Dealing with isolation in experience

In my previous post I concluded that I had to think about where I’m going in capoeira. Today I’d like to share what has been going on in my head. I know I am not the only one dealing with this problem, so I hope some of you can relate to my thoughts as they are difficult to put into words.

It was about five years ago, maybe longer, that I heard a teacher (let’s call him Azul) complain for the first time about being technically isolated. He is a capoeira from the generation before me and at the time had about 15 years of experience. He and the guys from his generation had amazing technical, theoretical and musical skills and they had been graduados for some time. When I asked what he meant with “feeling isolated” he explained:

“I teach weekly in my town but there are no classes nearby. With all my students being beginners, I have no one to train with. There are no special classes for teachers in our area and if I want to train with someone of my own level, I’d have to drive over an hour to another town. When I get there, the others lack energy and motivation, which in turn drains my energy. Sure, I can train by myself. But if you’re not really feeling motivated than that’s very hard to do. I am not challenged anymore.”

I didn’t understand and thought by myself: “Come on, suck it up. Go train! Visit a class nearby, even if there are only beginners there. Go stand in line and practice your basics!”. I was surprised to hear that a person I looked up to was losing his motivation due to the lack of challenge. I’ve always been very motivated. Actually, I’ve never felt not motivated in capoeira. As long as I could train, no matter the subject or difficulty of the training, I was happy.

In the next one or two years, almost all of Azul’s close friends quit playing capoeira because they lacked the proper motivation. They didn’t enjoy the art anymore. Azul was now one of the only guys in our area with his level, and we started seeing less and less of him. I blamed him for his “attitude”. There are plenty of classes in our region and even though there weren’t really any advanced students, how could Azul think that he was so good he couldn’t learn anything new by attending regular classes?

Becoming “Azul”

Since the start of the new season, I’ve been feeling like Azul. And I finally came to understand what he meant back then. As mentioned in my last post, I’m close to celebrating my 15th capoeira year. Most people I “grew up” with in capoeira have stopped training. Nowadays, I have to drive to another town to find a graduado who can challenge me (and I am seriously not that good). Most of the time, when I get there (full of energy), I notice the other guys aren’t really up for a good training. Sure, they are in class every week but that’s about where it stops. They are present, but not really going for it. And that really bums me out.

These last couple of months I’ve started to feel isolated myself. When I ask around if anyone wants to hang out and train during the weekend or maybe practice some instruments, everyone always has something better to do. I hardly ever get anyone to join me to go to an event. And when I am training instead of teaching, the rest of the advanced students seem to be half-assing it. I feel a void that I haven’t felt before.

For now I’m trying to fill it by maintaining this blog, doing more research and reading books, and practicing music by myself. But I don’t now for how long that will be enough to fill a void which was partly filled with physical challenges, good rodas and intense trainings. My wrist and knee injuries which I wrote about last week aren’t really helping things. Sure, I could start doing other things (like fitness) to improve my capoeira, but then I’m not doing capoeira.

What now?

Should I follow my own advice and just suck it up? Or is there another way to deal with this? Maybe I should go talk to Azul. I’m glad there are still plenty of things that lift my mood, like teaching and seeing my students progress. But I need to keep improving as well, before my students surpass me. I have no clue how to do so without the right challenges and the right people around me.

And Azul? He is slowly coming back from the shadows, following classes from time to time. But he’s not the capoeirista I remember. I hope I am strong enough to avoid that happening to me.


PS: My next post will be less depressing and more interesting.


Update (03/02/2018)

It’s been a little over two months since I wrote this post and I thought I should write a short update.

Not much has changed since then, things are still pretty much the way they are. And I don’t expect a lot of changes since it is more of a fundamental problem with the local capoeira community. There is one thing I learned though: events are where the challenges are. If you’re not feeling challenged when training with the people you know, try visiting an event from time to time. Even if your students or friends don’t want to come, try to find one buddy who wants to join you or go by yourself. Even if it is just for one day, going to a workshop really refuels my batteries. So that is my plan for the next half year: going to more workshops to look for new challenges.

— Vinho

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