Recently, I went to the 3rd Annual Mandingueiros Batizado 2009, a regional Capoeira event in Alexandria, VA. A good childhood friend of mine, Sami Ahmed (“Selo” as he is referred to by his fellow capoeiristas), has been involved and practicing capoeira for several years [and was actually receiving his new cord to become a monitor at this event!]. Any ideas about capoeira I had were due to films I may have seen that showed some capoeira, or my roommate’s description of her college beginners level class. However, those stories are no where near how great it is to be there in person and see and watch people practicing Capoeira. I got to witness the actual batizado, which is essentially the ceremonial process in which individuals become official members and receive either their first cords or new ones symbolizing their transition onto a higher level.
Following the batizado, I got a chance to talk to his instructor and creator of Grupo Ondas, Silas Pinto. Silas Pinto was born and raised in Cape Verde. His parents ran a church and were very religious. Due to the lack of adequate educational and career opportunities, Pinto moved to 1989 to the U.S. to go to University of Rhode Island. He went all the way to receive his doctorate in psychology. He is now a Tufts University Graduate level professor in psychology. He has a wife , 2 kids aged 3 1/2 year and 1 year old.
During his university years, he decided he wanted to learn capoeira and start sharing it with other people so he created Grupo Ondas. Grupo Ondas was officially created in 1996 and originates from Rhode Island at University of Rhode Island. In capoeira, there are three center styles: Regional, Contemporary, and Angola. Grupo Ondas practices regional. Silas wanted to take traditional brazilian capoeira and introduce other cultures to it and vice versa. It is well-known among capoeiristas that Brazilian’s tend to be very protective about their capoeira. The current Grupo Ondas logo has Cape Verde flag because Silas wanted the group to reflect unity and cross-cultural significance. Initially, Silas based the group out of URI, since that provided the necessary financial support for travel and outreach that a university could provide in those early days. Overtime, the group started to be more widely accepted especially among other more traditional capoeiristas. Now it has roughly 150-200 members and managers to maintain the operational aspect of the ever-growing group.
Here’s how the rest of our conversation about Grupo Ondas and capoeira went:
How can Capoeira apply to other aspects of someone’s life? What tools have you used from this art to apply to rest of life?
I learned about respect. Respect for people of different ethinicities and ages. We learned about self-control, discipline, friendship, community, protect not destruct. Motto is: build true confidence, knowledge in mind, honesty in heart, and strength in body.
Why should someone start learning? If you were to convince a young working adult to start practicing what would you say?
Many times people are attracted to Capoeira simply for the aesthetics of it. It looks cool and fun to everyone. Personally, I stayed because of the challenge on all levels. Its not just a sport but it actually makes you a better person because of the people you meet and principles you learn. People come in and out of our group often because ultimately they are a bit anarchy-minded. Discipline and rules are key to learning and excelling in capoeira. Ultimately, capoeira chooses you as does any sport. How well you do in this sport is determinant usually on two factors: 1) innate ability to do well in this specific sport 2) proper training.
Where would you like the group to go from here? Future Plans?
Well in regards to the studio space, it is open to existence of the mall. The studio just serves to be useful space for our group and community. [sidenote: over the past 5 years there have been reports that Landmark Mall is suppose to close].
In regards to Grupo Ondas, I would like to see more focus on inner structure. I don’t want to lose personal relationship I have with each student. Knowing their names, family members. At the same time, I still want it to grow so that it can be financially stable and can run itself. Ideally, I would like to have it so that the schools are spawned from our own, meaning our current students continue on to be instructors.
This is the 3rd Annual Mandingueiros Batizado. What’s been the biggest change you have seen since the 1st one? What’s been biggest challenge? Proudest moment?
This is the 3rd annual OPEN batizado, meaning its for everyone who takes the course. We have had 6 inner batizados over the years. Much has changed over the years as expected. When we first started the highest level attained by the students at the time was 2nd, and now students are at the 7th level. The business itself has transformed. We went from using a room in Golds Gym to having full access to an actual studio. The biggest challenge is of course money, not that easy to get donors and financial support. As for the proudest moment? Well honestly it was when I gave my wife her graduado cord while she was 8months pregnant.
When you receive the cord it means you are an understanding person of this system. Therefore, you represent the school. Sami (Selo) comments, “It is much more personal when you receive a cord here than in any other sports or schools. It is a very big deal and the energy is high the entire time. For instance in Taekwondo, there are so many people to even begin to appreciate the moment. The cord giving/receiving moment is also a 1st impression of sorts too, to show them there is a reason to keep coming. It’s not just a sport you become trained in, you are also joining a family.”
I am fully responsible for this school. Selo is monitor, meaning he manages it on a more frequent basis. I live and work out of Rhode Island, so there is a lot of traveling involved for everyone from RI to Boston to here and back.
Oh also, whats with the all white? (referring to the white uniforms capoeiristas wear)
I have a few theories:
1) Traditionally Sundays everyone wore white to church so people would stay in their church clothes then joda.
2) When you wear white you have to keep it clean, so the way you differentiate whether someone is a beginner or not is by how dirty and/or clean your outfit was.
In 1930s they all started wearing white because Master Bimba wore white to a joda. Before him, capoeira was illegal and people were seen as vagabonds and were arrested. Master Bimba tried to legalize it and would wear white uniform to make the sport look more professional.Sub-consciously, white is generally seen as pure (as opposed to black). It is said now that we wear it for tradition not because we believe in it. Cannot possibly ignore the power and effect of colonialism and history behind all this. Now, as an instructor and leader, I am trying to get the students to change their opinion, so in our school the graduados (beginners) wear black. This all started back when I was starting out and actually got in trouble for innocently wearing black to a joda. It was seen as a sign of disrespect for me to wear black to the event and I of course so nothing wrong with So when I created the group, I altered the traditions. For instance, in this group, all members have animal names and beginners wear black because symbolic of respect and reminder of how to communicate.
After the interview winded down, I bid my farewells to Sami and Silas and the few remaining at the studio as they chatted away about the celebrations that were in store for later that night.
It is definitely refreshing to see that there are local groups and communities that nurture and support the development of different art forms and practices. Here’s a video clip that gives you just a glimpse into what Grupo Ondas does:
If you would like more information about Grupo Ondas and/or taking capoeira classes, email the instructor, Sami (Selo) at firstname.lastname@example.org