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How to Handle Crocs and Gators through Capoeira

“Concerning Lachesis and Capoeira”… my attention was immediately grabbed by an article in the Chicago Herpetological Society’s Bulletin that was comparing the handling of Lachesis muta (also known as the Bushmaster or Surucucu, the name given by the Tupi-Guarani natives of Brasil… it’s a venomous snake!) to the art of Capoeira (another passion of mine).   For those not familiar with Capoeira, it is an Afro-Brazilian martial art that encompasses a lot of movement, spirituality, and music.  This article was written by a professor from Itacaré, Bahia, Brasil who was working on the conservation of this snake species who was deemed “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  So how did an article end up in my hands that was a couple of years old?

This past Wednesday I was asked to be a guest speaker for the Chicago Herpetological Society (CHS) on my dissertation research.  I knew it was going to be a mix crowd of kids and adults, reptile lovers and scientists.  For me, I thought this was going to be one of the most difficult talks I would give because of the wide audience range of age and knowledge on crocodilians and parasites.  It was also a long talk- I knew I would have to keep the audience captivated with jokes, etc.  And then I thought of something early on…As my friend Cindy is also a fellow Star Wars fan, I joked with her that I was going to use a light saber instead of a laser pointer for my presentation.  With sound effects and all, the light saber seemed to be one of the best effects for a presentation!  I felt really good after the presentation, and it seemed like I got the audience to get interested in my realm of science of crocodilian parasitism.

And the members of the CHS were amazing- took me out to dinner and I got my Chicago deep dish pizza.  The next day I was taken to Rob Carmichael’s Wildlife Discovery Center (if you ever are in Chicago area- this is a place YOU MUST GO!).  I got up close and personal with snakes, owls, a snapping turtle, and a dwarfed 9 year old salt water croc and much more!  I also stopped by Jim Nesci’s place where he has a tamed and trained alligator.  Amazing!!!!  I was in absolute heaven that day with all the animal interaction, and meeting people who are making amazing efforts to educate the public about animals and their importance in the ecosystem, etc.

So back to reptiles and capoeira- right before my talk one of the CHS members heard about my love for capoeira and handed me a CHS bulletin from 2006.  He said, “I heard you are into Brasil and capoeira and thought you would like this bulletin.”  I didn’t really understand at first because I thought, “how is capoeira and reptiles related?”  But now I understand.

“In practice, when I step back observing what I do in the snake pens day-to-day, it has more in common with ancient Angolan capoeira than herpetology…. Everything starting from concentration.”  As I continued reading this article by Rodrigo Souza, everything started connecting and I started to think about how I handle crocs and other “dangerous” reptiles (really, this could apply to any untamed, wild animal).   When I am about to grab or wrestle a croc, I first get my head into the game- full concentration.  I can not think of anything else.  If my mind wonders, I’ll get bite.  And this also includes getting too comfortable or cocky- someone will get hurt.  This is exactly what happened when I got my croc bite, and similar in going into the roda of capoeira.  If you do not have full concentration, you can not play in the game- your game may be sloppy or you may get hurt.  I know this by experience too- my head was not in the roda one night as I was pondering about other things going on in my life and next thing you know there is a foot in my eye and I’m wearing purple eyeshadow for the next couple of days.

“As for the work, as it is in the capoeira circle, what’s most important is the space, the instinctive knowledge of distance:  to anticipate possible escape routes….”  From what I have experienced with capoeira is that you have to read and perceive the other person you are playing to escape their attack, and to have the right timing to attack as well.  You can not be forceful, always in attack mode because if you are, that’s when you are easily taken down.  I’m a fighter, thus my apelido “Arisca.”  There is a part of me that has no fear, and that may be from my Apache lineage- a lineage of warriors (or it could be as a result of my brother ingraining “Rocky” movies into my head and the constant chant “No pain, no pain!!!”).  But the last couple of months (after over a year of my Mestre yelling, “calma, calma!!!”) I’ve been giving space to the capoeirista I’m playing.  I’m more calm in my game- my eyes and mind are more wide open and I have become (or I think?) a stronger capoeirista.  It’s not solely about the physical, but it is what is within- “jogo de dentro e jogo de fora”.  And this is exactly the same mind-set I need to have when handling crocodilians.  I’ve always known to give respect to this animal, and that means space.  I do not need to prove my physical capability of wrestling a croc, as in reality anyone can really do that.  But obtaining the knowledge of the animal- studying its behavior, ecology, parasitism, immunology, etc., in conjunction with the physical will further my research experience and only help me in better handling this animal in the field.  Additionally, this will better assist me in preventing any deadly interaction.

As I finished reading the article, I reflected at how capoeira has helped me in my research and handling of crocodilians.  Concentration, patience, reading the “other player,” predicting movement, and looking for the right opportunity without hesitation to “go in for the attack” aka, grab that croc!  And of course, I knew capoeira was an important part of my life, but I’ve realized how I have internalized and transcended it in enhancing my research and croc handling capabilities.  However, I know I have brought from my croc experiences to the roda… my mind-set of no fear, and “I don’t care how big you are- let’s play!”

So I will end this post on a note from Dr. Souza:  “One last word to the wise, capoeira students or Lachesis handlers:  a ‘safe’ distance may be a little farther than you think.”  — Axé

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  1. capoeira video on April 4, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Fantastic article!

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