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Can we train better?

So last week one of our students spoke to me after class and spoke the phrase that I have heard time and time again (including from myself) in Capoeira….’I can do it in the training but not the game’. It’s something we all experience. We practice a move, a dodge or a counter-attack over and over again, and then we go to the Roda at the end of class, full of expectation and then....nothing! The scene we had in our head is not played out.

So why is this, and more importantly, what can we do about it?

Firstly, I think we need to have reasonable expectations when we go to the roda, understand that Capoeira is a unique mix of challenges, and it takes time for things to develop. Patience and persistence in training are key. We also need to ensure we are entering the roda without pre-conceptions about doing a particular thing. Each game is unique, and many factors are out of our control, so a pre-planned game will rarely work, as the ‘conversation’ aspect with our partner will be lost. Just like when you talk with someone who has a pre-conceived argument in their head that they can’t change, the conversation is boring or one sided.

This is not to say that we should simply live with these frustrations, and hope our training comes out in the roda in the end. We work hard, so we need to ensure our training can be transferred to the game. An obvious statement, but how is best to do this, so we don’t come back to doing nice work in training, and then not see the results?

Fortunately, research in skill acquisition can help. Research of the last 20 years or so is encouraging training sessions to replicate key elements of the game in training. This isn’t to say we need to go back to the 1920s and just play lots of Capoeira, but it is to say that an exercise or drill needs to contain aspects of the roda, especially around what the player perceives and how he/she reacts. A quick look at Instagram or youtube training clips show this isn’t always the case. In my opinion the research suggests that for Capoeira, training individual, or sequences of movements, repetitively, without an opponent or down a hall or in a pre-programmed sequence will lead to poor transfer to an environment that is chaotic and unpredictable.

Let’s take the movement researcher Nikolai Bernstein’s idea of ‘repetition without repetition’. His idea that no practitioner will ever repeat a movement exactly, as there are simply too many variations in the body, and the surrounding environment, holds true for Capoeira. This is especially true in the roda of Capoeira, where an opponent may be trying to attack or deceive us at any moment. Also, the space is constantly changing, in terms of the watching crowd and our opponent’s movement, not to mention the rhythm of the bateria and noise of the music. No 2 games and situations are ever the same! When thinking this way, it’s pretty obvious that training a 100 cartwheels down a hall probably won’t help too much when playing in a roda.

So in order to help transfer our training we need to let in a little, or maybe a lot, of chaos. We need to train movement with variability, not in a perfect environment which will never occur in reality. We can train 100 macacos, but use different entrances, different exits and definitely grab a partner (and then grab a different one!). Have them try different movements, and see where the movement is successful, and when it’s not. As we get more comfortable, we can increase the chaos, so little by little it resembles what Capoeira is; an unpredictable, noisy, chaotic movement conversation.

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