Interview with "Is That Breakdance Fighting: My take on Capoeira" Author Dan Tres Omi

From the early days of Bboying (what many continue to call breakdancing despite how much it hurts my ears)  has always been compared to the martial art of Capoeria. It is a Brazilian fighting art and it is very beautiful and dangerous. Here I speak with respected Bboy and Capoierista @DanTresOmi (follow him MAN!) about his thoughts on the connections. I learned a lot from him. I'm sure you will to. 

BC: What was your introduction into bboy'ing and when did you go from fan to participant?

DTO: I was first introduced to b-boying way back in 1979 when I was 6 years
old. During that time in NYC, only crews were doing it. It was right
before b-boying started to die down  in NYC and a few years before it
got big with all of the Hollywood movies. My mother wanted me to sing
and dance merengue but once I saw some brothers getting down, I wanted
to do it. In 2012, I went to a workshop conducted by Alien Ness of the
Mighty Zulu Kings (MZK) and he pointed out that back then, we didn't
really have names for movements. So I learned alot of stuff by
mimicking the older cats and just practicing. By 1982 to 1983 though,
b-boying was considered played in NYC. If you were seen doing it
people joked you. By that time Hollywood really started milking
b-boying and you know how it goes in the 'hood. Once everybody starts
doing it, we tend to give it up.

It was around 1986, right before I went to high school, where I
started freestyle dancing. Freestyle was the stuff that dancers like
Scoop and Scrap Luva were doing for Big Daddy Kane. I was a teenager
by then and was able to go out more and learn from folks across the 5
boroughs. I would hop on the train and dance at house parties. Back
then, we would hang out outside of Union Square to see what the older
cats were doing while waiting on line. I was too young to get in.
Around 1988 and 1989, I started sneaking into clubs since I had facial
hair and would battle cats. That was also the time house music became
really big and alot of clubs in NYC didn't want to host hip hop events
since they said it was too violent. So for many of us who wanted to
dance, house music was the place for us to really get down.

I literally stopped dancing at all after my first year in the U.S.
Navy in 1991 when I was stationed on board a ship and just didn't have
room to practice. I picked it up when I got out and landing in
Virginia in 1997.

BC: What was your introduction to Capoeira and when did you got from
fan to participant?

DTO: I first saw Capoeira on the street in 1988 in the East Village. Back
then, we used to walk up and down the Village and dance ciphers would
open up. So we would go down there, buy some gear, check out the
ciphers, get in, and maybe battle. This was pre-Guiliani NYC so folks
used to loiter all the time and gather in large crowds. One time, we
saw this really big crowd and we heard people saying "ohhh" and
"ahhh." Usually during a dance cipher people just watched and didn't
say anything. The crowd was huge and it took us a while to get to see
anything. The cipher was small. Well in this case, the roda (circle),
was small. There were to guys in there just throwing kicks. They were
moving fast. The thing was no one knew what they were doing. I kept
asking and asking. I really wanted to know what they were doing. On
Monday, when I got to school, I continued to ask and someone finally
said "thats Capoeira."

Remember, this is before the internent. We had phone books but I never
found Capoeira in those things. Back in 1988 there was only three
schools. Two in NYC and one in Berkeley, California. The thing about
the ones in NYC is that they were on college campuses. So as a
teenager in NYC, I didn't have access to getting any kind of
information on it. I didn't know about those schools until about 15
years later! That's how scarce Capoeira was back then. So I always
wanted to do it. Then "Only the Strong" came out in 1991. Back then, I
was stationed in San Diego, CA where there was no Capoeira at that
time. When I got out of the Navy, I still couldn't find any Capoeira
in Virginia. It wasn't until 2001 when I was finally able to find a
class locally.

BC: For many years people have debated the connections between Capoeira
and bboy'ing, what is your perspective?

DTO: I get into that in the book of course. I have gone places and done
demonstrations where the host will claim that b-boying came from
Capoeira. This is not true. B-boying and Capoeira while having similar
movements and focus all of their activity within a circle, they are
not from the same branch. This happens in dance and Martial arts all
the time. When the Spanish encountered Filipino Martial Arts, they
assumed that someone must have taught them fencing. They couldn't
believe that these brown people were so good with the sword. I
remember meeting this cats that do celtic dances. They traveled to
South Africa and encountered these boys that did a dance that was
similar to what the Celts did under British occupation. What was crazy
was that when they bought this back to the UK, people were saying that
these South African boys must have learned this dance from the Celts
by watching TV or something. These cats had to keep correcting the
audience and the media about that.

We have to remember that dancing and martial arts develop according to
the people's needs and their environment. Don't get me wrong. Many
b-boys and b-girls later took moves from Capoeira in the late 90s just
like Mestre Bimba took moves from other Martial Arts in Brazil. So
while there are influences and similarities, Capoeira did not birth
B-boying.

I know when people see the roda they will say, this reminds me of a
cipher. That's probably the most striking similarity of them all. We
have to remember that when a fight breaks out at a schoolyard, people
instinctively make a circle. If there is an accident and someone is
hurt, bystanders usually circle the person who needs medical
attention. Now I can't tell you why that is, but the cipher is
something that seems natural to almost everyone. So a cipher or a roda
makes sense but it doesn't mean that one came from the other.

Don't get me wrong, having a background in b-boying has made my
transition into Capoeira very easy. I have learned that the same
muscles are utilized. Then again, b-boying like many Martial arts, you
have to use a large portion of your body to execute several moves. I
know people who move in both circles. It's easy to switch back and
forth. So when I started Capoeira, I was ahead of the learning curve.

BC: Tell me about your new book?

DTO: "Is That Breakdance Fighting: My take on Capoeira" came from several
conversations and debates that I had with several capoeiristas. The
book really focuses on my personal story with Capoeira. When I first
got into Capoeira, there was no Youtube, Facebook, or twitter. We were
still using VHS tapes. There were very few schools throughout the
United States. It was a different time for Capoeira. I am sure many
Martial Artists can say the same. So a good portion of the book
discusses how my ideas about Capoeira changed not just with technology
but with my encounter with different schools and styles.

I also wanted to do three other things with this book. The first is
that there aren't too many books on Capoeira as it is. One would think
that with more schools and more students there would be more books.
With just a little over $250.00, anyone can own all of the books on
Capoeira written or translated into English. I didn't want to write
another history book on Capoeira. The second thing was to change
people's perception of Capoeira. While the title may sound funny,
people do ask this question. Quite a few people who ask this question
don't see Capoeira as a Martial Art. I want readers who aren't
practitioners to see this.

Finally, I want Capoeiristas to really debate their approach to
Capoeira. I want to further that discussion and debate. The book is
specifically written for Capoeiristas. That's why I didn't put a
glossary at the end of the book. While it is an easy read, it's
written for the practitioner. I find that  too many Capoeiristas see
Capoeira as a club. And look, for many of us Martial Arts is about
family. Many of us come up in this and treat our instructors and
fellow students like an extended family. This is wonderful but it
isn't always a party. Like life, things can get ugly and people get
hurt. That's the reality of it. We really need to take Capoeira more
seriously in that respect.

BC: What do you want people to walk away knowing that they did not
enter knowing.

DTO: This may sound silly but I really want people to see Capoeira as a
Martial Art. Part of it is our fault. When we do demonstrations, we do
flips and tricks. People want to see us tricking. They don't want to
see the science of it all. It's like Jiu Jitsu. I notice people want
to see guys getting slammed around. I don't want to see that, I want
to see the science. I want to see locks and people getting out of
locks. I want to see folks work the triangle on their backs. It's
those little details that in my opinion that determine how good that
person is. Unfortunately, people don't pay to see that. They want to
see folks get thrown around, overpowered, and beaten into submission.
In Capoeira, its the same thing, folks just want to see tricks.

So when we do demos and we are doing take downs, people are like, "is
that Capoeira? that looks like judo." They are shocked. They thought
they were coming to see us do tucks. Or I have people come to class
and ask "when are we doing flips?" Or I might have a student who just
wants to focus on that. While there is a place for that stuff,
Capoeira is still a Martial Art. That should be our approach to it.
There is combat Wing Chun and then there is the kind that is done for
demonstrations. I want people to see Capoeira in the same manner.

BC:  What is the bboy scene like out where you are? What do you love
about it the most?

DTO: The b-boy scene in the midwest is amazing. Shout out to Tyquan, the
vice president of MZK, who really linked everyone together and put the
midwest on the map. When I moved here, I saw alot of cornfields and
really slept on the midwest. It's crazy out here. There are so many
battles to go to you really have to pick and choose. You can't make
every one of those things. I truly did not expect that.

What I love is that cats out here know they have to pay dues. They
know that battling comes part and parcel with b-boying. That's
probably why it's my favorite element. You can't just come out and say
"I'm a b-boy" or "I'm a b-girl." The other day, I saw this cat with
this custom made X-Men jacket. I joked and said "yo, son, let me get
that jacket." He responded with "I'll battle you for it." I realized I
could have won a customized X-Men jacket. That's just a small example
of how folks get down. That's a great thing because it forces people
to really learn their stuff. It forces people to go to the lab and try
new things and develop new moves.

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Most of all, the babies have an opportunity to come, watch, and learn.
I for one am proud that all of the b-boys and b-girls I know aren't
even old enough to vote. They learn the music and they study it well.
That's amazing. I encourage parents to take their children to b-boy
battles. They will not regret it. I have the honor of knowing folks
who are in their twenties who get down and started because they came
to an event I organized or hosted when they were still in middle
school. That blows my mind.

BC: What is the coolest thing the art of bboy'ing and Capoeira have given you?

DTO: I come from a big family and family is something that has always been
important to me. Being a member of the Universal Zulu Nation (UZN) has
opened many doors for me. B-boying and Capoeira has helped to extend
my family further. I think that is probably the most important thing
of all. Both have given me many fathers, mothers, uncles and aunts,
and sons, daughters, sisters, and brothers. B-boying and Capoeira have
also given me the secret of youth. They both keep me young and fresh.
You know when someone is doing a b-boy workshop, with the exception of
Alien Ness, all those folks are young enough to be my child. I have a
son who is 18 years old. So many of these cats are that young. The
same goes for Capoeira. And they always ask  "what can I teach you?"
Let me say, they teach me so, so much. There are times when I realize
I have been doing something wrong for several years and never knew it!
So as an older cat, I still have much to learn. So at the end of the
day, Capoeira and b-boying keeps me physically and mentally young.

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