The Capoeira Blog

8 Ways To Be A Better Capoeira Instructor
May 13, 2008, 8:09 am
Filed under: Tips & Guides

Photo by travis.c.horn (Flickr)

Let’s get some things out of the way:

I’m not the best capoeira instructor in the world. In fact, I’m not even in the same league as many capoeira instructors out there, and my experience teaching capoeira (as well as my experience playing capoeira) pales in comparison to the mestres and other teachers I’ve learned from.

That being said, I have had the opportunity to teach a capoeira class (in the form of a college club) for the past few years. And I may not be the best capoeirista in the world, but crazy floreios and 15 years of experience does not a good instructor make. A good instructor needs to know how to teach, and just because someone plays great capoeira, doesn’t mean that they’ll automatically be able to translate their ability into great capoeira instruction.

In my experience teaching capoeira, I’ve learned a few things. These tips are not capoeira specific, mind you. You could apply them to the instruction of anything. But they make the whole teaching (and learning) capoeira experience a much smoother ride, and your students will be grateful if you take the time to understand how to give good instruction.

1. Have patience – Let’s not fool ourselves, capoeira is difficult to learn. (In fact, if you’ve stuck with it for any length of time, give yourself a big pat on the back!) Some people can pick up movements instantly, while others seem to take forever to grasp the basics.

As a capoeira instructor (or teacher of anything), you must have patience with your students. This means resisting the impulse to vent your frustration if someone isn’t getting a certain movement. One of the worst things a teacher can do is yell at a student, especially a beginner, because the student is having a hard time learning some movement. In my experience, negative reinforcement rarely works, and most of the time it turns people off from your class and just causes you to lose a student (or more if he spreads the work that you’re a jerk). So, please, for the sake of your students and your credibility as an instructor, be patient.

2. Think like a beginner – It’s not enough to just be patient with your students; you need to put yourself in their shoes. You were a beginner too once. Yes, you! Once upon a time, you had an ugly robotic-looking ginga, your armadas didn’t reach any higher than your waist, and you couldn’t do an au to save your life. We were all there.

When you teach, try to remember your humble capoeira roots. You need to realize that your students are feeling the same things you were when you first started. They are probably nervous, self-conscious, embarrassed, even scared. One of the most important things an instructor must do is realize this, and cater his instruction accordingly.

3. See all angles – Just because you learned a move one way, doesn’t mean it’s the best way or the only way. Capoeira teachers need to open their mind to different methods of learning and ways of instruction. I’m not saying that you should start teaching people how to do an arbitrarily customized ginga or imaginary moves; I’m just saying that different people learn differently.

Teaching is the same no matter if you’re in a classroom or a dance studio. What works for one person (this includes you) may not work for someone else, and the best instructors understand this and adapt to the needs of individual students. One student may quickly pick up on a movement if you demonstrate it a few times, but another one might need you to explain each step in detail before they can really understand what you’re demonstrating. Learn your students’ educational quirks, and you will be on your way to becoming a great teacher.

4. Give individual attention – This isn’t always possible, especially in big groups and at workshops. But, if you find yourself teaching a small class, you need to make the most of the opportunity to give individual instruction to your students.

I’m not sure about anyone else, but it’s not my favorite thing in the world to be part of a big class where the instructor is 3 rows in front of me, and I just have to hope and pray that I’m doing things correctly. The best thing about working closely with someone is that you have the opportunity to see the little nuances in their movements, and if they’re doing something wrong, you can take the time to better explain it to them (see the previous tip). This is much better than an instructor yelling across the room, “No! Do it this way! Just do what I’m doing!”

You have to keep in mind, though, to strike a balance between an individual and the class. You can’t spend time teaching one person at the expense of the rest of the students’ time. You might be a great teacher to that one student, but you’ll be a really sucky teacher to the rest.

5. Have a plan – There’s nothing worse than a class that has no focus and just meanders along until time’s up. Unless, of course, you plan to just have a “messing around” session, which is fine once in a while, but not for every class. If you have no idea what you want to do for the class, you’ll end up wasting a lot of time thinking of movements and combinations.

Class is not worthwhile when you come to the end and nobody has broken out into a sweat because you’ve just been standing around the whole time trying to figure out what to do.

The best classes are ones where the instructor has an idea of what he wants to teach, and how he wants to teach it. I’m not saying that you need to create lesson plans for every class (but if you want to, by all means go ahead, because it definitely helps), but it’s a good thing to have a basic idea of what you want your students to learn.

6. Mix it up – Don’t spend the entire class standing in rows doing kicks towards the mirror. Change up your exercises. Spend some time on kicks, then partner exercises, then combinations, then end with a roda, etc. Your classes will get stale and your students will get bored if you do the same thing all the time. The last thing a capoeirista wants to be is predictable!

And switch things up from class-to-class as well by focusing on basics one day, then music the next, and maybe floreio on another. There are so many facets of capoeira, and it hurts you (as an instructor) and your students if you don’t branch out.

I’m afraid to say that I’m guilty of this myself, because I’m really not that great with the music of capoeira. But I’ve tried to make up for it by having people who are good at the music come in and give instruction for a class or two. Even if you’re not so good at one thing (say, music or floreio), you can still figure out a way to expose your class to everything that capoeira has to offer.

7. Build on what you teach – Even though I just said you shouldn’t do the same exercises the whole class, you can (and should) plan on using similar movements and combinations throughout the class.

This goes back to the “thinking like a beginner” point, but it’s very hard for someone new to capoeira (and even for more experienced students) to learn and remember 6 new movements in one class. To combat this, the best thing you can do is come up with a theme for your class (did you remember to plan?).

For example, you can start off with some warm ups and from ginga do a couple of esquiva variations. Then you have the class stand in rows and practice quiexada to esquiva and eqsuiva to martelo. Next, you have everyone pair up and one person throws quiexada, while the other ducks with esquiva and counters with a martelo, and the first guy does esquiva to dodge. This way, you reinforce everything that you’ve been teaching all class, and your students won’t forget as easily.

8. Have fun – This is probably the most important part of a capoeira class (and capoeira in general), at least to me. Capoeira is meant to be playful and fun, and you defeat the purpose of the the entire game if you don’t remember that. I’m not saying you can’t train your class hard (you should be sweating bullets!), but you don’t have to run a class so intense that it ends up feeling like a boot camp. To me, that is not enjoyable, and I might not be so excited to come back for another class.

I can’t tell you how to have fun (well, just don’t be a jerk!). Hopefully, if you love capoeira as much as you should if you want to teach it to others, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

So there you have it. This is by no means a definitive list, and maybe what works for me and the students I’ve had in the past won’t work for you and your students. That’s the beauty of capoeira though (as I said previously), there are almost infinite possibilities for individual adaptation.

If you have any suggestions about anything I’ve said, or if you have tips of your own, please share with us in the comments!


7 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Nice post! I’ve always wondered what things are like from a capoeira teacher’s point of view…I actually emailed you a couple months ago to ask if you could write about what it’s like to teach (how it changes your pov/perspective of capoeira as a student, etc.), but I guess it got lost in the system somewhere!

What you said about seeing all angles and doing well =/= teaching well really makes sense (in fact some would say it’s the complete opposite…i.e. “those who can’t do, teach” 😛 ).

In Learning Capoeira, Greg Downey discusses teaching and teaching methods for a while, and one interesting point he made was that sometimes (or a lot of the time) teachers have to try transferring an idea or concept to the student even before the teacher themself knows how to express the concept verbally, or is even aware that they’re using that concept themself. But that most of the time, the students somehow grasp that concept anyway, so no one realizes something is missing, until you hit that one student who doesn’t grasp it implicitly, and Downey himself had to work with a student for months before figuring out a way to explicitly express that idea to the student in a way he understood.

Reminds me of my teachers who love having this conversation with me…

“How do I do this macaco/macaquinho/s-dobrado/incredibly hard move again?”
“It’s easy…just start here…and then go! “

Comment by Joaninha

Good article! Reading it made me proud of my Capoeira teachers 🙂 I totally agree: individual approach, having a plan for the class and the groups (beginners / intermediate / advacned), having warm ups, stretchings, moves, combinations and roda in each class and not to forget fun – that’s a lot!!! And I am very happy that I see my teachers handling this really well!!!

Comment by Mariposa

[…] is a perfect example of what Faisca mentioned in his post on teaching capoeira: “15 years does not [necessarily] a good instructor make.” However, let’s take […]

Pingback by Why “Sexist Capoeirista” is an Oxymoron « Mandingueira

hey! thnx a lot. u helped me so much, cuz i*m a young instructor to be, and i still don*t have much experience in teaching, but i think i will handle it, cuz i love capoeira. werry werry mucH…

Comment by forca

A well thought out, great article. As a college club Capoeira teacher myself, and a high school teacher to boot, I can say that this article is long overdue. One thing I would have to add though, and I am sure you meant to mention it somewhere in your writing is to be culturally sensitive to the people youre teaching. Having learned Capoeira in many a different country I have to say that a lot of Capoeira teachers do not take into account the particular cultural backgrounds of the students they are teaching. I ve seen many a mestre/instructor come to countries like Turkey and put their hands on the female students. Not in any kind of perverse way but just to help them with movements, and as you know, touching women, in a lot of the Muslim world is a big no no if youre not married to them. Just food for thought. Great article.

Comment by Nick Gonzales

Gostei de mais… bom trabalho ai brother!
Great Job, Really good post specially for people who are just starting teaching. Let me see if I can work in another guide focoused in Kids… My english its not that good tho, so if someone could help me with that (just with gramatical errors) please, send me an email or quote! Axe Galera…
Inst. Pirraça , Oficina da Capoeira (Costa Rica)

Comment by Instrutor Pirraça

Great article. Will be useful to many future instructors.

Felix from Kenya

Comment by Felix

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