect how your body reacts to movement.
After 45 minutes of this we started the class around 7:45pm. Class was late and it was short. The teacher gave an interesting sequence for people to do and you had to copy what he did from one end of the classroom space to the other. By 8:30pm we finished with class and started another roda!
Rodas in the United States generally don’t reach this level of intensity and there was definitely a sense that the games were more serious in Brazil. The students were at a much higher level overall and the risk of taking a kick to the noodle was more noticeable. When I say students, I mean about seven professores and mostly high level students. The games were much harder than the roda at the beginning of the class and people let their kicks fly.
Besides the higher level of Capoeira, the atmosphere was much looser – and this was the most interesting thing to me by far. People did not seem “in their heads” as much and did not hesitate before throwing kicks or moving around the roda. It’s a huge difference that I’ve noticed and added to the fluidity and beauty of the games. We played at this high intensity for a little over half-hour. By 9:00 or 9:15pm we finally finished up and everyone went home. But not before chilling out for a bit, talking, practicing a few more moves and only then, finally leaving the space.
Class was short, but training lasted for about two and a half hours! This was an “easy” day because the mestre was not around and one of his advanced students took over the class. Contrast this to the United States where we train for an hour and everyone sprints back home. If you have the opportunity, come early! And stay as long as you can! Squeeze every minute you can out of training time!
During another visit to Brazil, I visited the headquarters of Cordao de Ouro in Sao Paulo and was really impressed by the level of training. I was paired with a girl who didn’t weigh more than 110lbs and she did one of the hardest vingativas I ever felt in my life. That’s when I noticed how serious the training was. I had 40+lbs on this girl and when it was my turn to do the vingativa on her, I did it very gently and was immediately met with a neck breaking head lock to counter my vingativa. Students across the board were not afraid of cranking up the intensity of their training because they were interested in improving.
Contrast this to the United States where people are afraid of making contact with each other. And when they do, often they feel compelled to say “sorry” to each other. Compare this to me getting my neck cranked and you see the difference. If anyone did this in the United States, a student might sue the school, forcing the teacher to have everyone go easier with each other. We’re definitely more sensitive in the US, and many teachers have softened their training methods as a result.
How do we counteract this? As an individual student, don’t be afraid to let your classmates know that they can go hard on you. Let them know to kick faster, hit a little harder, and let them know you’re ok with making contact. This isn’t an excuse to start hitting people hard and driving past their comfort zone. But be vocal and ask because most people when presented with the challenge will try to meet that higher intensity level. Assuming they are not totally new. Be an example and others will follow your work ethic.
“You are the average of the people you spend the most time with” – Jim Rohn
Bad-ass capoeiristas spend time with other bad-ass capoeiristas and that is maybe the biggest lesson I learned training Capoeira.
In Brazil, as well as other circles where Capoeira is very strong, people hang out a lot together outside of Capoeira class. Capoeiristas who trained together also spend time together as friends. You see it with a lot of students who are hungry to get better. They come early to class, talk to the teacher, stay late, chat with other students. Others will plan days to train with their classmates, go to the movies, get food together, etc. We can contrast this with fitness classes in the United States. Many people try to keep their fitness life apart from their “normal” life, which has some unfortunate consequences.
If you spend your time with couch potatoes, you will become a couch potato. If you spend your time with bad-ass Capoeiristas, then that’s what you’ll become. It’s worth your time to go hang out with other capoeiristas. In Brazil this happens a lot. Teachers and students go to get açai. Not necessarily because its the best food after a workout, but because its time to spend together. You are the average of the people you spend the most time with.
Exposure is a large reason why people are able to excel in a field. If you grow up in a family of scientists, it is likely that you will develop the skills needed to be a scientist, just from spending lots of time with those kinds of people.
Brazil is the Mecca of Capoeira, so it’s no surprise that you can find roads, classes, batizado a happening almost every weekend. Students who take advantage of these are the ones who are going to improve the most because they will have the most experience. The only way to get better at Capoeira is to do lots of Capoeira. Attend classes, train movements, learn sequences, exchange ideas, and play in the Roda.
Practicing capoeira when you’re younger means that you’ll have way more hours of practice under your belt by the time you’re an adult. When you see some of the most advanced capoeira practitioners it’s very likely that they started when they were young. Just like a lot of kids practice baseball when their kids in the United States, some kids in Brazil practice capoeira. There are a lot of school programs and organizations that teach kids capoeira as a way for them to stay away from violence, drugs, and other negative things. I can’t deny that these kids have a leg up on those who started as adults. And if they continue doing Capoeira, their bodies will have become strong to the end of doing Capoeira. This can be a huge advantage!
At the same time I don’t want anyone to get hung up on this. Advantages are one thing, but they are not everything. Take an athlete like Ronaldo. He’s one of the best soccer players who’s ever lived. He’s strong, fast, tall, and looks like the perfect physical specimen. However, Messi, who is much smaller than Ronaldo, does better than Ronaldo on the majority of soccer related stats. How is this possible? Hard work.
Having a natural advantage does exist. However hard work will beat natural talent any day. Like I said before, there are plenty of foreigners who have Capoeira skills that many Brazilians would kill to have. And that is all obtained without the advantage of growing up in Brazil or in some cases being exposed to Capeoira in their childhood.
If you’re lucky enough to live in a metropolitan area like Los Angeles, New York, or the Bay Area, there is no end to the Capoeira available to you. Take advantage of this and go to events nearby. Even if they’re outside of your group, take a look around and expose yourself to the different styles around. If you learn something good, then keep coming back. If not, then keep the lessons because you never know when you might need it.
If you don’t live in a metropolitan area, this becomes harder to do, but take the opportunities available to you. I’ve heard of many people driving many hours to attend events. I myself have driven 10 hours to an event and on another occasion took a 12 hour bus ride to get to a batizado. Not only that but listen to some Brazilian music. Samba, forro, and anything by Seu Jorge are good places to start. You can get an ear for the language and learn a bit about the rhythms that are so important to the culture.
Capoeira is extremely popular in Israel and even though this might seem strange given how far apart Brazil and Israel are, this is not stopped Israel from fully embracing the afro-brazilian martial art. Israel has successfully created an amazing capoeira program that spans the entire country and has thousands of students. Here’s an example of an event that happened recently in 2019 and Israel.
The games are really impressive and I think it’s a really great demonstration of what can be done when a student and their teachers dedicate themselves to the art of Capoeira.
Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Focus on the path that you set yourself on, and work hard at it. Make sure that you practice everyday as much as you can and that you’re making strides to improve every day. It doesn’t really help to compare yourself to other people who live in different situations.
A good way to do this would be to record some of your games and some of your practices. Ask some of your friends to record you so that you can see how you can improve. It’s a lot easier to improve when you have something that you can reference.
I recently had a chance to see a video of a kids event in Brazil. The event was of a Mestre when he was a kid. There were about 40 kids graduating and a lot of them played at an incredible level for being so young. The unfortunate fact is that all but a small handful of those kids still do Capoeira. The majority stopped when they were still young. They say that half of success is just showing up and continuing to chug along.
You might have some inkling of this idea already, but if you’re reading this from the western world, then 99% of the Capoeira world trains in places that would make your academy look like the Rolce Royce of fitness centers. I’ve had the great privilege to visit many famous Capoeira academies in Salvador and Sao Paulo. These are places where legends trained, and I can tell you that they have nothing on the yoga school down the street from you.
To start, almost nobody has wood floors. Everyone in the United States begs and pleads their teacher for wood floors because the concrete is cold and hard on their soft feet. The truth is that in most schools in Brazil, students train on concrete, tile, or outside in the dirt. I visited the headquarters of Cordão de Ouro (one of the biggest groups in the world) in São Paulo and their academy was small, with a hard concrete floor. Below is a photo of Capoeirando. Everyone trains on concrete and the sand from the beach grinds your feet worse than anything else you’ve felt before. And nobody complains that it should be any other way.
In fact, most schools are like this. The floors can be dusty, very hard, and slippery. I’ve seen students in the United States give evil glares at the thought of dirtying their feet on the floor. Or get rage filled frustration over a slippery floor. Do such conditions deter people in Brazil? No! Most people are so thankful that there is a good Capoeira school for them to attend that having a concrete floor is just part of the deal. They deal with less because they’re thankful for what they have. Some food for thought about what training is like in Brazil vs the United States.
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