I am pleased to present you Valeri Ivanov - the first Capoeira teacher in Bulgaria and founder of Association Capoeira Bulgaria. He is my Capoeira teacher as well and he is the one who made me fell in love with this martial art.
1. Hello Valeri. Please, introduce yourself to the Capoeira World community. Tell us who are you, what is your capoeira name, how did you get it, and etc.
My name is Valeri Ivanov and I was born and raised in Sofia, Bulgaria. I graduated a law school and for some time I worked in the area of the civil and trade law. As of 1998, I’m working as a freelance lawyer.
Apart from Capoeira, I’ve been dealing with other martial arts for over 25 years so I’m kind of into those things. I’ve been living in a time in which the martial arts were forbidden and controlled by the authority. You had to be registered and strictly observed in order to be dealing with such dangerous and killing sports. The other option was to be part of the police or the army which is practically the same. In any case, these limits did not change my interest in the martial arts and could not made me stop from practicing.
My capoeira name is Alchimista and I feel this name fits more to my personality than my real name now. I was given this name by friends of mine - Marquinhos Marmotta and Vulcao when I visited a Capoera group in Delft, Holland called Capoeira Liberdade. Marquinhos Marmotta was a great fan of the famous novelist Paolo Coelho and somehow he decided that I remind him of the hero of one of his books – “The Alchemist”. Probably, it was some Marquinhos’s inner sense of things as at this time he didn’t know me very well and was not familiar with my interest in Dao Inner Alchemy and Chinese martial arts.
When I got interested in Capoeira, I just had two books, published in Bulgaria, one of which was called Dao Alchemy related with the practice of Tai Chi Chuan. I’ve already been a well known person in the areas of martial arts in Bulgaria. I had my own school and stuff. Nevertheless, I decided to start practicing Capoeira martial art. I 've always considered myself as a normal person in Capoeira. However, it seems that the Brazilians have seen something different in me, a different attitude, which remains in the name I got from them.
2. How long have you been practicing Capoeira? What kindled your passion in Capoeira and how did you actually started playing Capoeira?
Capoeira in Bulgaria has recently turned 10 years old. I’ve been training Capoeira for more than this time. Having in mind that there were no teachers, books or any information at all, Capoiera at the beginning were not exactly the same as it is known. It took me years to get to the level I can call myself a capoeirista. The same is the situation with every beginner – it takes a year or two (sometimes more) to get to the heart of Capoeira. I believe the reason for this is that everyone has to deal with his own prejudices, habits, ideals, and etc. In any case, at the time I started to play Capoeira I had to learn it the hard way. Nowadays, there are plenty of sources available for everyone interested in capoeira. Nevertheless, the information itself does not make one a good capoeirist. A lot more is required.
I cannot say that I had a passion for Capoeira. I assume it has just been exhausted by the other martial arts I’ve been dealing with. At the time, I started practicing Capoeira I already knew what it is to a be a master in a martial art – what efforts, responsibilities, social activities, and etc. it takes. What have always attracted me in the martial arts is the energetic structure of the body and the world, the abilities for interception, regulation, influence and control that the practice presents. All this has always stimulated my interest in dealing with different martial arts – Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, and others.
The reason I started practicing Capoeira is actually the relation with the antique culture (African and Latin-American) that I was totally unfamiliar with at this time. This was one slightly different was of life, interception and exotic. To appraise it properly, I had to enter into this world gently and judiciously. Maybe this was the greatest chalenge for me. On the other hand, Capoeira was the last and the most dangerous test for everything I knew and namely - wether my current sense of the world was driven by the eastern philosophy I was so close with or it was me who have managed to create a true and a real picture for everything around. I had to know if all the things in this world – forms, structures and relations are determined differently by the cultures and traditional laws or they are an impartial reality which is only slightly decorated by each religion. In short, my initial motive to start practicing Capoeira was only research. Soon after that my ideas changed and I just entered the great world of Capoeira.
3. Please, tell us something about your capoeira school. When did you found it and how did you decide to take this step?
In 1999 Capoeira was something very new and there were few that had ever heard of it. I and some of my friends started by trying several moves we had seen on the movies. Since I had some knowledge in martial arts it was easier for me to learn the techniques than it was for my friends. Although, there was almost no information about Capoeira, the enthusiasm took us to the next level and we decided to separate the Capoeira techniques from the rest we’ve been practicing. Thus, the first Capoeira clsass came at the beginning of April, 2000. We had to find money to pay for the training hall and so we made an advertisement to attract more and more people to Capoeira. This is how it all began. We created the first Capoeira school in Bulgaria and maybe the first Capoeira school on the Balkan Peninsula.
A year or two after we created the school some friends started to send me video lessons and books, some of which were published in Western Europe. Almost accidentally we made a contact with our first capoeira teacher Simon Atkinson (from East London Capoeira). He had a friend from Bulgaria living in London for a long time. He visited us in Bulgaria several times. During his stayings here we managed to organize a few Capoeira Angola workshops. He gave us a lot of knowledge and I will always appreciate what he did for Capoeira in Bulgaria and for me personally. Although, he was not a Brazillian he had the chance to get in touch with some of the oldest Capoeira mestres in Rio and Bahia, Brazil. He had a really valuable, deep and real relation wit the Capoeira world. He taught me lessons that anyone else could.
4. What is the most important thing you would like to teach your students?
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in Capoeira is from Simon Atkinson. He teached me that Capoeira is humility. In other words, humility is what you need to learn to play and experience Capoeira. At this time I did not really understood what he meant or at least not the way I understand it now.
For my Capoeira students I believe it is most important to learn how to learn not what they are going to learn in particular. Life is changing all the time, things that one could learn change as well and so does the teachers...
5. I know that you are the who created the Association Capoeira Bulgaria. How did you decide to do this, when did that happen and what difficulties you had to pass to create it?
Association Capoeira Bulgaria was created at the end of 2007. The main idea of the Association was to gather all Bulgarian capoeiristas, from all the groups, from all over the world.
Through the years, Capoeira became more and more popular. New capoeira groups started to form, not only in Sofia but in other Bulgarian cities as well. I and my friends have always placed great efforts to assist everyone willing to create a Capoeira group and support Capoeira. Some of them could not survive, though. At the end of 2007, someone said that it is time to create the first Batizado and prove the growing level of Capoeira in our country. For this we had to create an official organization. First, we officially registered several groups that have already been created in Bulgaria and then we decided to gather them into a one bigger organization which unifies all smaller groups within the country.
Based on my experience, I may say that such organization is something that has been missing in most of the martial arts’ organizations. In most cases everyone is trying to create his own organization and fight for it individually which always holds them separate and makes it quite difficult to create something together. As I have been on this journey already, I wanted to change the course. In Association Capoeira Bulgaria everyone is free to do whatever he wants and everyone feels very comfortable that way. Every newly created orgaznization has the chance to train capoeira and support it on its own. In any case, every organization is part of Capoeira Bulgaria, by all means – administratively and financially. The more we are in the Association Capoeira Bulgaria, the stronger we will be. After all, Bulgaria is just a small country and we have to do everything possible to support Capoeira ourselves. I hope that people does not take the Association as my own organization. I would like to know that everyone in it takes it as his own.
Of course, there have been difficulties and there always will be. At the beginning it was the luck of information, the support, the contacts. Nowadays, it is the personal opinion of everyone, the fear that someone will always tell you what do to, the financial part, the luck of good training conditions, the fake interest of the people training capoeira, the laziness, and many more.
Capoeira has always been a culture, religion, history, social activity, music, folklore, theater, ritual and sport. Either of these elements is composite for capoeira and it cannot exist if one is missing. We have tried to add some new rules, change specific elements and moves several times. However, all our attempts have failed. Capoeira is a living thing that we cannot change. This is the main reason Capoeira has survived through the years. Capoeira has been a science, a martial art, a music, a theatre, a sport and etc. I really like what Mestre Lua Rasta says: “Capoeira is Capoeira!” And this is how it has to be. Capoeira has always been a communication – it gathers many people with the the same interest and this is physical strength, goodness, love and passion and so does the Association Capoeira Bulgaria.
6. You have been dealing with capoeira for a long time now. You must have noticed how capoeira changes through the years. Is it really changing and what’s your vision about these changes?
Capoeira passes through the same stages in its development, whether in Brazil, United States or Europe. It was born and developed in Bulgaria as it was born and developed in many other places around the world, of course at different times with different local circumstances, but nevertheless on a relatively uniform manner. Thus the capoeiristas, or at least some of them pay great attention to the learning process and the history of Capoeira.
At the end of the 19th century, Capoeira was almost disappeared from the world. What was left was restored step by step over the years with a lot of innovative flair and great respect for tradition. The revival of Capoeira that happened in Salvador, Bahia happened in other major cities like Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte as well. Then it expanded to the United States, Mexico, Paris, France, and England, London, Madrid, Barcelona, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, Japan, and etc. It was the same in all those countries - the same scheme of the first steps, contacts, conflicts, fighting prejudices, local influences and misunderstandings. Capoeira is a part of contemporary culture in a global world. Claims that it belongs to someone are absolutely ridiculous. Capoeira is all over the world! I’m extremely surprised when someone wants to preserve something of this process exclusively for him.
It is well known that the largest groups in the world have started from few people who have seen some random movements and have tried some of them in the backyard. Not so trained and prepared people are separated, collected, making organizations, speak competently, fight for students, money, influence.... So is everywhere and so will be until Capoeira meets the society in which it exists. Capoeira is in the people souls. Also, it is part of the school of life. Capoeira teaches how to live in this life and how to be you. Everything is repeated – events, people, situations. As every human being is different and travels his own way, capoeira is a self-developing organism that multiplies and adapts constantly seeking the balance and the best way to survive.
7. What is your opinion about women in capoeira. Can women practice capoeira and do they find it more difficult than it is for men?
In the past, women have been discriminated in their social life. As the game reflects the society in a quite specific way they have also been discriminated in their position in Capoeira - mainly with regard to the external manifestations of power, freedom of expression, manner of dress and standing in a predominantly "male" organization of the game. Certain violent function has always been a priority for men and as there is violence in Capoeira, it continues to be a factor in the game and in life. Women in turn are always regarded as necessary for the performance enhancer for men. They are truly necessary even with their attendance of witnesses to what's happening. One of the masters of contemporary Capoeira once said that the reason to play Capoeira at all - are women. Where there is war, there is a woman involved, so that aggression is part of love and vice versa. Without women there would be no Capoeira. Of course many people frown when they hear a woman's roda, or that a wife is a teacher or that a woman will lead the family. Some time ago it was even difficult to consider that a woman will play birimbau or atabaki. These frames are now broken. And women are no longer discriminated in the Roda.
Do they find it more difficult than men – no, i don’t think so. Women bodies are more flexible, softer in nature. So many movements of Capoeira are even easier for them. Certainly the initial impression is that movements require physical force. Even so, this is only the beginning. Otherwise, in principle, physical strength is needed so as to keep the balance and agility of the body. In both, I believe women have a natural advantage. In my opinion, things that make their progression difficult are of purely emotional character - more sensitivity and emotion, lack of desire to express, anxiety and etc. On the other hand, men are more primitive and motionless. They are afraid to sing and dance as well as to communicate.
Although men and women have advantages and disadvantages in the game, movements required qualities of the body. If they are missing in both men and women they are built with the practice.
8. How did capoeira change your life?Capoeira thought me of a lot of things that I could not have learned from the other martial arts I’m dealing with. Mainly it is the way I feel things around me. Moreover, Capoeira thought me how to feel and use the energy to further develop myself.
Until recently, I’ve never even imagined that I would be able to perform such a complicated moves nor that I would become a capoeira teacher. Many people now know me as a capoeira teacher more than as a teacher of other martial practices. Sometimes it is hard for me to explain how I teach Capoeira together with the other martial arts. To be good in something is not enough to become a teacher. Although, this is a cliche, those who have passes through this way will understand what i really mean. As I said before, I’ve always considered myself as a capoeira student, not as a capoeira teacher. One is a teacher not because of himself but because of his students. Not like the students, though the teacher may learn from all of them together. I can see how my students are growing, becoming wiser and wiser and this is most important for me. However, the most important lesson I’ve learned from Capoeira and from my students is “humility”.