Martial Arts, Veganism and Performance

Article by Christophe Verdot

Well respected in the martial arts community, our brother, Christophe, has chosen to speak about his personal journey with healing and veganism.  These opinions are particularly his own and based on his path and experiences.  Hopefully it gives us all some inspiration to ask questions, do research and work toward a practice of self-care.  Thanks for letting us host you here on OnBlast!

Martial artist and vegan still sounds counter-intuitive for many people in 2016, seeing martial artists as strong men who practice  violent fighting arts and vegans as weak, skinny, long hairs who worship flowers and birds. But this is far from a full reality.  My reality is quite the opposite. I’m just a simple person like anyone else but I make sure to understand what I do and why.

I started martial arts around 8 years ago, as I arrived in the Philippines where I still live today, at that time I wasn’t vegan, in fact, I was a junk food lover and a meal without meat wasn’t a meal to me. Like many, I was like that because society formatted me that way.

After several years my body started to fall apart… I was focusing on working out and martial art training (on Pekiti-Tirsia only at that time) but wasn’t giving any particular attention to my body and how I was fueling hit. I ended up with 4 bulging disks, a misaligned cervical column, narrow vertebra disk space etc.  At that point I started to think differently.  After seeing many different specialist (Osteopath, Chiropractor, Physiotherapist, Surgeon etc.), after countless cracked bones and PT sessions with no, or only short terms results, I decided to take a different path. If no one was really going to be able to help me and most of them giving me the same advice (from “do more work out” to “stop everything”, “put ice!”, “no! ice is for the dead, put warm!” etc.) then I would study my case myself!

books
A few of my references…

I started with lot of books and research on anatomy and back problems. This lead me to see the body as a whole and treat it as an entire chain as opposed to what most were doing, trying to simply remove the pain on the specific tender area. I understood that flexibility, mobility and motor skills were the key point and all work together!

After meeting my friend Nico, a strength and conditioning coach in Philippines, I started to follow the work of Tim Anderson called “Original Strength.” It was very interesting in that it focused on basic motor skills.  As he explains, babies start crawling then move to quadrupedal to end up standing.  All of these steps are very important as they build the necessary strength from one to another! Going back to these kind of exercises was definitely helping me along with following Pete Egoscue’s work “Pain Free Living.”

I worked for almost a year on motor skills with my fricv animal flowend, Yut, who was an Olympic athlete in Japan.  II started from zero, relearning the proper mechanics of walking, skipping, running etc. It wasn’t easy at first and I felt really stupid not even walking correctly!  But finally I found what was, for me, the perfect way to combine all that in a very fun way, Animal Flow.  It mixes mobility, motor skills, flexibility with quadrupedal exercises as a main base! I went deep into it, traveling to Switzerland to practice and learn it.  Recently I became the first Animal Flow instructor in Philippines. Animal Flow is also perfect to develop strong stabilizer and postural muscle; a must do in your weekly routine.

All this is to say that learning to understand, why and how, is the best way to progress, either in martial arts or other parts of our lives.  Some doctor had gotten to the point of saying I should stop everything, never carry more than 10% of my body weight, no more contact sports, etc. I’m glad I listened to myself and did my own research. This all, additionally, improved my martial arts practice like nothing else had.  Good body mechanics are always the best whether you swing a stick or throw a punch / kick.  It all depends on good mechanics.

What about veganism? Well… that was part of my healing and progression… I’ve now been vegan for 2 years.  After my dad passed away from heart attack at age of 65, knowing that his dad also passed away from heart attack at age 55, and that this can be hereditary, I naturally started research how to lower the risk and I was very surprised to find that meat consumption was one of the main causes, especially red or process meats! I realized how other associated products were bad for human too, such as milk, which is definitely not suitable for human consumption… and from all the research I came across (ie animal cruelty, meat industry conditions and exploitation) I didn’t want be part of all that anymore.  We now know and have scientific proof, along with tons of examples (athletes etc.) that we don’t needs meat to live and perform at the highest level, so why should we continue?

When you you first become a vegan, you might be extremely affected by your new awareness of the violence and suffering caused by animal exploitation.  You tend to think the entire world should be vegan tomorrow.  I’ve been there too, then, with some distancing my mind changed a bit.  I still believe the world, one day, will be mostly vegan as it is the only way to preserve our planet and unsustainable to feed everyone on meat.  But now I fight a different fight to stop the stop spread of false information.  No, we don’t need meat to live well.  No, vegans don’t lack vital nutrients and aren’t weak, etc. because of this nutritional choice.  I also advocate for the availability of more vegan options in restaurants, groceries and so on.  We should at least have the possibility to choose! When you truly go vegan and start reading the ingredients of everything you buy you realize that many industries are putting animal products everywhere, from bread to the french fries in MacDo for example. This is absolutely unnecessary.

The vegan diet made me feel a lot better inside, mentally and physically.  I eat mostly raw and it is incredible the amount of energy I get from it and how my performance has increased. I’m now 37 years old and have never been this physically active and this fit in my entire life.  I now teach Pekiti Tirsia Kali 3 to 4 times a week but also go to boxing and BJJ classes along with learning Filipino Silat and even beginning to work on Zhan Zhuang postures.  Not a single day without practicing and all this is powered only by plants !  It has now been almost a year since my back was last messed up.  Previously it was a regular occurrence about every 2 months.

My take away advice is to research and try to understand if you want really move forward or fix a problem, applying martial arts philosophy to diet (protect the weak, don’t harm or kill if not necessary) and to my health (do your own research, study and take care of yourself at all time) .  With all this,  a martial artist’s journey is very personal and each one should do what is right for her or himself.

_________________________________________________________________

Guro Christophe Verdot is originally from Bordeaux, France and has made a home in the Philippines since 2009 to train in and teach the Filipino Martial Art of Pekiti Tirsia Kali. He established Pekiti Tirsia Kali Global City after receiving his Guro rank from Tuhon Rommel Tortal on May 06 2012. He is now Guro Dalawa under Tuhon Bill McGrath and Pekiti-Tirsia Global City is an official Pekiti-Tirsia International School.11337053_10152944970283553_2473717587599288883_o

Contact and infos : http://pekiti-global-city.com/

 

Connecting to Matriarchal Heritage

Article by JL Umipig

Another wonderful opportunity has come our way.  Sister JL Umipig has decided to contribute some of her reflections on her lifelong journey into a study of culture, heritage and self.  Hopefully this won’t be the last time we are able to feature her voice.  Thanks for letting us host you here on OnBlast!

-Njoli-

When I first learned about the Babaylan, a figure that connects to the matriarchal heritage of my Filipino identity, I opened my spirit to the understanding of a power within myself from a very young age that I saw in all the wom*n in my family and those I exchanged with in my communities of image6Pinays. I grew as a youth activist in the Filipino community in Southern California, connected to my people’s histories of struggles in relation to the United States and other conquering countries. And I was taught to be angry and to fight the system that oppressed my people by being organized, by being aware of policy and by being ready to rise up and speak up with urgency. There is so much to be angry about in this world, so much to weep for, so much that can hold us in places of discomfort and I wanted to fight to change that.

I often drew away from the “militancy” of organizing and really focused on on the cultural aspects, the artistry, the expressions. I knew that I could be, but I was and would always be an artist. I was searching for a different means of organization, something that would feed my artistic soul, and ease the activist in me from burn out and resentment for problems that just would not change. It wasn’t until I found the Center of Babaylan Studies that I realized the power within me was missing something very important, a connection to spirituality. In time I have learned to connect my artistry and activism with my spiritual learnings.

 

image2I found the Center for Babaylan Studies, when I was doing my Graduate School studies at New York University. My initial feelings in my program was a want to use my work to root in my identity as a Pinay and I began to delve and explore this through the lens of other Pinay who were raising other young Filipinas to feel empowered and proud of their identity. I began with my network of organizers, radical educators and artists who were working mainly on the presence of Pinay in relation to systematic oppressions and transnational feminist struggles. These were women who raised me to see the fierceness of Pinay, the way we are essential to every movement and how powerful we are in presence. In this process I was reintroduced to the concept of the Babaylan, I had heard it once in poetry as a youth organizer, but didn’t delve until I was in this process of excavating Pinay roots. This is when I found the Center for Babaylan Studies, and my life shifted with great clarity. I was being fed and nourished with this unfolding of my heritage connected to spiritual power and practice.

Elders from the Center for Babaylan Studies gave to ab abundance of spirit knowledge, in writings, conversation exchanges and through many gifts of reminder written, spoken and energetically and spiritually given. This uncovered in me my roots as a Pinay, that moved beyond the herstory in America and before Spain, the herstory that was not on paper, but that lived in the presence of living ancestors that reflected my self and pushed me to go deeper and deeper to know how my roots lived in me though so much has tried to abolish them. They grew in me the most miraculous recognition of our interconnectivity to one another as living beings and have helped create me to break through the constructedimage3 divisions and fear that have stopped me for seeing others whole, from seeing my self whole. They helped me to find language that I never had to describe the way I feel and relate it in my every day,the two I hold as my greatest values are: kapwa (the shared self), how we see ourselves in others and we see value in the other as we see value in our own being, loob (the inner self), who we are at our core that makes us interconnected to everything.

Recently I was given the opportunity to share in holistic presence with a gathered group from the network of the Center for Babaylan Studies including two of the elders who had guided me on my journey of creation in self and artistry the past 5 years- Leny Strobel and Grace Nono. We ventured to the heartlands of Ohi-yo surrounded by sky, mountains, trees and clear waters embracing us. The conference was centered in reconciling our learned beliefs and those that we have forgotten- strengthening our spiritual connection to all people and all living things, the earth, our ancestors and the Great Creator. I left feeling so reawaken and rejuvenated, feeling more deeply than ever the power of this journey I have chosen to walk again and again- the journey of knowing and loving myself whole so I can love all else more wholly. In seeking to learn of my Filipina Roots I entered a portal into knowing myself as human, as spirit. Kapwa, loob – we are together, we are of one another, we are are other, we are one.


 

Jana Lynne (JL) Umipig is the creator of “The Journey of a Brown Girl” www.thejourneyofabrowngirl.com  Director, Producer, Actress, Educator and Organizer she currently resides in NYC. JL image5has worked with different community organizations developing curriculum and programs that integrate theatre and visual arts with activism and leadership development, working with schools, community organizations, detention facilities, and rehabilitation and support group centers. She believes in the power of the arts to activate and move the human spirit for individual toward community empowerment and transformation.  She creates with the intention to connect human experience and spirit between all communities.

A more extended account of the trip can be found in her blog “Pa ng Biag iti Kayumanggi nga Pilipina” (http://kayumanggingapilipina.com/ ).

New Vision Philly with Haamza Edwards

Brothers and sisters, I can’t tell you how happy I am to feature my man Haamza Edwards in this edition of OnBlast!  Haamza has been looking deep in Philly for quite a while so I’m so pleased that he’s decided to share some of his work and insights.  I’m sure we’ll be seeing more as the years go on…

-Njoli-

Abundant in art of all kinds, Philadelphia is full of positive energy to fuel my passion of photography. Having a standard of how I want my pictures to turn out, they always instill the emotion I was capturing into the audience.

I started shooting with a camera phone and never imagined that I would receive so much praise for my pictures. Knowing that people enjoyed my work was more than enough inspiration to keep me going. At the time, I didn’t have a clear set method or style. If I recall correctly, I think my exact thoughts were, “Shoot anything that looks cool!” And it served me well…mostly. As time passed, I saw a pattern in my in my shots and I immediately felt like I accomplished something amazing. I then considered myself a photographer.

To this day, following the trail of street art with graffiti, dancing, music, martial arts, and even other photographers and videographers has given me a vast horizon of endless photos just waiting to be taken. Not much more to say other than, I love photography.

Crossing Lines: Capoeira, Movement, Activism

I just want to drop a deep thank you to my man Jabr for sharing his thoughts and his purpose.  It’s a powerful experience he’s recently had in Palestine and it’s as much an inspiration to use our art as a means of empowering and connecting.  He gives us some solid questions to ask ourselves. Thanks brother, for letting us feature you in the OnBlast! section of NoPaper.

-Njoli-

Article by Jabr abu Jordan

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”

― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Muhammad Abu Thahr and Nadim Nuwara were shot down on May 15th of this year. Muhammad was 15 – Nadim was 17. Snipers of the Israeli Defense Forces assassinated them for protesting the military occupation of their country. Another 15-year-old child was shot in the left lung – inches from his heart – but survived the attempt on his life. His name is Mohammad Azzeh. I know him. He and his family lived just around the corner from me in Al-Bireh. He is a member of the Palestinian Circus School at Birzeit University, and had been preparing for an upcoming tour in Germany. I would sometimes see him outside his house, and he would flash a bright smile. He expressed an interest to learn Capoeira. I ate spaghetti with yogurt and drank mint tea at his house, talked with his father about calligraphy, got lost twice with his sister and friends on the way to performances of their dance troupe El Funoun in Jenin and Beit Umar, and had a beer with his cousin at a café in Ramallah. I met another cousin of his here in Washington, DC just after being detained and deported by the Israeli’s in November of last year.

The morning of May 16th I was looking at a picture of Hamoudeh – Mohammad Azzehs’ nickname – being carried to a waiting ambulance. He was bleeding profusely, and in obvious pain. A co-worker asked about the picture, and I told her that my friend was shot the day before protesting against the Israeli occupation. He is only 15 years old, and we don’t know if he’ll live or die, I told her. Apparently blind to the wounded, bleeding 15-year-old child in the picture, she replied coolly, “Yeah, but was it a peaceful protest?”

Mohammad Azzeh copy

Her response is an example of the casually, yet deeply held assumptions of most Americans regarding Palestine. Despite the grossly uneven contest between flak-jacketed, helmeted Israeli soldiers armed with an array of fully automatic weapons, small arms, tanks, armored vehicles, and sniper rifles, and the unprotected, unarmed teenaged children waving Palestinian flags and throwing stones with sling-shots, Palestinians are held guilty for any and all violence. Americans are conditioned to not see Palestinians, to not see Palestine. The only Palestine on Facebook is in Texas, the AAA will not issue an international drivers license for Palestine, and one cannot place a call to Palestine via Skype. Mention Palestine to most Americans, and they will think that you meant to say Pakistan. Palestine has been rendered invisible. How else is it possible for someone to look at that picture and not see a child in excruciating pain? How is it possible to not think about the agony that his mother, father, sisters and brothers are experiencing at that moment? How else is it possible to ask such a question with an air of cool scornfulness?

In Zora Neale Hurston’s’ novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie tells her friend Pheoby,

“… yuh got tuh go there tuh know there. Yo’ papa and yo’ mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh. Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God and they got tuh find out about livin fuh theyselves.”

 When I read that novel, I took this statement to heart. Zora Neale Hurston was telling me to not be satisfied with comfortable, received opinions. I heard the voice of my father telling me that heaven has no open door, no easy ‘Jesus-died-for-me’ way in. I wanted to go to Palestine and see for myself. I wanted to learn, and, perhaps naively, to help in some way. I applied to a London based charity to teach Capoeira in Ramallah was hired and spent 9 months teaching Capoeira in the West Bank.

I worked mainly in three refugee camps: Al Jalazone, Al Amari and Shu’fat. We also did classes and workshops all over Ramallah and Al Quds (Jerusalem in Arabic) including in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. We worked with volunteers at the Palestine Red Crescent, and I took part in rodas in the Old City of Jerusalem, Ramallah and in Haifa. Capoeira has a strong presence in Israel, Jerusalem and, sadly, in the Israeli settlements all over the West Bank. You will find Capoeira in Ramallah, Kafr ‘Aqab and Qalandya, but not many other places behind the Apartheid Wall. In Ramallah
there is the Freedom Capoeira Collective
and Bidna Capoeira, Roda in East Jerusalemand in Kafr “Aqab and Qalandya there are some people who train with Menino Bom, and others who are training acrobatics with “Coach.”

I can tell you that there is a lot of enthusiasm, desire and talent for Capoeira in Palestine. In Jalazone, there are some fearless children who fling themselves around with such abandon, that it makes you cringe in anticipation of them breaking some part of themselves. In the girl’s class, Aseel picked up percussion so quickly, that if she left the atabaque to go play in the roda the wheels would fall off of the rhythm. I would look at her pleadingly to get back on the atabaque. Fatia and Razan in Al Amari were natural talents at anything that involved standing on their hands, Kholud just had to have all eyes on her at all times, and Arwa is a natural polyglot. Her favorite song at the time was, “Sou Angoleiro, que vem de Angola”! I never taught that song in class, but she heard me singing it at a roda and picked it up on the spot.

I was invited to a roda in Beit Hanina in Jerusalem, and the kid on pandeiro started a corrido that I didn’t know. A 9-year-old child sitting next to me recognized the confused look on my face, and passed me the corrido. He gave me the thumbs up to make sure that I got the lyrics straight, then ran to other side of the roda so he could play me in the next game. At a roda in Beit Safafa, a game I was playing with a young girl developed into ‘who can be more creative with a head spin’. After one particularly amazing headspin of hers, I looked at the girls mother with the ‘damn, did she really just do that?” face, and her mother, smiling, simply shrugged and said, “Binti hek yani.” (My little girl is just like that).

Bota fogo na Qalandya

Despite the hard work of a very few dedicated people in Palestine, Capoeira there is suffering from a lack of attention. Many experienced Angoleiro’s and Regionalista’s regularly make trips to workshops and roda’s in Tel Aviv, Holon and Haifa. Some even go to teach in the settlements. But not many have ventured to East Jerusalem, and fewer still have dared to cross the Apartheid Wall. The Capoeira Freedom Collective hosted a weeklong tour of the West Bank to educate Capoeiristas about Palestine, her land, her culture and the effects of the ongoing military and economic occupation of this country that does not officially exist. Capoeiristas from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the United States and Brazil were in attendance, and traveled to Jenin, Al-Khalil (Hebron), Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. There was a beautiful roda in Jalazone camp. One of the subjects discussed was a possible BDS style boycott of Capoeira in the settlements and Israel. Those few capoeiristas in attendance have continued to support Palestine back in their own countries, but we have yet to see the BDS movement take root in the wider Capoeira community.

Why won’t more Capoeiristas travel to Palestine? Why won’t more Capoeiristas go to East Jerusalem, to Ramallah, to Jenin? Why won’t more of us take the time to learn about the thousands of years of Palestinian history, and the 66-year-old creation of the State of Israel? Why do so many people express an interest to know “both sides” of the conflict, but never actually read anything written by a Palestinian author, let alone talk to anyone from Palestine or the Palestinian Diaspora? How can we study and take to heart the narrative of Capoeira and its resistance to slavery and colonialism, yet turn a blind eye in support of Israeli settler-colonialism? What does it mean when it is possible to go to a roda in Israel, hear an Israeli group singing “Bota fogo no canavial / quero ver o patrão de raiva se queimar”, and know that some, if not all, of those singing this song have served, are serving in, or in one way or another support an army that violates the human rights of Palestinians everyday, protects those settlers who steal the homes of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, and incarcerates, tortures and kills defenseless Palestinian children?

Karam and Khaled - Freedom Capoeira Collective
Karam and Khaled – Freedom Capoeira Collective

We are facing difficult questions. We must begin asking them of ourselves, or risk complicity in the oppression of Palestine. We risk becoming that which we rail against in corrido after corrido. And the argument for being apolitical, or neutral, is not valid. There is no neutral position – not when more U.S. tax dollars are spent in support of the Israeli military than are spent on public education in this country. In one way or another, we have all been made complicit in this tragedy, either by paying our taxes, buying a coffee at Starbucks or getting that new Sodastream carbonator. And now, even our beloved art is being compromised. Que vai fazer?

In Memoria

Nadim Nuwara
Nadim Nuwara
Mohammad Azzeh
Mohammad Azzeh

 

 


Jabr abu Jordan

Jabr A. JordanA student of languages, literatures and histories with an interest in displacement, diaspora, émigrés and exile. A deep fear of paralysis, with an overriding passion for movement – likely born of a family fractured in early childhood – led to an interest in music, dance and martial arts. For me, as for many, many others, Capoeira Angola is as necessary as breathing.

Street Dance Orixas

By Amy Campion

I’m so happy to feature my dear friend, Amy Campion, Los Angeles based activist and artist, in this month’s OnBlast! section of NoPaper mag.  Over the years I’ve been constantly awe-inspired by the way she’s been able to seamlessly weave together her art, her social & political passions and her deep caring for family, friends and community.  Gratitude, Aim, for dropping us creative bombshells.

-Njoli-

In 2012, I did a 3 month residency at the Sacatar Institute on the island of Itaparica in Bahia, Brazil.  While there, I researched, wrote, choreographed, and directed a short dance film called Street Dance Orixás.

From the streets of Salvador to a surreal windswept island and back again, seven street dancers from Bahia, Brazil incarnate powerful orixás (deities from the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomble) through a hybrid of breakdancing, popping, and parkour movements.  Street Dance Orixás explores the intangible connections between Afro-Brazilian dance traditions and contemporary hip hop dance forms through rhythm, movement, stories, and colors.  The orixás manifest their divine qualities through alleyway acrobatics, sidewalk airflares, train station arm swings, and cobblestone footwork- each orixá in a location linked to his or her tradition.  Exú careens through crisscrossing alleys, vaulting over walls, his shirt changing from red to black in mid air.  Ogúm cuts down imaginary enemies along the train tracks, using breakdancing battle tactics to assert his presence.  Yansã toprocks through the cemetery, hair blowing in the wind.  Xangô explodes in a flash of flying feet in front of his demolished building. Oxúm’s irresistible charm glints in her gold sneakers as her footwork flows along the cobblestones. Oxóssi stalks his prey with intricate hits and finger tuts around an enormous urban tree.  Yemanjá arises from the ocean to offer her blessings in freezes and flares along the breakwater.  In a surreal sequence, the orixás are transported to an island made of sand where they dance out their dreams.  When they finally unite in a dance cypher (circle) on the streets of Salvador, Bahia, they are utterly stunning and unstoppable.

DSC_0029

As a B-Girl (woman who breakdances) and a capoeirista (person who practices the Afro-Brazilian martial art/dance of capoeira), I have long been curious about the connections, both historical and abstract, between capoeira and breakdancing.  Over my 15 years of studying breaking (breakdancing) and capoeira, I have noticed an uncanny number of similar movements and philosophies between the two.  Capoeira has deep roots in the Afro-Brazlian religions that believe in a pantheon of deities known as “orixás”.  Each orixá has a tradition of associated dance steps, drum rhythms, stories, colors, personalities etc.  In the Northern Hemisphere, African American and Latino American social dance have had a major influence on the urban dance practices that known today as “street dances” such as breaking, krumping, popping, etc.  While these various street dance forms are not commonly associated with a religion, many street dancers experience a deep spiritual connection through their practice.  Notably, there are many movements/steps which can be found both in the traditional orixá dances as well as various street dance forms.  I created Street Dance Orixás in order to explore the intangible connection between orixá traditions and hip hop dance forms through a contemporary interpretation of the orixás as performed by street dancers of different styles.

During my residency at the Sacatar Institute, I immersed myself in the local street dance community and researched Orixá myths and traditional dances under the guidance of Joelmo Teixeira.  I wrote the script, choreographed the movement, cast local Brazilian dancers, hired a local Brazilian film crew, scouted locations, rehearsed, directed, and shot the film in Salvador, Bahia and on the island of Itaparica on the beach near the Sacatar Institute.  The relationships that I developed with fellow international artist residents at the Sacatar Institute led to collaborations with Mexican composer/musician, Ernesto Diaz, who created the soundtrack and American painter/animator, Matt Sheridan, who created the animations.  I returned home to Los Angeles and began to work on post-production in 2013.  In Los Angeles, editor Noah Berlow contributed immensely to the overall vision and shaping of Street Dance Orixás.  Robert Crosby did the color correction and Evan Langley did the visual effects.  Street Dance Orixás was produced with the support of many individual donations throughUSAProjects.com.


And now I’m sure you want to know more about my long time homie, Amy Campion, so you can follow some of her amazing ongoing and future projects….

DSC_1272Amy “Catfox” Campion  

Antics Artistic Director

www.AnticsPerformance.com

Speaking the language of Hip Hop, Campion crosses artistic and social boundaries to unite diverse audiences, daring concepts and dynamic performances.  Her work draws on the expressive capacity of Hip Hop by weaving stories and ideas with breaking, krumping, popping, Capoiera, mc’ing, dj’ing, poetry, film, beatboxing, and theater. Campion manipulates the traditions of street dance to create moving visual metaphors that are a true urban hybrid of street dance styles.  Her choreography has been presented at the San Francisco Hip Hop Dance Fest, the J.U.i.C.E. Hip Hop Dance Festival, the B-Girl Be Festival in Minneapolis, the Ford Theatres in Hollywood, the REDCAT, the Music Center in Los Angeles, and the Esalen International Arts Festival, the Levitt Pavilion, the Skirball, the Los Angeles Theater Center, and the Bootleg Theater Dance Festival as well as on Ovation TV, Strife TV, PBS, KCET, and LA36.  Her dance films have been featured at the Dance on Camera Festival at the Lincoln Center in New York, the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, the Dance for Camera Festival at the Phoenix Center for the Arts, and in 2014 at the VivaDança festival in Brazil.  She has been b-girling (breakdancing) and training Capoeira for 15 years and also studies hip hop, house dance, locking, popping, and salsa.  She received an MFA in Choreography from UCLA in 2006 and since then she has taught dance and arts activism at Loyola Marymount University, Cal State Northridge, El Camino College, Cerritos College, the Boys and Girls Club, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, and many others.  She has received awards from the Center for Cultural Innovation, the Durfee Foundation, and the Flourish Foundation, and participated in the Emerging Leaders Institute at APAP, in the LA Dance Advance initiative, and in Pentacle’s Help Desk.  As a dancer, Campion performed for Rennie Harris in “Heaven” and “1,000 Naked Locks” and was a founding member of Jacob “Kujo” Lyons Lux Aeterna Dance Company.  She danced in music videos for Genevieve Goings, Kana Shimanuki, Shaka Wear, and Open Mike Eagle and was featured on 1,000 Ways to Die, Voador (a capoeira film), and B-Boy the Movie.  She has appeared in print and in interviews in Dance Spirit Magazine, Dance Magazine, Ms. Magazine online, the photography book “Dancers Among Us” by Jordan Matter, and “Girls Got Kicks” by Lori Lobenstine.

”Amy ‘Catfox’ Campion… stands out in her Antics Performance troupe, as she does in any group, as the bad-ass, tiny, hard-rock dynamo who can b-boy with the best of them.”                                                                          

-Jessica Koslow, Neon Tommy

Meu Lepo Lepo: Reflections of a White Capoeirista Returning from Latin America

By Marian Dalke

It is a freezing cold night in Brooklyn. Disoriented after a 12-hour flight from Salvador, Brazil I seek refuge in a warm bowl of soup at a smoothie bar on 5th Ave. My lentils pale in comparison to the exotic foods advertised on the menu. Açai: superfood Brazilian berry and Pitaya: the newest anti-oxidant cure-all. I smile to myself. For the past four months I’ve been eating açai, pitaya, cupuaçu, abiu, jambu and other “exotic” fruits grown by my friends. Now all I want are some good old lentils.

I am reading a book in Portuguese, the men at the table next to me are speaking Spanish, and talking to me in English.

What world am I in?

What world have I been in?

Traveling through Mexico, Central America and Brazil for the past four months has kept my mind spinning in a mix of languages, foods, cultures and questions– about globalization, appropriation, race and humanity: who we are, what we are made of, and how we try to be different. I’d like to use this article as a space to explore some of the experiences and questions that came up for me, about how to preserve – and yet ethically exchange — traditional cultures in a globalized & commodified world.

I had been dreaming of this trip for 7 years. When I was eighteen, working and traveling in Central America for seven months, I had promised to return, to re-visit the people and places I had come to know. I told myself I wasn’t going to be another “irresponsible” tourist, showing up in someone else’s country, in someone else’s life, having an “experience” and then peacing out. As I fleshed out my plans, the trip adopted other purposes. Studying tropical plants and food traditions, improving my Spanish and Portuguese, and training Capoeira Angola (an Afro-Brazilian martial art) would all strengthen my work as a food justice organizer and ally in Philadelphia’s Latino communities.

While traveling, I inevitably crossed paths with many others like myself: people from the global north wintering or living in Latin America, claiming temporary residence there. I asked them, as I kept asking myself, “Why did you come to Guatemala? What are you looking for in Nicaragua?” “Why are you in Brazil?”

The sense I got from the answers to my questions was that we had come to the global south in search of a culture and life style we found lacking in our home countries. We had left corporate, isolated, stressful lives to learn and live a whole variety of alternative practices: permaculture, yoga, capoeira, tai chi. Some of us came for spiritual clarity by finding our Mayan astrological signs, or having our cards read by a bruja in Nicaraguan town of Diribá, or to speaking to the Pai Santo to grant us our Orixá. Some of us were looking to buy land, to start intentional communities, development projects or cooperatives – because land is too expensive in the US. I felt most challenged by foreigners who had bought land abroad. Do new ageists make up the next wave of manifest destiny, I wondered, with Latin America as ‘virgin’ territory? I mentioned this to a friend of mine back the states. “Why didn’t you stay there,” he joked, “Weren’t in the colonial mindset?”

There is also deep irony here. While people from the global north are flocking south to “find themselves,” many people living in these host countries continue to strive for the dominant u.s. culture that is constantly imported into their communities. I met many Latin Americans eager to practice their English, proud of buying their own cars, flat-screen TVs and Xboxs. I can’t tell you how many people were excited to bake pizza with me. Many prefer shopping at the supermarkets and shopping malls than the outdoor markets that I was eager to get lost in. Many were looking to leave behind the same cultural practices that folks from the u.s. were so desperate to adopt.

And of course there are those who are familiar with both sides of the border and both kinds of life. Enrique is a friend of mine from a tiny town outside Veracruz, Mexico who lived and worked in Northeastern Ohio for several years. I asked him how he thought the quality of life compared in the united states and Mexico. Enrique replied that it’s different. In the u.s. it’s better in regards to money and material wealth, while in Mexico health, lifestyle, and family unity lead to a better kind of quality of life. So again, those of us in the global north fed up with consumerism and unhealthy lifestyles flee south in search of a ‘better’ life while those in the global south, many with real material needs, continue to push north in search of material wealth to support their families and create a ‘better’ life.

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around. Where do we draw the line between useful, mutual exchange between cultures and appropriation or exploitation? I’m not convinced that mutual exchange is even possible given the power inequities among countries, the histories of colonization, imperialism and resource extraction.

As someone who’s always been eager to learn about and engage with cultures different than my own, I believe that we need to shift from european dominance, to stop holding up european ideals as the measure of success. I believe it is important to understand and view our lives through other cultures and cosmologies. Even so, I’m continually challenged about how to do this ethically, without reinforcing imposition and oppression.

These questions are particularly acute for me as a white woman practicing Capoeira Angola. As part of my trip, I spent three weeks training in Bahia, the birthplace of this Afro-Brazilian martial art, dance, conversation, and resistance practice. Brazil is home the largest population of African-descendents outside of Africa, due to the slave trade that brought from anywhere from 4 to 10 million enslaved Africans to work in sugar plantations. Capoeira evolved from coming of age rituals practiced by peoples in Angola and other areas of Southwestern Africa and served as a means to disguise their training from the plantation owners and overseers.

Today, capoeira is a major export of Bahia. Tourists head home with tiny berimbau necklaces around their necks, pictures of themselves posing with capoeiristas doing backflips beside them, and caxixis made exclusively for the World Cup. The Mercado Modelo in Salvador, the site where enslaved people were detained before being sold, is now a tourist trap, with capoeira demonstrations out back and thousands of knick knacks to waste your money on. In an extremely blatant example of black face, you can stand in the Praça da Sé behind a mannequin of a Baiana, with all the ingredients for acarajé spread before you – another great photo-op for facebook.

In these ways, I saw capoeira being used in Bahia as a commodity. What does that mean for a cultural practice created by enslaved people to resist colonization and oppression? Once African enslaved people were treated as a commodity, and now their practice of cultural resistance has become one as well.

At the same time, this prevalence of capoeira can be seen as a celebration and embracing of Bahia’s African heritage. And the capoeiristas playing in the Terreiro de Jesus are entrepreneurs clever enough to capitalize on tourists’ curiosity to make a living by playing capoeira. There’s always a both/and way to view things.

There are those committed to preserving Capoeira in its original form and purpose. In an attempt to grant capoeira legitimacy, the late Mestre Pastinha is responsible for moving Capoeira Angola from the streets into the academy. In many ways in the US, this shift has taken capoeira from its base as a people’s art and made it elite, available only for those able to afford to attend classes (often in liberal arts colleges, which is how I began practicing it). Although establishing a place in the academy may help preserve Capoeira Angola, it has also confined it. Mestre Cobra Mansa of FICA spoke of how capoeira is losing its originality, with everyone training and learning the same form, the same movements. The creativity and spunk that came from the street is getting lost.

Another Mestre I met in Bahia dedicated to both preserving and propagating Capoeira Angola is Mestre Boca do Rio. I attended the “Voltas que o mundo da” event held to celebrate his return to Brazil after living in Spain for many years. Mestre Boca do Rio framed the conference around the theme of the globalization of capoeira. During a panel discussion, he expressed his concern with the quality of capoeira that is being exported and taught. Mestre complained of Brazilians traveling to other countries and falsely claiming to be experts in capoeira. With its global popularity, many imposters arise to fill the increased demand for teachers.

My critique of capoeira’s globalization centers more on all the white people practicing capoeira (myself included). I would like to participate in more discussion of this among our groups. What does it mean to be a European-descended person practicing an art form developed by enslaved people to resist white supremacy? Given the parallels between the u.s. and Brazil in their experience of slavery and racism, I find that it makes sense to me to practice Capoeira Angola here. In the united states, I find Capoeira Angola as site for anti-oppression work. Within my group, we form deep friendships of mutual aid and support through training together in this African-descended practice. In a recent interview, my teacher Contra Mestre Kamau shared his own thoughts on this:

Clearly, I’m an African and this is an African Brazilian martial art and it’s only right that you have people who share that lineage, culture and connection and spiritual energy in your circle.  I’ve always wanted that and I still want that but that’s not the only component to creating a positive and workable energy and it took me a lot of time and thought to gain the maturity to recognize and understand that.  That was a big thing for me.

What then, of capoeira in Europe, where groups are primarily white, and don’t share “that lineage, culture…and spiritual energy?” When I asked this of a French woman training in Bahia, she replied, “We all are enslaved to something,” she told me, “We all have things to be liberated from.” I believe this: we all have obstacles, challenges, and forces that hold us back. Capoeira can help gives us tools to confront such barriers. Yet the fields on which we play are not equal, in large part because of the awful, crushing violence and abuse of slavery and the resulting legacy of racism.

I witnessed lots of alternative lifestyles and resistance practices throughout my travels Latin America. Despite hip hop being a major capitalist industry, it is alive across the world as a form of resistance and justice. I witnessed a dope hip hop battle in Puebla, Mexico among three youth spitting about respect (though homophobia still was rampant in their lyrics). I was also excited to see another alternative culture taking root in Mexico, as I watched a troupe of roller girls out recruiting new members and lots of goth kids hanging out in the zócalo. One bizarre cross-cultural moment for me was practicing tai chi aerobics and eating vegetarian food with Salvadorean Taoists in San Salvador.

Aside from those adapting and embracing cultures from abroad, many of the friends I visited while traveling are actively preserving their own cultures. Werner teachs Nahuat, an indigenous language almost extinct in El Salvador. Roxana, who is proud to be a professional and a campesina in Nicaragua, prefers to cook with firewood and wash clothes by hand. Jerry buys stones mined ethically around Nicaragua and incorporates them into his jewelry. Paulinho is busy working to build a cultural center in his hometown in Northern Brazil as a venue for regional music and a platform to engage folks in community organizing.

I believe it’s important for us to know our own cultures and be grounded in them as we encounter and exchange with cultures different than ours. To have roots to return to. I must know my own history, and understand the reasons why I am interested in learning other cultures’ histories and practices.

This isn’t the kind of thing that will have a conclusion. It’s about conversations and wrestling with unjust power dynamics – on international and interpersonal levels – towards genuine mutual exchange and growth. It’s about sitting at the table with people who are like you and people who are different, be it in front of a bowl of açai or lentil soup, and working together to figure out who we are, and who we want to be, as individuals and as a world. I pray only–as people continue to travel, to search, to exchange and fuse cultural practices–that the source of revolution and resistance stays present and alive in the cultures we share.

OUTTAKES:

Exoticism. Early colonizers, anthropologists, studying the “Other” living with people different than them.

How is capoeira’s exportation different than that of yoga?

Yet sometimes being in another culture reinforces who you are. You aren’t cognizant of being US when you live in the US. Need to be an other to realize who you are.

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Even so, this search for ‘modernization’ can be deceiving. Take El Salvador for example. Long an unofficial colony of the States, El Salvador has used U.S. currency since 2001. People often attribute their economic decline to the americanization of the currency.  When I asked two friends what they were proud of their country, “nothing,” they both replied. They felt it had sold out, and had no more culture to respect. The presence of gang violence is so thick that people live in fear of picking up the phone, of going out. I heard countless stories of threats made on the phone, hold-ups on buses, shootings in internet cafes, kidnappings. And it’s known that this gang violence yet another U.S. export, as a result of racism experienced by Salvadorean immigrants in California in the 1980s (source from Karen?). “I like Nicaragua,” my friends told me, “it’s safer there. You can trust people.”

Nicaragua, in contrast to El Salvador, has a long history of resistance to U.S. imperialism, with resistance William Walker’s imposed government in the 1850s, to Sandino’s presence in the 1920s, to the contra wars in defense of the Sandista revolution. When I asked two friends from Nicaragua about their pride for their country, they stated they were proud of “our indigenous history” and “that we are free.” (Even so, Nicaragua is fast modernizing. Deal with china to build canal through lakes the open it to free market and more abuse- opinion that canal will just benefit china and not nicaragua)

What are we looking for? How can we possibly find ourselves in cultures different than our own?