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Growing Crystals: FICA Capoeira Women’s Conference and Initiating Real Change

April 3, 2008

Before his eyes, as he walked, he saw a star of crystalline material in the solution appear and then grow suddenly and radiantly until it filled the entire vessel. He saw it grow. Where before was only clear liquid there was now a mass so solid he could turn the vessel upside down and nothing would come out. (-Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

FICA Capoeira Women's ConferenceLast month, the capoeira organization FICA (Fundaçao International de Capoeira de Angola) held a capoeira women’s conference in Washington, DC. While having the conference alone was a worthwhile and important undertaking, the real value of this event didn’t appear until towards the end, when capoeira students and teachers together discussed and presented issues and ideas related to women in capoeira. These included topics such as the treatment of women by their teachers or mestres in capoeira class, the representation of women in capoeira, and women capoeiristas who have just given birth or are raising small children.

Each of these discussions began simply with people exchanging ideas, sprinkling and pouring and measuring out intangible thoughts into an invisible solution that hung in the air, a transparent nebula restlessly releasing and absorbing telepathic atoms according to each speaker’s whim. Eventually, these ethereal currents will become a castle in the sky, which will then be reigned in down to earth by those who built it, their ideas crystallized into a much more observable form: action.

“Vision without action is merely a dream,” as the saying goes. Especially for someone like me who loves getting caught up in ideas and the abstract, keeping this in mind is essential if one ever expects great ideas or visions of change to become more than just sparks in the air. The FICA capoeira women’s conference provided several examples of such a transition starting to happen, with musings and opinions on relationships, mass media, and capoeira concepts developing into applicable solutions such as building a website about women in capoeira, or a list of practical ways to avoid having to take a full-blown “maternity leave” or “paternity leave” from capoeira.

In a way, this transformation of ideas into action parallels how many (though not all) capoeira students first learn to think about various concepts and ideas in capoeira, and then learn to apply them while playing in the roda. Concepts such as malícia, mandinga, and malandragem are abstract, holistic, elusive, and ambiguous, with only ever ephemeral and inadequate definitions to their names. Once a capoeirista develops enough skill, however, one begins to see manifestations of their understanding of these concepts inside the roda, in the physical form of sly traps, innovative feints, and downright genius escape-cum-counter-attacks.

You never know what will grow out of a tiny idea

When, however, does the air-like world of the abstract condense into the everyday sphere of earth? Or, more importantly, how? While the FICA conference showed this process of discourse turning into real change in the capoeira world itself, this is also about other frames and bigger pictures, relating to my original post on capoeira and change, which asked how exactly capoeira could turn its own verbal and physical discourse into real change in the rest of the world.

Simplifying things, I believe it all comes down to two very rare, very valuable substances: time and motivation. You need time for your ideas to sort themselves out, to implement them, to backtrack and retrace steps, and to let things unfold, grow, and start taking effect. Motivation is the end result when you combine passion, inspiration, anti-apathy, determination, vision, and ambition, and the more you have of this, the less important time is to start with, because if you are truly motivated about your idea or bringing about change, you will make the time you need.

The reason I say this motivation is rare is seen in the truth of Margaret Mead’s words:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Motivation, the type and degree needed to fuel hard work, eat barriers like they’re energy bars, bring projects to fruition, and work tirelessly against the dead weight of apathy, is unfortunately not as common a phenomenon as, for instance, consumerism. Even if people, including me, including capoeiristas, a group among whom I’ve met the most inspired people in the shortest amount of time since—well, ever—care about something and are inspired towards a cause, it still won’t, in point of fact, make a difference in the world to just want to do it, until you actually do it.

It doesn’t matter what you want to do, whether it’s building a school in Brazil, organizing a conference, starting a podcast, writing a feminist capoeira song, or just calling a friend to stir up more ideas; the important thing is that you do what you want done. If you have the solution, then the alchemy is up to you; no one else will turn that vapour into gold.

Because, just like in capoeira, if you don’t play the game you want while inside the roda, then who’s going to play it for you?

Click here to see other posts in Joaninha’s “Capoeira and Change” series

Picture sources:

Joaninha, who writes under her capoeira nickname, has practiced capoeira since 2005. She is an undergraduate English major, and is interested in a career in writing, editing, publishing, journalism, or related fields. Joaninha also runs her own blog, Mandingueira, which is a feminist blog about capoeira.

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