Mestre Bimba: The Father Of Capoeira Regional

By MODELYNN

"I will fight all the tough guys!"

These were the famous words of a Legend as he challenged all the fighters of any martial art style in Brazil to prove that his fighting technique was worth the recognition during that time.

He was unbeatable and this success in breaking a taboo gave birth to a national sport beloved by the rest of the world. He was Mestre Bimba and this is his story.

The Birth of Mestre Bimba

He was born as Manuel dos Reis Machadoto Luis Candido Machado and Maria Martinha do, Bomfim on November 23, 1899 at Barrio do Engenho Velho in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.

Although his actual birth was dated 1899, his live registry was done on 1900 hence many published articles refer to his birth on the 1900 date instead.

The nickname "Bimba" was branded due to a bet between his mother and the midwife during his birth. He was the last child among 24 siblings and records showed that he was born the biggest too.

They had a bet on the gender of the baby and when the midwife checked between his fat legs upon his birth, she exclaimed "Ha! It's a boy! Look at his bimba!", referring to the male genital part of the baby.


The story begins with a champion and his son

Growing up as the youngest, the young Bimba would help his mother doing chores and trained with his father, a champion of Batuque, a martial art style, in Bahia.

As he was growing up, he also worked as a carpenter and served around the docks carrying heavy cargoes from ships.

He was known to be able to carry almost 120 kilograms in weight even at a young age and this was how he initially conditioned his body for upcoming training sessions with his father. He also worked as a coal-miner, carpenter, warehouse man, long horseman and horse coach conductor throughout his life.

During the time when he was working at the docks, he met a Navigation Captain name Betinho from Estrada das Boiadas (present day Bairro da Liberdade) in Salvador.

Captain Betinho introduced the art of Capoeira to the young Bimba. He was only 12 years old when he first learned the martial art and he was hooked!

But learning Capoeira came with other challenges.


Breaking free from the shackles

Slavery was very prominent in the early years of Brazil. The slaves were not allowed any luxuries, especially the practice of fighting. With a potential to cause a revolution among the slaves, the wealthy owners would punish those they will catch practising any form of martial arts amongst their slaves.

This only facilitated the birth of Capoeira -a clever way to train to fight. Capoeira is a martial art style hidden in the form of rhythmic movements, similar to that of a dance. It was practiced mainly by the slaves with African roots throughout the regions of Brazil. It appeared as a harmless cultural dance-off to the eyes of the outsiders but it also helped the slaves physically and mentally train for combat. But even past the years of the abolition of slavery in the country by May 13th 1888, the practice of Capoeira remained a taboo.

Seen as a symbol of resistance, the First Brazilian President, Marechal Deodoro da Fonseca officially created the Codigo Penal in 1890 which contained an act that prohibited the practice of Capoeira nationwide, with severe punishment for those who will be caught violating such law. With this ruling by the government, the practice of Capoeira was almost eradicated from the streets of Brazil by the 1920's.

Despite the ban, there were still a few people who practiced the art in hiding, afraid of the punishments if they caught practicing publicly. The 18 year old Bimba, however, did not feel the same way and he dedicated the rest of his life to save the Art of Capoeira from extinction.


The birth of Capoeira Regional

Despite the intense pressure of Capoeira still being illegal, Bimba practiced for years and even demonstrated Capoeira to the interested few, just to keep the art alive. But as it was becoming increasingly folkloric through the years, it was also losing its original fighting aspect. Bimba realized that if he wouldn�t act right away, his beloved Capoeira would soon just be mere hushed tales in the dark.

A man ahead of his time, Bimba envisioned a renewed Capoeira and he set out to make changes to improve the martial art style. Drawing from his skills in traditional Capoeira from Capt Betinho, jiu-jutsu, boxing and Batuque, which he learned from his father, Bimba created an improved version of Capoeira. He strongly believed that with these changes, the art would no longer be referenced as a "slave's dance" but one that can equal the martial arts of the middle and upper class men of the society.

Bimba was the first one to create a method of teaching for Capoeira to help facilitate learning because until then, Capoeira was only learned by watching and participating in the roda. He knew that this new Capoeira would become as respectable as the other martial arts that had come to Brazil from Asia. This was the beginning of the development of Capoeira Regional in 1928. Bimba brought in a training system that consolidated the other martial arts technique and refined the art.

Capoeira Ethics

A player of Capoeira, is someone with honor and tradition as such, Bimba recognised that like other world martial arts, Capoeira needed a code of ethics before its reputation could be restored and it could get accepted by people outside the criminal underworld as a part of Brazilian heritage.

Code of ethics 

  1. No smoking or drinking alcohol since it interferes with a player's performance

  2. Skills should only be demonstrated inside the roda, allowing for the element of surprise should a real fight situation occur. (A roda is a circle of people, inside which, practice fights take place)

  3. When training, the Capoeira fighter should focus on the task at hand

  4. Talking in the roda should be kept to a minimum

  5. Other 'players' should be watched in a bid to learn more (In Capoeira, the term "player" is deemed correct, unlike other martial arts)

  6. The ginga (the fundamental move in Capoeira) and other basic Capoeira moves should be practiced as often as possible

  7. Do not be afraid to get close to your opponent. The more you do this, the more you will learn

  8. The Capoeira fighter's should be kept relaxed

  9. It is better to be defeated in the roda than in a real fight situation

  10. Respect a player when he can no longer defend an attack movement.

  11. Protect the opponent�s physical and moral integrity (during the practice, the stronger player will protect the weaker player)

Traditions and Rituals

Aside from these guidelines, Bimba also created several traditions and rituals to support his methodology:

A chair was used in order to train beginner students/players.

The charanga is the capoeira orchestra, composed of a berimbau and two pendeiros.

The singing (quadras e corridos), songs composed by Bimba to accompany the game.

The baptism, the first time the student plays Capoeira at the sound of berimbau.

Methods which make Capoeira Regional Unique :

Admission exam (physical test made with Capoeira movements to identify the student�s abilities).

The sequencia (sequence) of the basic 17 capoeira attack and defence movements.

Practice of the different rhythms of the game.

Specific movements: traumatizing, projection, connected and unbalancing.

Practice of cintura desperzada (second sequence practice by advanced students).

Formatura (Capoeira teacher graduation).

Especializacao and emboscada (Specific advanced exams) These commandments, traditions and principles remain in practice even up to this day.


With these changes and improvements in mind, Bimba was set to face the rest of the country to re-introduce the Art that he's so passionate about- not as a sport of the thieves and the low-life but as the sport of champions that require discipline and determination, like most martial art styles of that era.

Improving the image of Capoeira

Mestre Bimba frees Capoeira from Hiding Bimba's goal was to change the bad image of Capoeira into a reputable, socially acceptable, and genuine Brazilian martial art form, with its practitioners seen as men of honour and strong ethics.

Luck was on his side by the 1930s, as he was invited at the palace of Bahia's then Governor Juracy Magalhae to demonstrate his fighting skills. Bimba saw this as an opportunity to finally showcase the new and improved Capoeira Regional. The crowd was in awe as he demonstrated choreographed sequences of attacks, defences, and transitions. He introduced for the first time, the flips, throws and sweeps that we all love in Capoeira today.

It was this demonstration that finally convinced the authorities of the value of this sacred art. This was the significant spark to the flame that Bimba was hoping to create in the hearts of the Brazilians. This was a good head start and Bimba was looking to make more impact.

In 1932, Bimba founded the first ever Capoeira Academy (Academia-escola de Cultura Regional) at the Engenho de Brotas in Salvador, Bahia. Doctors, lawyers, politicians upper-middle-class people and women started to join his school, providing him with more support. His students had to wear a clean, white uniform, show proof of grade proficiency from school, exercise discipline, show good posture and all the other standards of Capoeira Regional.

In 1936, Bimba challenged fighters of any martial art style to test his Regional style. He had four (4) matches in one night, fighting against Vitor Benedito Lopes, Henrique Bahia, Jose Custodio dos Santos and Americo Ciencia, and Bimba won all matches!

In June 9, 1937, he earned the state board of education certificate and officially registered the first Capoeira Center. From then on, he was officially known as Mestre Bimba and he was unstoppable.

In 1942, Mestre Bimba opened his second school at the Terreirode Jesus on rua das Laranjeiras. He also taught to the army and the police academy. With such accomplishments within a few years, he was then considered the "Father of modern Capoeira". Word spread like wild fire and in July 23, 1953, he was invited to demonstrate Capoeira to the then president of Brazil, Getulio Dorneles Vargas. The President was thoroughly impressed with his showcase of skill that he was able to remark, "Capoeira is the only sport which is truly Brazilian!" Bimba was finally successful in convincing the authorities of the cultural value of Capoeira, thus ending its official ban since its effect in 1890!

Mestre Bimba's Other Works with Capoeira Regional

Mestre Bimba's Capoeira Regional entered a new phase and it quickly gained notoriety.

A gifted berimbau player-some even say that he was the best in Bahia- Mestre Bimba stressed the importance of music in Capoeira, both in the creation of the roda and in the games themselves. Thanks to Mestre Bimba, Capoeira took off in Bahia and eventually expanded to the rest of Brazil, where it had been erased through persecution.

The old form of Capoeira also benefited from Bimba's work, as it forced its old adepts to come together and attempt to redefine, organise and modify their art form. Bimba managed to recover the original values within Capoeira, which were used amongst the black slaves for centuries before him.

For Mestre Bimba, Capoeira was a fight but "competition" should be permanently avoided since he believed that Capoeira is a "cooperation" fight, where the stronger player was always responsible for the weaker player and helped him to excel in his own fighting techniques.

Mestre Bimba also fought in favour of education, citizenship and social inclusion, using Capoeira Regional as the main tool to achieve his goals. Important names to Brazilian society became his students, such as Dr-Joaquim de Araujo Lima (former Governor of Guapore), Jaime Tavares, Rui Gouveia, Alberto Baretto, Jaime Machado, Delsimar Cavalvanti, Cesar Sa, Decio Seabra, Jose Sisnando and many others.

Mestre Bimba loved Bahia and was heartbroken as the government showed lack of support in the following years.

In 1973, Mestre Bimba moved with his family to the state of Goias, after an invitation from his former student, and it was a decision wrapped with controversy and one which he took in bitterness, feeling that the authorities in the state of Bahia did not recognise the worth of his work anymore. He tried to teach Capoeira Regional in the area but his expectations in Goias were not met and he and his family struggled with poverty.

Mestre Bimba died of a stroke on February 5, 1974, undoubtedly brought on by his great sadness.He was buried in Goiania, away from his beloved hometown. In 1978, his remains were transferred from Goiania to Salvador where they currently reside in the church of Santo Antonio Alem do Carmo.

Mestre Bimba's Legacy Lives On

In the 1940's many Capoeristas began to move to Rio de Janiero (later Sao Paulo and so on), most of whom had trained with Mestre Bimba and started to spread Capoeira regional style wherever they went.

Today, Capoeira has now exploded across the world! With some groups teaching in nearly every continent, Capoeira continuously grows throughout the world spreading the knowledge and love of this beautiful culture.

After Mestre Bimba's death in 1974, one of his sons "Nenel" (Manoel Nascimento Machado) later moved back to Bahia and eventually took over his father's Capoeira legacy.

Nenel is still responsible for the remarkable cultural and historical legacy that his father left him and is president of Filhos de Bimba School of Capoeira. Mestre Bimba's second school, Terreirode Jesus on rua das Laranjeiras, is still open today and was supervised by his former student "Vermelho" until the early 1980s.

The school then came under the brief supervision of Mestre Almiro, before being transferred to Mestre Bamba, the man who leads the school today. It is now called "Associacao de Capoeira Mestre Bimba" and it continues to teach Capoeira to whoever came there with the desire to learn the art form.

To acknowledge his contributions to the culture of Brazil, he was dedicated a Honorary Doctorate title (Doctor Honorius Cause) on June 12, 1996 by the Federal University of Bahia.

He was valued as an educator, a personality from Bahia who, by extrapolating the art form, contributed significantly to expand the culture of Bahia in the national and international scenes.

A documentary, titled, "Mestre Bimba: A Capoeira Illuminada (2006)" was even released worldwide to showcase the life and works of Mestre Bimba so that all of the students of Capoeira around the world can have the window to reference back to this one great man who made it all possible to experience the Capoeira culture.

Mestre Bimba fought all his life for what he strongly believed was best for Capoeira and succeeded.

He lived and died fighting for this cause and the entire family of Capoeiristas around the world strive to learn and come to love this determined and generous man from Bahia. Mestre Bimba's presence in the history of Bahia is much more significant that just being the creator of a method for teaching Capoeira. He reconciled social class differences and discrimination, he is responsible for the evolution of an art form, he reminded the Brazilians of:


Their beautiful African culture and that he was a great leader and a loving father to every Capoeirista in the world and for that, we are truly grateful!