This is No Kick-Flick: The Responsibilities of an Instructor Teaching Martial Arts to Youths

By Njoli Brown

First of all I want to start this by stating that I’ll be speaking from the perspective of someone who, when instructing youths, primarily works with young people in the middle to high school age range.  As much as I think it is a wonderful exposure for younger students, I also realize this kind of instruction as a distinctive skill set and would say that Picturemy experience has been nominal and insufficient to give any expansive and well founded opinions. That being said, there are many people who see the instruction of youths as a part of the culture of martial arts.  As in many cultural practices, young people hold the key to maintaining the legacy of oral wisdom passed from teacher to student.  But are you ready for the challenge?

So, I’m going to break this down into 3 guiding principles.  I’m sure there are many more which could be relevant to the work you intend but I’m going to focus on clarity, design & outcomes as the reference points to keep your program effective and satisfying both for teacher and student.

Clarity

Before beginning you need some time to reflect on your intentions. This may seem like a given but it’s assuredly worth stating.  Young people have a tremendous aptitude for recognizing your excitement, your enthusiasm and your dissatisfaction.  It’s up to you to create a project that has the space to evolve unexpectedly and also brings you joy.

Is your vision to create a fitness program? Recent statistics have the rate of childhood obesity skyrocketing.  Current count is something like 2:3 people are at weight related health risk in the Bronx and these numbers can be applied to communities all around the country.  If this is your goal, kudos to you.

Are you looking at this martial arts club as an occasion to connect youths to a new kind of cultural engagement?  Completely worthwhile.  Every time we expose our students to new ways of thinking we allow them the opportunity to debate, to reconcile and to measure their own beliefs.  By doing this they go through the practice of forming opinions and strategies which they can use in an ever more diverse and global landscape.

Is it real world self-defense? If you’re willing and able, I can’t imagine a better forum for talking about resolving conflict and facilitating conversations about violence in our communities. In addition, a self-defense class recognizes a very pragmatic desire on the part of kids and parents to look at the issues which threaten our safety and to think about how the incidents taking place in schools throughout the country are affecting the consciousness of students in the day-to-day.

Whatever your purpose might be.  Think about how you are reflecting this in the framing of your sessions. Are you making time to process and allowing your students to voice their opinions?  You are creating a community so that also means that at the same time that you guide it’s development, you are also taking it’s temperature and finding innovative ways of integrating the vision of its participants.  Making time for conversation, both on a group and individual basis, is key to understanding the players and for gaining their trust as they come to also understand the things that you find important.

Design

I am an advocate of the concept of flexible structure when it comes to planning.  For your sake, the sake of your students and the sake of the institution with which you are working creating some short and long term goals for your project gives structure to your vision. These goals may change, perhaps because of the nature or number of students or for a variety of other reasons, but recognizing the necessity of a plan causes you to invest a certain level of commitment to every engagement you have with your group. It also allows you to find ways to weave deeper context into your sessions.  Maybe you can introduce some supporting text.  Is there some video footage?  Are you planning a field trip at a time and place that is relevant to the stage you’ve reached?

In addition to all of this, I believe that my work with youths should be mutually supportive of parents and schools.  Through deliberate design you can have clear conversations with parents about your process and can ask pointed questions regarding the hopes these parents have for their child’s participation in your project.  You can also reflect on ways in which your work might inspire and highlight academic successes as well.  Have you taken some time to investigate the social and academic issues your school system is navigating? You might be surprised to find the ways in which your work is reinforcing (or negating) the educational objectives of your wards.  Learning the language and inquiring about the hurdles, obstacles and achievements of your local school system gives you an increased insight into the pressures that young people are encountering.Picture

Designing a first rate program requires not only content.  It
requires context.

Outcomes

So where is this all going?

Some of your students will decide to stay with you for years to come.  Some of them will be with you for a semester.  Many of them will be with you for any and all the increments in between. Depending on the type of project you are developing, your planning should account for each student’s sense of closure or completion.

Even if this means only the completion of a phase within their development, involving and partnering with your group members in the creation and survey of your design gives a realization of the landscape of their growth.  Performances are great, ceremonies are grand and most young people will carry fond memories of occasions when they have been publicly acknowledged in front of family and friends.  But even if  a large public event isn’t possible, an instructor should realize the import and gravitas which rites of passage hold.   A dinner, a special workshop, the presentation of an annual photo journal, recognize growth and change and young people will often dedicate themselves to its continuance.

Outcomes?  In many ways they are unpredictable.  But of all things I think there is a common sense that we, as instructors, are trying to help in the development of good people who recognize their own value and their roles in the societies in which they live.  This is no “kick flick,” no JCVD film where all the difficulties get sewn up in the end.  Instructing youths in the martial arts is the responsibility of mentors, friends, brothers and sisters who recognize that rocky trails lead to beautiful mountains… and more beautifully rocky trails.


I’ve included the short bio below, solely for the purpose of providing a sense of my reference point and the mediums which I use for this type of instruction.

Njoli Brown

10014694_301877176628584_502611539_nDirector of Martial Science Macto Bicallis, Head of Kali MaBi, Co-Lead of FICA New York

Pekiti Tirsia Kali / Capoeira Angola

http://www.martialsciencemb.com

Njoli Brown began his study of Capoeira in Denmark (1997). After two years of intensive study with group Quilombo do Norte came the decision to study the Angola style of capoeira with a master (mestre) of the art form. In 1999 came a move to Seattle to train with Mestre Jurandir Nascimento who, at the time, had recently moved to the northwest from southern Brazil to start a chapter of the International Capoeira Angola Foundation.

After spending some years in the northeast of Brazil to continue his study, Njoli moved home to New York City and began his work to collaboratively establish a FICA group, along with Treinel Michael”Ligerinho” Kranz, dedicated to training this beautiful art form throughout the 5 boroughs. Alongside this he spends his efforts developing and facilitating a multiplicity of youth and community programs, both domestically and internationally, centering around the use of Capoeira Angola as a tool for inspiring community action and social justice.

Njoli Brown’s practice in the Filipino martial arts began in the Philippines in 2009 with a focus on Lightning Scientific Kali, under the mentorship of Grandmaster Vic Sanchez (Kali Arnis International), and ( beginning in 2010) Pekiti Tirsia Kali, under the guidance of Mandala Kit Acenas (Kali Makati).  Over the years he has balanced his stateside practice between study with Brooklyn – PTK Elite and Kuntaw Kali Kruzada of NYC.  Njoli has the great fortune to spend extensive time, annually in the Philippines for work and study and this has provided the opportunity to connect with the art in dynamic ways, physically, emotionally and culturally.  In 2014 Njoli officially started Kali MaBi at the behest of his teacher Mandala Kit Acenas and works to spread the legacy of Pekiti Tirsia through classes and workshops in the tri-state area and the pacific northwest.

Awarded the title of Lakan (black belt) by Grand Master Vicente Sanchez of KAI in the summer of 2012.

Awarded the title of Lakan Guro by Grand Tuhon Leo T. Gaje of Pekiti Tirsia Kali in the spring of 2014

Awarded the Yondan (4th Dan) in Bujinkan Ninjutsu in the summer of 2000

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.

Teaching Without Teachers

Sometimes I think the only way to be a teacher is to have no personal need for students, not the financial need, the egotistical need.  There only needs to be a desire for learning in order for teaching to occur.

…having the capacity to speak plainly and to be… plainly.

…teaching without teaching

…a dialogue between mutually respected peers in humanity

without dilution or fear

without the intention to incite

…letting go of the floors and ceilings

A Search for Identity in Movement

By Njoli Brown

In this go around I just wanted to share some reflections I’ve been going through recently regarding this search for identity within the context of the martial arts I practice.  In reading it again, it occurred to me that this might be true for a person delving into any of the creative arts.

So we begin by seeing a performance, a demonstration, a display and imagining ourselves embodying that beautiful thing, identifying ourselves in the place of the performer.  We feel some force pulling us to pursue this idea, this vision and so we search out a teacher.  How do we choose a teacher, a mestre, a maestro, tuhon? Perhaps we look for someone who matches our image of the physical ideal.  Or maybe we search out someone who is a model for our intellectual or spiritual beliefs and who manifests them in his/her rendition of their art.  For whatever cause, there is some searching for a bit of ourselves and a bit of what we aspire to be.

And then we train… hard.  Practicing for endless hours, years, and sometimes doubting our own aspirations.  We put our selves in the cross hairs of judgement and are oft times burned under the lens of scrutiny.  Peers, teachers, family, they are all ave their own special magnetic force which draws on that desire to stay connected to the world.

Our bodies transform and muscles build, and change, and grow.  With as much energy as we spend on our physical development, our minds run through evolutions in comparable time.  And at some time we realize that we are searching for our sense of “self”  and that we express a beautiful human-ness through movement that is distinctly our own.

Maybe we realize this.  Maybe we encounter a teacher or mentor who provides a space for exploration. Maybe we learn to be brave. Maybe we recognize the role that paradigms play and how we fit into them or how we alter them.

There is an aspect of being a teacher that means recognizing our own studenthood.  We’re required to explore our own doubts and inhibitions and to embrace the prospect of letting go because identity lies on the other side of that.

There’s an aspect of being a student that means recognizing our role as teacher. Who else can show us how to be, can define for us what being is or can catalyze us to undertake the process?

“I certainly do not want to stop growing at the point designated as normal by our present society.  What after all is a normal person?  He is simply the perfectly programmed man, the one in whom the conditioning of society has been so successful that no crack still exists through which the light of any wider reality can shine.  The normal person in our time is a loyal, well-adjusted member of the team — rowing down the rapids onto the rocks.”

I AMness  by Ian Kent and William Nicholls

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?