Mestre Bimba was born Manuel dos Reis Machado on November 23, 1900 in Salvador, Bahia. (Though some historians claim it may have been 1899).

The youngest of 25 siblings, he grew up in Engenho Velho, a humble neighbourhood in the city of Salvador, where he lived with his parents Luiz Cândido Machado and María Martinha do Bonfim.

Mestre Bimba with Berimbau
Mestre Bimba

His destiny as a capoeirista seems to have been sealed while he was very small, with numerous episodes in his life that would later mark him as a capoeirista.

Mestre Bimba received his apelido the second he was born thanks to a bet his mother made with the midwife.

Dona Maria was convinced that she was pregnant with a girl, while the midwife was convinced of the opposite (At that time there was no way to know the sex until the day of the birth).As soon as the midwife saw the child she realized that she had won the bet and exclaimed:

Olha a sua bimba!

In Bahiana slang bimba means penis, and from that moment they called him Bimba as an affectionate nickname.

Mestre Bimba’s father was a local batuqueiro champion. 

The Batuque was a common combat sport/game in Bahia, considered it by many as having a great influence on the development of capoeira, or even that capoeira may have developed as a variation of the Batuque. The game involved one player in the centre of a circle of onlookers playing a defensive role, while an attacker attempted to take them down the ground with leg sweeps and kicks.

Mestre Bimba is said to have incorporated some of these movements into his system of Capoeira Regional.

El Batuque

Mestre Bimba’s Introduction to Capoeira

At the time of Mestre Bimba‘s youth, capoeira was still persecuted, and one could be imprisoned for simply for being a capoeirista.

Mestre Bimba started practicing capoeira with the African born Bentinho when he was 12 years old.

Bentinho was a captain of the Bahiana Navigation Company, on the old Boiada road in the Liberdade neighbourhood.

Mestre Bimba practiced and learned from Mestre Bentinho for 4 years, one of the places where they practiced was known as “Clube União em Apuros“, in a predominantly black neighbourhood. After his apprenticeship he came to teach Capoeira Antigua, which would be similar to what we now know as Capoeira Angola.

Mestre Bimba became concerned that Capoeira was losing its status as an effective martial art.

Practitioners of other styles such as Vale Tudo (Anything Goes) and the newly introduced Ju Jitsu from Japan, were beginning to win lots of competitions and gaining in popularity.

Mestre Bimba decided he wanted to bring capoeira back to its more combative martial roots, focusing on more objective movements and incorporating the sweeps and takedowns from Batuque. Gradually, he began formulating what would ultimately become Capoeira Regional.

Read part II of this series – The Foundation of Capoeira Regional

Read an interview with Mestre Nenel, son of Mestre Bimba

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