Just like a lot of capoeiristas (Capoeira players) my age, my first contact with the art was through the movie ‘Only The Strong’, which was a fantastic and epic action movie with the most bizarre and impressive fighting style that has ever been shown in any movie, ever. Or so my teenage brain though anyway. Filled with backflips, spins and head-over-heels spectacular fight scenes (and the compulsory montage, of course) it left most viewers with a sense of wonder.
Strangely, there hasn’t really been another Capoeira movie quite like it.
Not long after that, Tekken 3 was released (I know, I’m old) and for the first time in a fighting game, you could plays as a Capoeira fighter. Playing as this ‘Eddy Gordo’ guy would let you leap, somersault, sweep and kick arse all over the screen like no other character could. In fact, I taught myself the acrobatic moves macaco and beija-flor by watching Eddy do it in the game, and then trying it out in my backyard – which is slightly remarkable, as I later on learned that a lot of students struggle with those moves. Years later, I ended up mucking around with a friend that had had a smidgen of basic training. Technically speaking our training was atrocious and completely backwards, but we had a lot of fun and loved every session. We would try to teach ourselves based on Tekken and some horrible, horrible instruction movies from the 80’s.
Thank you, Youtube!
As an adventure, my friend and I decided to participate in a ‘real’ Capoeira training camp that was being held not far from our hometown. I remember us on the bus there, psyching each other up and wondering what it would be like. When we got there and joined the training we were so overwhelmed! So many different types of Capoeira styles, not to mention that we neither knew any Portuguese, nor any of the moves that were being taught (thankfully my martial arts experience helped me cope somewhat). But the immense joy of learning more and meeting all these people made a strong impression on me – and I knew that this was it; this was the martial art of choice for me.
The event finished with a batizado, a ritual where new capoeiristas are ‘baptised’ into the game. This is normally for beginner students who have been doing it for a little while, enough to show their character and how they play. Unexpectedly, I was called up and asked to play against Monitora Pirata, whose passion and energy had made quite the impression on me during the training sessions. Before we started playing Pirata announced that my Capoeira nickname would be ‘Lobo’, which means Wolf (how cool is that, I thought) and then our game began. I was very nervous and just tried to hold my own in the game, but then I saw an opening for a takedown and decided to go for it. Ducking under one of her kicks, I put pressure on her standing leg and felt her go down… but somehow she didn’t crash to the ground as I expected – instead she sort of just went with the falling movement, folded on the ground and smoothly moved out of my reach. Whilst I was still wondering how the hell she did that, I threw another kick at her and BAM! I was on my butt, cleanly swept off the floor. And that was my introduction to Capoeira.
In the years since, I have come to more fully realise what Pirata did there – although I was not part of her group (or any group for that matter), and my ignorance of the art must have been a complete eyesore, she saw through that and reached out to me. I think she simply sympathised with a young student that, in spite of having no teacher, no school and no resources, still showed strong passion and appreciation of the art. Later on, in one of our many conversations I asked her why she picked ‘Lobo’ as my name and was told that there was no single reason – everything about me was telling her that it was the proper name, from the way I looked to how I moved and played in the game.
Not long after this I made the decision to leave my hometown, as I was eager to see more of the world. After some consideration I decided to move to Gothenburg as it was the second biggest city in Sweden – and I knew that that was the place where Pirata was teaching Capoeira. After settling down, I finally sought out her Capoeira group. The training was so different to what I had been doing up to that point, and tough! I still remember taking the tram home that night, how my legs wouldn’t stop shaking from exhaustion… From that point on, I committed myself as much as possible to the training – and on the nights there was no scheduled training I would still practise at home in my studio apartment by doing acrobatics, throwing kicks (consequently, I had very little furniture) or practising the music. I would partake in every training camp, every demonstration, watch any instructional video I could get my hands on and listen to a pile of Capoeira music and songs. Basically, Capoeira was my life.
I soon realised how deeply ignorant my earlier training had been. All in all, Capoeira was more challenging than anything I had ever done before – it required great physical capacity as well as equal mental gifts. Strength was nothing without cunning, speed didn’t do you much good if you couldn’t read your opponent, flexibility was useless without control, and skill was not respected if you didn’t show knowledge of the art’s traditions. It demanded proficiency and balance between all aspects, and gave back in return. The feeling of it all coming together was priceless, and deeply gratifying. Every student would face different challenges – in my case, puberty spent smoking cigarettes had given me poor stamina, and I had less musical talent than Paris Hilton.
But I persevered, and thrived.