Capoeira has a very strong social nature, with groups developing very strong internal cultures – you will see a lot more events, dinners, post-workout drinks, demonstrations, workshops and collaborations with other groups than what you see in your standard martial art. I hadn’t been with my school for more than two weeks before I found myself throwing kicks and cartwheels before an audience! Although I was deeply nervous at most of the demonstrations, it was also quite the kick to show your stuff to others. And a lot more demos were to come further down the track in all kinds of locations – theme parks, schools, fashion nights, shopping centers etc along with a number of festivals in Sweden.
During this time, the friend that I had started training with back in my hometown had now started teaching others. He had no real Capoeira experience in the style that he taught, but was as passionate as ever. Although I don’t condone inexperienced students turning into self-proclaimed instructors, I decided to stay neutral on this as I felt that something would be better than nothing and I hoped that with time he would eventually find a proper teacher to show him the way. One time, when I was back to visit family and friends I was asked to join their crew for a demo in a local talent show – something I was happy to help out with. I couldn’t help but notice another participant, this girl who was doing a dance routine. Long story short, over time we would get to know each other real well and not before long she had become a Capoeira student herself.
Throughout the next few years, I also had the opportunity to travel to other countries to participate in Capoeira camps – the Easter Encounter in Hamburg, Germany was one such highlight with hundreds of attendees from all over Europe. It was inspiring to see so many mestres (masters), instructors and students in the one place. It was also at this encounter that I picked up my favourite Capoeira pants that have actually persevered to this day. That’s over 10 years! Best.Pants.Ever.
In Sweden, martial arts are widespread and as far as I know they keep a pretty good standard – I accredit this to Swedes generally being sincere and committed to whatever they do, despite the omnipresent Law of Jante holding a lot of people back from realising their full potential. We tend not to boast about our achievements or put ourselves ahead of others, but at the same time we make damn sure that we can stand tall for what we do claim. If a Swede tells you he did well, you can be pretty sure that he actually did no less than awesome. But in spite of a generally good quality, martial arts is still seen as something of a lowly hobby and people are generally not willing to pay high training fees. As a consequence there is little to no money in martial arts in Sweden. So to be able to pay rent and put food on the table (while still being able to train every day), I was normally working some minimal wage job with random hours and absolutely no future.
So in an attempt to get ahead, I decided to get some further education and see the world at the same time by studying abroad. As I was reluctant to learn a new language from scratch, it would need to be an English speaking country. Also, at this point I was deeply sick of the depressing winters that grace Sweden every year… So I ended up applying for a Business Management Course in Australia. My girlfriend at the time (the talent show girl) decided to come with, and off we went.
My time in Australia was quite the eye-opener straight off the bat. As this was the first time I experienced left-hand traffic rules, my first few days was spent praying that I wouldn’t get killed from looking the wrong way when crossing the street! I also realised that the giant cockroaches that can be found everywhere are like kryptonite to me. Damn things make my skin crawl, something that hasn’t changed during the years I’ve lived here. But apart from that my time was fantastic – we got an apartment near the beach and joined one of the biggest Capoeira groups in Sydney. Life was good.
The Capoeira in Sydney was very different from what I was used to. Where my group back home was focused on playing a slower, more cunning game, this group we had joined was fully focused on the faster and more aggressive fighting game. This required faster reflexes, better endurance and a much more aggressive way of playing. Although I did not agree as a person with this kind of game, learning to adapt to this playing style still benefitted me as you sometimes got to step it up and fight fire with fire. The group I had joined was part of a global organisation, and for the first time I was part of something bigger (though I was still a guest, as I never officially joined the organisation). Even within Sydney, the school had several smaller sub-groups that I sometimes visited and trained with. After being used to my own smaller group back home, it was inspiring to meet and play against so many other capoeiristas. I came to understand why a lot of people prefer to join the biggest and seemingly most impressive schools without really considering other alternatives, as the ‘mainstream’ feeling makes it easy for you to stay committed.
As I mentioned, Capoeira has a strong social aspect. Thanks to this – and spending time with people during the countless demos I took part in – I was able to befriend a number of my fellow students in Australia, and to this day I’m still good friends with many of them. One of them got me a job, one is nowadays one of my closest friends and yet another is the godfather of my son. There is also another noteworthy person, but I’ll get to that later…
Not everything was sunshine and smiles though; after a while of living the sweet life, my girlfriend and I were running low on money. To get some income, we both got night time jobs. For me it was as easy as stepping outside, as the fruit market next door needed someone at night to clean up the place. But for my girlfriend it was another matter – as she kept getting fired from several jobs, I ended up working 7 nights a week to support us both. Needless to say, I had neither cash nor time for training. I still did what I could by practising down by the beach after work, normally around 10pm when it was dark and nobody was around except homeless people. It wasn’t all bad; the fresh air and the sound of crashing waves helped me deal with the stress of always running from school to work, living on noodles and wonderbread – and not turn bitter towards my girlfriend. It’s also a good idea for any capoeiristas to spend time at the beach. It’s a natural environment for the art, and being exposed to it brings you closer to the mentality at the heart of it.
Eventually my girlfriend flew back to Sweden early due to lack of money and some family issues, which left me on my own in Sydney. At this time, a new student grant had come through so I had finally gotten out of my financial problems and could return to training. I rented a room in the city so I was closer to my school and the Capoeira academy, and lived a simple and solitary life filled with studies and workouts. Although I met some interesting ladies during this time, I was resolved to stay faithful.
Then things changed. As I was only a few weeks away from returning to Sweden, I received a phone call late one night. It was my distraught girlfriend who confessed that she had cheated on me. Turns out that she had gotten drunk and horny, and simply couldn’t help herself. So much for fidelity. I won’t rage on what I was feeling when I heard this, but trust that our relationship was over. The next few days were quite intense as I processed this with the support of my family and my newfound Capoeira friends, and thanks to this (and the months spent apart) I was able to recover pretty quickly.
The last few weeks in Australia were quite intense, quite a blur actually, and before I knew it I found myself back in Sweden – unemployed and single, but with a lot more skin on my nose and strong memories from my time on the other side of the globe.
Little did I know that it wouldn’t be long before I would return there…