Friday, July 27, 2012


Not everyone starts capoeira at the same place, and not everyone progresses at the same pace. Someone who starts capoeira at age 20 after ten years of karate will take to it more quickly than a 50-year-old who has always been exercise-averse. Natural ability plays a role, as does one's current level of fitness - and, of course, how frequently one trains.

It quickly became clear to me when I started that the only advantage I had was seven years of yoga, which had improved my flexibility and balance. Still, I have never had strength or speed (I'm made for endurance), and I've always found understanding motion by watching it to be difficult. And, of course, in your very first class, everyone is better than you.

My mom tells a story of when I was a baby, I clearly wanted to learn to sit up. My stomach muscles weren't developed enough yet, so I would lie there and try and try and end up screaming and trying again. Somewhere in my youth, though, I lost that determination. I figured out I was better at some things than others, and I put my effort into them. That's generally rational, but sometimes the things you are good at involve a smattering of things you aren't so good at, so what are you going to do? And some things we all have to do, like it or not. Few of us become skilled at washing the dishes out of an innate love or talent.

So, the natural thing for me to do would have been to give up capoeira after a few lessons.

Instead, I made a deal with myself. I would not compare my progress to anyone else's. I deliberately said, "It's okay if other people learn a movement faster than me, or if they get cordaos faster than me. I expect that and accept it." Because that was the only way I could avoid beating myself up for not "winning" at training.

The point wasn't to get out of working hard or to give myself permission to skip a lot of classes. On the contrary: The other end of the bargain with myself was that I had to take training seriously. The only advantage I could bring to the table, besides my yoga background, was regular training. Even if I was progressing slowly, I wanted my teachers to know that I was committed to progressing.

I had a conversation about this very topic the other day with a friend who is years and miles ahead of me. Yet he spoke of certain other advanced students as being naturally talented, while he had to work very hard, and said that it was difficult for him not to compare himself to them. I know he trains hard (and, that rarest of traits, does so without making a big show out of it). I don't know how accurate his assessment of his talent was, but it was reassuring to me that sheer stubbornness could get someone that far.

And I do get better, slowly, in spite of myself. Maybe I have a little more of that screaming baby in me still than I thought.

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