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A Jogo with Mestre Nô: Carcaju's Trip to Seattle

May 25, 2018

What a weekend.

 

Mestre Ombrinho recently shared an inspirational video with me about staying "hungry." If one is looking to make progress, s/he must not become content-- there needs to be a "hunger" driving the person forward, keeping them sharp and ready to seize opportunities as they arrive. If they aren't prepared, they might miss their chances.

 

These thoughts served as a nice backdrop for my flight out to the Seattle Capoeira Center, Contra-Mestre Mangangá's branch of Capoeira Angola Palmares, to participate in an event featuring Mestre Nô: the founder of Angola Palmares, and Grandmaster of Angola Quintal (meaning, our mestre's mestre). To my memory, I had only met him once before, back in December of this past year. All this time training in his lineage of capoeira, and I'm finally getting to know him only within the past 6 months-- doesn't seem very hungry, does it?

 

Maybe, before, I was content with most of my capoeira practice being local to the small city of Ithaca. But that wasn't going to work anymore. I strained my coworkers for coverage, dumped money into my computer screen and down through the tubes of the internet, and commenced with my new daily tradition of stressing out over my lack of cardiovascular fitness. I was going to Seattle, and it was going to be worth it.

 

My trip started with a drive to Rochester, where I met up with Instrutor Espião. We grabbed a drink, had some giggles, and stayed up until I was completing my sentences in my dreams while, in reality, drool poured out of my open mouth. He brought me to my 6am flight, and I faded in and out of consciousness for the next 8 hours. I was looking forward to sleeping on a bench somewhere in Seattle all day until the event officially started, but then CM Mangangá let me know that there was a class/roda starting soon after my arrival, and I had just enough time to get there. I chose hunger again.

 

There, I met Mestre Melqui (a student of Mestre Braulino, who recently passed) and reconnected a bit with CM Mangangá. Mestre Melqui taught a short & sweet class on the ginga and malandragem in order to get us warmed up. Mangangá has a flourishing program for the students at University of Washington, and we were preparing for a roda on the quad. It was great to get some fresh air and enjoy the lively games between the UW students. I got a chance to play with Mangangá, who has always given me very fun-- and very challenging-- games. Afterwards, we caught up a bit and talked about his goals and inspirations, and how they fit in with Mestre Nô's lineage. I then had the pleasure of meeting a couple of his students, hanging out and cooking with Mestre Melqui (all I did was stir the pasta, but he gave me half credit anyway), and catching up with Mestre Ombrinho and some old Quintal friends. I'm pretty glad I didn't sleep on a bench.

 

Now it was time for the workshops with Mestre Nô to kick off! 

 

 

THURSDAY

 

Mestre Nô started by teaching us a sequência (series of interactions with a partner) that would become the core of our physical training for the weekend. Though it seemed fairly straightforward at first, we found over the course of the weekend that several options would be taught for the end, the beginning, and even the middle of the interaction. This gave it a lot of depth and richness. I continued to be astounded by Mestre Nô's movements as he demonstrated-- each one of them is so deliberate, without sacrificing any amount of smoothness or "chill."

After a while, he gave an impromptu music lesson for those who were paying attention, in which he went through each instrument and demonstrated the ways he liked them to be played. Naturally, this later led to people trying to pin him down with questions about hard-and-fast rules, which he deftly dodged in the same way I've come to appreciate in Meste Ombrinho. Many of the choices about the music simply depend on the day; others, not so much. Our day was ending, and we had a lot to reflect on over dinner. There was laughter and great food, some long chats (shout-out to Puma and Gameleira!), and frantic note-taking before I finally got to bed.

 


FRIDAY

After spending something like 12 hours wandering around with Gameleira, looking for a place to eat lunch which we would both be ecstatic about, we made our way to the workshops.
 

Mestre Nô continued to alter the sequência, as I mentioned, and it was becoming clear that all of these options could allow us to more naturally flow in and out of the sequência in our freestyle games-- using a piece here, a chunk there, and encouraging us to explore the general concepts built into the interactions. An awesome training method. I started to notice that Mestre Nô was sometimes asking people to play however they'd like, and I believe this was to see how many of us were making an effort to experiment with the sequência. No demands; purely observation and gratitude toward those who made an attempt. I was seeing and appreciating even more of the parallels between his teaching style and Mestre Ombrinho's.

 

We moved on to some extremely valuable demonstrations about presenting chamadas and disarming berimbaus-- always good to see with your own eyes-- and Mestre Nô formed a roda to end the workshop. And then, it happened: Mestre Nô waited until I was looking to enter the roda, and he walked to the pé to join me. I was about to play a game with the "Mestre dos Mestres."

 

It is fortunate that I had recently had the revelations that I wrote about in our first blog entry, because they kept me from seizing up and questioning every move I made. Rather, I blocked those thoughts out (actually, I blocked most thoughts out) and simply savored the game. Of course, I took some memories and lessons with me, but those are mine. Mestre Ombrinho and several students told me that the game was nice, which made me happy (but clearly, I'll give most of the credit to Mestre Nô). A few days later, Mestre Ombrinho told me that Mestre Nô saw something in my games that made him want to play with me, and that it was no accident or coincidence. I feel incredibly honored.

 

We capped the night in a way that couldn't be more perfect-- on a beach in Seattle, fireside in the dead of the night, playing instruments and shouting capoeira songs up at the sky. Instrutor Jesus and I traded a single berimbau back and forth for hours, and I had a blast weaving its compelling patterns into the chorus of voices. 

 

 

 

SATURDAY

 

Thanks to Pipoca's accidentally-expert Airbnb skills, our crew was housed directly above an awesome street fair and only a short walk to our event location. This meant that we got to experience some local Seattle flair before the workshops began. First, we had an exciting street roda with the Palmares crew and plenty of festival spectators. Then, a lunch break. Looking at the street tents, I noticed the same sad pattern I always see in Ithaca: People waiting in half-hour lines for some little pork buns and tea (or whatever is trendy), while the tents for cuisine which is already underrepresented in the area receive much less business.

 

I stopped at a tent for Kenyan food and got a "Matundo Juice," defined only as a "special blend of tropical fruits." It was delicious. I joined my friend, who was waiting in line for some food from home, and the cashier there asked what I was drinking. I told her I hardly even knew, but that it was delicious. She was stuck in her tent, but said she had been wanting to try the Matundo Juice all day. So, BOOM! Here was an easy opportunity for me to do some good in the world. I walked over and snagged another one for her, the Kenya tent got a little more business, and joy was spread to person helping hungry fair-goers-- everyone wins. My friends and I went off and ate, joking about good karma before heading off to the workshops again. I promise these details matter later and that I'm not just patting myself on the back.


At the workshops, Mestre Nô gave an incredibly helpful demonstration of the berimbau rhythms we play to, and described the type of game each rhythm is asking for. He encouraged us all to learn the rhythms in our minds so that we can actually feel them, and therefore play them more naturally-- a strategy I've been using at each one of our classes in Ithaca. It is so much better to internalize a rhythm than to try to scientifically pick it apart and replicate it mechanically. He then asked us to play games with a partner while listening to the berimbau's rhythm, and to adjust the type of game we played accordingly. He had done this the day before, but was previously telling us how to play verbally. Now the directions were to be inferred from the berimbau. This weekend was truly a crash course in Capoeira 101!

 

Eventually, we formed a roda in order to practice playing to the rhythm "Apanha Laranja no Chão Tico-Tico," which calls for a game full of trickery, beauty, showmanship, and skill in order to win a pouch of money placed in the center of the circle. The game, won by grabbing the pouch with your teeth, brought out a lot of opportunities for life lessons-- What's more important: your face or some money? Why is a dog man's best friend? (you'll have to ask Mestre Nô for the punchline to that one!)

 

Galo Preto was my partner for a game in this roda, and I was super happy about that. We started with a nice, smooth pace, tossing some floreios around and moving very freely. I offered him a tesoura and he passed underneath a bit more quickly than I expected, earning me a small little bump on the lip from his heel and my tooth. This led to a trip around the roda and a chamada called by Galo, putting us closer to snatching the pouch. The game up to this point must have been good enough that the mestres didn't want it to be spoiled, because they suddenly cautioned us to chill out just a little bit longer as the end of the game drew near. Soon, Galo Preto bested me and had the prize in his teeth only a half-second before I could stop him. We shook hands to a great game, and he went on to receive his "professor" cord the next day (congratulations, Galo!).

 

After the workshop, everyone rushed off to "The Collective" for dinner and conversation, which was a location that I'd classify as "cool as hell." Egg-shaped chairs hung from the ceiling, rocks were actually soft seats, giant hammock/trampolines hung inside an alcove ready to accept anyone who collapsed nearby... there was even a rock-climbing wall and a series of showers that seemed like a spa. But I couldn't hang around long-- I had to catch my flight. Galo, Felicidade, and I kicked the music off for a crazy roda (see video), and I left to say my goodbyes to everyone. Mestre Nô gave me a hug, Mestre Melqui told me he appreciated the good energy I give to the roda with my smile, CM Mangangá made sure I had a good time and felt valued, and Mestre Ombrinho said he'd see me in two weeks.

 

And then things got crazy, in a not-so-fun kind of way. A traffic jam for my Lyft driver and some perfectly inaccurate "Next Stop" signs inside the Light Rail meant that I arrived to the SeaTac Airport at 11:02pm for my flight, for which boarding would close at 11:10pm. Time to choose hunger (I guess?). As I sprinted across the entire airport, hoping that the security checkpoint was close and empty, I couldn't help but have flashbacks to the time Cutia and I simultaneously missed our separate flights out of San Francisco. That's a story for another blog post, though. How was I so bad at this?  

 

I somehow got through security without appearing to be so panicked that I needed a pat-down, and almost didn't put my shoes back on in order to save the precious seconds available to get to the gate. As I ran past gates 5 and 6, I thought to myself "Great! Gate 8 should be really close!" But then I turned a long corner and saw that gates 7 and 8 were down a long stretch of nothingness. I was losing steam, but a moving walkway helped me maintain my speed as finished my race to the gate, just as the boarding crew was entering the tunnel to leave.

 

They allowed me to board, and I was too out of breath to explain to anyone why I was so late. When I was stressing out about my cardio before the event, I didn't expect that this was going to be the reason why! It didn't matter, though-- I was on the plane, sweating and panting next to my biggest fan (I'm sure of it), and was ready to finally let go of the stress and excitement with a glass or two of red wine. The attendant gave me a full, small bottle and told me the first one was on him. I think I had exhausted all of my Matundo Juice karma at this point, but it was karma god damn well spent.

 

 

Until next time, Seattle!

 

-Instrutor Carcaju

 

 

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