I’ve been wanting to publish this article for a longer time, but I didn’t find the right way to express my thoughts (not always easy when not writing in your native language!). Anyhow, I finally found the time to rewrite it.
PS: If you are a casual capoeira practitioner, enjoying a class once or twice a week, this article might not be very relevant to you. I am aiming this towards the capoeiras who have high ambitions.
The title says it all actually, my philosophy in capoeira has been “moderation is the key to longevity” for a long time. In other words, I believe that to be able to successfully practice capoeira for decades you shouldn’t give yourself 100% all the time.
One of my personal goals is to become 60+ years old and still be able to walk into an academy and play a game, all while being in good health and physical shape. I aim to practice capoeira for many years to come, if my personal life allows it. I’m halfway there, with still more than 30 years to go. In order to fulfill this goal I have to make sure that I:
- take care of my body,
- keep a consistent level of motivation,
- don’t get entangled in politics,
- maintain a healthy balance between work – family – capoeira.
Thus, to achieve this, I believe moderation is the key.
To be the best in the game
We all look up to the best of the best, the capoeiras you constantly see on Instagram and Capoeira Movies. They are the 1% (figuratively speaking) who really dedicate themselves to the art. We admire their skills and the effort these athletes are willing to put into their careers. They conquer every game in every roda, perform the craziest floreios, and turn each bateria into a generator of infinite energy.
But there’s an important downside to being one of the best in the game: you won’t be able to keep this up for your entire career. It’s the same as with other sports. How many 60 year old pro footballers, soccer players, cyclists, … have you seen in action? Athletes often peak in their mid twenties and by the time they’re 35, they are ready to retire.
It’s no different in capoeira (except for the fact you won’t get rich from it). Practicing capoeira for hours each day takes its toll on your mind and body. Eventually your body will start to break down (damaged knees, early signs of arthritis, bad back and hips, sensitive wrists, …) and you’ll either lose motivation or get in a rut and just function on auto pilot. If you want to be part of the best, you will have to give in on at least one of the bullet points I mentioned above.
Next to the physical sacrifices you’d have to make, there are other sacrifices as well. In order to become one of the best, you have to put everything else on a second or third place. If capoeira really is your life, you won’t have time to build up a professional career outside of capoeira and family might come in second as you’re always training and traveling.
If capoeira is your one and only goal, and you are confident you can reach the top (be it worldwide or local!), by all means, go for it. But I learned that the majority of practitioners who try to join that 1% fail somehow along the way. They are left with physical injuries, a lot of frustration and loss of motivation. The end result? Capoeira loses very talented and once motivated people.
To save yourself from this fate, you’ll have to make a choice at some point: redirect your focus or redistribute your work – family – capoeira balance.
During my many years of playing capoeira I’ve seen it happen a lot. Most of the people who were more experienced, talented and hard working than me quit. And as a result I’ve often felt alone with almost nobody to train with.
A different angle
Going back to my goal of a lifelong capoeira career, I chose a different perspective several years ago. I don’t want to have my knee(s) replaced at the age of 35, I don’t want arthritis in a few years and I knew for sure I wanted to place my education, career and family on the first place before capoeira. This does not at all mean that capoeira means little to me. I train and teach three times a week, I travel a few times a year and not a day goes by without thinking about the art: preparing classes, managing our school, organizing events, studying music, researching and reading, …
But, I always keep the physical aspect in moderation. To give you one concrete example, I’ve consciously chosen not to learn aerial acrobatics to spare my body. I’ll also never train days and hours in a row and I’ll always make sure I have enough energy and motivation left for the next class. Again, this doesn’t mean I don’t train hard. It’s definitely my goal to try and give everything during each class.
Aside from the physical aspect, it’s easier to give yourself a little more to the theoretical and musical sides of capoeira: reading a book or watching a documentary can more easily be done when you have a free moment in your day. I find it doesn’t require the same amount of effort. You can still study capoeira while being at home with your family.
There’s of course a big consequence to my decision. I’ll never be one of the best. Not even in my area or my group. Sure, I’m a decent player for my level, I got a very solid base, I know stuff and I’m very dedicated to capoeira within the limits of my time. But I’ll always be more or less average. People around me with less experience are doing back flips, parafusos and chutados while I’m stuck to the ground.
Sometimes I reflect on my early days in capoeira and realize I should’ve trained harder. I could’ve been a significantly better player, and that thought can sting when comparing yourself to others.
As my belt gets higher with the years, I’m more and more confronted with this fact as I’m more frequently surrounded by Brazilians wearing the same belt and having twice the skills I have. Then I try to remind myself that those people probably somehow depend on capoeira to live. They have to perform, while I have a steady desk job and the freedom to play capoeira when I want and how I want.
Coping with being average
I’ve always been mostly okay with this idea. Sometimes there are moments when I envy better players (both “celebrities” and friends). And I’ve found a way to cope with that: I’m here for the long run. When everyone else of my generation has quit and I’m still doing cartwheels at age 70, who’s going to laugh then? 😉
Over the years I’ve also found another way to cope with my physical limits. I tend to invest more time researching capoeira and practicing music. As I said earlier, I find it easier to allocate time for these things without impacting my family – work – capoeira balance.
Nevertheless, I have a lot of respect for real athletes, in and outside of capoeira. The dedication those people have and the things they achieve are amazing. In capoeira, you get to see extremely skilled players at events. Seeing them play the way they do creates a form of motivation because you want to be able to do what they do. They inspire people and everyone needs inspiration.