The continued Capoeira adventures in my story. This is the part of my story where I meet my wife, and I’m publishing this on the day we’re getting married. If you wish to know more about Capoeira, read this.
Allow me to apologise – I omitted a very important part of the most recent chapter of this story, namely how I met someone most special during my time in Australia. I first met her when I was visiting one of the Capoeira subgroups out in the suburbs of Sydney, and I remembered her from that visit from the passion and joy that she just couldn’t contain during the class. Suitably enough, her Capoeira nickname was ‘Pipoca’ (which means Popcorn).
Later I found out that she had noticed me as well – she thought I must be lost or something, as I was ‘too good-looking for that gym’. As I was one of the higher belts in the class I ended up helping the instructor, so I found myself assisting this Pipoca and her brother. It was obvious that they both had strong martial arts talent, and I was told they both were Taekwondo black belts but now did Capoeira. Apparently her brother was normally training with another organisation, but had accompanied her to this one class. I remember thinking how great it would have been if I would have had a sibling training with me at all times, how it could have (potentially) pushed me to even greater degree of skill. But that’s just wishful thinking. Nonetheless, meeting other passionate students like that makes it easier for you to stay motivated and consistent in your training.
Fast forward a few months, and I’m recently recovered from a relationship breakup and got about two weeks left in Australia before I have to return to Sweden. After an intense roda we started talking, and I found myself asking her out for coffee. I honestly don’t know what surprised me more – the fact that I asked her out, the choice of drink (I hate coffee) or the fact that she said yes. But time was short and you only live once. Sometimes my habit of making rash decisions gives the best of outcomes. Now, this is a martial arts blog so I won’t bore you with the details; but trust me when I say that those two weeks turned out to be quite the adventure.
Coming home to Sweden gave me mixed feelings. It was a relief and joy to rejoin my old group and throw myself into the training again, and I also started instructing in one the subgroups. I even started up my own subgroup in my home town, giving workshops whenever I could go back to visit my family. This deepened commitment coupled with my experience from overseas was bringing my Capoeira to new heights, and I was maturing into my belt. On the downside, living in Sweden was still a struggle in terms of finding work and the cold climate was really getting to me now that I had sampled the warmer latitudes. The thought kept occurring to me that after enduring 25 winters of blistering cold, darkness and depressing weather I had had my share of it. But c’est la vie, just like all other Swedes there was nothing to do but pucker up and accept it. But when it’s so cold that inhaling through your nose turns your snot into icicles, it’s hard to stay perky.
After spending a few years just learning Capoeira, it was highly stimulating to teach my own classes. I could structure my sessions and workshops in accordance with what I felt would benefit the students (obviously first checking my intentions with my instructor Pirata), building up their basics and seeing them develop their skills across the board. Not that I’m any kind of genius or god’s gift to martial arts – never fear I may fall victim to that hubris – but I could certainly help beginners grow and improve. Also, explaining and showing techniques and principles to students led to a constant questioning of my teachings (from both my students and myself) which over time filled gaps, clarified my own understanding of Capoeira and helped me become a better instructor. Each group was also different in terms of students, meaning that my teaching approach had to be slightly different or my message would not come across. Talk to a king like a king, and to a farmer like a farmer.
One of the highlights during this time was that my sister joined in the training. It was great seeing her pick up the skills (dancers always progress quickly in martial arts), and it also gave me the opportunity to pump her for invaluable feedback on my teaching methods. Even my old friend Jimmy (who got me to pick up Kempo years ago) joined in, which made it feel like the old days. The two of them kept the subgroup in my home town running between my workshops, basically keeping Capoeira alive in that town. Once again I can’t help but think how martial arts instructors are unsung heroes, whose efforts not only saves lives and helps people develop – but also are the one thing that keeps the lineage of each martial art alive, acting as custodians of the style’s history and traditions. But I digress.
During these years there were a number of Capoeira workshops that got us some first rate quality teachings, and I also got to meet some diehard students from central Europe that would later rise in the ranks and become stand out teachers in their own countries. Even just a few days training with them got me inspired through their energy as well as their skilful games. Hopefully they enjoyed coming over to our country for the exchange, we certainly appreciated everything they brought to the table. Always great to see solid skill co-existing with strong humility, giving that quiet confidence each student should strive for.
But the big event was without a doubt going to the motherland, Brazil. A large group of us scrounged up the cash for the trip and stayed in Rio De Janeiro for a few weeks, in a hostel lodged in between Ipanema and Copacabana (for the record, Copacabana is greatly overrated if you ask me). Life was grand! We would chill out at Ipanema beach during the day, enjoying the sun, going for a swim and enjoying the view (cough). At night we would visit other Capoeira schools to train and play with them – several memorable adventures there. Several times we went to visit a group in Rocinha, which is the biggest slum city in Rio. We had no ‘unfortunate’ incidents, but it was pretty unnerving to see residents with automatic weapons watching us. One of the nights, a few of us got home by paying a couple of youngsters to take us back to the hostel on motorcycle taxis. Forget about any kind of security – you were given a helmet, and then held on for dear life as the kid driving you would break every possible traffic rule on your way home! Another night we visited a roda hosted by Nestor Capoeira, who has written several books on Capoeira. That night my teacher Monitora Pirata got to play the respected and venerable Mestre Leopoldinha, which was quite an honour for her. We also visited the major groups Senzala, Abada and a few others – truly making the most of our time in Rio. Another milestone was when we got to demonstrate our Capoeira at the foot of the Cristo Redentor statue, as you can see in the video below.
The very last night in Rio was on my birthday, and it turned out to be quite the night… We went to Lapa (which is Rio’s bohemian quarters) as there was always an intense roda on Friday nights. The games were all at incredible speed and ferocity – you could get hurt even as a bystander, something I learned after copping a wayward heel to my midsection. Every time I hear some wiseguy crack on about how Capoeira isn’t a real martial art and would be no good in a fight, I wish they could have seen that roda. Even the kids were beating the crap out of each other! When you see an eight year old throw another kid down and start pounding his face until the adults drag him away, you know it’s for real. Part of me was pointing out that normally birthdays were celebrated in ways that were less likely to leave you comatose, but it was my last night in Rio and I wanted to make it count. After briefly leaving to get myself a strong drink (to steady my nerves), I joined in the fray and cranked up my skills to the max. I was playing one of the local students, but even with me going all out I could tell he could have knocked me out if he wanted to. After a couple of more games my heart was beating a staccato and adrenaline was making my mind race, but I was still standing. I think the reason why I got insanely drunk later that night was mostly to celebrate my survival. The next day my hangover was so bad I almost wished I had gotten knocked out instead.
During all this time I had stayed in touch with Pipoca, the woman I had met in Sydney. Even though we had several years between us, we got along great and our emails and phone calls were becoming more frequent. She even came to visit me in Sweden during one of the winters, and I also visited her the next year – with my usual timing, this was during the 2005 race riots and I was one of the few white people in the suburb Pipoca lived in. Great. Thankfully, no one decided to try to turn me into meat loaf. Anyways, Pipoca had kept up her Capoeira and we were training together whenever possible during those visits (admittedly, it was never a high priority). Even though we weren’t a couple, we were becoming increasingly ‘involved’ with each other. Eventually things got to a point where we felt that a definite choice had to be made, and so one New Year’s Eve we agreed to give it an honest go by having me return to Australia later that year.
But I wasn’t the only one that felt the travel bug – my sister and my old brother in arms Jimmy wanted to come as well, just not for as long as I intended. The rest of that year went fast, as I (for once) made work my highest priority in order to raise the funds required. That said, my dedication to my training never faltered – if anything, I trained even harder. For the first time in my life, I started going to the gym and lifting weights in addition to my Capoeira training. Just before I was about to fly out of Sweden, I was in peak shape and Pirata even organised a grading so that I could go for the coveted blue belt – and in our school, that belt was the point where student reached the grade of junior teacher. After years of training and dedication, it was a proud moment to finally be given that belt. Even my father came to the event, which was quite unusual.
So with a fresh new belt, healthy bank account and with friends at my side it was time to take the next step forward – by going back to the place I had returned from.