Written by Luciano Milani
Translated by Shayna McHugh
“Humility was the greatest lesson I learned in those 37 years of Capoeira Angola”
José Luiz Oliveira Cruz (Mestre Bola Sete) was born on May 31, 1950. He began self-training capoeira in 1962, and in 1968 he began to train with the great capoeirista Pessoa Bababá, a sailor with the merchant navy and student of Mestre Pastinha. In 1969 Bola Sete entered the academy of Vicente Ferreira Pastinha, where he occupied the position of Field Supervisor; he was graduated by Mestre Pastinha himself in 1979.
Today he works in the Transportation Sector, in the Office of Industry, Trade, and Mining; he is also a member of the counsel of the Associação Brasileira de Capoeira Angola (Brazilian Capoeira Angola Association). Bola Sete says that the traditional values of this art are being forgotten.
“The capoeira practiced today is not authentic, because it is done just to impress people with its acrobatic and aggressive flips.”
When did you have your first contact with capoeira?
In 1962 I began to practice with a guy who did street capoeira.
Tell us a little bit about Pessoa Bababá.
Pessoa Bababá was a sailor with the merchant navy, a very strong and brave guy… he was a student of Mestre Pastinha. He was a traditional capoeirista, who began teaching me in a small, poorly-lit space the basement of a building. I trained there for almost a year until entering Mestre Pastinha’s academy in 1969.
What is the main difference between the “Old Capoeira” which you learned with Mestre Pastinha, and the “Capoeira of Today”?
Mestre João Pequeno said something that sums it all up: “The Old Capoeira was less aggressive and more dangerous… today capoeira is more aggressive and less dangerous.” Today we see very fast blows, but the blow hits only the air; it doesn’t even come close to one’s partner. He doesn’t even have to defend himself, because the blow doesn’t come close and doesn’t require him to dodge it. No, the capoeirista must to be forced to defend himself, because capoeira is essentially defensive.
The main fundamental of capoeira is defense and not attack… and today capoeiristas are learning more to attack.
Learning with the Mestre… How long were you at Mestre Pastinha’s side and what is your strongest memory… the moment that touched you the most?
I was Mestre Pastinha’s student for thirteen years. The moment that I remember with the most affection, the moment that touched me the most during my time with the mestre, was a chamada during which he held my head with both hands, leaned it against his own, and said: “Zé Luiz… you have a twin soul to mine!”