Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dancing in Chains

The master artist dances in chains. - Goethe
That would have been a sententious quote to christen this post. Some of you would have been in awe, while others would be wondering, yi kong si mi l@n...? My professor--a man of great learning--unfortunately misquoted it. It doesn't exist. Which doesn't say much for Ph.D's, does it?

But anyway, one day when you are old and tired, when your tendons are calcified and your heart weak, you too will be quoting this to spritely capoeiristas. I can only speak from experience, but I feel the most mature capoeiristas have, for lack of a better word, 'tact'.

It's like a conversation: when we're young, we use simple declarative statements. 'This is a ball,' 'I feel sad,' and so on. As we mature, we learn subtler nuances in our language, and learn how to have entire conversations without saying anything at all! Questions, answers, statements can mean either one thing or the other, or perhaps both simultaneously, or even nothing at all. It all works because a lot of what we say is left unsaid, in body gesture, tonality, choice of words and their connotations, sentence structure and so forth.

Say someone starts with a 'How are...' and instead of the expected 'you', ends with a 'things with your ex?' What seemed like a friendly salutation suddenly looms with the adumbration of Don Juan over here muscling in on territory you haven't quite gotten over.

Reeling back in to capoeira, when I see what I feel to be a mature game, I see players suggesting attacks and possible (but non-commital) defences to said suggested (but never carried out) attacks. Almost everything has to be second-guessed. A lift of the leg could be a defence, an attack, a step, or just something needing to be scratched. Just vague gestures and wispy ambivalances dissolving into the air.

An analogy can only get one so far, and when it starts to break down, it's time to discard it. So we'll do so here, because I don't think I can say anything else about 'tact'.

So what has this got to so with the (mis)quote? Is capoeira an art? Other martial arts don't mention any stinkin' chains!

Well, I'd say that this is just how capoeira is. And yes, it is a medium through which one expresses oneself. Or rather, one is the medium through which Capoeira expresses itself. Whatever.

Bruce Lee (who flunked out of Philosophy, if I'm not mistaken) once said,
"Ultimately, martial art means honestly expressing yourself. It is easy for me to put on a show and be cocky so I can show you some really fancy movement. But to express oneself honestly, not lying to oneself, and to express myself honestly enough; that, my friend, is very hard to do."
So don't get me wrong, I'm not dumping on the deficits of other martial arts. I'm just saying that in capoeira, one honestly doesn't know what one is going to say until one says it.

Amendment: Bruce Lee actually flunked out of Drama, while taking some courses in Philosophy. Hmm...


Crouching Cocorinha said...

Oi, bloggers please sign off!

hidden reistera said...

the "lao jiaos" can always joga with a smile :)

Joaninha said...

This was an awesome post!! I really like the NUS Capoeira Blog, as far as "academy blogs" go, because you guys don't just post stuff like "Roda this Thursday" all the time!

After reading that, I think you'd really enjoy Shayna's awesome extended metaphor of learning capoeira being like learning a new language:

Link =)

mvken said...

great post and the writing style reminds me of someone...

umbu said...

gee. philosophy, drama and capoeira. i wonder who this is.

Crouching Cocorinha said...

Hey, mystery capoeirista, reveal yourself so that we can join your school!

Bambu said...

I'm first in line to register!

Crouching Cocorinha said...

I'm second! We won't even kick you out. Promise!

Eng Wen said...

8 years in hindsight and the power of Google. The quote is properly ascribed to Nietzsche. Also, Eng Wen, your writing back then is a little pompous and overly declarative.