Oct 26 2011

Life Lessons from Mestre Bimba

Written by Mestre Damião, student of Mestre Bimba
Excerpted from Conversando Sobre Capoeira (Talking About Capoeira)
Translated by Shayna McHugh

Some of the life lessons that Mestre Damião learned from Mestre Bimba during the time they spent together in São Paulo.

  • Always have “maldade no corpo” (evil in one’s body). In other words, we should
    always be alert in every situation. “Even in church,” he added, smiling… and cited
    an ancient proverb: “I understand that you deceive me; what I don’t want is for
    you to understand that I understand that you deceive me…”
  • Aim always to practice molejo (looseness or ‘wiggle’) in a fight. Get used to
    always walking in the swing of the ginga. He called this the “jogo do mar” (game
    of the sea) which is nothing more than the way a sailor walks while on his boat
  • Train your reflexes constantly. Jump forwards, backwards, to the sides, and
    suddenly drop into a rolê, then get up in the high guard, as though you were
    defending yourself from a surprise attack from an imaginary adversary.
  • When you arrive in an unfamiliar place, proceed with caution, subtly observing
    the entrances and exits. Never sit with your back to the street, in any place.
  • Never pass under trees, mainly at night. Never turn a corner while walking in the
    middle of the sidewalk. Always walk on the edge of the sidewalk, or even in the
    middle of the street.
  • If there is an argument, try to stay at a distance from your challenger that would
    permit you either to attack him or to respond to an attack with full efficiency.
    Keep your eyes open and never allow him to draw a weapon.
  • During an argument, control yourself, in such a way that you return your
    adversary’s offenses in a calm voice, in measured tones, giving the impression
    that you are well-mannered, that is: you’re not a coward, but neither are you a
    troublemaker. The objective is to irritate the opponent until he feels he’s in
    control of the situation and attacks you. Stay alert the whole time, or in other
    words, with all your reflexes ready to unleash the appropriate strike or counterattack
    suddenly and powerfully.
  • The capoeirista is always calm, tranquil, and speaks in measured tones. He never
    offends anyone; he is patient, polite, even docile, and he should only fight in
    legitimate defense of himself or someone else. Of course there are cases in which
    number 7 above should not be followed, since the circumstances of the particular
    situation will dictate the necessity of suddenly and efficiently unleashing a
    dominating strike or counter-attack.
  • The recommended outfit for the capoeirista to wear socially was: loose pants with
    narrow mouths, leather shoes with narrow points, a short- or long-sleeved shirt
    and a slightly loose sport jacket, and a tie, preferably a bowtie. Also a pure silk
    handkerchief around the neck.
  • The use of the navalha (straight razor) was optional. The capoeirista, despite
    learning how to use it in Bimba’s Specialization Course, should only carry it in
    special circumstances. A handkerchief of pure silk protects against being cut by a

One of the stories that clearly illustrates the capoeirista’s cleverness was told to me by Mestre Bimba during the time we were together in São Paulo (1948-1949 or so):

“On one of the beaches in Salvador, Bahia, a former student graduated in capoeira regional was walking with two beautiful women. In late afternoon, with the beach practically deserted, a really strong guy approached the trio. Perhaps he was confident because of his unusually good form, and he decided to cause trouble… he came up behind the capoeirista, who was sitting down, and kicked a little bit of sand at his back, saying, ‘Hey, little skinny guy. Two women for you is too many, how about we share?’

The capoeirista didn’t hesitate; he sprang up with feline quickness and threw a handful of sand right in the guy’s face. The tough guy, momentarily blinded, disoriented and in pain, started to try to clear his eyes with his hands, upon which the capoeirista unleashed a violent ponteira to the tough guy’s crotch. Leaving the guy squatting and bellowing in pain in the middle of the beach, the capoeirista quickly left the area, accompanied by the two ladies.”

The mestre ended this story with a radiant look on his face and painstakingly explained, as he always did: “You see, the tough guy learned two lessons. First of all, you should never mess with someone you don’t know; secondly, appearances are deceiving…” and then added, “Capoeira isn’t a martial art for the ring. It’s a street fight and it should only be used in legitimate defense in case you’re attacked.”