JANUARY 2023 NEWSLETTER
Filhos de Bimba Toronto
The Magic of Winter
Feliz Ano Novo! Happy New Year, FdB Toronto Friends and Students!
Greetings from the Ottawa Valley, where I am typing this newsletter, nestled in the quiet of the countryside. Winter can be a challenging season, especially for us urban dwellers. Centuries ago, this would have been a time to slow down, catch up with friends and family by a crackling fire, hot meals and long stories filling bodies and souls. Digesting the events of a busy year, we would have dreamed up new projects and adventures.
Instead, many of us find ourselves working long hours despite the short days and cold nights, struggling to stay afloat. In such moments, it is especially important to create the space to do things that light us up and to be with the people we love. In Dr. Gabor Mate’s latest book, “The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture”, he writes about the many imbalances in our modern societies. Global warming, a rise in addictions and mental and physical illnesses are all signs that our lives are out of balance.
Just what does all this have to do with capoeira? Capoeira arose from a people who struggled for their very survival - their physical freedom had been taken away and the cruel condition in which they lived was plain to see. As Mestre Nenel says, many Afro-Brazilian descendants still suffer injustice and poverty. Although it may seem far-fetched to compare our lives to that of people suffering from extreme poverty and abuse, it is no secret that in the industrialized world, we are part of an economic system that puts profits before people. An increasingly tiny minority reap the lion’s share of wealth and power, and dictate the state of our lives.
Over the years, staying afloat in Toronto has gotten increasingly difficult for many of us. While the solution is far from obvious or easy, playing capoeira can remind us that what is most precious can never be taken from us. For me, capoeira has been a source of joy, love and hope, but also an act of defiance. Making room for it in a busy and stressful life has been my way of practising resistencia - of asserting my humanity in an increasingly inhumane world. Like other art forms that are deemed non-essential, even frivolous, capoeira has the ability to make room for play, laughter and song just because. It is nothing short of subversive. As long as we feed its fire, our human spirit will continue to burn bright.
Vamos jogar! Let’s play!
January 1, 2023
Classes start on Wednesday, January 4 from 6-7:30 pm @ the Capoeira House!
*In addition, a few students can train with me at Jimmy’s Athletics on Mondays from from 7:30-9 pm. Please speak to me if you are interested!
Fees: $120/month (includes 4-5 Wednesdays a month + a monthly roda + *Wednesdays at Jimmy’s)
If you would like to help out with my Kids Classes or to sign up your own children, please let me know. I’ll be teaching Kids 7-12 years old at Jimmy’s on Tuesdays from 4:30-5:30 pm & Kids 6-11 years old at Brown Community Centre (Avenue and St. Clair) on Fridays from 4:15-5:15 pm and 5:30-6:30 pm.
Playing capoeira in Plataforma at Professor Dentinho’s “Capoere” event in 2018 - Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.
Professora Lang training for her Yoga Instructor Diploma - Sivananda Bahamas Ashram, January 2022
The year 2022 was a profoundly transformative one for me and for FdB Toronto, and it began under the auspices of yoga. After struggling for many years to keep the school and my own capoeira practice going, yet feeling increasingly frustrated with the rising cost of rentals, and the challenges of creating a community in a fast-paced and vast city like Toronto, I knew that something was not working. I needed to open myself up to other ways of being and doing, both in capoeira and in other aspects of my life.
In the ancient Vedic teachings, from which yoga springs, the Gods and Goddesses represent energetic and symbolic aspects of life and God - of ourselves. Ganesha, the elephant-headed God, is the Remover of Obstacles (much like Ogun in the Afro-Brazilian religion, Candomble). And what a whirlwind he created in my life, when I opened myself to his powerful energy!
After an extremely intense month at the Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas (in the midst of a Covid resurgence), I became a yoga teacher. My days there began at 4:15, when my neighbour's alarm would ring, and would end somewhere between 10:30 and 11:00 pm. Yoga practice, philosophy, history, and anatomy, karma yoga and a daily dip in the sea... The days blended into one, yet I emerged somehow transformed, my body more supple, my energy purer than it had been in years. I returned to Toronto with a fire in my belly and a desire to change my life profoundly.
Months later, I teach yoga in several places - at a community centre, at the Sivananda Centre, online. My capoeira teaching has expanded too - at a student's house, a community centre, online, and soon, in a gym. Yoga and capoeira - the yin and yang of my life - balance me and keep me afloat amidst the astronomical rise in the cost of living in Toronto. Forced out of the shadows by necessity and thrust into the limelight, my life has changed.
Despite my fears of criticism and rejection, the reception has been warm and overwhelmingly positive. Teaching capoeira and/or yoga to children as young as 6 and to elders as young as 93 means that there is never a dull moment, and the learning curve is steep! Yet, my world is expanding and my confidence with it. Doors I had never dreamed of are beginning to open. I owe a lot of this to yoga, and of course, to my courage in confronting old fears buried in the darkest recesses of my heart and mind.
I don't know where the future lies. I still live with work, housing and financial insecurity, but something inside me has changed. For the first time in many years, there is a feeling of hope, an enthusiasm I had forgotten. So for now, Toronto is home, and FdB Toronto is my family.
Thank you, to all my dear students, friends and family, for your encouragement, your love, and your helping hands. Without you, I would not have me it this year. May 2023 shine even brighter for us all!
May 2022 - The Capoeira House is Born
Beija Flor at the Capoeira House - Her home - May 2022
In May 2022, The Capoeira House opened!
You can read more about this miraculous new chapter in my first blog, dated September of this year. The idea was crazy, unorthodox, and potentially unworkable, but somehow it came together. With the fantastic Lam family's generosity - Orquidea, Ariranha and Beija Flor - we began training in their living room once a week. We still do...
And every week, the energy that we cultivate there never ceases to amaze me. Born of desperation, this wild experiment has proven to be full of beautiful surprises. I want to thank the Lams with all my heart for opening their home to us.
June 2022: Bahia & Belem - Brazil
1. FdB North American Professores (Borboleta, Langi, Malandro and Trovoada) and Mestre Garrincha (in the middle) at the Forte da Capoeira, Salvador da Bahia - June 2022.
2. Visiting Mestre Bezerra and Marilene in their home - Belem do Para, June 2022.
3. Professor Trovoada's Formatura with Prof. Lagartixa, Profa. Langi, Coruja, Pombinha and Massa - June 2022.
4. Fundacao Mestre Bimba - Our mother school in Salvador, Bahia. (Photo: Meredith Kenny)
5. Class with Mestre Garrincha (seated right on pandeiro). Prof. Malandro is on berimbau.
6. Taking Mestre Santa Rosa to lunch at Alex do Carmo's restaurant in Santo Antonio, "Cade que Chama?".
Professor Trovoada's Formatura
Were it not for the immense honour of going to Bahia to become Professor Trovoada's madrinha (godmother) in capoeira, and to tie the blue scarf around his neck, I would not have given myself the gift of a two-week trip to Bahia in 2022. But this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I could not refuse. My brother, Trovy, was finally being honoured for all his hard work and dedication. The fact that Professor Lagartixa was coming, and that Massa and Pombinha would be in Bahia too, only added to the joy. Amazingly, Professora Borboleta and Professor Malandro were also there with their students.
The love and warmth of the students, teachers and Mestres of our school never ceases to surprise me. Seeing Mestre Nenel, Mestra Preguica, Mestre Canguru, and Mestre Cafune, among others, as well as the many wonderful teachers in our school, is an incredible privilege. Knowing that are roots are in Bahia, where capoeira was born, and that Capoeira Regional was created thanks to the vision of a man in our own lineage, Mestre Bimba, always makes me immensely grateful. Feeling and witnessing the euphoria of a Roda in the Fundacao is an indescribable experience.
Then there was the unexpected side trip to Belem do Para, to see my former Mestre, Mestre Bezerra, and his family, made possible through the generosity of some of his former students who financed my domestic flight. Mestre Bezerra struggles with Alzheimer's, so I wasn't sure that he would remember me, but to my relief, he did. Not only was I able to personally hand him a copy of my thesis-book (in which he is interviewed), but we also played berimbau, sang, and played capoeira with his wife and children in their humble home. I had not been back in 17 years, yet the love they showed me did not falter. This moved me profoundly and taught me that life is full of surprises: O mundo da muitas voltas.
November - Dandara/Zumbimba Festival
When I invited Professora Borboleta to speak to us about the history of Dandara and Zumbimba, I knew that we were in for a treat, however the richness and complexity of the vision she shared with us amazed us all.
Her presence and that of Professor Malandro and his students made the event special, and inspired everyone to play their best in the Roda afterwards. The talk reminded us that through the school, we are a part of something much greater than ourselves, and that it is a privilege to play capoeira, an art form rooted in suffering, but also in joy, courage and dignity.
Yet another successful event and celebration at the Capoeira House!
You can read more about the inspiration that gave rise to the event in my last blog post, dated November 2022.
Coming up in December...
This month, December 2022, we are excited to celebrate our annual Holiday Roda at Brown Community Centre (SW corner of St. Clair and Avenue Road), followed by a Brazilian/Japanese Dinner at Atlantico Sushi (St. Clair and Dufferin).
The Roda will involve the two childrens' classes that Professora Langi started teaching in the Fall Session. It starts at 5:00 pm and ends at 6:30 pm. We ask that you come 15 minutes early to make sure that the younger children are able to enjoy the event, since some of them may need to leave by 5:15. If you are interested in attending, please RSVP!
A special thank you to Orquidea, Ariranha and Beija Flor for assisting me in these classes over the past two months! I had my hands full and your presence brought a lot to these children...
Coming up in January...
I am excited to announce that in January of 2023, I will be adding a new class at Jimmy's Athletic (Bloor and Bathurst). The class will run for 6 weeks starting on January 9, Mondays from 7:30-9 pm. They will be a high energy workout, focusing on physical movement, strength and flexibility, and ending in a short Roda. Registration will be done through the gym. If there is enough enrolment, these classes will be ongoing.
There will also be a children's class on Tuesdays from 4:30-5:15 pm, running for 6 weeks, starting January 10. If you are interested, please contact the gym.
I wish to thank Marki (Jet Li) for introducing me to the owner, Jimmy Kim, and for creating this amazing opportunity for me to expand classes. Obrigada, Marki! This is very exciting for FdB Toronto...
Please do read the wonderful piece below, written by our very own Deech (Marionete), in which she shares some of her experiences and revelations training capoeira and living in Brazil.
Happy December and Happy Holidays, everyone!
Mestre Cafune and Deech in the Fundacao Mestre Bimba
Jogo de Palavras
by Meredith Kenny ("Marionete")
Salvador, Bahia, Brazil (2006-2015)
“This all took place; let him who will believe. It took place in Bahia, where these and other acts of magic occur without startling anybody.”
Dona Flor and her Two Husbands (Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos)
I’m certain there is magic everywhere. In Bahia though, it bubbles and dances and skates at the surface like nowhere else. It’s difficult to help but feel the magic in Bahia, overwhelming at moments like drowning and at others you happily surf the waves. It is everywhere in the concentration of energy and movement and music and emotion, always combining and recombining in new alchemies that are as strongly Bahian as the dendê oil igniting your system after eating aracajé. Bahia has a full range of magic from dark and sinister to light and transformative, and among all of this the Bahians know how to play.
To me, magic is an alchemy of connection and possibility, an improv on the fly as a way to see the world. Humour is magic and laughter is the proof that it is real. As is often the case, it was not until I found myself in situations where I could not joke with language, I discovered just how important humour is to my way of being and relating in the world. In looking back over several trips to Bahia, I can see just how important it is for me to be able to reach out and connect with a joke.
My relationship with Bahia began in the Spring of 2006 in Toronto when a friend of mine asked if I wanted to come with her to a capoeira class. “Sure!” I said, “... and, what’s capoeira?” I was introduced to the Brazilian martial art by Professora Lang, a Canadian who at the time was writing her PhD on capoeira, and who over the years has become one of my closest friends. Lang was studying the roots of capoeira and the traditional forms that were born and are still practiced today in Salvador, Bahia. After only nine months of practicing the martial art that is played to the rhythms of the berimbau (a bow-like percussive instrument) and call-and-response songs sung in Portuguese, I decided to join Lang on a two week trip to Bahia with her and a small group of my fellow students. When I made that decision, I had no idea how much capoeira and Bahia would truly change my life, and at the same time set me even more clearly on the course it seems I have always been meant to take. As Professor Muniz Sodré says in the film Mestre Bimba: A Capoeira Illuminada, “Capoeira teaches this lesson. To transform oneself to change. To transform oneself to remain as one is.”
The Bahians we met that December were warm and welcoming as they opened their schools and homes to us. We played capoeria, the only common language I had with the Bahians at that point, and enjoyed each other’s company over food and drinks and stumbling through conversations with some words in English, some palavras in Portuguese, and lots of confusion in between. There were often times in conversation I was talking to a Brazilian with what Portuguese I had and they were responding in their native Portuguese, but we were not actually talking about the same things. That didn’t really matter to any of us though, we were just happy to be having the conversation.
When I returned to Toronto, I was eager to learn as much as I could about capoeira, samba, the Portuguese language and Bahian culture. I continued to play capoeira, listen to all of the Brazilian music I could find, I studied Portuguese with a teacher, and started reading Brazilian literature. Jorge Amado is one of my favourites. In the beginning, I found his storytelling difficult because it is so different from what I knew. I soon grew to love his novels though, especially those that are set in Bahia, set in streets and neighbourhoods I have traveled. My first favourite Jorge Amado story was that of Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. The novel begins with the death of her young playboy husband Vadinho, during Carnival while dressed as a woman after a night of drinking and gambling. Dona Flor goes on to marry a doctor - Vadinho’s opposite - respected, stable, devoted. It does not take long in the story for Vadinho’s ghost to appear, and then begins Dona Flor’s life with her two husbands. To practice my Portuguese, after I read Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands in an English translation I tried to read it in its original Portuguese, Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos. That was slow going friends, muito devagar.
Two years after my first adventure, Lang organized another two week trip to Bahia in March 2008 and without question I was in! During this trip we reconnected with the Angola and Regional Mestres I met in 2006, and who were continuing to generously help guide and deepen our knowledge of the jogo (game) de capoeira and Bahian culture. There were many memorable moments during these two weeks - including a wedding! - but one afternoon in particular, on the beach of Ilha de Maré, I started to tap into my own magic in Bahia.
After sailing on a tall ship to get to the island, blasting samba music and dancing the whole way, we settled in for a lunch of fresh seafood moqueca and cerveja on the beach. We Canadians were being hosted by Mestre Augusto and Mestre Santa Rosa - capoeira Angola mestres, musicians, poets and native sons of Bahia. I convinced Lang to translate a joke for me so I could share it with the Mestres:
Meredith: “So, there was a doctor who lived in a small town…”
Lang: “Era um doctor bem respeitado em uma pequena cidade …”
When I started to tell this joke, I knew it was not a short one. It’s the kind of joke you embellish, add details, and generally build up for the groaner of a punchline that has questionable payoff. It was the only joke I could think of at the time though, so I went for it.
Meredith: “... The doctor started to question the romantic feelings he was developing for one of his patients …”
Lang: “...Ele comonçeu a questionar os sentimentos românticos que estava desenvolvendo para um de seus pacientes …”
Beyond the gestures and translations we used to tell this epic joke, simply the act of the two of us telling a joke back and forth in two languages was ridiculous and funny to everyone sitting around the table. There were reactions and pauses throughout depending on which language was being spoken. And then the payoff:
Meredith: “... Yeah, but you’re a vet.”
Lang: “... Sim, mas você é um veterinário.”
I told you, questionable. It was not the most elegant joke, not the most nimble use of language, but damn I was excited! For the first time, I had shared a joke with my Brazilian friends. In that moment, even though I needed to enlist Lang’s help in translation, I felt a little more truly myself in this foreign language and culture I was just getting to know.
After this trip in 2008, I decided I needed to spend more than two weeks there. I had a giant crush on Bahia, and I needed to see if it was really love. When Lang returned from this trip, she made the decision to formally become a teacher of Mestre Nenel’s school, Filhos de Bimba. This was the school where I felt I belonged too, and I was eager to focus on practicing the capoeira Regional methodology and philosophy that Mestre Nenel’s father created. In Toronto, I worked and saved while I continued to play capoeira and generally be a part of the Brazilian community of events and music. My understanding of Portuguese was growing with what I was reading and listening to, but I did not often speak Portuguese outside of my class or brief conversations at events. Spending more time in Bahia would definitely help me become more fluent. After two years and the end of my contract at the time, I set off in May of 2010 for four and a half months in Bahia.
I lived in an old house overlooking the Bay of All Saints (Baia de Todos os Santos), a fifteen minute walk from my capoeira school where Mestre Nenel welcomed me not only for official classes, but to hang out. I learned about building instruments, helped around the space, and got to know the Bahians and other foreigners who frequently dropped in too. I could speak in simple sentences and could generally keep up with conversations if I concentrated really hard, but when directly asked a question it would take me a few seconds to fully decipher what was being asked, then form an answer. This does not allow for quick wit and joking around, I was just trying to keep up!
Often between classes, Mestre Nenel’s son played a video game that had a vivid soundtrack, including several catchphrases that were all in English. Mestre Nenel is not fluent, but he does speak some English and would ask me about words and how to pronounce them. He started saying the catchphrases from his son’s video game, and confirmed the words with me. These catchphrases became our joke with one another, our favourite being, “Getting serious.” To this day, getting serious is how we greet each other and sign our emails. Whether in the school or out in the city, when we saw each other we would say these catch phrases, playfully building them up trying to beat each other to:
Mestre Nenel: “Getting serious.”
Meredith: “Stepping it up.”
Mestre Nenel: “Don’t blink.”
Mestre Nenel and Meredith: “You’re finished!!!”
Two months into that trip in 2010, I met Lang at the airport. She was there to prepare for her Formatura, the ceremony in our school where teachers officially graduate, and was staying in the same house I was overlooking the bay. After two months on my own in Bahia, speaking for the most part only in Portuguese, I was so happy to talk with Lang when she arrived. I could not stop the jokes or the puns from flying! It seemed that holding the jokes in for two months was like holding in a sneeze: when given the opportunity to speak in my native language, the jokes spewed unbound into the night.
By the end of this trip, though I was far from fluent, a cool thing started to happen when I realized I was no longer translating so much in my mind. I was thinking in Portuguese. My first two weeks back in Toronto, it surprised me that my instinct was to speak in Portuguese and that everyone around me was speaking English. The months I spent in the language and the culture also answered my original question: it was not a crush, a part of my heart will always live in Bahia. Once and awhile when I am walking in Toronto, for a brief moment I feel like I am there. I didn't know when, but I was sure I would find a way back.
My most recent trip to Bahia was a two week visit in September 2015. I stayed in an old house turned hostel in the same neighbourhood that is a fifteen minute walk to Mestre Nenel’s school. I arrived late on a Friday night and was very hungry for dinner. I dropped off my bag and wandered into the neighbourhood to a little restaurant I remembered. Within ten minutes I ran into a Bahian friend who lives in the neighbourhood and we sat at an outdoor table catching up. Ah, how I had missed the energy of Bahia!
The next morning I arrived early for the weekly roda (capoeira circle), and when I entered the school for the first time in five years, I was greeted by Mestre Nenel, “Getting serious!” Over these two weeks, I reconnected with old friends - including two of Mestre Nenel’s father’s original students, Mestres Boinha and Cafuné - and met new people who were now training at the school. Flor, a young woman who lived nearby, was in classes often too and we had the opportunity to train and play together many times.
Capoeira is very social and often when a class ends, we all stick around and hang out for a while. After a class, Mestre Boinha and Mestre Cafuné were sitting on a bench. Flor went over and sat down between the two. They were all smiles and I had my camera out, so I started to line up a shot of the three of them.
Mestre Boinha joked: “Oh, Dona Flor! rsrsrs (hahaha)”
And Mestre Cafuné: “E seus dois maridos! KKKKKK! (And her two husbands! HAHAHA!)”
I lowered my camera, looked to Mestre Boinha then Mestre Cafuné, and asked: “Quem é Vadinho?!! (Who is Vadinho?!!)”
All: “KKKKKK! (HAHAHA!)”
Mestres Boinha and Cafuné: “Ele é Vadinho! Não, é ele! (He’s Vadinho! No, it’s him!)”
I had done it and I didn’t even see it coming! After many visits and time spent with these people and culture I love, a joke. An alchemy of connection and possibility, an improv on the fly.
Mestre Cafune, Flor, Mestre Boinha and Marionete (Deech) in the Fundacao - 2010
November Newsletter - FdB Toronto
Dear Members and Friends of Filhos de Bimba Toronto,
November is known for its dark days and cold rain. What better time than this to remember our ancestors, as the Mexican do on the “Day of the Dead”, or with our very own Halloween? Divali, the Indian “Festival of Lights”, is at the end of October, as well. Many cultures around the world recognize the fading sunlight as a time to turn within.
Capoeira, too, has its darker side. Beyond the laughter, joy and celebration that it is famous for, the Afro-Brazilian tradition has its roots in the pain and struggles of slavery. Of course, capoeira is also a testament to the unbreakable human spirit, however, at times it serves us well to remember its origins.
And just what are we remembering? Every year, our mother school Filhos de Bimba Escola de Capoeira (FBEC) based in Salvador, Bahia, celebrates Zumbimba. We honour the death of Zumbi, the 17th Century warrior king. “Zumbi dos Palmares”, as he was known, headed the longest-running Quilombo, or runaway community of slaves (a.k.a. “enslaved people”) in the northeastern state of Alagoas.
Our school also acknowledges the birth of Mestre Bimba, or “Manuel dos Reis Machado”, the father of our capoeira master, Mestre Nenel. Bimba, the creator of Capoeira Regional, is arguably one of the biggest names in the capoeira world. These two great men, Zumbi and Bimba, deserve our respect and admiration.
So why the name Dandara, of whom so little is known? Dandara, Zumbi’s wife, was a warrior in her own right, the mother of 3 children, and queen of her people. She committed suicide when arrested by the invading state army, rather than return to a life of slavery. It is not known whether she was born in Africa or Brazil, but she is one of the few female figures mentioned in Brazilian history.
To me, Dandara is a symbol of all those voiceless, nameless Afro-Brazilian women - the ones who fought and the ones who didn’t, the ones who ruled and the ones who toiled, hidden in the homes and fields of the Portuguese. History is truly the story of those in power, so although there has been much restitution to include Black voices in the last decades, women are still rarely part of the discussion. This silencing of half the population is something we need to address in capoeira schools, homes and political offices where decisions are made.
I hope you will join me on Sunday, November 13, from 1:00-4:00 pm for a celebration of Dandara, Zumbi and Bimba. We will have special guest, Professora Borboleta of Filhos de Bimba Fort Worth, Texas, speaking to us on Zoom about the history of slavery and capoeira. We will also have a short berimbau lesson with Professor Trovoada from Filhos de Bimba Detroit. Last but not least, there will be a Roda. You are welcome to join, followed by snacks and refreshments!
Location: The Capoeira House (223 Winnett Avenue)
Cost: Guests - By Donation / Filhos de Bimba Students - $25
**Regular Classes run Wednesdays from 6:00-7:30 pm at this location throughout November. Please contact me for more information!**
Please also check out the inspiring piece below written from the heart by our very own Loba (a.k.a. “Felicia Perricelli)…
Layers of Capoeira
The sounds I make on a berimbau are not something that you would describe as beautiful, elegant or even rhythmic. But capoeira is a journey, not a performance or a destination. Like an ocean, vast, complex, and mysterious, it has a rhythm and life all its own. This might not be perceptible at first glance, not even to a student. Only through time, by maturing into and with capoeira, have I noticed the bounty and surprise it continues to bring.
A few weeks back at the Toronto Capoeira House, I experienced a moment of capoeira magic. It was awe-inspiring and spontaneous, and it caught me off guard, like a shooting star, or like seeing the Northern Lights. During some practice games in a weekly class, Professora Lang invited me to play the berimbau at the head of the roda. Playing berimbau is essential to a roda, of course, but it was a role that I had never stepped into. So, in the spirit of diving in, feeling safe with my group, I went for it. “It might not be pretty but trying is part of the journey too!”, I thought to myself.
I took a seat and my peers created a circle radiating out from me. I struck a few notes and the pandeiros on either side of me chimed in. Players appeared at my feet, looking up at me expectantly. I needed to stick out my foot. Could I manage? I did. My friends started to ginga to the rhythm of our collective song.
These details might be unsurprising, even mundane, for the seasoned berimbau player. I had witnessed others sit in that spot and how the game would fall into place hundreds of times. But to feel that… It was spectacular! I wasn’t just seeing the roda from a different vantage point. I was experiencing it like never before.
Each member of the group was contributing to bringing the roda to life, individually and collectively, like an orchestra, an ecosystem. The pandeiros kept the beat steady. The players spun, “esquiva-ed” and laughed, responding to one another’s movements. Others sang and clapped. I felt as if I had broken into a new dimension, where reality is both surreal and super-charged. I was lit up and tingly inside from the joy of seeing the games come to life.
I was witnessing one of nature’s great spectacles and I was a part of it! At the helm of it! Yet, I didn’t feel the burden that often comes with a leading role or the responsibilities of orchestrating a group. Instead, I felt light, silly, gleeful (and pleasantly pleased that no one seemed to notice my terrible berimbau skills!) because everyone was doing their part to make it whole.
I am already several years into my capoeira journey, yet everything felt so alive, so new and full of potential. Which leaves me pondering… as I continue to deepen my relationship to capoeira, what will it reveal to me next?
October Newsletter - FdB Toronto
Massa’s birthday celebration in Dufferin Park in 2020 — his family was there to play and sing with us. A magical day!
Salve Salve, Filhos de Bimba Toronto Folks and Friends!
October has arrived. A chill is in the air, but fear not… Capoeira is here to warm your bodies, hearts and souls!
We continue to train at the Capoeira House -- home of Beija Flor, Orquidea and Ariranha -- on Wednesday evenings from 6-7:30 pm.
I will also continue the Music and Roda practice in Dovercourt Park on Monday evenings, weather permitting. Times will vary - this Holiday Thanksgiving Monday will be from 2-4 pm — bring some snacks to share! Maybe a drink or a hot chocolate, as well. This will be our monthly Roda (we can take advantage of the nice weather to play outside), so please wear your whites!
The Fee for October is $120 — you can send your e-transfers to firstname.lastname@example.org Muito obrigada!
If you would like to come out for the Roda or the Music, but cannot make the classes, you are welcome. You can make a donation of your choice.
Last, but not least, please check out the piece below — I’d like include something in every newsletter that will bring capoeira to life. If anyone wants to write something or to contribute any photos for November, do send them to me!
The Capoeira House
It’s not every capoeira school that trains in someone’s living room… The traditional model, at least since Bimba brought capoeira from the street into the Academy, has been to train at an outside location. I have had a least twenty such rentals in my capoeira lifetime. As time passed, however, and I felt that this model no longer suited our group, I opened myself up to the idea of something very different.
The Lams are not your typical family either. From the moment they entered my life, I sensed the spirit with which they do everything — a spirit which I caught a glimpse of in the martial arts, back in my Jiu-Jitsu days. It is no coincidence that Otto (Ariranha) gave himself heart and soul to Aikido, and then met his wife, Shizu (Orquidea), in Japan. Or that their daughter, Hatsu (Beija Flor), embodies this spirit of adventure. Traditional Aikido, much like traditional Capoeira, is not something you “do” -- it is who you are. It spills into every aspect of your life, family and community.
Of course, in today’s modern, industrialized world, it is not easy to give one’s heart and soul to anything, for unlike our ancestors, we live in a world that is built on profit, where we are forced to fight for survival on our own. And unlike our ancestors, we can no longer depend on neighbours, family and friends to help us build a house, gather the harvest, or raise our children. We are often spread across the globe, always on the move, unable to grow deep roots in any place. And while this brings about great opportunities, we also lose something our ancestors took for granted — belonging.
Perhaps this is why there is something so heartwarming to me about a family opening their home, welcoming us into their intimacy and taking such good care of their teacher. Perhaps this is why, despite the small space whose walls we keep bumping into, my heart feels expanded, and I know in my core than I have never been so close to the true spirit of capoeira. When the lesson is done, sometimes we have to run, but many times, I sit with them and am offered a beverage, a snack, a friendly ear. And in this way, capoeira travels deeper and deeper into my bones.
Capoeira is a house. A house with open doors and warm hearts.
Lang Maria Liu
Toronto — October 3, 2022.
by Lang Maria Liu
Not everybody takes a three-year trip to India to get their health back, but then again, not everybody works with their body for a living. When at 36, I was told both by an Osteopath and an Arthritis Specialist that I had premature Osteoarthritis and that my Femuro-Acetabular joint (my hip-leg joint) looked like that of an old person, my world came crashing down. A hip replacement by the time I hit my late 40’s was not how I had envisioned my life.
I have always been active, welcoming the challenge of training martial arts from the age of 16. It was a source of pride to me that I could take on men twice my size, first in Japanese Jiu Jitsu, then much later in Brazilian capoeira. By the time I was diagnosed, I had run two capoeira schools and dedicated myself to the study of this art form for many years through a Doctoral thesis in Education. (For more information, see Bimba’s Rhythm is One, Two, Three, published on Amazon.) After all these years, my body was saying no and a strong mind was not going to be enough to save me this time. In fact, as I would come to learn, it might even have been the cause of some of my issues.
Having trained intensely all my young adult life, I was a mess of injuries that caused me increasing pain and discomfort. Something that had once been a joy – training capoeira – had become a chore. My body hated it. Only in rare moments did some of the old spirit return, usually when I was playing a relaxed game. That would prove to be part of the puzzle, but it would take me over three years of searching in India to realize that my body had known what would cure it all along.
After spending several months in India trying out various yoga classes and Ayurvedic treatments, and often injuring myself, I stumbled upon a small clinic in a remote village of the Himalayas. It was called the Bone and Body Clinic. The healer was from Manipur, a northeastern Indian state close to the Burmese border, and his British wife ran the clinic. The stretching was based on some of the warm-up moves from the martial art, Thang-Ta. I was to spend three years with them, turning my back on yoga. (I have since returned to my practice, but from a more knowledgeable position, having learned about healthy posture through the Gokhale Method. I now teach the method.)
Like many people, I initially idealized the people of this clinic and their treatments, but with time I came to be more discerning. There were tensions and I eventually left the clinic, but I am grateful for my time there. The classes taught me a lot about myself and the practice was part of my healing. I saw patients walk away whole and satisfied, while others were left angry and disillusioned. In the end, however, the considerable amount of money and time that I poured into my treatment bore fruit, though not of the kind I had expected.
There were small but important improvements to my hip flexibility, and my body was grateful for all the care and attention. Living in a quiet village with a community was also part of the therapy, as I discovered. Most of the patients were from North America and Europe, with a handful of Israelis, Indians and others thrown in the mix. The charisma of the healer and his wife was undeniable, the hope palpable. Many of us had had our lives fall apart due to injuries, and would have done anything to be functional again. Was I saved by the clinic? I would like to give a straight answer – a YES or a NO – but the truth lies somewhere in-between.
Dedicating my life to healing was the first step. De-stressing was the second. I cannot tell you how many naps I took that first year and how many chais were sipped with friends on long afternoons, turning our backs on the mad rush of modern life. The money I had saved went far in India and, for the first time since I was a child, I had time to think about my life. It helped that I had learned discipline throughout my years of martial arts – I never missed a class and made sure my healing came before anything else. The massage and steam treatments surely contributed, too. I have come to believe, however, that stretching was the key to my improvement.
A tight right hip had thrown my spine, back and neck off kilter. Whether I was born this way or had a fall as a young child, I will never know, but years of regular stretching and yoga had not improved my range of motion much. The pain was easily triggered by day-to-day life, nevermind more strenuous activities like capoeira. I was 41 and, like many others of my age in the industrialized West, I was suffering from ailments that came down to compression and distortion of the spine. Too much improper sitting, not enough movement and poorly executed movements (from sitting to standing to bending and walking) had created unhealthy patterns of movement and extremely tight joints (especially the hip joint). The S-shaped spines that emerge from these sedentary lifestyles and poor postures, I later learned through the Gokhale Method, create havoc in our lives. Most people run to pills and surgery, yet few get better. I was determined that this was not to be my fate, even if it meant changing my whole life.
Every morning from 7 to 9 we stretched. We stretched every joint in our body and strengthened ourselves too. From the ankles to the hips, and from the hips to the neck and arms, we stretched. And stretched. It was grueling and exhausting, but after 5 days I already felt a new kind of energy. My body had come alive again and it had something to do with the lubrication of the joints through dynamic, yet controlled movements. Something about the breathing - a nostril breathing of a particular kind - helped too. Even without the knowledge I have today about what constitutes strong, primal posture and how to be more careful with my form, back then I could already feel an improvement.
For a few years, the clinic was my life. I sometimes helped in the office and taught the classes when needed. When they moved from the Himalayas to South Goa in the winter, I moved with them. Life was simple and beautiful, though I knew I would have to begin earning money soon if I wanted to continue. I also began to suspect that my hip problem was not going to resolve itself, despite the assurances of the clinic, and although this disappointed me greatly, a sense of empowerment had begun to infuse my life. While my injuries did not magically disappear, I had learned to listen to my body and to work with it, rather to impose the harsh militaristic training I had been used to (a mixture of Western concepts of health and martial arts). It was becoming obvious that my body had a wisdom of its own, one that was often far superior to my mind’s knowledge. If I but listened, it would guide me to do all the things I loved… safely.
Five years later, I still do the dynamic stretches regularly and have begun to teach a weekly Stretch and Strength Class online. I have returned to yoga as well because I find that my body loves the balance of dynamic and static stretches. I can now train capoeira once or twice a week without injuring myself, albeit at a slower pace than in the past. I have realized that if I do not nurture my body – and that means stretching almost daily in some fashion – I lose my range of motion and therefore the ability to express myself fully in my body. Our spirit may be what animates us, but without our bodies, we are limited in the physical realm! Modern life is so far from the ways of our ancestors – the ways they lived and moved for thousands of years – that we are at a real danger of losing our quality of life at increasingly younger ages.
Diet, environment and many other factors like “Grounding” also enter into the equation, of course. (I encourage everyone to watch a documentary called “The Earthing Movie” and to learn about the epidemic of inflammation in the world. I plan to write about the impact of this discovery on my life shortly.) But there is something about stretching, whether it be the dynamic method from Manipur, yoga or another method that, when done safely and correctly, has the potential to rejuvenate the body. Being our best selves, expressing our full potential, is something that we all yearn for on a deep level. The wisdom of the body will teach us if we are willing to listen and to make a place for it in our busy lives.
For more information on Stretching and Capoeira classes, please visit www.FDBToronto.com
or write to Lang at email@example.com.
Part ethnography, travelogue and personal odyssey, it bridges many genres in its search for truth and hope. The reader is taken deep into the Afro-Bahian world of capoeira on the northeast coast of Brazil, where slave ships once plied the shores.
During three trips to Brazil undertaken for her Ph.D., the boundaries between research and personal experience blur. Recently divorced and having left behind the capoeira school she co-founded with her ex-husband in Canada, the author finds herself falling in love with a capoeira master. Will she find her place in this world, one so different from her own? And can the wounds of her past, stretching back generations, ever be healed?
Here, amongst the Afro-Bahians whom she fears at first, the author learns about our common humanity, and that the act of surrender – something she has fought all her life – may be the only true path to joy.