Recently our capoeira group here in Seoul help our annual spring challenge event where teachers and students come from other parts of the world come to train and play. We had guests from the United States, France, Israel, China and Japan. Here we were, this motley crew from diverse backgrounds – a melting pot of ages, races, occupations, languages.
Because my body likes to crap out on me when there is some big, exciting event that I’ve been looking forward to (re: exorcist-style vomiting in Rio on NYE), I was mostly resigned to being slumped against the wall like a puppet watching as I fended off a very unpleasant virus/sinus infection/curse from the gods above. This gave me plenty of time to think (wow, there’s something I don’t do enough of!). And observe. And philosophize.
So while I couldn’t hone my attacks or escapes, I did come to the realization that the essence of capoeira is about community. This epiphany may or may not have been spurred by the guest teachers who during a panel discussion talked about how the sense of community was what kept them involved in the martial art, what nourished and sustained their years of dedication, and propelled their development. It sounds cliched but being involved in such an activity can really help create a sense and experience of oneness, of unity, of togetherness, of solidarity.
Indeed, as the star teacher of our event, Mestre Urubu Malandro emphasized, camaraderie is a central pillar of capoeira philosophy. He modeled this by being incredibly warm, friendly, patient and social with all students, regardless of their level. Instrutora Ligeirinha, who has worn the hats of lawyer, diplomat and journalist began to cry gently as she shared her journey in capoeira and how the people she had met, and continues to meet, inspire her to keep training.
And it is a very beautiful thing to experience this unconditional love and support, no matter how much you suck, someone is willing to help you, to encourage you, to motivate you, to inspire you, and of course, as you claw your way up the ladder, you don’t kick those beneath you, but reach down to help lift them up.
Given how isolating living in South Korea can be, especially as a foreign woman, I don’t think I could function without seeing the faces of those in my capoeira group every week. My advice to any expatriate anywhere is to get a passion/hobby/sport and become part of a community that can foster social connection. It sounds kind of obvious, but I guess I was too bookish, lazy and narrow-minded to figure this out earlier. And so, being a part of this community is how, during this event, I came to have a birthday party in which Happy Birthday was sung to me in English, Korean, Portuguese and HEBREW! In which I got to connect with people much younger and much older than me, from all over the world. In which I got cream thrown on my face. In which I got my ass kicked playing with rock star capoeiristas. In which I felt a sense of love and gratitude for those I was with. A buzz of wonderment at the shared humanity of those from such different walks of life.