Monday, June 26, 2006

eu sou um capoeirista!

... and now I'm happy. And you know why? Because today, at capoeira practice, I finally made it into the roda.

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(this ain't my roda; it's lifted from a site in Brazil. But rest assured, the men are just as comely.)

The roda (wheel in Portugese; pronounced "hoda") is basically the rumble ring where the capoeiristas fight each other. Time and again I've been told that I'll be allowed to go in after just two weeks, just two weeks more... and with good reason. I'm kinaesthetically retarded; I forget the directions of my own two feet; I fall over trying to kick people.

But yesterday was Dima's 21st birthday.

So today, Mestre Ousado got us into the ring and said that in honour of this, we would have a birthday roda. Everyone would have to go in and fight her.

Mestre Ousado has a really thick Brazilian accent. I have no idea what he's saying half the time - so all I basically picked up was "everyone".

And "everyone" included myself, no? Even though I'd been messing up basic steps for the whole of the afternoon. I'm the oldest member of the beginner-level students, and I'll be damned if I give up on this sport like I gave up on karate and ping-pong.

You see, I really like capoeira. And not just because I've reconciled myself with my inner jock (she prefers to be called a gym bunny, after all) - it's because there's this free spirit, this passion of the young freed slave in a jungle, that permeates the discipline, transmuting it into a space of real joy.

Half dance, half martial art, it's got the formal steps of both but when you're inside the roda, you're really freestyling - you're street-fighting, rumbling, but no-one gets hurt. It combines feminine aestheticism with masculine pugilism and escapes the rigid confines of both.

So I'm in the outlying ring, clapping loud and singing, and I watch my brothers and sisters go in one by one, waving their hands in each other's faces just to chope a space with the birthday girl, like it's a gangbang (there really is no better way to describe the good-humoured sadism of making a person fight fifteen people in a row), and I tried to get the Mestre's official eye-contact permission to go in, but then I thought, fuck it -

And I went in. And I cartwheeled as the necessary signal of beginning a new fight. I gingaed. I maintained eye contact. I caught her off guard with a kick to the chest - no body contact; the important thing is to show you could have injured her. And when she kicked, I dodged, fast, one way and the other, and the others cheered because they knew this was my virgin fight -

Grief, this really sounds misogynistic, doesn't it? There was a birthday boy who was fighting at the beginning too, but he's the star pupil,so I couldn't touch him.

And then the Mestre went in, and I joined the circle again, and that was the last fight, we circled inwards singing to the berimbau and knelt...

Afterwards, a few people gave me congratulations. Dima shook my hand - we all have a special handshake, and it's essential that we conduct these handshakes to show that our common bond is not disrupted by the combat. She gave me, like everyone, a package of sweets that she'd distributed at her birthday.

I heart Dima. She's studying at NIE to teach bio, and she invited everyone to her party with little invitation cards that fit in your wallet. I told her later at the kopitiam she should institute capoeira classes at the school she's posted to, and she said, yeah, if they don't do their homework, then she'll wallop them in the roda.

My knee actually still aches from falling while practising handstands. I've realised my family has chronically low upper-body strength. Maybe I'll never get to the point where I'm balancing there, both legs ready to hantam anyone who comes within scissor-kick distance -

But I do I want to be a capoeirista. I clap hard and sing loud in Portugese when we have our rodas in the Substation and in Taka. I hang out with the others afterwards; they're a cool bunch, mostly younger than me but much more varied than my RJ bunch: NSFs and expats and pai kiahs, Chinese, Malays, Australians, Germans, Brazilians, strong young men and strong young women. And some of them talk to me - I'm not quite one of the gang because I've always got inconvenient extracurriculars when they're just hanging out, but it's a space where I feel brotherhood.

I ain't brothers with the poets of Singapore. The ones outside my generation are too different from me; with the ones of my own generation I experience the battle of the divas - personality clashes, or else simple neglect because they're busy.

But like sex partners, athletes are bonded by common delight in the possibilities of the universal human body. Political alliances, spiritual agreement, whatever. It is this that is wonderful. To be satisfied, for more than a moment, with the mortal shell of yourself, and another.


Mezzo said...

whooT! i wish i'd kept at capoeira.

Ng Yi-Sheng said...

Mehhhh... it's more injurious than I'm making it sound. And the girls have to work harder. But then, when don't they?

Mezzo said...

still fun. 'sides, capoeirist boys cute.

Anonymous said...

Hi! Can I just say that your writing blows me away? I just came across your blog, and checked out your most recent posts and your creative writing blog, and it's all great or amazing! Especially your posts about capoeira--since I do it too and I actually am a self-proclaimed capoeira freak (as will be made clear once you click on my name's hyperlink)...and yes, my birthday roda was definitely the highlight of turning a year older, and you're so right about the sadism XD Anyway, I've rambled on enough. I look forward to reading more of your stuff!