Cultural Spotlight – Capoeira

Capoeira is a very unique cultural aspect of Brazil and one that while it has its origins elsewhere has become very Brazilian in its customs, history, and usage. With different elements of dance mixed in with parts of martial arts, Capoeira is unlike any other form of movement in the Western Hemisphere. Not only is Capoeira based on dance and martial arts, it is also formed from a foundation of acrobatics and music to accompany the many movements. The amount of exercise involved in becoming a true Capoeira artist means that you will definitely break a sweat while getting physically fit if you intend to practice this unique art form on a daily basis.

Capoeira is known for having its origins in different parts of west Africa but was developed after the beginning of the Transatlantic slave trade in the 16th century. After enslaved Africans were first brought to Brazil by the Portuguese settlers, it became a way for the slaves to stay physically fit and strong if they ever decided to flee and run away from their slave masters. If they wanted to collaborate and rebel, they could use their capoeira skills to help defend themselves from possible attack or capture from the slave masters as well.

Capoeira uses the full body and so you can use both your arms, hands, legs, and feet to do a large number of movements. The movements are acrobatic, complex, and fluid and based often off of the music and rhythms that are being played for the dancers. Hands often stay on the ground as inverted kicks are flown in the air. The ginga is the focal point or main focus of any capoeira movement and is usually the beginning of any fluid kick or handstand to come.

The capoeiristas’ are those martial artists or dancers who perform the movements often with other capoeirista while being surrounded by a group of observers who are either playing music or encouraging the capoeiristas on to continue their rhythmic movements to match the other participant. The origin of the word ‘capoeira’ comes from the Tupi language words of ka’a (forest) and pau (round) referring to the low-lying vegetation areas where fugitive African slaves would hide from their masters when they would try to make an escape. Most of the African slaves who started capoeira in Brazil were originally from Angola.

After the end of slavery in Brazil in 1888, the new republic outlawed capoeira throughout the country. If you were caught practicing capoeira anywhere in public, practitioners would be thrown in jail, tortured, or even killed. This prohibition continued throughout most of the 20th century even if it was sometimes tolerated in universities and in private places during times of both democratic and military rule in Brazil. Still though, the Afro-Brazilian communities especially in the Northeast kept capoeira alive during these forbidden times and even renamed capoeira to be called ‘Luta Regional Baiana’ which means the regional fight of Bahia in order so that practitioners could practice their form of capoeira without outside interference.

In the recently enslaved communities of Quilombos who had liberated themselves to be free and self-reliant in parts of Brazil during the 18th and 19th centuries, capoeira became a way of defending themselves in case of war or conflict with Portuguese colonial troops or Brazilian soldiers. By using the martial art to dodge potential attacks and/or captures, the Quilombos were a formidable fighting force who used capoeira to defend their communities and their land at often great cost.

The key to capoeira from my own observations in Brazil is to never stop your movements and to always be thinking of how to dodge, kick, sweep, and even take down your opponent. The ginga movement of being fluid is both an attack and defense mechanism to make sure you are constantly ready to either take your opponent by surprise or to evade their own attack. Most attacks in capoeira are done with leg sweeps, swirling kicks, or knee strikes but can also involve the elbow or head. However, most forms of capoeira today are done as simulations and to train for a game or a competition rather than war or actual combat.

To the public who view capoeira in a non-violent lens, these presentations in the roda or circle are just for show and involve games of aerial acrobatics rather than being more about striking or deflecting physical attacks. The circle involves musical instruments specifically for the game between capoeiristas and there is singing, and dancing involved with everyone in the circle participating at some point. Capoeira instruments include the berimbau, which can be played from very slow to very fast depending upon the rhythms requested as well as other instruments such as pandeiros, atabaques, agogo, and the ganza. The row of musicians in the roda (circle) is called a ‘bateria’ and the touch of the berimbau instrument in particular fuels the speed, aggressiveness, or style of the capoeira game.

Similar to Carnaval and Feijoada, Capoeira is one of Brazil’s most famous and impressive exports to the rest of the world. Every year, thousands of tourists come from around the world including serious non-Brazilian practitioners travel to different parts of Brazil to practice its most famous martial art. The capoeira masters (mestres) often teach the Portuguese language in addition to the movements of capoeira so the foreign student can really immerse themselves in the cultural background and history of this traditional martial art. The capoeira demonstrations are perhaps more acrobatic than physical when in public but in private, you would have to guess that it is much more intense and much more serious in terms of displaying physical prowess than what is shown to the public.

After the 1970s, this unique part of Brazilian culture was on its way to not only being accepted by the people but being embraced and taught to the next generations. A powerful way of resolving conflict, promoting social cohesion, and learning about physical fitness, capoeira is great at bringing the community together in a positive way while showing how important it is to recognize and value past traditions. From the roots of West Africa to groups of escaped Afro-Brazilian slaves whose cultural practices were almost extinguished over the centuries due to subjugation, maltreatment, and neglect, capoeira like their rights to human freedom and basic dignity made a powerful comeback which is still being fought for and advanced to this day.

The Need to Have a Social Conscience

Keeping with what’s been going on in the world lately, I believe it’s important to reinforce just how important it is now and into the future the need to have a social conscience. What do I mean by a social conscience? Boiling down the formal definition to even simpler terms, it is the feeling derived from caring for others more than yourself. You feel the urge to put others’ needs before your own. It does not mean to stop caring for yourself and taking care of your daily needs but to think of others who rely on you and to put them first especially for family members and friends.

However, having a social conscience goes beyond just our family and our friends. It goes for our immediate society as a whole whether it is the community you live in, the nation you reside in, or the world you inhabit. You feel responsible for what goes on outside of your own life and those of family and friends to think of a larger picture. To have a social conscience is to see beyond your own problems and to see the injustices that continue to plague our world.

You also have to realize that your problems while difficult or not unique and others are going through the same tribulations as you are and sometimes worse. Having a social conscience involves putting yourselves into the shoes of other people and to realize how they could possibly be helped and how you personally can be involved in assisting them. Showing concern for others is the right way to have a social conscience and also to think about how these injustices can be resolved. Any individual can make a difference by having a social conscience and by taking it upon themselves to change their behavior to reflect their new attitude.

How do you show your social conscience? There are numerous ways to do so and you could even put them on a scale from small actions to large movements designed to change the foundations of the society. In the case of a social conscience, I find that it’s like exercising your body. You don’t want to take on too much weight or distance at first for weightlifting or running. You should rather want to start small and build up your actions over time and to be more ambitious.

For some examples, starting off small with your social conscience can include environmental stewardship, collecting donations, or getting involved in your local community. Any of these actions can create a ripple effect and can cause a shift in societal behavior for others to follow your lead or for the actions to spread to other people and even communities based on how consistent and courteous you are with these goodwill efforts. For environmental stewardship, it could be recycling your own bottles and cans each day and getting your neighborhood to do so as well.

You can also plant trees and install solar panels on your house if able to gather momentum from smaller actions. Donating your own clothes or extra food can lead to organizing food drives or even creating your own organizations to help collect donations in your town or city. Leading a local trash pickup event can lead to other future leadership roles for yourself such as running for your child’s PTA (parent – teacher association) board to running for the town / city council board seat. Social consciousness does not have to encompass all of humanity but rather as the popular saying goes, “think globally, act locally.”

As long as you are having a positive impact on the life of another person, you are exercising your social consciousness. The more you do it, the more natural it is, and it becomes your routine or habit. Your first time donating your old clothes to the Salvation Army becomes a monthly habit. Your first-time volunteering at the local food bank becomes a weekly occurrence. Helping others feels good and it can lead to you doing it more often so why not give it a try? A social consciousness does not have to extend to everybody in the world all at once but the actions you do locally can definitely ripple out and stand as a positive example for others to implement in their own communities.

If you would like to get involved globally, there are an almost infinite number of opportunities to study, teach, work, and volunteer in non-governmental organizations and local non-for-profits in important areas such as education, health care, infrastructure and the environment. Spending time to educate yourself on the culture, history, politics, and the society of other places around the world will help better inform you of the injustices and problems of your own. No human society is perfect but there are small improvements that each day we can choose to perform to make it a little bit better than it was before.

Even when you are not in a position of local, national, or even global leadership, you can elect to pay attention to the problems that must be solved, form your position on the issues by being educated and choosing your sources of information carefully and then choose to vote and elect those leaders who have a social conscience. You will know if they have one or not by not only of what they advocate for but how they have advocated for these issues and who they have surrounded themselves with. A person with no social conscience cares for no one but himself and his own brood. Their friends are disposable to them and they care nothing for others beyond what they can do for him or her and how their own prospects can be improved. A person without a social conscience deserves to lead nobody and not be followed by anyone.

A socially conscious leader cares for the least among them and feels their pain as his or her own. While they have not experienced pain or misery as those whom he or she advocates for, he can listen to them, see what they say based on those experiences, and come to an educated decision on how to best fix the problem and work with those who are experts in that field to solve the issue as best as humanly possible. Social conscious behavior is so key to have when it comes to be a leader of a community or a nation and it is unfortunately neglected as of late when it comes to judging the men and the women we put into positions of influence and power.

As long as people err in their own behavior and judgment, there will be manmade problems and injustices. What someone with a social conscience can do is to do their best to continue to fight for justice and solve those problems in any way they can. Rather than focus on 100 problems at one time, it is best to focus one’s attention at 1 or 2 big problems that can be solved in time and that can gain popular support from the community after receiving the facts of why and how the injustice exists. Keep educating yourself on the injustices and the problems that exist in your world and decide how you want to push our world back towards the ‘arc of justice’ that our conscience and actions should bend to as Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently put it. We only have a finite amount of time on this planet and if we can right some wrongs and create justice where there was little or none before then we are doing our small part to make this world a better and fairer place.

Three Tips for Public Safety

A recent incident and rather close call as well regarding my personal safety reminded me of how important it is to take certain precautions when you are out and about especially in an unfamiliar setting. If you’re in a new city or a new country, you’ll want to double down even more on your own safety when you don’t know your way around or are not able to communicate well in the local language. Urban environments tend to be the most difficult safety wise which is why I am compiling a list of these three public safety tips that I often use and which you may also find useful.

Now, these three tips may not be able to keep you 100% safe, but they will lower the odds and substantially minimize your exposure to risky situations and potential danger. One tip that should be common sense to begin with but which I sometimes neglect is to always be on your guard in some measurable way. To let your guard down even just for a little while can be all someone needs to attack, harm, or rob you in some way. The most important thing you can do in an unfamiliar setting is never let your guard down and to stay vigilant.

These three tips add on to that basic philosophy and will help you in additional ways. While I am far of a safety expert and am not a security professional, I give these tips based on my own experiences and reasoning. I hope that you find them useful and are able to utilize them for your own personal security. While this is definitely not an exhaustive list, I definitely believe that these three tips are some of the most common sense and reasonable out there when it comes to exercising caution in public.

  1. Keep away from the sidewalk curb or edge

You may not see this tip as being very important, but I find this is an underrated one when it comes to staying safe in public. You’ll want to maintain your distance from oncoming traffic as much as possible and I find that it’s safer to be closer to the building than to the curb. These days, you simply never know if a car, bus, or even a truck could lose control and end up mounting the curb to cause serious harm to you or another person.

Also, if you happen to be in a city where snatch-and-grab robberies can happen quickly, you want to make it as hard as possible for those robbers in a car or in a motorcycle to nab your personal items. You will want to keep away from them as much as possible when walking on the sidewalk. It makes it easier for them to grab your purse, bag, backpack, or phone the closer you are in proximity to the street.

Lastly, regarding events in the past, intentional attacks by criminals or terrorists using vehicles while a very remote possibility is something you could keep in mind by staying away from the street traffic. You should maintain awareness when you’re walking on the sidewalk as well which will lead me to my next point in a later tip. If you have a loved one with you whether that’s a romantic partner or a family member who might be more vulnerable, consider putting yourself closer to the street and have them be at your side closer to the building. If they’re older, don’t move as well, or have to take a call or answer some texts, it would be the wise thing to do to have them walk by your side away from the street especially if they’re distracted by something else. While this tip isn’t very popular, I find that it makes a lot of sense and can enhance your awareness.

  1. Face towards the entrance of the café or restaurant

Maybe you’re out at a café enjoying a nice coffee or at a restaurant celebrating your birthday, regardless of the circumstance involved, I recommend that when your sitting at a table or a counter or a bar, try to always face towards the entrance or exit to be aware of what’s going around you. Restaurants, cafes, and bars can be loud, distracting, and disorientating but it’s key to your personal safety to know where the entrances and exits are at all times in case of an emergency. Emergencies are unlikely to happen in these public settings but it’s better to be safe than sorry by knowing who’s coming in and who’s leaving. It’s also good to scout out the additional entrances and exits of the place you’re at if you can do a walk-around after you arrive.

If you are in a big group or a larger party of people at a restaurant or bar, try to do your best to sit facing the exit as well. It can be more difficult, but most people are not aware of this safety tip, but it shows that you are being responsible in caring for the safety of the group by looking at what’s going on around you. While it is extremely unlikely that anything bad would happen in a restaurant or a bar or café, you are at a significant disadvantage to react to any situation if you are facing towards the wall or towards the kitchen. What would even be worse leads me to my third tip involving using the smartphone at these kinds of places instead of minding your surroundings or paying attention to the people with you or around you.

  1. Put the phone away in public as much as possible

Your smartphone can be a big hindrance to both your awareness in public of potential dangers and hazards as well as making you an easier target for theft or robbery. While it is usually safe to use your phone in most places, depending on the city or country, you may want to leave it at home or wait until you’re at a café, bank, or a restaurant to use it. To walk around with it and advertise its value is an increased risk which you may want to do without. While it can be helpful in mapping out your location and where you need to go next, it can highlight the fact that you are a tourist or are not aware of your surroundings even more.

On top of that, walking with your phone out is not a good idea because you will be completely unaware as to what is going on around you in terms of cars, buses, bikes, motorcycles, or potential street hazards. Having your phone out not only compromises your safety but your awareness as well. Try to memorize your immediate area so you will not be tempted to use your phone as much. Also, even when you are out at a restaurant, café, or bar, it is best to use your phone sparingly so as to not distract yourself from your surroundings or from your friends or family who are out with you. Your phone is a great tool, but it can take away from your public safety very easily if you use it too much or make it obvious as to how much street value it has.

My key point in writing this article is to make sure you don’t fall victim to some sort of accident or tragedy because you weren’t paying attention. You should always be striving to be aware of your surroundings and to make it a personal priority to maintain vigilance in public. Things can happen very quickly and it’s extremely important these days to stay ready in case something happens unlikely as that may be. Use these tips at your own discretion and if you would like to add your own public safety tips, please feel free to do so in the comments section.