Oct 28 2011

Interview with Mestre Gato Preto

Written by Roger Spock 
Translation into English: Shayna McHugh
Source: http://eulanet.sites.uol.com.br/

Mestre Gato Preto will turn seventy years old on March 19th of this year. He has spent over fifty years in capoeira and he’s still going strong, giving an example to the newer students.

José Luiz Gabriel began Capoeira when he was eight years old. By the time he was twelve, everyone thought that he already knew everything. He did not believe this and kept seeking to learn more, as he does until this day. He never “officially” graduated in Capoeira. He understands that a capoeirista is not a PhD, who learns everything and then graduates in order to exercise his profession. “Capoeira never ends,” he says.

After living with other great Capoeira practitioners in Salvador-Bahia, Mestre Gato Preto has become a traveling ambassador of Capoeira, visiting many countries and transmitting his knowledge to young and old capoeiristas in the four corners of the world. In this exclusive interview with Capoeira Magazine, he unhesitatingly shares all his precious experience:

When and how did you first encounter capoeira?

I began, at eight years old, with my father, Eutíquio Lúcio Góes. He was my mestre. At twelve years old (1941), people thought that I had nothing left to learn. The trainings took place in a small enclosed room. He attacked with a maculelê stick or machete, in order to make me defend myself. When I messed up, he corrected me…until one day when I gave a strong cabeçada and he fell. When he got up, he came running after me, threatening to cut me and yelling: “Come here, boy!” After that he stopped teaching me.

Later I learned with my uncle João Catarino, a student of Besouro, until he died of a hemorrhage. After this period came Leo, Cobrinha Verde, Mestre Waldemar, Mestre Pastinha, and also Gildo, Roberto, and João Grande, who played berimbau and was a very important capoeirista at that time. In the roda, João Pequeno, Moreno, Albertino, Valdomiro, and I made up the bateria.

And your contact with the mestres of the time?

There were many mestres who played well in Bahia, such as Canjiquinha, Zéis, Vandir, Agulhão, Zacarias, Bom Cabelo. There were also others who were not mestres but who also played very well, such as Deodato and Bigodinho. All the capoeiristas from Liberdade (the neighborhood of Liberdade, in Salvador), trained by Mestre Waldemar, were good, good, very good! There was a plumber, who died at 28 years old, who was a great angoleiro!

In those days, who were the most distinguished capoeiristas, in your eyes?

In my opinion, João Grande, in the inside game. In terms of dancing around, it was this guy Gilberto who took care of himself well and today is very old.

What was the orchestra of Capoeira?

Three berimbaus (a gunga, a berra-boi, and a viola), two pandeiros, a bamboo ganzá (not a metal ganzá), and a reco-reco. The first berimbau played Angola; the second, São Bento Grande; and the third, Angolinha. This was the bateria, accompanied by singing.

What was the profile of the capoeirista in that time?

The capoeirista was a worker: a conductor, a sugarcane worker, a dock worker at the port, a stonemason, a carpenter, an electrician, a commercial traveler, a sailor – ultimately, he was a worker who, whatever his job was, played capoeira for love, for leisure, as a type of therapy. The capoeirista did that as a dance, which made him feel well and get what he wanted, through concentration.

No one earned money? No one lived off of capoeira?

The money came later, with games in the roda. Someone would place a banknote in the center of the roda on top of a red handkerchief and the capoeirista would have to pick it up with his mouth.

The two partners played until one was immobilized with a blow of the foot – never of the hand – and the other got the banknote. It was necessary to immobilize one’s opponent to avoid the risk of receiving a kick in the face. After everything, the two players hugged and the money was placed in the cabaça of the berimbau in order to pay for a round of beer, soda, or rum after the roda. This was the only way that money entered capoeira.

Not even the mestres had capoeira as a profession?

No one did. They were all workers, they had their professions. Pastinha was a toll collector, and afterwards he went to organize capoeira; Daniel Noronha worked on the dock; Canjiquinha and Caiçara worked in the Town Hall; Paulo dos Anjos worked as a driver; Mestre Ferreira and myself worked as frame-layers. No one lived off of capoeira. I lived in capoeira during 40 years without earning any cash!

But we learned a lot in those days. A group from Liberdade was brought to visit me in Itapuan and one group played with another. Whoever received a rasteira and fell with their butt on the ground lost the game. Also, one could not dirty the opponent’s clothing. That was bad manners. The mestres embraced and conversed. We played the whole afternoon.

And modern capoeira?

It evolved. To evolve is very good, but it is necessary to have a root, a beginning, so that capoeira does not go down a wrong path, because this art is so rich! Capoeira is your life, my life, and the life of many others. There’s no way to control that. It’s necessary to control education, so that capoeira does not lose this beautiful thing that it possesses.

What does a capoeirista need to become a mestre?

First of all, graduation does not exist in capoeira. A final point does not exist, because capoeira has no end. It will take you wherever it wants you to go. The same will happen with your son, your grandson, or great-grandson: it goes on and on. Capoeira is universal, it walks, it is dynamic; it doesn’t have a “graduation” like the doctor who learns everything, graduates, and goes to work in his profession.

Wisdom is the doctorate of capoeira. In order to achieve it, one must prolong one’s life in the art. How? By giving a cord to the boy and letting him train for four years, in order to prepare himself and learn about reality, in order to achieve wisdom. With ten years, he could be a contra-mestre, thorough research and study. Then, with twenty years of experience he may or may not have conditions to be mestre.

Everything depends on wisdom, and wisdom has nothing to do with age. The title, given by mestres, of “coming to be ready,” may be granted. It does not mean being graduated, because the work and the learning continue. Capoeira never ends, never dies.

Capoeira has 180 blows and 180 counterattacks. One does not learn ten or twelve movements, say that one knows six regional moves and other angola moves and then go around saying that one is a capoeirista. It is necessary to know, discover, and face all the attacks.

Many players don’t want to discuss or learn all of capoeira. They thus meet their end, because they will never surpass the minimal amount that they know. The worst off in all this is capoeira itself, because these people end up losing the talent that they do have. They separate capoeira from its reality.

You referred to a time in which everyone was friends; there was unity. Today there is much rivalry; a big and strong capoeirista enters in the roda intending to destroy the other player. What do you think about this?

In those times, the mestres respected each other and encouraged consideration on the part of their students. The guy might be big, like Agulhão, who was two meters tall, or strong like Mestre Waldemar, Traíra, Zacarias, Davi, or Dada – who gave the greatest capoeira show of the time – but there was control and respect. Anyone who took a cabeçada fell and got up to shake his partner’s hand without aggression or bitterness.

Today I see that there are many people teaching their students to hit, wanting to be the best and filling the heads of those poor students – who don’t know any better – with the idea that this is important. These are people who only see the destructive side. The mestres get blamed for the consequences and capoeira ends up unable to show its full potential.

Did this used to happen among the old mestres?

No. The only mestres who argued in Salvador back in those days were Canjiquinha and Caiçara, but everything was play-acting, in presentations for tourists. They made fun of each other in laughter and jokes. The two died on good terms with each other. Bimba had an academy in the Maciel de Cima and Pastinha had one in the Largo do Pelourinho. Very close to each other. They did not visit each other, but also they did not speak badly of each other’s academies. I have with me newspaper articles from 1984 about João Pequeno and João Grande, in Itapuan. One can see how they liked and respected each other!

Caiçara and Canjiquinha were my friends until the ends of their lives. Bimba’s students have maintained friendships with me for 45 years. I have no enemies in capoeira and if I did they would not be against me, but against the art. I don’t do anything against them. Some destroy themselves; others reeducate themselves and appear without entering in that treachery.

More recently, I met students who even want to hit their mestres, alleging that they learned nothing. Do you know what this is? Lack of education. The capoeirista has to educate himself in order to respect and be respected.

Oct 28 2011

Interview with Mestre Bola Sete

Written by Luciano Milani
Translated by Shayna McHugh
Source: http://www.lmilani.com/m/content/view/496/91/

“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!”

Oct 28 2011

Interview with Mestre Boca Rica

Translation into English: Shayna McHugh
Source: Revista União Capoeira,
Ano 3, n. 6 – May 2006

How did you begin capoeira?

I started capoeira very young; I don’t remember exactly when, because in that era we played capoeira more for fun. Today capoeira is a business, and everyone wants to make money. In the old days, people played on Sundays and holidays in Mestre Waldemar’s roda. I was a student of Mestre Pastinha, but I went to rodas on Pero Vaz Street and other places. I still play capoeira, I play instruments, sing, and teach. I’m going to be 70 years old soon.

Are you proud of being a student of Mestre Pastinha?

Of course, I’m very proud. One time, after the mestre had already gone blind, I brought my students to make a roda in his academy here in the Pelourinho. Afterwards I asked him how he liked the roda. He said it was very good. I stood far away from him and asked if he could see me. He said he could make out my figure. Even so, he played capoeira by touch.

So I told him: “Mestre, wherever I go, you can be sure that your name is being spread.” I also enjoyed being a student of Mestre Waldemar. I learned the berimbau rhythms with him. I was curious, and wherever there was a good mestre, I got close to him in order to learn something. This is why, thank God, I’ve traveled to almost twenty first-world countries, which is something that very few mestres here in Bahia have done.

What was Mestre Pastinha’s philosophy in that era?

Mestre Pastinha was a philosopher. He was a friend, a comrade. To him, everyone was a capoeirista. When a person showed up, he would say, “You’re also a capoeirista. If you like capoeira, you’re a capoeirista too.” He was my second father. We had a great friendship. I rooted for the Bahia soccer team, and he rooted for Ypiranga. Once I won a bet with him based on a soccer game. He was very popular and very simple. He was the best friend I had in my life. He was systematic: he taught us the rhythms, the names of the rhythms, what they were used for; I was willing to learn all this.

Do you remember the name of any rhythm that Pastinha created?

No. He told me that there were seven rhythms in capoeira, but that we could create rhythms on the berimbau. He called these improvised rhythms. In capoeira itself, there are seven rhythms.

Do you think that foreigners really like capoeira?

They adore it. They say to me: you have to come here again.

Where is your academy?

On the Largo do Tanque. Many mestres have gone there: Mestre Burguês, Mestre Amém… everyone knows my academy. I travel a lot, so when I’m gone I have a professor teach classes. I have graduated students teaching in France, Argentina, the U.S., etc. The whole world knows me. I’m a small seller, a driver, but none of this made my life better like capoeira did. I’ve gone to twenty countries.

Leave a message.

I say the same thing as Mestre Pastinha, who said that he would die, but only in the flesh; the spirit remains. Today, if I was young – ten or twelve years old – I would want only two things in my life: to study and to play capoeira, in order to take capoeira to the whole world.

Oct 28 2011

Interview with Mestre Bigo

Written by Letícia Cardoso de Carvalho
Translation into English: Shayna McHugh
Source: http://eulanet.sites.uol.com.br/

Francisco Tomé dos Santos Filho (Mestre Bigo) was born in 1946 in Salvador, Bahia. He began capoeira in the mid-1950s, after watching a capoeira presentation in which he saw Mestre Pastinha and Mestre Cobrinha Verde playing.

He trained in Mestre Pastinha’s Academy until 1975 (when he married and came to São Paulo), training with great capoeiristas such as João Grande, João Pequeno, Natividade, Papo Amarelo, Jonas, Bola Sete, Gildo Alfinete, Genésio Meio Quilo, and Roberto Satanás, among others.

After moving to São Paulo he spent a time away from capoeira, but he says that although he was away, capoeira is in his blood, coursing through his veins. In 1989, Mestre Bigo founded the Academia de Capoeira Angola Ilê Axé, where he continues his work until this day

Check out the exclusive interview that Mestre Bigo gave to Praticando Capoeira Magazine.

What was Capoeira Angola like when you began to practice?

It was a little different. Mestre Pastinha trained quick Angola, which was dangerous. We used to exchange beatings with the Regional practitioners. The regionalistas lifted their legs high and the angoleiros gave rasteiras. The angoleiros didn’t lift their legs up there, because they know that if they lift them, they would fall.

In those days, a ladainha was sung for every game, and afterwards came the improvisation and then the corrido. The capoeirista played for a while, and then the roda stopped and another ladainha began. It required much of our time. Today there are more capoeiristas; because of this, there is less time to play in the roda.

Many capoeiristas who practice Capoeira Regional state that Capoeira Angola is weak as a martial art. What is your opinion?

I disagree. Angola has more malícia. Regional is just attack, defense, and anger. The angoleiro enters into a roda laughing. Capoeira is two snakes. Capoeira Regional has just one poison. And Capoeira Angola has the poison of various snakes. The Regional practitioner enters the roda, closes his fist, and closes his face in order to hit you. In other words, he is like a rattlesnake, who warns you that he’s going to get you.

The angoleiro is the opposite. He is like all the snakes that aim to attract the aggressor and laugh, in order to give just one strike in the right moment. The angoleiro, when he sees that he will give the strike and not get you, will not give the strike. He only gives the correct strike. In angola there are few blows, but they are all original.

The angoleiro does not waste a movement. Angola is malícia, it is cleverness, wickedness, deception, attack and defense, joy and sadness. Later comes the mandinga, which comes with time. The angoleiro trusts no one. He trusts and mistrusts. He pretends that he doesn’t see, that he doesn’t hear.

The practitioners of Regional (without generalizing) disregard Angola. It’s like a mother and child. Angola is the mother, and a mother never disregards her child. There are many Regional people going to Angola in order to acquire knowledge, because the knowledge is in capoeira Angola. Capoeira Angola was born in the longing for liberty. It was born as a fight.

The capoeiristas who fought in the Paraguayan War weren’t Regional, they were Angola. People think that Angola is weak, but it’s not. When angoleiros are playing it looks like the two are just one person, since each transmits such a strong energy to the other.

What was the teaching system like in Mestre Pastinha’s Academy?

He started with the ginga; this was the first step. Later, the first blow he taught was the meia lua de frente, which was done in order to get to know one’s opponent. Later he taught more frontal attacks. Then, he began to teach the spinning blows: rabo de arraia, meia lua de costas, and others.

Bola Sete and I liked to arrive early in order to talk with Mestre Pastinha; we asked him many things and he responded. He gave us much counsel, such as:

  • “Always turn an open corner.”
  • “Don’t enter dark places.”
  • “If you suspect that a person is armed, throw a lit cigarette on him and he’ll put his weapon in his hand.”
  • “Whenever you are in a bar, seat yourself so that you are looking in the eyes of the owner of the bar, because if something happens, his eyes will warn you.”

Today, why are great mestres of Capoeira Angola somewhat “forgotten,” like what happened with Mestre Pastinha at the end of his life?

Yes, that happened. I say that Capoeira Angola often punishes us. If you do the slightest thing wrong, it punishes you. In Mestre Pastinha’s case, it was too much envy. Mestre Pastinha never played barefoot. Before his trip to Africa, he did a performance in a gym in Bahia. There was some person there who told everyone to play barefoot, that capoeiristas weren’t born with shoes on. Until that day, Mestre Pastinha had never played barefoot in a capoeira roda. So Mestre Pastinha took off his shoes and went to play. While he was playing, they put a voodoo fetish in his shoes. But the person who did this has also already died.

The capoeirista must always ask for much protection. When the capoeirista crouches at the foot of the berimbau he has to bless himself, he asks God’s protection, because he will enter a capoeira roda without knowing the intention of his opponent. The capoeirista must discover in his opponent’s eyes the intention that he will take from that moment forward.

Today the capoeirista goes to hook up with his girlfriend and then goes to the capoeira roda; he can’t do this, he is going with his body open.* The capoeirista must be of clean body and spirit in order to transmit a positive energy in the capoeira roda and in his life.

*In the beliefs of candomblé, certain practices (such as sexual intercourse) “open” the body and make it unprotected and vulnerable to attacks.

Oct 28 2011

Capoeira Angola Keywords

While in Salvador, I made a list of the “key words” that Mestre Valmir and his students emphasized with frequency in the trainings. Here they are, as well as an explanation of more or less what they mean:

Awareness – Visualization

Being conscious of the position of your body and the position of the other player’s. Knowing the length and reach of your attacks, so that you don’t give any that are out of range. Being aware of your possible openings. “Seeing” the movements.

The opposite is, for example, thinking you’ve done something clever by giving a fully extended chapa that arrives within an inch of the other player’s exposed face. You’ve done nothing; you couldn’t hit the other player if you tried… unless you’re Inspector Gadget and can mechanically elongate your leg. In reality that point goes to the other player, because they perceived the length of your leg and backed away just out of your reach.

Another example is being oblivious to points the other player scores on you: when they subtly mark a rasteira or cabeçada or whatever, and everyone else in the roda but you sees that you’ve been had. A classic example of this is when some newbie starts a kick, the professor marks a rasteira, and the newbie doesn’t notice; he follows through and kicks the professor, not realizing that if the professor had actually done the rasteira, he’d be in no condition to kick.

Tranquility – Calmness – Patience – Control

Staying chill in the roda. Not just avoiding anger, but also overexcitement and over-eagerness to “get” the other player. Having perfect control of your body: not hitting the other player by accident or falling out of a movement when you didn’t intend to. If you get a point scored on you, you don’t try to get your revenge right away; instead you wait, develop the game, make the other player think you’ve forgotten, and then get him. Maybe not even in the same game… maybe your revenge comes a week or a year or even a decade later.

The opposite of this is getting worked up, responding to receiving a rasteira or blow with an immediate attempt to get the other player, doing jerky and uncontrolled movements, falling out of the roda or hitting the people sitting in it, having to rush to dodge the other player’s movements (this also has to do with lack of foresight to see them coming).

Cleverness – Deception

You must be able to deceive well; if you’re going to fake one movement but do another, the fake has to be really convincing in order to provoke the response you want from the other player. You should be clever enough to note weaknesses in the other player’s game and take advantage of them. Cleverness is also the defense; you should be able to anticipate the other player’s attacks in order to successfully dodge. Never telegraph a movement; try to keep the other player guessing. The ginga, especially, should have tons of flourishes, fakes, turns – it’s a completely un-patterned matrix of movement, not a repetitive back-and-forth step.

Rhythm – Expression – Feeling – Soul – ‘From the heart’

There is no right or wrong in capoeira, only consequences. Capoeira angola has no perfectionist technical standards; you’re free to do the movements with your own personal expression, in the way that is best for your body. Your movements will be most effective if you do them to the rhythm of the berimbau. And do them with feeling, with “soul” – have fun! Let the joy of capoeira show through in the way you move your body… dance to the berimbau’s beat. The opposite: moving and playing tensely or drudgingly, looking as though you didn’t even like capoeira.

Relaxation – Looseness – Lightness – Smoothness – Respiration

Angoleiros keep themselves completely relaxed, because this allows them to have the most mobility. Feet step lightly on the ground, arms move smoothly/naturally and are not held firmly in one position. Their bodies are loose, not rigid, giving them minimum commitment and maximum adaptability. The opposite: stepping firmly, holding arms rigidly or moving them jerkily, being stuck to the ground, having plodding movements, over-committing to movements.

Freedom of movement – Mobility – Balance within unbalance

Since capoeiristas constantly have to predict and respond to the unpredictable, they need as much mobility and adaptability as possible. They have to be able to go in any direction at any time; any movement must be able to be desfeito (literally “un-done”), aborted or changed at any moment during its entrance, execution, or exit. The angoleiro’s balance does not come from a stationary stance, but from being in motion (like riding a bike – you can only stay upright when the bike is in motion); he might look like he’s careening around the roda out of control or like he never has a foot firmly on the ground, but in fact he has perfect control and balance – without, in fact, ever having a foot “firmly” on the ground! Angoleiros stay on the balls of their feet as much as possible in order to have more mobility.

Naturalness – Subtlety

There’s no need for exaggeration or over-acting. You should be clever but not look like you’re trying hard to be (that’ll just make you look like a wise guy who mistakenly thinks he’s a mandingueiro). Angoleiros will mark attacks without calling a ton of attention to it; the point might even go unnoticed by many who don’t know how to “see” the exchanges in capoeira angola. I think it’s less the movements themselves and more a mental posture that shows through in the movements (an attitude of humility vs. one of “I’m going to show everyone how clever I am!”)

Objectivity – Protection

All movements must have purpose; either to attack one of the other player’s vulnerable areas or maneuver him into a position in which you can attack them. The back, legs, and arms are not particularly vulnerable, whereas the face, chest, and abdomen are. You get absolutely no points if you tag your opponent with a kick to their back or leg… in fact, doing so demonstrates that you couldn’t crack open their game and the best you could do was take a cheap and useless shot at a non-vulnerable part of their body.

Some angoleiros, when hit with such a blow, will make a show of dusting off the area with a look of disdain on their face that says “oh come on… what a pathetic attack.” At the same time you are trying to control the other player, you must take care to protect your own openings. This protection, in capoeira angola, should be flexible and mobile rather than fixed and rigid.

There are two errors people make regarding objectivity. One is having too little – this is exemplified by giving kicks over someone who’s already dodging, giving attacks that are out of range, and doing movements that serve absolutely no purpose. The other is having too much – this is exemplified by going for cheap shots ALL the time, keeping yourself permanently closed (as opposed to opening and closing, or appearing open when you are really protected), and making it obvious that your chief goal is to get the other player.

Oct 27 2011

The movie “Mestre Bimba: A Capoeira Iluminada”

Quotes from the movie:

Mestre Bimba had a street capoeira phase. It even reached the point that, having been imprisoned various times, the police chief called him over and wanted to make him the police inspector of the neighborhood where he lived, because that way he would behave and not fight since he was the inspector – he would calm down. But he refused the offer, saying that capoeira and the police were always against each other, so how could he join the side of the police?
– Mestre Itapoan

For me, only two mestres have a place on my altar: Jesus and Bimba. I am what I am thanks to him. If Bimba had not existed, I would be something else.
– Mestre Decânio

If you go to my house, in my bedroom where I sleep with my wife, there is a photograph: this photo here of the Mestre. It’s there on the wall. I don’t have a photo of my biological father, but I have one of Mestre Bimba.
– Escurinho

He would help the porters. What was his main job? Carrying knives for the dock workers. How? He would get them past the police stations for the dock workers, who were known as tough guys and troublemakers. He told me that he would buy a large loaf of bread, cut it in the middle, make a hole and put the knife in, then hide the opening. After passing the police station, he would deliver the bread to the dock workers and leave.
– Mestre Decânio

From what Mestre Bimba told me, black men who were street capoeiristas used to be tied to the tail of a horse that was let loose to run back to the military barracks. It was said to be better to fight close to the barracks, because then it was a shorter distance to be dragged by the horse.
– Americano (Muniz Sodré)

Mestre Bimba surprised society with a different type of behavior. He contradicted every stereotype that society had about capoeiristas. He seems like a straight, serious man.
– Fred Abreu, historian

Candomblé, capoeira, and certain types of food are all expressions of cultural resistance, against the suffocation of the dominating party – the white European slave master. So this is why capoeira was made officially illegal for a while. The names of the capoeiristas are there – Besouro, Bom Cabelo, and many others like this, who had their general gathering place in the Mercado de Ouro (Gold Market) because the great majority of them were manual laborers.
– Cid Teixeira, historian

Source: PortalCapoeira

Oct 27 2011

Interview with Mestre Preguiça

Source: Revista Capoeira
Translated into English by Shayna McHugh

Waldenkolk Oliveira, known as mestre Preguiça, was born in Sítio do Mato in Bahia, Brazil. It was June of 1947. His mother died when he was only seven years old, and he was left alone to face the world about which he knew so little. Three years later he was in Salvador, living on the streets, sleeping under bridges along with other street kids.

In the constant search for a direction that he could follow in life, he would spend time in the poor neighborhoods of the Bahian capital, like Calçadas and Ribeira. That was where he met Gilson Capoeira of the Periperí neighborhood in 1959, who taught him his first Capoeira moves and brought him to Mestre Bimba’s academy. The powerful mestre then taught him the rules of discipline and respect that Waldenkolk longed for.

How was your first contact with Mestre Bimba? Do you remember much?

When we entered the building, the students were training in a small room on the second floor of the Academy. Mestre Bimba rested on a bed in a side room. He was seated in silence, and his eyes observed each detail. Since that moment when I saw him for the first time, I felt that that man was a great and powerful mentor who didn’t need a weapon to defend himself. I was attracted by the power of the martial art and by the spirituality that I felt in the atmosphere. I knew then that Capoeira would be an important part of my life.

Were you soon accepted as a student?

When I told the mestre that I wanted to train, he mumbled and told me to do a ‘queda de rins.’ Although I fell over, he still invited me to join the class. I trained there until graduating from Mestre Bimba’s Academy.

What was the graduation ceremony like?

The graduates gathered in Mestre Bimba’s house for the ceremony. We all wore white pants and shirts and shoes, as was the tradition. That way, if our bodies touched the ground during the game, the dirt would show. Each graduate received a blue belt and a small silver metal with an engraved figure of a capoeirista. Afterwards there was a big party, with all the capoeiristas and their friends.

And why is your nickname Preguiça (lazy/sloth)?

The control, strength, and flexibility of Bimba’s students scared me a lot and I used to hide behind the bench, afraid to participate. I was always one of the last to enter the roda, because of a little bit of fear and also caution. This slowness led the mestre to give me the nickname Preguiça.

Did your participation in Bahia’s folkloric performing groups help you go to Rio de Janeiro?

Yes. After I graduated around 1965, I went to Rio with the group Vem Camará.

Talk a little bit about your experience in Rio.

In 1968 and 1969 I was crowned national champion of the Golden Berimbau competition. Since I was champion in three consecutive years, I won the Golden Berimbau trophy, which was the biggest Capoeira prize at the time. The following year, I prepared two of my best students, Mosquito and Borracha, to go to the same event and I was entitled the Best Coach of Brazil, for my success as a teacher. To further develop my professional skills, I studied physical education at the university. This university was the first to offer a Capoeira course, and I was the professor.

And your experience in Europe?

I went to Europe as part of the Brazilian Ballet Show and I spread the practice of Capoeira in almost all the countries there. When I returned, I continued giving classes with Senzala, while I finished my degree. In 1976 I went to Austria to do a specialized Physical Education course, and I also taught Capoeira. Upon my return, besides my normal classes, I performed Capoeira in shows, theaters, nightclubs, and on TV. I ended up forming two groups: Mucuiu nu Zambi and Ganga Zumba. I also did a performance on Fantástico [a very famous Brazilian TV show], playing the role of Madame Satã.

How was your experience in the United States?

I didn’t speak English, but I liked the challenge of teaching Capoeira in another language. I began by writing the words “right” and “left” on my hands, which helped me give instructions to the students. After a year, I had already developed a strong base of study.

Oct 27 2011

Mestre Bimba, Capoeira Champion, Challenges All Bahian Fighters (1936)

This article appeared in the newspaper A Tarde on March 16, 1936. It was reprinted in Mestre Damião’s article “The True History of the Creation of Bimba’s Luta Regional Bahiana.” Translation into English by Shayna McHugh

“Capoeira,” an exotic but interesting sport – rather old-fashioned, yet shrewd and clever, with feline blows – is being practiced with general interest lately in Bahia. Until recently, the curious spectacle was not so sought-out. However, “capoeira” is now being appreciated with enthusiasm, taking part in sporting festivals.

While reporting on one of these exhibitions days ago, we asked the sport’s champion, the most well-known of the practitioners, to give an explanation to the public, because many people understand nothing of the secrets of this unique art of attack and defense.

Answering our call, Mestre Bimba (his name is Manoel dos Reis Machado) was in our offices yesterday. He came to give us the requested explanations, which are, without a doubt, very interesting.

He told us: “I’ve been teaching capoeiragem for eighteen years. I adapted various blows from what is called capoeira de Angola, the style practiced by my mestre, the African Bentinho. The blows of the Angola game are these: meia lua de frente, meia lua de compasso (rabo de arraia), meia lua armada, aú to the right and to the left, cabeçada, chibata, rasteira, raspa, tesoura fechada, balão, leque, calcanheira, encruzilhada, and deslocamento.”

“From these blows,” continued Mestre Bimba, “I removed two: encruzilhada and deslocamento. And I added the following: vingativa, banda traçada, balão em pé, balão arqueado, balão ‘colar’ de força, cintura desprezada, cintura de rins, gravata cinturada, tesoura aberta, benção, salta pescoço, sopapo, galopante, godeme, cotovelo, and dentinho.”

“In order to avoid deceptions and misinterpretations, and in the aim of making the capoeira encounters more interesting and more violent, all the strikes of capoeiragem will enter into play. The adversaries will be able to use whatever blows they know. Thus, I launch a challenge to everyone who practices or knows capoeiragem, as well as any other fighter (jiu-jitsu etc) – whatever they want. I will face them with my capoeira!”

“And are there any blows prohibited in capoeira?” we asked him.

“There actually should not exist prohibited blows in capoeira, because it’s an instinctive fight. But since we want to have a polite match, the following blows will be considered forbidden: eye pokes, blows to the sexual organs, biting, and pulling hair. Capoeira Angola is not to be practiced in the ring, but instead with pandeiro and berimbau, because all the movements obey the sounds of these instruments.”

“On the eighteenth there was the exhibition between Bahia and Américo Sciencia in Odeon Park, which ended with an undecided outcome. Why? Simply: capoeira Angola has its strikes determined or regulated by the berimbau and the pandeiro. But the true capoeira is that with which we defend ourselves and face the enemy! So then, if I’m attacked, in any place, will I wait for the berimbau in order to react? Neither the berimbau nor the pandeiro! I have to defend myself for real…”

“And your match, in Odeon Park, with Zéy?”

“I won fifteen points to two, and not as it was reported. The points are counted like this: cabeçada to aú (takedown) – 3; cabeçada to aú (hit) – 1; cabeçada takedown – 2; cabeçada hit – 1; meia lua and armada in the face – 1; meia lua and armada hit – 1; calcanheira – 1; tesoura takedown – 2; tesoura hit – 1; balão açoitado – 2; balão arqueado – 2; headlock – 6. I did a cabeçada to aú (hit), a cabeçada hit, a meia lua and armada in the face, two meia lua and armada hits, two tesoura hits, one balão açoitado and one headlock. Zéy did only one meia lua and armada hit and one tesoura hit.”

And Mestre Bimba, accompanied by his manager, left the office. Our readers now have a precious explanation of capoeira. At the same time, the Bahian champion has launched his challenge to all other fighters.

Oct 27 2011

The Maximum Title of Bahian Capoeira (1936)

This article appeared in the newspaper Diário da Bahia on March 13, 1936. It was reprinted in Mestre Damião’s article “The True History of the Creation of Bimba’s Luta Regional Bahiana.” Translation into English by Shayna McHugh

Bimba Refutes Samuel de Souza’s Allegations and Prepares to Fight for the Coveted Belt 

The well-known Bahian capoeirista Manoel dos Reis Machado, commonly known as Bimba, was in our offices yesterday. He spoke about the current activity of that branch of martial arts which is a genuinely national style, since it differs much from capoeira d’Angola. The famous champion talked about a rumor regarding Mr. Samuel de Souza. About the published topics, Bimba said:

I didn’t embrace the title of champion as though it were my property. However, I think it belongs to me more than to my sporting companion, Maré, since I challenged all the capoeiristas of this state through the newspapers and only the worthy adversary Henrique Bahia (who I defeated in front of a large audience) entered the ring. Maré, as winner of the maximum title, should have shown up at that time, and not now, afterwards.

But the following remains to be clarified: Capoeira d’Angola can only serve for rhythmic demonstrations and not for a fight in which strength will characterize the violence, and agility will determine the Victory. To the sound of the berimbau and pandeiro, the strengths of two capoeiristas competing for a champion’s belt cannot be measured, and this can be seen in more advanced centers, where capoeira takes on a performance aspect. The police will regulate these capoeira demonstrations according to the manual of Annibal Burlamaqui (Zuma), published in 1928 in Rio de Janeiro.

If my future adversary intends to demonstrate his abilities to the sound of the berimbau and pandeiro, I am here, ready to show that my knowledge is not limited to just playing around. The ‘match’ of capoeira d’Angola between Henrique Bahia and Américo ‘Suissa’ is still in the public eye; the people and the press were unanimous in condemning that joke of a match. The Bahian title can really only be disputed in a different way, and this is why I return to challenge the proclaimed champion Maré.

Regarding Mr. Samuel de Souza, it is completely up to him to arrange a fight or a demonstration, so that the people who know us so well are not deceived.

Before leaving our offices, Bimba introduced to us one of his students, Manoel Rozendo de Sant’Anna, who took the opportunity to publicly launch a challenge to Mr. Samuel Souza for a fight according to the rules outlined by the Odeon Park management.

Oct 27 2011

Interview with Mestre Burguês

Source: Mestre Burguês website
Translated into English by Shayna McHugh

Tell us about the work of Grupo Muzenza inside and outside Brazil.

Grupo Muzenza has grown, especially in poor schools and communities. We’re working to support the true mestres. We’ve also grown a lot outside Brazil, aiming to integrate capoeira into schools in Portugual, Spain, and Israel. The group continues its work with juvenile delinquents and drug addicts, in which we try to educate them through capoeira. We have already seen great results!

What is the direction that capoeira tends to take outside of Brazil?

I worry a lot about the way capoeira is being sold outside of Brazil, since the art keeps growing on every continent. There are many unqualified teachers, who are not teaching all the aspects of capoeira, especially its fundamentals and traditions.

And in Brazil?

Capoeira in Brazil is going through a series of crises, among which is the fact that there are too few students and too many teachers. So the teachers tend to work in some other job and give capoeira classes only at night or on the weekends.

How is capoeira seen today outside of Brazil (both Capoeira Regional and Capoeira Angola)?

Capoeira Regional is seen as a great work developed by Mestre Bimba, but today it is seldomly according to his method. Capoeira Angola is also seen in a positive light, despite having few mestres out there spreading the art.

Do the conflicts between groups in Brazil also occur in other countries?

No, because the mentality of the capoeiristas outside of Brazil is totally different. There, capoeira teachers help other groups, even though in Brazil the groups may be enemies. I think that this could change the attitudes in Brazil from the outside in.

What are the biggest problems that capoeira and its practitioners face today?

One of capoeira’s biggest problems is the Brazilian government’s failure to recognize and support the art, since it is one of the great spreaders of our culture. Capoeiristas have suffered a lot because their profession is not recognized.

How can this be resolved?

We need much unity and love for capoeira in order to resolve these problems.

What hints would you give for students who want to improve their capoeira (in all its aspects): in the game, in the financial aspect, recognition in the community, etc?

In order to have a good game, you need to be very dedicated and constantly seek to research and learn from the true, traditional mestres. Those who want to grow financially in the capoeira profession, besides working hard, must save everything they earn and invest well in order to be a financially well-supported mestre. As for recognition by the community, this can only be won with time and good work.

For you, what does it mean to be a capoeirista?

Being a capoeirista means respecting the art, practicing it with love, and teaching it with honesty, loyalty, good conduct, and humility. Being a capoeirista means having character.

Tell us a bit about the new CD that you are launching.

This is our 19th CD. We tried, as always, to showcase our group’s latest innovations. The CD has 20 songs in the São Bento Grande de Regional rhythm. The official launch took place on November 26 and 27, in Rio de Janeiro, during the International Encounter of Capoeira Muzenza.

What are your plans for the future? 

We plan to launch a 3rd DVD, four books (which are currently in their final phase), our 20th CD, and the 4th Muzenza World Tournament in Rio de Janeiro.