Though my own Capoeira journey began in a local English park in 1999, I instantly knew that I wanted to travel and learn the art in Brazil. As mentioned, there was very little Capoeira outside of Brazil at this time, and as I began to love the training, being able to do this alongside the delights of travelling and understanding another culture quickly became a goal. By mid 2001 I was settled in Rio de Janeiro.
In the subsequent months and years I travelled extensively in Brazil, and then the wider world, attending lessons and workshops, learning from some of the most respected Mestres. With extensive globalisation occurring over this time, the art exploded outside of Brazil, with mostly Brazilian teachers setting up classes as they moved to various parts of the world. By the time I had relocated back to the UK in 2003, London had several teachers giving regular lessons in gyms and dance studios.
In this time I encountered similar teaching methods, irrespective of group and style. The highly influential Senzala group, whom I trained with in Rio, had a typical class structure as follows:
Ginga and stretching in lines of students for warmup
Add kicks following a teacher at the front
Add defined sequence or combinations of movements done by the teacher, done to a pandeiro or drum or Capoeira CD
Break in to pairs to practice choreographed sequences
Occasional pad work for individual technique practice
Breakout of individuals to try ‘moves’ and learn from one another, or playing of instruments
This lesson structure was common throughout my travels, and is still used around the world in regular classes and intensive workshops. Sequences and repetition of movements in numbered sets, called by teachers at the front in Portuguese, is commonplace, as is the use of movements moving down the space in ordered lines. Often the class is begun not with explanation, but by the teacher beginning to Ginga at the front of the class, and students falling in behind. Some teachers like to add some physical conditioning to the class.
As seen in the professionalisation of sports, in more recent years the full time nature of some Capoeira teachers has led to huge boom in physical prowess and technical skill. Some professional Capoeira teachers have looked to other disciplines such as Gymnastics, Cross Fit or Tricking to improve various elements of their games, leading to often impressive movement ‘shows’ in the Roda. The introduction of Capoeira championships, has also incentivized some players to train for competition, like boxers trying to peak their condition for a fight.
So though Capoeira has not been averse to looking to the other movement disciplines for training ideas, the pedagogy has been highly resilient to outside influence. This could also be said of other sports development, but a closer look shows that change is on the horizon, and is seeping in to various sports. My own research in recent years demonstrates traditional pedagogies are being questioned in sports as diverse as Track&Field to football, rugby, baseball, swimming and other Olympic sports. Also in rehabilitation settings, physios are looking at ways to improve outcomes for players with more ecological approaches. A more ecological approach to teaching Capoeira will be explored in Part 4.
I hope this article can help contribute to, or begin, a discussion on current Capoeira pedagogy. Not simply challenging current methods for the sake of contrarianism, but looking at ideas and methods that are proving valuable elsewhere, and seeing what can be adapted and used for Capoeira. In part 3 I'll look at what we can take from the world of Physical Therapy.