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Posts Tagged capoeira

I Am Trounced On The Squash Court

How did you spend New Year’s Eve? And then New Year’s Day? I drank too much wine and champagne with friends and family during my last 2011 dinner and midnight. Up early with barking dogs, I was not only tired and sluggish, but also had a slight hangover. Ah well, it’s not rare that I ignore my capoeira master’s instruction (of 28 years ago) to never poison my body with alcohol. But it isn’t often that I drink so much that I feel it the next day. And as long as I was so woozy, why not start the year off with a few squash games after months of not playing?

My 23-year-old son was the opponent, and he played a lot of squash in high school. Beating him is a special occasion, which I wasn’t exactly up for. We played five games, and I lost them all. Very frustrating. The fourth sounds like it was close, when I tell you I lost 7-9, but then I have to confess I was ahead 5-0…until he once again got tough.

When he was younger, I always made him work hard to beat me. No easy wins just because he was a kid. Now he gives me the same treatment. I get it. It’s my own medicine. But winning any point is a real triumph. That fourth game felt so good—I had lost the earlier ones scoring just 3-5 points—that when he asked me afterward if I was up for yet one more, I thought maybe I should quit having come so close. But I didn’t. I actually fantasized that I might be victorious in the fifth one.

Ha! What a joke. I never won a point and ended up with a humiliating 0-9 score. But all the cardio did wake me up, burn off the booze, and humble me greatly. How does he anticipate my shots and reach out successfully to them for winners? Must be the speed and energy of youth. Makes me wish I’d started playing when I was younger.

At least I can still play, move at all, make a few points (some games!) and bond with my boy. What a joy to see his satisfied smile. A great way to begin the new year…Then today I played again with a friend. Love that game.

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Capoeira Days

Watching the free running tapes two days ago reminded me of capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that I practiced for three years almost three decades ago sometimes three evenings a week. I was probably the oldest guy in the class—someone asked me if I was 24, when I was actually 42—and also one of the few white students. Some of the guys were street venders or construction workers. It was a strange contrast to leave a photo exhibition on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street with the Wall Street suits buying up art and walk three blocks to a run down dance studio that smelled of sweat and lacked ventilation.

If I didn’t know these gentle athletes who laughed and sang with me, I might have feared them in the street as strangers. It bothered me a lot to realize how easy it is to be prejudiced and so wrong about people you don’t know. I do recall one conversation in the dressing room, when a young man I really liked with a big smile was telling his friend that someone had started a fight with him, so he gave him a special capoeira kick that knocked him out and worried the kicker that he had killed him…

I loved the music everyone played and the songs we sang in Brazilian Portuguese as we formed a circle (roda) around the two “fighters” in the center. In the video above, you see the bow shaped birimbau and the tambourine (called a pandeiro), which I enjoyed slapping. I also played the triangle and the agogo, which sounds like a cow bell. Everyone clapped to cheer the capoeiristas on to more energy and more dangerous moves.

Capoeira originated with African slaves in Brazil in the 16th century who were not allowed to have weapons. So they developed this dance and music to fool their masters, while they practiced one of the deadliest fighting styles in the world. By inserting razors in their toes, they could easily kill their enemies. And even without any weapons, they could dominate most fights. The sport is still one of the most powerful of all martial arts.

The stylized sweeps and kicks in the videos are all meant to miss your opponent and simply practice the deadly moves. This “dance” has become an art form on its own these days, and just this week Jelom’s Viera’s dance company, DanceBrazil, is performing at the Joyce Theater in New York City.

DanceBrazil from Tiba on Vimeo.

I went on a trip with some classmates to Salvador and Rio in Brazil that was organized by Jelom when he was my mestre (master). It was a fabulous adventure to work out in the day in the dank heat…then at night watch my new friends in colorful costumes as they performed in swank clubs for tourists. The spontaneous shows I watched earlier in practice halls as three birimbaus were played from the heart or the top athletes tried to outdo one another with sparkling and unexpected moves made the choreographed club performances seem soulless in comparison. But the paying, drinking customers in the clubs never knew what they were missing. For that brief period, I was an insider and have reveled in that experience with fondness and gratitude.

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Squash Spree With Champion Players

Just had an exhilarating squash fest—attended matches three out of four days, and hit balls three sessions for an hour each, once with a former champion professional player and top coach. Also played some tough singles tennis in the mix as well.

Trinity wins its 11th national squash team title-2/09

Trinity wins its 11th national squash team title-2/09

Two of the viewing contests were at a New England Small College teams three-day conference, which was won by both the men’s and women’s Trinity College teams. The men’s side is astonishing, having won the national championship 11 years in a row and their last 220 consecutive matches…a record for all sports in the world. The women’s team is number two in the country, rising steadily each year from fifth place in 2007.

Trinity’s men’s team has many super-talented players. Included among them are three of the top 10 players in the country and five of the top 20. At the head of the list is Baset Chaudhry, who has earned the nation’s first place individual position three years in a row. He is soft-spoken and gentle off the court, but a formidable opponent whose win-loss career record at Trinity is 52-2.

Baset Chaudhry after winning the national squash singles title—2/09

Baset Chaudhry after winning the national squash singles title—2/09


I also witnessed a very exciting challenge match within the Trinity women’s team. The number three-ranked player, Nour Bahgat, took five games to beat the number two player, Nayelly Hernandez, and squeaked out a game-five win at 13-11 (it takes 11 to win, but it has to be by two points). In 2009 Nour was the top college women’s squash player. Injuries kept her lower on the ladder this year, so now that she is well enough to play, she is clawing her way back up to the top.
Nour Bahgat is fighting to regain the #1 spot in women's singles

Nour Bahgat is fighting to regain the #1 spot in women's singles


Though down 0-5 in the first game and 6-10 in the second, she fought fiercely to win both. Nayelly came back in the next two games to force a very tight fifth game. The whole match seemed filled with some pushing and body contact, yelling and frustration. But the drive to win was almost visible for both players. I admire so much how athletes who are behind have the will and determination to not give up and make extraordinary efforts to overcome the momentum against them…and then they win.

The Trinity men’s coach, Paul Assaiante, was the referee, and one of his pointers to the women afterward was that the contest was a good learning lesson. They both received more experience in how rough a match can be when they compete against other school’s players.

My three, squash-hitting sessions were capped off with hard drills by Nour’s father, Mohsen, who had trained her since age five, competed in international tournaments as a youth and won the Egyptian Masters (over 40-years) tournaments each year from 2005 to 2009. He is 57 and has a long history of training, coaching teams, consulting and refereeing. Read the rest of this entry »

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How Much Alcohol Do You Drink?

Most people like to drink alcohol, whether it’s beer, wine or liquor. These beverages lubricate social gatherings, relax people (numb them sometimes) and allow the bonds or the handcuffs of propriety to be released and put aside. Alcohol gives some people courage. I have had enough drunken stupors to know that I don’t like the hangovers, the embarrassing behavior, or being really sick. Like one New Year’s Day in high school, when I was the only band member who couldn’t and didn’t perform at half-time in the Orange Bowl–I was still dizzy and nauseous and in bed!

I have had plenty of beer in college and after to know that it fills me up till I am bloated, and I don’t care about telling an ale from a lager. I do know that I prefer foreign beers to the popular domestic ones, which are too thin for me. But aside from one trip to Ireland, where I longed constantly for a Guiness at the pub while I was touring (and probably would be an alcoholic if I lived there), I can usually pass.

That helps keep the weight off and the body healthier. Most people, however, need their drink.

I bought wine by the case when I first moved to Manhattan and had seen enough movies and sophisticated magazines promoting the mantra that any cool professional man knows his grapes and the good years to order. At one point I believed I could taste the minerals from particular French soil. I loved certain vineyards and knew lots of the best years. But after those many glasses at dinner, I was falling asleep when I wanted to read. So I stopped drinking every night.

For decades I have watched people twirl the glass, smell the bouquet and swish the delicacy in their mouths. Some talk incessantly about it, collect it, offer it with pride, and I appreciate their passion. Read the rest of this entry »

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My Gym and Athletic History

Back to the gym–it’s 40 minutes away, so the round trip visit for a one-hour workout is a 2 ½ to 3-hour commitment. I was told that going once a week just keeps me somewhat toned. Going twice a week starts to build muscle. I have made it to the gym eight times in one month only twice since I joined. Four to six times a month is my normal pattern. I wear tank tops and admire the cuts when I puff out. I have been told that I am “ripped.” But you can see that I find it hard to get there. And I almost never lift weights or do anything at home. Maybe that will change now that I am blogging…I hope so.

My life has not been the usual active, sports-filled one my friends can look back upon. There were two physical years in my 20’s in the army that included jumping out of planes five times after three weeks of heavy conditioning. But then I worked long long hours in offices for most of three decades. So I never felt I had time to exercise. I occasionally did push-ups. I skied downhill now and then. There were three years in my early 40’s (maybe 1983 to 1985) when I played with martial arts almost once a week after work—first aikido and then capoeira from Brazil. The aikido philosophy made me successful in business—if you like, I’ll tell you about it later. The capoeira demanded cartwheels and squats—I was really fit then. However I stopped, fell apart and did nothing much that was physical. That’s the history.

Things changed a little after 1991, because I moved full-time to a rural farm, discovered I liked the outdoors and began walking in the woods. I also went cross-country skiing five to ten times each winter. Then I took up tennis two years ago—playing once a week, sometimes twice. It’s usually doubles, and the other guys are over 70—one is 93. They don’t run very much—many have had hip transplants or other surgeries—but they can really place the ball perfectly after 60 years of practice. I love that I have to run around, and also the challenge of hitting a sweet shot. And within the last two months, I started playing squash. So I am now becoming physical in my late 60’s the way most males are in their teens and 20’s. Oh well, later beats never…

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