The Capoeira Antigua that Mestre Bimba learned from Mestre Bentinho was a folkloric capoeira that had lost much of its effectiveness in combat.
At that time capoeira was heavily persecuted, considered a practice of criminals and rogues. Capoeira was not formerly taught, it was just played in the street, and people would learn in the roda by watching and playing.
In the words of Mestre Bimba:
At that time, Capoeira was a thing for pickpockets, ragmen, dockworkers, and scoundrels. I was a dockworker, a jack of all trades.
The police chased capoeiristas like stray dogs. Imagine: One of the punishments given to capoeiristas who caught fighting was to tie them between the tails of two horses; then set the horses to race to the barracks.
It was sometimes said that it was better to fight near the barracks, as if the distance was too far, a person could not withstand being dragged on the ground for so long and would die before reaching his destination: the police headquarters.
While still a student of Mestre Bentinho, Bimba began working on the idea of incorporating some more objective Batuque movements, and of developing a didactic system for this traditional Afro-Brazilian fighting art of which he had become impassioned.
Timeline of the Foundation of Capoeira Regional
After many years of effort, Mestre Bimba began to have success in changing the image of capoeira and its practitioners, culminating with the opportunity to make a presentation in the palace of the governor of Bahia, Juracy Magalhães.
Up until this year, the practice of Capoeira was still officially forbidden, and undoubtedly it was thanks to the efforts of Bimba that this year its practice was finally decriminalised, along with her many other manifestations of black culture.
Mestre Bimba opens his academy: Centro de Cultura Física y Lucha Regional (Centre of Physical Culture and Regional Fight).On the advice of influential supporters, Mestre Bimba decided not to put the word Capoeira in the name, since Bahian society still had many prejudices and the idea of the delinqunacy remained closely linked to the concept Capoeira.
Mestre Bimba’s academy officially recognised by the government, and registered as Brazil’s First Official Capoeira Academy
Mestre Bimba began to teach Capoeira to the Military, giving classes to the recruits at the CPOR (Centro de Preparação de Oficiais da Reserva).
Mestre Bimba opens his 2nd Academy at the Terreiro de Jesus on Rua das Laranjeiras. This academy is still open today.
Mestre Bimba is invited to give a demonstration of his Capoeira Regional to the president Getúlio Dorneles Vargas at the Aclamação Palace, in Salvador. The president is reported to have said that Capoeira was:
a única colaboração autenticamente brasileira à educação física, devendo ser considerada a nossa luta nacional (the only truly Brazilian contribution to Physical Education – It should be considered our National Fight).
Rules and Norms of Capoeira Regional
Mestre Bimba wanted to make Capoeira into a respected art and discipline, breaking the association with crime and delinquency.
In order to do this, he instigated a set of strict rules which had to be followed by all of his students if they wanted to train in his academy, and insisted that all wore a smart, white uniform to demonstrate their respectability and discipline.
The rules were as follows:
These standards have been developed for you and for your benefit. Remember that you will practice Physical Education and will acquire a basic physical preparation that will serve you for the efficient practice of any sport.
- Stop smoking. Smoking is prohibited during training.
- Stop drinking. Drinking alcohol impairs muscle metabolism.
- Avoid showing your friends your progress outside of the roda.
- Remember that surprise is the best ally in a fight.
- Avoid talking during training. You are paying for the time you spend in the academy and watching the other fighters you’ll learn more.
- Try to Ginga always.
- Practice basic exercises each day.
- Do not be afraid to approach your opponent.
- The closer you will learn.
- Keep your body relaxed.
- It is better to take a hit in the roda than on the street .
The Sequences of Mestre Bimba
Mestre Bimba created predefined sequences with which beginners could learn the basic movements of capoeira necessary to be able to begin playing in the roda.
The sequences of Mestre Bimba are continue to be an important tool for the teaching of capoeira, and all the regional capoeira schools still use them to teach their students.
There are 8 sequences with attacks, defenses, sweeps and take downs that every student should learn.
The 17 basic movements of Capoeira Regional with which Mestre Bimba designed the sequences are:
- Meia Lua de Compasso;
- Meia Lua de Frente;
In addition to these basic sequences for beginners Mestre Bimba also developed what we know as Cintura Desprezada (Despised Waist!).
These sequences were most likely developed in response to the growing popularity and combative success of the grappling art Ju Jitsu in Brazil, and consist of throws and takedowns.
These sequences were practiced only by graduates, capoeiristas who had been training for a while and who mastered the first 8 sequences perfectly.
The Cintura Desprezada includes movements such as the apanhada, balão de lado, balão cinturado, gravata (the catch, side projection, waist projection, necktie/choker).
Though the students trained these predefined attacks and defences, Bimba himself said that “any movement of the body is accepted within a roda, provided it is governed by the sound of the berimbau, and the player keeps the rhythm of the ginga”.
For more information visit our post The Sequences of Mestre Bimba and the Cintura Desprezada with images and links to see how they were performed.
Traditionally, a capoeirista became recognised as a Mestre after many years of practicing capoeira, via the recognition of the capoeira community. Up until this point, there were no intermediary graduations, or official ceremonies or gradings.
It was Mestre Bimba who first introduced graduations into his system of Capoeira, in order to motivate the students, and to give a more academic and regulated appearance to capoeira, and thus promote its acceptance by the middle class, educated society of Bahia.
Capoeira Regional had 4 Levels of Graduation, represented by silk handkerchiefs of different colours (it is said capoeiristas used to wear silk around their necks to protect against razor blades!):
- Bautizado – Blue
When a student had learned the basic movements of Capoeira Regional he was officially accepted as a capoeirista in a rite known as the Batizado (Baptism).
In the Batizado the capoeirista was granted an apelido (nickname) and, providing he demonstrated sufficient technique and ability, he would receive the blue handkerchief which identified him as bautizado.
- Formado – Red
The second degree was that of Formado, which was identified by a red handkerchief. These were more advanced students that had learned more complex and specialized movements.
- Formandos Especializados – Yellow
The third grade was yellow, which was a grade reserved for very advanced students passing a 3 month course which trained them to defend themselves against armed opponents.
- Mestre – White
The last grade was that of Mestre, represented by a white handkerchief.
Mestre Bimba only ever formed 4 Mestres in his lifetime.
Up until this point, the instruments found at Capoeira Rodas were very variable, with little to no formal regulation.
Mestre Bimba decided to formalise the arrangement, limiting the bateria to a formation he called Charanga, which consisted of just one berimbau and two pandeiros.
Limiting the bateria to just 3 instruments meant that all the students had more time to play in the roda.
Mestre Bimba developed 8 different rhythms for the Berimbau, each intended to command a different type of game.
In addition to its 8 unique toques Capoeira Regional is also characterised by its distinctive styles of song, which came in two forms: Quadras and Corridos.
Quadras are like small Ladainhas usually of just 4 verses (quad = 4). Corridos were also characterised by short verses which were sung by the Mestre, then repeated by the students.
The short easy songs meant all students could learn them quickly, and therefore time and attention could be focused on physical training / the energy of the roda was always high as everyone could join in and sing.