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Gerard Taylor Interview #1

June 2, 2007

We’re going to be posting author interviews, as a way for you to get to know our authors and their work. This is the first of a series — a brief email interview with Gerard Taylor, the author of Capoeira Conditioning, Capoeria 100, and Capoeira, Volumes One and Two, The Jogo de Angola from Luanda to Cyberspace.

Gerard Taylor Author Photo


1. Is it possible to learn capoeira from a book?

No, it isn’t possible to learn everything that comprises capoeira from a book. That’s because capoeira is a social activity involving a number of players who create capoeira from their interaction. The game is done to music, and the atmosphere is created by the roda, the circle of players, the musicians and so on. None of these elements are present when reading a book. What a book can be useful for is providing information on training, on technique, song lyrics, history and that kind of thing.

2. What is a mestre?

A mestre is an individual who has been doing capoeira for so long that they have internalized it and are able to personify a quality, knowledge and a composure that is a capoeirista’s.

It is not because these individuals have a belt, or because they call themselves ‘mestre’, but they have mastered the art form and are in control of their game, their music and are able to inspire others with this too. Capoeira is comparable to a craft, and a master is someone who has been through their apprenticeship, and practiced and lived the life of capoeira to the degree that they have mastered the craft.

3. Are the movements dangerous?

The movements aren’t inherently dangerous, no. One can get injured and most capoeiristas have had their share of aches and pains along the way, but this is true of any physical activity. Many of the moves are very physically gratifying and they give players a lot of energy. I start my working day at 5:30 AM, and on the occasions when I go straight from work to a capoeira class, sometimes I wonder whether it’s possible to actually do it, as I’m so tired.

Incredibly, I feel 100% energized when the class is over, as there is something about the way the whole system is used as a unit that is just very organic and healthy.

I’m sure it has to do with the loosening of the spine and hips, and the breathing in capoeira, as well as the music. Some of the moves are best to work into gradually, and as long as one isn’t playing anyone who is out to strike dangerously or take-down treacherously, this isn’t a physically dangerous activity.

4. Is this a fight, a dance, acrobatics?

It developed from a fight. African warriors trained, setting fighting techniques to drums.

Drums and horns also directed messages during battle, in a way comparable to radio signals in modern warfare. A certain drum beat could relay a signal far more effectively than the spoken word.

In central Africa, the skill of fighting was to dodge spears, clubs and bladed weapons while also delivering attacks, often in one-on-one combat. Warriors didn’t wear armor, and apart from Congolese fighters, usually they didn’t even use shields. Historical texts written by Jesuits and missionaries in the 17th century have given comprehensive descriptions of Angolan and central African fighting strategy; Clearly the capoeirista’s extraordinary nimble and limber twisting and turning, dodging and evading ability and style comes from this African tradition.

One doesn’t block, but evades. This was the way.

Many circle dances had a combative element, and wherever slaves from Angola and Congo or Nigeria and Benin were taken, whether it was Surinam, Trinidad, Jamaica, Cuba, Brazil, the Southern States of America, etc… wrestling forms, and kicking fights (often to musical accompaniment) were found.

Capoeira is a combat dance, stylized nowadays, and containing ritual and strategy too. The acrobatic movements were always inherent in the African sparring, and once again, there are many historical descriptions of acrobatic somersaults and dodges performed by African fighters when they were displaying their skills in military demonstrations.

5. What is capoeira now?

Nowadays capoeira is a popular art form, and a pastime of millions. It is a dance, a fight, and a strategic game played to music that has been developed over the centuries from roots amongst African slaves in Brazil. The music is played on the worlds oldest string instrument, the berimbau.

It’s also played on the tall drum, the atabaque, and with tambourines, and the iron clapper-less bell, called an agogo.

6. Do you compete in this sport?

There are capoeira competitions, yes. Most players don’t compete, but some enjoy it, and it’s certainly a sport that can be played as a competition event.

7. Did breakdancing come from capoeira?

Breakdancing didn’t come from capoeira, no. That is an urban myth.

Some modern breakdance moves come from capoeira, but the early B-Boys were more likely to have been inspired by Chinese Kung Fu movies than capoeira, simply because in the 1970s, those were the flicks they were watching.

The earliest break dance was said to come from James Brown’s ‘Good Foot’. There is a whole section on this in the second volume of Capoeira, The Jogo de Angola from Luanda to Cyberspace.

8. How long have the players in the book Capoeira 100 been practicing?

The players in the book: Capoeira 100, have been playing on average ten years each. Two of them, Tina and Tengil started when they were children, and the newest player is Fernando, but he was one of those fast learners.

9. How can the average person ever get fit enough to do these moves?

With capoeira the fitness comes by doing the moves and playing the game. It’s (as I wrote in Capoeira Conditioning) probably best to work on the main forms, that is the squat, the side bend, the au (cartwheel), and the bridge.

Playing capoeira really taxes the aerobic/cardio-vascular system too, so just playing it is great training.

It’s best to make the training varied, but also quite high rep, and that means playing the game, even if it’s only with a chair to a CD, to begin with. Keep moving, and work on allowing the movements to flow together.

10. You’ve also been a chef, a marathon runner, and a singer in an LA punk band. Do these other interests inform your writing, or your teaching?

In one way yes.

I learned that if one wants to do something then the only way to get it done is to put one foot in front of the other and do it, patiently, step by step, and never allow any draw-back to stand in the way.

With cooking it’s the same, and all the time there are new challenges, you know, something runs out in the kitchen, suddenly there is a rush and you have to run around doing twenty things at once, or you have to do the usual thing, but then there’s a buffet of 300 wanting tapas as well. Nothing is ever totally straightforward or exactly perfect as planned. Writing is the same: The computer wont turn on; You have to wait a month for an obscure book from the library; You have to work in the middle of the night or when everyone else is out drinking beer.

My own way of getting things done is to just focus on a goal and go at it with the single idea that no matter what happens, regardless of any eventuality, that thing, that goal, is going to take place.

The punk rock band, I’m not sure how that fits in with my present activities, but it sure was a lot of fun at the time.

11. Your new website and blog look great. Would you consider writing a few posts for us?

Thank you, I’m glad you like them. I have to thank a friend of mine, another English chef here in Norway, John Riley, who designed and made the page for me. Certainly I would be honored to write some posts for the Blue Snake Blog.

12. What are you working on now?

I don’t want to say the exact subject, as I think this is a good idea and I’d rather be a bit further into it before saying what it is. It is a history, it isn’t capoeira (or punk rock) related, and it does entail sitting up to my neck in documents. It’s like starting on a roller coaster ride; I’m just on the first big dip and feeling ‘here I go’. But I really love this subject as much as I love capoeira, so I’m going to enjoy the ride.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 14, 2011 2:50 pm

    a very nice interview. i’m using his book ‘capoeira conditioning’. my thanks to you gerard for the introduction!


  1. capoeira conditioning « studious silliness..

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