Life is a marvelous adventure with ups and downs. While playing Capoeira for almost 10 years of my life I learned one important lesson: the higher you fly, the deeper you fall – but, it doesn’t matter how hard you hit the ground, the only thing that really counts is how fast you get up without ever losing sight of your opponent. In the following 10 years I became an entrepreneur running my own small business in Italy and what I learned in Capoeira actually came in quite handy.
Although I practiced martial arts since I was about 10, only at about 16 I first came in contact with Capoeira while on an exchange program in Brazil. Internet was still in a very early stage back in 1997 and I hadn’t even heard of this marvelous art form until then. Bodies of incredibly fit and strong men and women flew through the air while kicking and leaping towards the other in never ending waves of attack and defense, engagement and retreat, smiles and laughter, friendship and enemies. Music from a strange an ancient sounding instrument, the berimbau, kept dictating speed and rhythm. I was hooked on the spot. Incredibly friendly locals were happy, almost eager to teach me, that weird gringo, the basics as their guest. At about 18 years I finally started out practicing in a real Capoeira school back in Germany where my family lives. The teacher had migrated from Brazil to open a school abroad. General conception was that a boy at my age should study hard and prepare for his professional career at College or University. Soon criticism began roaring. “You should concentrate on your studies, go to university, don’t waste time, sports careers are insecure, what you do is useles, you seem in a sect standing in that circle” plus an infinite flow of other “adult worrying about life” talk began pounding on my head. It wasn’t easy to resist, so I did both – I studied hard and I played Capoeira even harder.
Lesson 1 – learn to fall
Yes, falling is an essential part of a Capoeira game and of business. Whether you are familiar with what Capoeira is or what it means to have a Capoeira lifestyle doesn’t matter much. Just understand one message stated in a very famous Capoeira song: In life one falls, you will be swept off your feet, who never fell, is not Capoeira. You can’t call yourself an entrepreneur until you went through some tough situations either. If you never fell (or failed) and didn’t even go close, you were either very lucky or you weren’t pushing it to the max. Falling in Capoeira and failing in entrepreneurship are valuable lessons. True assets. Don’t be afraid of falling as it will keep you from performing best. There usually is a why you fell, even if you simply tripped over your own feet. The more painful it was, the more likely it is that you will not repeat your mistake easily. Sure, you may want to try playing it safe, but no defense ever will be perfect and being on your guard at all times will wear you out, not make the game happen and make you look a lot less cool in front of your friends.
Be aware and warned: there is a fine line between brave and just plain dumb. You don’t want to be a dumbass and get hurt for nothing. Do your homework, train hard and learn. Understand the game. Take calculated calculated risks, don’t throw your face into an approaching kick just to show that you are not afraid of failing.
Lesson 2 – resist criticism
A lot of people will criticize you for being fanatic, overly focussed, totally absorbed and always thinking about Capoeira, especially when living the lifestyle that comes with it. Nevertheless, especially when starting out you will not look good at all, your friends will make fun of your moves and think you have totally gone nuts walking around in your havaianas and colored pants whistling the latest “the girl from ipanema” cover. “Normal” people don’t train 3-4 hours a day and if you didn’t have time during the week then you will be crazy enough to train on Sunday mornings. Why would you ever want to learn Portuguese just to sing songs while clapping your hands standing in a circle? Why don’t you just stop behaving weird and get back to having beers with your friends, play soccer or watch TV for hours like normal people do on their couch?
If you can’t handle their nagging, you will give up before you even started, or you will heavily underperform with the risk of getting hurt in the roda. Wake up, dedication is the only way to become badass in whatever you really want to achieve in life, in Capoeira or in business.
Lesson 3 – find the right mentor
Any student in anything in life has the absolute hardest of all tasks. You have to go out and find the best teacher without knowing anything about the subject you are eager to learn. Capoeira teachers and business coaches are everywhere today. Many hardly know the important basics, don’t have any experience in teaching or coaching, yet never fail to hand you their bill. Some bad teachers know how to backflip and fly through the air in an incredibly fancy and swift manner. They shine in every moment up to the last wrinkle on their smiling face and may ask you for high monthly fees to teach you mainly fancy but useless stuff. Does that really serve your purpose? They appear immensely successful and they are very popular, but strange enough, they usually never have money and always ask you to help them with all sorts of things. Who is teaching who here?
Not everybody who appears successful actually is successful. Not everybody who does fancy moves is actually able to teach you or to even put their movement in a context in Capoeira. Nevertheless, when you are totally on your own, having a teacher with a little knowledge is better than not having anybody who knows about Capoeira at all. But be on guard – it sometimes takes years to unlearn or correct bad basics. Years of bad training may permanently harm parts of your body such as knees or ankles. You may end up bruised and even scarred more than necessary. It may also be that it serves you better to learn from books, DVDs or YouTube videos, but the only way to possibly find out is to start the journey.
Never be afraid of moving on. Talk to more than one master and train with as many people as possible. Valuable lessons often come from unexpected sources. As you keep learning and growing your ability to recognize who counts grows steadily.
Lesson 4 – quit the excuses
Few things in life are harder than being constantly motivated and eager to train and grow – especially when you are starting to move to an advanced level. That nagging little voice in the back of your head is just too committed to keep you in bed or emphasize that little bruise you got the other day while sparring. Well, it does hurt a lot, doesn’t it? Quit the excuses and get back to business. Sure, your girlfriend (or boyfriend) is a far more comforting company than your peers who are competing with your for the master’s grace. They don’t stop training because you are hiding under mummy’s skirt. They may be friendly or hostile, but in any way they are indispensable to you as you can measure against their progress.
Lesson 5 – grow your network
Amongst capoeiristas it is really easy to make friends, as long as you don’t happen to be rivals in love or for some master’s grace. That is rather the exception. Your network is crucial for your personal success. When you know many fellow capoeiristas you will be invited to train together off classes, play Capoeira in the park, go visit other schools, receive (often free) teaching and, especially when traveling, always have a couch to sleep on. Your network creates a ton of opportunity, so you really can’t afford not having it. Sure, you can be a number one perfect student and be the best in your school, but you will not have as much respect. Something will be missing. To go to parties and be socially involved is essential. Yes, sometimes you will be hung over and your training (or performance) the next morning will be quite moderate. The laughs, the joy and the new connections you made the night before are invaluable. Your smile will make up for the rest.
Lesson 6 – put on your best smile
Smiling is sooooo important and so underestimated. It makes you tons of contacts, it makes you appear more attractive and you will step up your sex life. The main importance of a large smile is that it just plainly makes you look better. A genuinely smiling person usually isn’t aggressive so a lot more creative and amazing games will develop with your peers. Your smile is your biggest asset in being popular.
Be aware: to be always smiling is also the best way to hide any of your real intentions in a Capoeira game. Always read your opponents movement, rather that only look at his facial expression. He or she might be actually putting up their best smile in order to hide their fiercest rasteira (foot swipe) that is going to be applied on you.
Lesson 7 – live a healthy lifestyle
Being fiscally active does not mean you have a healthy lifestyle. On the contrast, you may suffer from increased oxidative stress on your body’s cells due to the increased amount of oxygen consumption. While no extremist choice ever made much sense, since you already became active, you could also make the effort to pick better food and get more sleep. There are times in which you won’t be able to follow this rule. Going from one training to another or visiting multiple batizados you will probably not get enough rest and you may at times not eat as well as you should. Your overall mental and physical performance increases significantly though when you follow the rules. Get back to it and be disciplined, it makes a huge difference in your life’s quality and your bodies performance. Take days off from training and relax body and mind. There is no use in getting worn out. It won’t do you much good and is counter productive.
Lesson 8 – never give up
The learning curve in Capoeira is a lot slower than in other martial art forms or other sports. While in the beginning you will have swift progress and lots of satisfaction, you will soon slow down as your level rises. This is quite frustrating and where most people give up. Sometimes even after years of practicing. You will often train for months but you never seem to advance a single bit further in your skills. But, if you keep at it, constantly train, refine your objectives and never miss training – sooner or later you will shine. A huge progress step will happen and you basically leap forward unleashing that accumulated knowledge and wisdom into your next level of development. Fame and attentions will be noticeable. Never forget that we are humans. We learn by imitation, by mistakes and by conditioning – repetition, repetition, repetition.
Today Capoeira is a widely accepted, practiced and even admired art form. That is only quite a recent development. Up to the early 1930s it was forbidden to be practiced and severe punishment awaited transgressors. That this marvelous art would one day be taught in schools and spread around the world was totally unimaginable those days. The old masters risked their lives, resisted and opposed the strongest of governmental repression to preserve their lifestyle.
Hopefully not, but it might be that at a certain stage of your entrepreneurship you will have to fight for the survival of your business, your investment and even your company. So why not see the fight as a game, Capoeira style?
Also published on Medium.