Monday, 23 February 2015

Fail succeed fail succeed

Plenty of articles and books are given over to "how to succeed", but I think the real way to to learn about anything is to do it.

This blog post is about what I learned from doing a new activity, capoeira - a Brazilian dance/martial arts.

Perseverance and practice are the ones that stand out most for me, as well as not being too proud to ask for help. I'd be interested to hear what lightbulb moments you have had when learning something new.

How I'm learning capoeira. 



Capoeira is a Brazlian martial art/dance that was originally practiced by African slaves as a way of maintaining their physical and mental agility. It combine dance, acrobatics, and music. I started with it by attending classes run by the University of Edinburgh's capoeira club. Once a week me and a few other beginners were trained by the group teachers. The above picture is me and my fellow beginners after we got our first cords. A cord is like a belt. Different colours denote different levels of ability. Even though I am still a clumsy beginner, it was a great feeling of accomplishment to have got so far. Capoeria is something that is outside my comfort zone and I often questioned why I was doing it. Here are 10 things I learnt from the whole process. I think these can be applied to lots of other things in my life. What do you think?

1. Practice
Practicing every day helped build skills and maintain momentum. I learnt moves like the ginga and au from constant practice at home. Try and fail again & again. Even at work I would try a move in spare moments to see if I remembered it. So not only practice at the designated practice time - always be thinking about it. I liked this table tennis video which shows exactly that in 5 minutes.

The Mestre at the Batizado got me to practice the negativa move twenty times in a row until I got it. It was embarrassing that I kept getting it wrong, but hard practice was the only way I got it right.

2. Put things in my terms
Sometimes the tutor’s explanation did not make sense to me. I had to go through it in my own mind and find my own way of remembering it. In the "Au" move, realising that you need to point your foot forward was my way of remembering the move. Also that the standing foot must kick hard to give you the lift.
In the meia lua de frente, my left was way better than my right. I realised that this was because they were like football free kicks. When I play football I am all left footed, so my left side must be completely dominant.
This helped me create my own mental picture of what I needed to do. For another person, they might have remembered it another way.

3. Perseverance
You cannot learn things overnight. For some moves I had to literally slow a help video down to a crawling pace to understand how they did even very simple things like mirror someone, or move from left to right.
At times it felt like I would never get it. Many weeks I felt like skipping class, but my mantra became "Just do it" and I always felt better for doing so

4. Praise
Even the tiniest praise works wonders. Even if you sense it is not really justified the fact that someone says it is a massive tonic.
1. Josh helping me out each week and being positive and friendly about it
2. Andreas wishing me well before the Batizado roda
3. Lara, Geo & the whole Senzala group creating a positive, friendly environment

5. Pride
If you do not understand it you have to say. Even if you seem slow or foolish. Otherwise you will slip under the radar sneakily and not actually learn the technique properly.
Too many times I was embarrassed to admit that I didn’t get very simple things for fear of appearing silly. The result was I never learnt things properly. The longer you leave it the worse it gets, so admit you don't get it early on. There's no harm! Also, it might help other people - maybe your question is not as silly as you think?

6. Play with others
Practice at home is fine, but you have to be able to apply it. Too much thinking can be a bad thing.
1..Having a go in the rodas at the Batizado forced me to play with better people
2. Seeing better players was inspiring
3. Trying new things like handstands seemed impossible but throwing myself at difficult challenges was the only way to improve

7. Perspective
Ask other people what they struggle with or how they approach learning. Somebody described to me how they watched capoeira in Brazil and learnt a huge amount from immersing themselves in it. They also described how they made connections with other art forms like Shaolin monks, and even looked at how animals move. It was pretty enlightening to hear someone who had thought so deeply about it.

8. Learn around the topic
Sometimes it can help to do your own learning. For me, it helped to understand what the English translations were of some of the moves.
Meia lua de frente means "front half moon". This helped me picture the move as a half moon. When the instructor said "do a meia lua de frente", I pictured the half moon and knew what to do straight away.


9. Make connections
It’s fine to learn one move but it’s easy to forget it as well. What if you switch to another position? Suddenly you are very rigid and it’s like you have been reset and have to start again. Learning from Mestre Parente at the Batizado was incredibly hard but it helped to see how moves work together
You could apply the same principle to learning about anything. Seeing how things fit together can help you learn individual things by seeing them as part of the broader picture.

10. Music & Culture
Think about other things around the subject to help put it in context. This was motivating. Some examples from my experience were:
1.Watching capoeira videos on YouTube
2. Learning instruments like the berimbau and pandeiro in class
3. Learning a Portuguese song about fishermen bringing their nets in for a performance the group gave at an open day. We learnt the words to the song on a whiteboard in class. It helped me see capoeira in its broader cultural setting and increased my appreciation of it
4. The social side of the class. Meeting new people and getting a sense of the culture.

What activity have you learnt, and what helped you with this learning?