"Foca no base."

"Foca no base"

At the end of summer in 2014 I was reaching the end of a journey, one that changed me profoundly.  Seven months prior I had left my midwestern life in Milwaukee, WI and traveled to Brazil to finish school and fulfill a dream of mine, training capoeira in the heart of Brazil.  Now, I was headed to the airport to fly home and driving me there was one of the most revered capoeira masters of modern time.  

I had just spent the last 2 months training with his group in the city of Goiânia.  The training was hard and my life was one of discipline and solitude.  In the mornings I would lift weights or run to the park and train calisthenics.  In the afternoons I would eat, practice my portuguese, and read.  And in the evenings it was time to train.  There would be a beginners class and an advanced class, both of which I had to attend.  And so I did Monday through Friday.  On Saturday there was a roda (the circle where people play capoeira) at the night market that would go for hours.  Sunday I would rest.

That was my life for 2 months.  I didn't have any friends outside of the group, no one spoke English, and I was broke.  I had just enough money to feed myself and train.  But I was happy.  I was learning from one of the greatest masters in the capoeira world.  (If you want to see what I'm talking about you can see him in action here - he's the guy that starts on the right!)

Now, finally, after 2 months of training underneath him and his instructors I had a moment alone with him.  This was my last chance to receive some sort of sacred knowledge from this renowned master.  I had a moment to ask him how I could take my training to the next level.  So in my now pretty good Portuguese I asked him, "Mestre, you've seen me train for the last two months.  You've seen my game and you know how I move.  What do I do now?  How to I take this to the next level?"

He paused for a moment.  Then he smiled and said, "Foca no base"...or "focus on your basics".

...Really?  I had been training for 5 years at this point and just spent 2 months with him and his instructors learning all I could. I wanted to know how he became one of the most talented capoeiristas to ever play the game and how he could see things that no one else could see.  And his advice was to go back to the basics?  

He further explained the importance of building my foundation, how that is your home and your security.  I smiled and thanked him for his insight but honestly I was a bit disappointed. I wanted to know what he saw that I couldn't.   I was looking for something more.  

So I made my way back to the states.  I began teaching capoeira again, I started my coaching business and life went on.  But I never forgot that conversation.   The more I thought about it the more it started to have an effect on me. 

I met a lot of new people and taught them how to do the most basic of things.  Simple stuff.  How to pick things up with confidence.  How to carry things.  How to walk.  In capoeira I taught them the fundamentals, the kicks, the dodges, and simple movements on the floor.   Through teaching others I found myself constantly having to review the basics with each new person, over and over and over again.  At a certain point I realized I was doing nothing but the basics.  It was what people needed to learn and so that's what I ended up doing myself.

But something amazing happened during that time.  I got better.  I got WAY better.  My strength went through the roof and my capoeira game was better than it had ever been.  I started to be able to do advanced movements I previously couldn't perform.  When I played capoeira it felt effortless and I started playing at a very high level.

There was something to this whole focusing on the basics thing.   So I took it to heart and it became central to my training.  Now it's a primary part of the way I work with clients and how I approach any new skill.  And you know what?  It seems to work.  All of my clients get stronger and move better and they don't have to do anything flashy for that to happen.  When I want to learn an advanced skill I work on the basics that lead up to that and hammer away at those before I even worry about the advanced move itself.  

Even as I write this now I'm realizing how this approach has revolutionized my life and my work. 

You see, we make things out to be so complicated.  We want there to be some magic solution to the problem we're trying to solve.  Unfortunately, that search for magic might just be a way for us to put off answering difficult questions.  The answers to difficult questions are often pretty simple.  Accepting those answers is the hard part.  

If you want to keep improving, keep working on the basics.  Chop wood, carry water.  Day in and day out.  The advanced stuff will come.  And when it does it will come easy.  For many of us we constantly feel like we're trying to breakthrough, like "things will be better when...".  The trick of that thinking is that the being better then is determined by what is completely in your power to do now.  And that is to focus on the basics.  When you struggle with breaking through simply remember the words of my Mestre and continue to build and refine your foundation.  

"Foca no base."