Reflections on teaching a capoeira class
I did it, I taught a class from beginning to (almost1) end. And it went pretty well in my humble opinion.
I was a bit nervous at first. People started filing in and since Sandy was there everyone probably assumed that he was taking the class. But I just loudly shouted “warm up time!” and “follow me!” and everyone just fell into line. It was a bit quiet so I tried to get some high-fives going as we jogged in columns up and down the hall. Just anything to get people into an active and giving mood.
I need to plan this bit better still and maybe work on some mental warmup exercises to bring people into the right mindset for the lesson.
After some athletic stuff to get the blood flowing I did some stretching in a circle and got the two moves we’d be working on (au and cabeçada) into the stretching routine. This was a spur-of-the-moment thing but it worked well: I would definitely recreate this in future, bringing in whatever moves were relevant to the lesson plan.
I used Kojak as a first demo partner but I didn’t do it very well. I expected him to get into the right position, the one that I wanted. What I should have just done is demonstrate the position and what I wanted him to concentrate on. This would have been clearer for everyone, less confusing for him and easier for me. I need to get out of the habit of explaining: talking gets in the way of showing which gets in the way of doing. (I was also rude to Kojak because he didn’t do what I expected of him, which wasn’t good at all. I made the mistake of getting feedback from him about what he did wrong. But of course he didn’t know what I wanted so he couldn’t say how what he did was different. I could have bypassed that unpleasantness of putting him on the spot if I’d just done everything physically and let him copy.)
At another point I tried explaining what I wanted in words without running through it. This was confusing but at least I was asked for a demonstration also (I should not have needed asking). When I got a chance to try the move properly in training I realised a more natural way of demonstrating it, as one would in a real game. If I had tried more demonstration and less explanation this might have come sooner — soon enough that I could integrate it into the exercise.
The class focused on au which is quickly tiring. People were definitely flagging by the end. I don’t know if that was partly because they were initially going too hard or out of shape. I also felt that I could go longer because I was demonstrating and leading rather than trying to follow along. Whatever the case it might be worth pulling back on the amount of stuff I try to cover in one session if it’s as strenuous as this. Some mid-point breather seems sensible but I don’t want to lose the pace of the class entirely.
Trying to get people to follow instructions given is very difficult, there is no way around that. The temptation to ginga, add resistance or otherwise make it difficult for training partners to train seems overwhelming. People want to do things you didn’t ask them to do and that can negate the learning value of the exercise. Malicia may be great in a roda but it’s terrible in training.
There was one exercise which didn’t work well — I had not trained it and would have liked a chance to workshop it a bit before asking others to do it. Going in with something uncertain like that can pull the energy out of the class. If the idea is not to discuss and work through ideas then the momentum takes a nosedive when people start fiddling. This is nobody’s fault but the instructor: an experimentation session is a different beast and letting the class turn into one is a teaching problem.
At the end of the session things kind of petered out a little which was disappointing. I made two mistakes here. I wasn’t clear about how the class was to end — I started giving people latitude about what to do when I knew what I wanted them to do. But I guess I was trying to show some sympathy for people being tired. The problem was that I had about 25 minutes left and everyone was close to mutiny from being asked to do too much. I had nothing to fill the last 15–20 minutes that would wind things down but still provide value and focus on the teaching.
This reiterates the point from earlier: if it’s an intense class — which it should be — there needs to be some built-in reset activities or down time that I can use when everyone is too fatigued to learn. This may take the form of an “interval” or it may just be an extended “warm down” with several activities which get increasingly less energetic or difficult. The trick of course is finding something that (a) isn’t too much a change of direction technically and (b) keeps the momentum/enthusiasm going if there is still plenty of time on the clock.
I didn’t have a warm-down or stretching routine in mind but everybody mostly managed to pull one together collectively. Again the lack of definite “now we’re doing this” and “now we’re doing that” meant it wasn’t clear what was happening. It was more organic and so ambiguous even when we were obviously all standing or sitting in a circle to stretch. Having a clear end point is valuable.
- Social interaction is important to get people working together.
- Always show instead of tell. A small number of simple verbal instructions can be used as reminders.
- A definite beginning and a definite ending are good.
- Emphasise the importance of working together.
I failed when it came to a successful closure or cool-down/stretching session.↩