Musings on the musical aspects of capoeira - Part 1

Music is an essential element of the capoeira experience

Music is an essential element of the capoeira experience

Hi again!

Today's post is about an aspect of capoeira that makes it unique in the spectrum of the various martial arts - music!

To talk about music, we must also acknowledge the origin of capoeira from slavery in Brazil. The instruments are of African origin, and the lyrical content of the songs often describe slave experience. There are many scholarly papers and analyses of these topics, and I hope that what I share here will pique your interest to seek out other sources of knowledge - I wrote paper a couple years ago about improvisation and capoeira, and I've referred to several sources of literature if you're curious. In this short post, I won't be able to do justice to the depth of the musical history related to capoeira or even the musical experience of capoeira in the present. So, what follows is a brief description of the musical instruments of capoeira. You may find this information easily in other parts of the internet, but I hope to provide this background here first before diving deeper in future posts.

Capoeira music = songs + percussion

When capoeira is "performed" in a group, it is traditionally composed of a ring of people standing around a pair of capoeiristas. This ring is called the "roda" ("circle" in Portuguese). A few of the people play percussion instruments, and generally the person playing the "berimbau" will also be leading the songs in call-and-response format. The rest of the people in the roda accompany the leader by singing the lyrical responses and clapping their hands in rhythm.

A well-balanced capoeirista is not one that can hold an infinite handstand or do backflips - he or she also leads the roda with songs, and can play all the percussion instruments. Each instrument has a simple, but specific rhythm used during a capoeira roda, with the exception of the berimbau, which is played with many patterns and variations. The berimbau is a monochord, bow-shaped instrument that uses a gourd as a resonator. The string is struck by a thin stick, or baqueta. The pitch can be changed by holding a dobrão and pressing it on the string. Listen to a berimbau sample here. See below for the names and images of the instruments.

Image credit: http://gcbtr.com/en_US/music-and-instruments/

Image credit: http://gcbtr.com/en_US/music-and-instruments/

Songs are a very special part of the capoeira roda. They are sung in Portuguese, and the lyrics can be simple words or phrases, playful jokes, commentary about the roda and its participants, or stories of historical figures and events. They often make references to legendary mestres (mestre = master) of capoeira, gods or deities, or the experience of being a slave in Brazil. By singing these songs today, we preserve, honor, and share the stories of the Afro-Brazilian people who developed the art of capoeira over 500 years ago.

Capoeira roda at Stanford University - you see two berimbaus, two pandeiros (they look like tambourines), one agogô double-bell, and the atabaque drum.

Capoeira roda at Stanford University - you see two berimbaus, two pandeiros (they look like tambourines), one agogô double-bell, and the atabaque drum.

Below is a little promotional video produced by Stanford Recreation for the class we've been holding for the past several years the the Stanford Capoeira Club, my home school - Capoeira Narahari. You can hear the instruments in action, and see the interaction between the capoeiristas and the percussionists. The music sets an implicit tempo for the capoeiristas'  movements - slower tempo usually corresponds with slower movements, while faster tempos inspire faster games. There are no hard and fast rules about this though, and the beauty of capoeira is that the movements are improvised on the spot, inspired by the music, whatever happens, happens!

In the next post, I'll dive deeper into this topic. I'm stoked to be starting a new capoeira class at Hyper Active Monkey Fitness. Our first workshop will be on September 25th, 2017 at 8pm (RSVP here). I will be co-teaching with Professor Marcelo Medusa, who is here from Rio de Janeiro. You can learn about him here. He's got tons of tricks up his sleeves and is a talented acrobat, fighter, dancer, and drummer. We will learn basic movements and songs/percussion. It will be super fun. Mark your calendar, and tell your friends!

Let's get moving!
-Megha Makam

GMB Fitness - Focused Flexibility

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Capoeira arriving soon at Hyper Active Monkey Fitness!

Capoeira mischief: smiling because it's all under control!

Capoeira mischief: smiling because it's all under control!

My name is Megha, and I'm stoked to have the opportunity to start teaching capoeira at Hyper Active Monkey Fitness. I've been practicing capoeira for almost 10 years at Stanford with Mestre Beiçola (Capoeira Narahari). Before I write anything else, I would like to first express my gratitude for having such a solid mentor and teacher, in capoeira and in life. I will continue my own training with him, and with his blessing, I'm now taking on more teaching opportunities.

So, who am I?

Don't we all ponder this question? Ok ok, without being too philosophical, this is the short story...at least, my capoeira story.

I first saw capoeira while I was an undergrad at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, taking an Ethnomusicology course. It blew my mind. I was working too much at the time, and I ended up never taking a single capoeira class. I soon graduated and left the country for 6 months, but the regret of never having tried capoeira kept gnawing at me. The Universe set me up with a job at a research lab at Stanford, and in the fall of 2007, I found myself in Palo Alto, CA. A few months later, riding my bike back from campus, I saw a tall guy walking in capoeira uniform playing a berimbau. I practically ran him over I got so excited to see a capoeirista. His name was Shaun, and he told me to come check out Stanford Capoeira Club training sessions. I went that week and never looked back.

Barely a year later, I decided to spend 3 months in Rio de Janeiro to find out more about this new culture I was slowly getting immersed in. I had begun to learn Brazilian dance as well as percussion and cavaquinho, all taught by Mestre Beiçola. I wanted to see the source of all this magic. I was hooked. I'll save the stories from this adventure for future posts, but it was so awesome that I went back to Brazil the following summer for another 3 months. Over the years, I've had the opportunity to teach capoeira to kids and adults at local schools and community centers, public and private events and fairs, at academic conferences (Seoul, Korea) and in other sports clubs (Ultimate Frisbee team in Bangalore, India).

Now a slight detour...

In 2010 I began my doctoral program at Stanford, and seven looooong years later, I earned my PhD in Biology. My thesis is titled, "Glabrous skin regions as thermal portals for human temperature regulation". If you want to learn more about what I did, you can watch my public defense presentation here. In a nutshell, mammals (like us humans) have specialized regions of skin that help transfer heat with the environment. These areas are found on the palms and foot soles, among others. We can mechanically enhance our ability to remove excess body heat generated by exercise by placing a cooling device on these areas. This presents a major advantage for athletes - fatigue is actually a result of over-heating, or elevated core body temperature, not lactic acid buildup, as is commonly believed. Cooling the body core prolongs both anaerobic and aerobic exercise.

What now?

Anyway, as of this summer of 2017 I'm a free bird, trying to combine my dedication to capoeira, movement, and the arts, with my scientific training. I'm hoping to integrate special "science-enhanced" training features in the near future, but first I need to snag some devices from the lab!

I'm really looking forward to working with Coach Jon at Hyper Active Monkey Fitness and growing a team of spunky capoeiristas...our first workshop will be on September 25th, 2017 at 8pm (RSVP here). The cool thing about this workshop is that I will be co-teaching with Professor Marcelo Medusa, who is here from Rio de Janeiro. You can learn about him here. He's got tons of tricks up his sleeves and is a crazy acrobat, fighter, dancer, and drummer. It's gonna be crazy fun. Don't miss it!

Let's get moving!
-Megha Makam

GMB Fitness - Focused Flexibility

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A 3-Way Solution To Overcoming Stress and Obstacles

Tough Mudder and Adventure Races are all about overcoming obstacles!

Tough Mudder and Adventure Races are all about overcoming obstacles!

Training is a huge part of my life. Its fun, tests my limits, and is a HUGE stress reliever. But what happens when something key to that chill factor adds to the stress. Living in Silicon Valley, stress is a very common thing. Fear, anxiousness, and doubt are always just around the corner. With the pressures of being around some of the most intelligent people, helping to move the world around, this anxiety and doubt can creep into the oddest places.

Once such occasion happened to me earlier in the week. I was training in Tricking. If you don’t know what that is, its all those cool martial arts guys spinning and flipping in the air while throwing kicks. While working on a normal Butterfly kick but with a new entry, my anxiousness started setting in...

*If you don't know what a B-Kick is, its at the end of the kicking combos in the beginning of the video below.

Fight Day at Tosetti Institute. Fun times lol. Music by Joakim Karud http://soundcloud.com/joakimkarud

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Its an odd fact, but even I get this way.

I’m human.

With the stress of building a business, personal stuff, and helping clients through their own processes in getting better; the fear, anxiousness, and more started to set in. Luckily with supportive people around me, I was able to push and move forward.

But what do you do if you don’t have that support?

Try these 3 ways to overcome that negativity and keep moving!

Way #1 Move Into The Fear.

It’s all about meeting your fears and facing them head-on. Aim to recognize your fears, acknowledge them and then move through them. Ask yourself what is it that makes you uncomfortable? Have you let yourself get out of shape and are afraid you’ll never get back? Do you have an injury that’s caused you to be afraid of your body? If you can visualize creatively, then you can put your fears in check.  Remember: your body is a beast at baselining itself. Your only job is to trust it and listen.

Way #2 Trust Your Intuition.

It is important when overcoming obstacles and learning to break through barriers that you begin to listen to the still small voice of your body. In most cases, we all want the comfort of having someone telling us what we can and cannot do. However, our highest truth is usually deep down. This is not to say that good opinion of others are not important, but ultimately the decision making comes from within.

When facing a challenge or an obstacle look to how you feel. What are your instincts telling you? Often it is simply your instinct that will move you into a new mindset and raise your consciousness. It’s simply about changing your perspective. Although in order to do this you have to find where your restrictions and boundaries are so that you can move past. Once you know what they are, remember “WAY #1” and meet them head-on.

Way #3 Live Beyond the Boundaries

So what’s the final takeaway from all of this? Staying afraid often keeps us from truly living. Moving forward starts with your attitude. Are you going to keep letting things beat you down and miss whats happening today. Or will you make today the right time to face them.

Life Beyond The Boundaries.

Push past your fears and boundaries and when you’ve settled with that, look for another skill, trick, or plateau to jump.

Stay Ninja!
-Jonathan Magno

If you want another way of facing your fears, try putting yourself in new and uncomfortable positions. A good option to do this is by checking out the  Gold Medal Bodies Vitamin Program.

Stay Ninja!
-Jonathan Magno

 

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Need a customized framework for training? Try Autoregulation!

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In the last post, I covered overcoming hurdles and changing things up. There was even talk about an interesting buzzword; autoregulation.

I didn’t want to get too deep into autoregulation at that point because I wanted to keep things simple...

BUT!

Today might be the day to tell you what this whole autoregulation thing is about.

Autoregulation is basically a way of being able to adjust the training session to the body’s needs at that point in time. First off let me say that this doesn’t mean to jump into every session without a plan, blindfolded, hoping something sticks. That's a bit off course from what we are looking for in our own training, although having time to play while you train has its merits.

What I'm talking about is having an adjustable framework to work from.

Lets take our wall assisted handstand as an example. To add to this, lets set a simple baseline to follow while your understanding this method. There are many methods to autoregulation including those from our friends at Gold Medal Bodies.

To start off, lets take the ideas of quality, quantity, and time. Say that our chosen training activity, the wall assisted handstand, will be given a time frame of 20 minutes. In that 10 minute time frame, I set a goal(quantity) of a 30 second handstand with a quality of a controlled kick-up lightly touching the wall and straight line. I have an added base point of stopping after not being able to hold a quality 20 second handstand even if its before the 20 minute time frame ends.

So what I’ve done is set up some “soft” parameters that i can play with in order to adjust my body accordingly to the task. This is important when building a skill, because you are learning to utilize your body. We have the added biological mess, that your bodies current state is a result of stimuli received previously.

You can look up more on the subject by doing a quick google search. But if you want to get a taste of auto-regulated skill training and mindfulness, test out one of the Gold Medal Bodies Elements programs.

Stay Ninja!
-Jonathan Magno

 

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Need a Different Result, Make a Change!

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The last entry I posted was about adding weights to your hand balance training. Its a great way to build up the necessary muscles and stimulate the right activation.

But, what do you do if you keep training in the same manner but reach a standstill.

I can get into processes like autoregulation, but I’m going to make this simple and say just change things up!

Take a look at the video below for example. One of the things I focus my training on is boxing. But that's not all I work on. Every now and then I like to mix things up to see what I need to work on and test other things like kickboxing or mma. Throwing yourself in the fire can surprise you sometimes, as long as its within a range you're capable of handling.

Question of the Day: Why am I so short! Lol

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Now lets place this thought into more familiar territory. Handstands.

There was a time when I would spend about 30 min 5-6 days a week on my hand balancing. Not including the periodic times during the day.

Luckily, I have a nice open floor to train without many restrictions, so I had quite a few opportunities to practice my freestanding handstand. Although working on the freestanding handstand is great, constantly working on your bailout isn’t. In other words it doesn’t help if you cant keep the hold.

Whenever I would attempt and start to lose the hold, I would just bail. I could have tried to power through and waste energy, but I try to think of myself as more of technical guy than anything else.

So I decided to test and change things up. I tried variations off the fall, different surfaces, and even stalling from cartwheels.

This creates the dual effect of shocking your body and refreshing your mind. If you ever feel tired and stuck, a small or even big change-up might be what you may need.

Just keep it simple, stay consistent with your training, then alter things now and then. A change will happen!

Stay Ninja!
-Jon

So in short, look at what your own goals are and see what will work best for your situation.

If you want another way to crosstrain your body, check out the  GMB Vitamin Program!

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Can you Crosstrain for your Handstands!?

Will weight lifting and cross-training help you out with your handstands? 

Depends!

Still a bit different back in 2013. Cross-Training with Boxing and Calisthenics lol.

Still a bit different back in 2013. Cross-Training with Boxing and Calisthenics lol.

I’m going to expound on the idea. Weight-lifting is a ranged term that can involve power lifting, olympic lifts, bodybuilding, or old-fashioned strength training. A big qualifier on your results is in how you lift.

Certain exercises are going to help you out. While others will probably only add small gains towards your end goal.

Specifically for pressing movements. It requires a tremendous amount of strength to be able to press your own body overhead. You need strong triceps, shoulders, but more importantly a strong core.

Since many of the inverted presses take you through different planes of movement; not strictly overhead work, like the press from the frogger, you will also need strong pectoral muscles in addition to the core.

So strengthening these muscles will make your varied progressions easier.

Then again hand balancing takes a huge degree of balance. While weightlifting can help your coordination, it is nothing compared to what you need to stand on your hands.

Being able to press a heavy barbell overhead has no carryover to being able to hold a handstand.

A handstand is a skill and needs to be practiced in order for you to get good at it.

These days many people are moving away from weights because they think they are not functional. You know what? It just depends on what you’re doing with them.

Whether you decide to build you upper body strength with barbell presses or with handstand pushups, its really up to you. They both build strength.

So in short, look at what your own goals are and see what will work best for your situation.

If you want another way to crosstrain your body, check out the  GMB Vitamin Program!

GMB Fitness - Focused Flexibility

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Get Your Fingers to the Floor!

Handstands, Cartwheels, the Crow and more

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It will probably come as no surprise that out of all the body weight styles of training from bar work, to rings, and even all the tricky stuff; my favorite sets will always revolve around floorwork.

My basis for this is probably another unsurprising fact. You really don’t need any other piece of equipment other than your body using this style of training. To top it off, it creates a nice strong foundation for the other body skills. Even if you’re having an issue with a move through either fear or even sloppy form, you can practice a lateral skill progression on the ground to build up that kinesthetic or confidence. I do this all the time.

In relation to your floor work; having strong, flexible, and coordinated fingers is a top priority. This is because in certain maneuvers, you are basically replacing your feet with your hands, which should have a similar level of control.

Before we move forward, lets build out on this idea by touching on the feet for a second. Specifically we’ll focus on your toes.

I want you to try something without getting too deep into it. But before you do this make sure that you are in a safe area where you won’t hurt yourself.

I want you to lean your shoulders forward as far as you can until your shoulders get past your toes.

Did you notice something? Were your toes gripping for dear life so that you could try and stay upright? Did you also take steps or shift your feet so that you could find your balance again? My guess is yes.

You can go ahead and do the same laterally to the left or right and even backward if you like.

Its the same thing with your fingers and hands while you are doing floor work. Your fingers are like your toes gripping on to the floor to give stability and balance. If your body starts shifting forward, your fingers can grip the ground and act as your breaks. In a similar fashion, your thumb can slow you down if you start falling back to where you started. Your fingers are intergral in maintaining that structure. Especially in the beginning of your handstand journey.

A final way that your fingers can enhance your floor work is by relieving stress on your joints, and pulling the wrists out of full flexion thereby reducing the load on them. I’m all about testing. Try running through your floorwork with your fingertips gripping and see if it changes your stability and balance!

If you get some good results, be sure to let me know!

The HyperMonkey
-Jonathan Magno

PS If you want to become more skilled and develop your floor work, check out GMB Floor 1!

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Coach is Sparring??? and the Benefits of Boxing

Am I sparring?

Actually I spar quite a bit. What type of sparring do I partake in?

Boxing!

It's one of the oldest sports and forms of combat in the world. The earliest known evidence of it comes from a Sumerian relief form the 3rd Millenium BCE. Boxing can be found all over the ancient world. Its honestly still a thriving form of exercise, sport, and combat.

So, why am I talking about Boxing? It’s one of my favorite pastimes. But even if you don’t want to “fight” or test yourself, its one of the best ways to get your body in shape and gain some internalized strength.

Lets take a look at some of the benefits of just the fitness portion:

  • You can burn around 700-1500 calories in an hour and that isn’t a bad thing.
  • You get a great metabolic workout and steady state depending on what you’re focusing on.
  • You run through multiple movement patterns.
  • You build skills while testing your brain with a variety of mental exercises.
  • Finally, its a solid form of stress relief because you get to hit something.

So whats the point of this post?

It becomes an excellent choice for you to get active and I get to include you on a piece of my life outside of movement and handstands.

If you are interested in what boxing looks like or want to see me actually spar, check out the video below!

If you liked the video and want to increase your conditioning, check out the   GMB Integral Strength Program!

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