By Njoli Brown
One of the most commonly expressed analogies in capoeira is that it exists as a microcosm of all our experiences and interactions in the larger world. I’m sure this kind of language is present in other arts and communal environments and I’ve been thinking about this lots over the years, often times a little dubious about where the rhetoric and the actuality intersect.
I think that humans are, as a general rule, social creatures. Often times they are willing to make huge compromises in order to maintain a sense of connectivity. Even in those instances where they choose to isolate, I imagine that, many times there is some past or present trauma attached to that decision. That isolation might be a process for healing or for hiding but it seems to have a very intentional value and purpose.
In order to maintain a sense of place and value within a community there can feel a necessity to do or to be. I use these terms to indicate the drive toward doing more in order to become more and thus, somehow, elevating the value of the community as a whole. But with all of this action there have to come missteps, some large and some small, so I think it’s important to discuss the important place that mistakes hold in both the micro and macrocosm. As an experiment, instead of looking at the small and working outward though, as is often the methodology, I’m going to take some lessons from the broader world and apply them inward.
The broad range of research would say that mistakes have inherent value. They provide new pathways for exploration, generate unexpected and sometimes useful results, act as reference points or catalysts for change and, generally, imply motion of some sort. In my experiences as an educator in NYC public schools, one of the sentiments I recognize in many of the students I work with is a fear of educational or behavioral “failure.” This fear is often born out of the the resultant reprimands, harsh exclusion, disproportionate disciplinary reactions which occur after mistakes or missteps that are part of the evolutionary journey. Simultaneously, I know it is a major part of the conversation among educators to determine new and effective ways to address positive discipline while creating a safe holding container for personal growth. Saying that a space is safe for mistakes does not make it so. But if the true investment in that idea is there, then intentional discussions on how to create actionable plans can be had.
Capoeira Angola is particularly interesting to me because it seems to attract social activists, teachers, community organizers and people with an, at least spoken, desire to affect societal change in positive ways. It truly is a microcosm of a very particular aspect of the world. It rests itself fairly firmly in liberal thinking in regards to social, environmental and overall political issues. Even with variations, this holds itself commonly true in most groups of this style throughout the world and, as such, should provide an in common language and platform for discussions on acceptance , forgiveness and change on a very personal level.
I remember a while back, being in a discussion about concepts on friendship. For my part, I recall saying something to the point of friendship having a relationship to a person seeing you when you have not been your best self and being able to recognize the goodness in you nonetheless. Now, I’m an optimist. I do mostly believe that people have some innate childlike purity continually existing within them, no matter how obscured. I am also a realist. I understand that mistakes can be painful, to the perpetrator and to the peripheral participants. An actual supportive and forward thinking community has the difficult dual purpose of safeguarding itself while nurturing its individuals. But like riding a moving sidewalk in the wrong direction, if a community is not actively problem solving it may as well be actively working toward the perpetuity of broken systems.
Sometimes, language is a dangerous thing. Perhaps, better said, a powerful thing both,
in its inability to encapsulate all the layers of individual and collective emotional complexity and in its capacity to direct the mind towards concretizing thoughts into actionable aspects. It requires a careful measure when determining the language which codifies a living philosophy and, as a living and organic thing, perhaps the language and the community must continually take opportunities to evaluate whether they are in alignment and, if not, whether compromise or divergence is the most relevant path for evolved being.
It must determine if it places equal value in its ideals as to its practice. If so, it must work as diligently toward evolving its capacity to make living its philosophies as it does toward physicalizing its corporeal aspects. It must pursue the resources to make these ideas intelligible and applicable when students misstep and choose alternatively. They must host forums in which students can realize their connection to these values and in which actions which prove themselves destructive can be processed to restore balance in the community. Otherwise, the practice should dissociate itself and allow the philosophy to exist parallel if not integrated.
“Lots of soccer players are Catholic. But if asked if soccer is a Catholic sport, well I’d say ‘hell no.'” – Anonymous –
Capoeira, in truth martial arts in general, can become so wrapped up in rhetoric that they search and find ways to justify the connection between things even as they actively operate in dichotomy. In this way, perhaps they are truly microcosms of the world we live in. The art is truly itself, the idea is truly itself and, in fact, it is the instructor or some hierarchical construct which determines that a philosophical foundation, whether historical or contemporary, is a grounding factor for the students’ development and so imbues his/her teachings with said ideology. Without the critical process of determining alignment, compromise or divergence a martial art school generates a chaotic environment for a finding equilibrium.