How did we explore capoeira as a tool for change

Nov 2019

The foundation of the concept presented at XII. International tool fair in Split, Croatia, is learning life skills through capoeire training. The concept was developed through social programmes of Amazonas Association (Zagreb, Croatia), in working with groups of children and youth at risk from social exclusion. It consists of 4 units through which learning is taught, that are interlinked and complemented, depending on the content and topics that we are addressing. These 4 units are: 1) Capoeira values and history, 2) Capoeira elements (movements and music), 3) Educational Games in Capoeira Training, 4) Using the Metaphore of Tribe in Activities

Why Capoeira?

Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian art which combines elements of martial arts, acrobatics, dance and music through playing in non-violent enviroment. It is not just a recreational activity that is good for building up endurance and strength, but has positive effects on both physical and mental well-being. It helps to develop self-discipline and sense of responsibility, as well as to build up self-confidence and self-esteem. Capoeira promotes prosocial behaviors and teaches how to control emotions in different situations, which makes it great tool in work with children and youth with fewer opportunities.

My personal capoeira experience

As a social pedagogue and capoeira trainer, I have found capoeira most powerful tool in working with children and young people at risk from social exclusion. As a capoeirista (person who is training capoeira) my passion for capoeira keeps growing. As it is so much more than just a sport: a dialogue, moving conversation, a ritual, musical improvisation... it seems like a never ending area to explore.
So as being selected to present a tool to explore, I couldn’t think of a better tool.

As I have mentioned, I am very passionate about capoeira, and having my professional base as a social pedagogue, I keep pulling out youth work tools out of capoeira, without boundaries. I had no doubt in a tool itself, as it has been tested many times, and as I am using it on a daily basis. The question I came to answer was: if I was not a capoeira trainer, could I use parts of it as well? So with a help of a very engaged and active group, I went into the exploration of the answers...

Through three days sessions, participants were experiencing various types of tools that fit in one of the four educational parts the concept consists of. Those were: sport games with educational elements, capoeira elements and “add ons” that provoke social learning: moves, history and values, music and songs, metaphore of the tribe in group work. As a group of experienced youth workers, they got engaged and were questioning the theory, the concept, the innovation, everything.. there were so many questions that after day one even I started to question what am I talking about :)

Untill day 2 when they got #Powered up by discovering the power of capoeira. And they started to discover the most powerfull parts:

The dialogue

The core part of a capoeira game is not to dance or to fight or to fight and dance.. but to talk. And as there are so many ways to talk in life, there are so many ways to talk in capoeira. We can use a lot of words, or repeat the same, we can talk even when we don’t know the words or we can be shy to talk if we do not know what to say. Some like to improvise, while some would rather stay within their comfort zone. So after learning just few basic moves, the whole group was talking to each other in capoeira language. And we got to know each other better, as what is happening in capoeira dialogue is that a lot of our personality comes out and just transforms into our game

The ritual

The capoeira “talk” itself is a part of a ritual called “roda”. The roda (pronounced [ˈʁodɐ]) is a circle formed by capoeiristas and capoeira musical instruments, where every participant sings the typical songs and claps their hands following the music. Two capoeiristas enter the roda and play the game. Besides from players, each roda member has a role, by maintaining the energy and also, singing or leading a song. The leader of the song can be anybody and it is the person that starts the song and sends a message, while the group (as a chorus) repeats the main verse. Leading a song is another empowering element, especially as not everybody feels comfortable with singing. But, as a part of the ritual, even those that stated that they never sing, were not only singing, but also leading songs.

The power of songs

Each song in capoeira is again more then a way to give rythm and energy, it is also a way how the singer communicates with the players and the whole group. Much of capoeira’s philosophy and history is recorded between the lines of its songs, not forgetting that part of this history is linked with that of Brazil. This is we also went into researching and questioning the meaning of some songs,since their main purpose is to pass on a message, whether immediately or for later reflection. Weather happy, sad or just fun songs, all of them are empowering. There are songs we use to provoke somebody in the game, to show more or to expose more, songs we use to tell someone to calm down, songs about love, fear, bravery, force... Two songs empowered our small group in Split. Tem dende... a song that by singing to someone that he has „dende“ (palm oil) we are sending a message that he is somehow special, that there is a thing about him we liked so much.. And a song Dona Maria como vai voce was a total winner. It is a song we use to empower women and girls in capoeira. As capoeira was reserved to male players for a long time in history, a song Dona Maria is made in respect of the legend of „Dona Maria“ (lady Maria) who was very passionate about capoeira in the time when only men were practicing it. So she would go to rodas, observing and following each movement and technique, and practice at home in secret. It was like that for many years untill one day she got the courage and entered the roda, even though it was not common nor ever seen – a woman in a roda. Not only she entered and played, but she knocked 10 men to the floor. She gained a huge respect from both male and female side and the men made a respectfull song for her called „Dona Maria“.

As by the end of day 3 in our tool fair, each of the participants experienced the power of Dona Maria and discovered their own „dende“, I also got answer to my question. Than not only we could use parts of capoeira as a tool in another context, but it is an area so bigh that it is yet to be explored...

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