Oct 27 2011

Ethics in Mestre Bimba’s academy

Written by Mestre Decânio
Translation into English by Shayna McHugh
Source: Capoeira da Bahia

The ethical component of Mestre Bimba’s teachings in his “academy” was implicit in his pedagogy and exemplified by his behavior. Later, in the 1950s, I made these ethics explicit in the “regulations” published in a frame on the wall opposite the door.

At that time, the practitioners of regional behaved in various ways depending on the circumstances: a) Behavior inside the academy and in partners; b) Relationship with the capoeira groups not linked to “regional”; and finally, c) Behavior in a social context without connection with capoeira.

We cannot directly study the ethics of Mestre Bimba and his first followers, since it is a collection of rules of conduct situated in a certain historical time period and pertinent to a specific set of circumstances.

Thus, we will have to consider:

  • The rupture of the capoeira world provoked by the enclosure of the Bahian regional martial art, created with the initial intention of increasing the efficiency of the playful capoeira in fashion at the time; also, the necessity to affirm this greater efficiency in front of the practitioners of the original game;
  • The introduction of capoeira – an African cultural manifestation, legally forbidden and socially discriminated, or in other words, a manifestation of a dominated social segment, originating from an enslaved category – directly in the heart of those who granted themselves the title of masters of the land… therefore, in a hostile social environment (dominant class of European roots);
  • A relative discrimination among the participants of the non-Bimba groups, i.e., the mestres of the old order (game of capoeira) and the representatives of the new order proposed by Bimba;
  • The natural question – Why Bimba and not me? – implicit in the words and behavior of the mestres with whom the new capoeira students did not choose to study, who were excluded from access to this source of social prestige as well as the new and promising source of income. It is a question that necessarily drives one to jealousy, envy, and spite, with all its evil consequences;
  • The political necessity of maneuvering around legal obstacles in order to achieve the right to practice capoeira freely; also maneuvering around the webs of prejudices in order to win over the mentors of the youth, from where the new students come;
  • The temperaments and cultural levels of Bimba and his first students, components of the amalgamation that is “regional,” fruit of the interbreeding of African, Brazilian indigenous, and Euro-Brazilian cultural components, that without a doubt influenced the technical and behavioral directives of the new face of the “brincadeira de pretos” (“plaything of the black people”).


The charismatic figure of Bimba appeared to us to be the projection of patriarchal and magisterial authority, commanding strict respect and imitation of his virile behavior, without hesitations or doubts. His word was law and truth: our truth and paradigm to be followed during one’s whole life, engraved in the heart and soul by the fire and iron of an infinite homage to the man, lasting in my case for more than 60 years!


The relation among the components of our academy followed the African ethical model and etiquette. It is important to emphasize that the rules and ethical connotations cannot be understood without having familiarity with these African behavioral standards. Study and knowledge of the African vision of the cosmos, of African philosophy and logic, as well as of slavery as an economic factor in the cycle of world conquest and domination by European culture – all these things must be understood as basics.

Modern capoeira has gotten separated from its African roots by the Europeanization of its songs, music, rhythm, rituals, and techniques. It is thus necessary to return to the original source in order to collect the purest fundamentals of the cultural components. This is the only way to obtain the essential knowledge for elaborating the code of ethics, counterbalancing the contamination by the continuing violence of European colonization and the superiority claimed by the dominant culture.

The respect of the “oldest,” who are sources of learning by informal conversations and practical demonstrations, and keepers of knowledge and abilities unknown to the “youngest,” was commanded by tradition and by tacit recognition of superiority.

Respect for one’s peers was required,
Because of not knowing his current abilities and because of rules…
“Always trust in your partner…
Distrusting in what he could do!”

“The partner is like a mirror, he reflects your conduct…
Don’t hit, so that you don’t get beaten up!”
“He who hits always forgets…
He who is beaten always remembers and waits…
One day he will get even!”



The firmly entrenched conviction of the technical superiority of regional over the traditional game of capoeira, combined with the bellicose courage of the students, the necessity of self-affirmation, the claim of cultural superiority of the dominant class (from where the “academics” were supplied), the humble conditions of the practitioners of the traditional game, and the fear of the legal consequences of the confrontation of the lowerclass person with the dominant – these disturbed the friendly relations between the “classical” (the traditional or popular capoeira) and the “modern” (Mestre Bimba’s regional “fight”), bringing about the obvious: a separation of the parties.

They accentuated the divergence and inflated the confrontation, the difference of ritual, and the tempo of the toques, since in Bimba’s style the use of the upper limbs in floreio and in attack was permitted and suggested, while the ijexá rhythm was accelerated as a result of the personal characteristics of our Mestre and his followers, fight-like and hurried.

Bimba’s students who came from the working class – myself included – were the exceptions. We got along with our humbler colleagues and maintained a more friendly relationship with the traditional capoeiristas.


Because Bimba’s students deified their mestre, they ended up diminishing the value given to the other old mestres. These old mestres were relegated to the secondary role of figures representing an earlier stage in capoeira’s evolution; ancestors of historical value who were respectable, but surpassed.

The majority of the academies, however, kept the respect and consideration recommended by the etiquette of the dominant class for the treatment of people, independent of social category. Some, myself included, still admired the beauty of the original capoeira’s toques and songs; the joy, discipline, and gentility of the rodas; and the extraordinary abilities in the inside game, in the low game, the elegance and gentleness of its movements, paradigms of choreography.


The dominant class, prejudiced against African-Brazilian cultural manifestations, as well as the legal prohibition of capoeira drove the Mestre’s first students to carry out an evangelism that was comparable only to that of Jesus’ disciples: they were always proclaiming the superiority of the Mestre’s teaching and conduct! At home, in school, in the street, at festivals, in movie theaters, bars, and restaurants, in gatherings of whatever nature, the students showed off the nobility of being a “STUDENT OF THE MESTRE”!

Every lecture was an opportunity to captivate a potential follower. Every instant was a moment to show off the excellence of capoeira for self-defense, physical fitness, and choreography. Every miss was a chance to demonstrate the efficiency of a rasteira, so characteristic of capoeira like the black skin of the Africans and their descendants.