Author: daflon

THE SENZALA GROUP AND THE CAPOEIRA SAFEGUARD

By Mestre Gato (Fernando Campelo Cavalcanti de Albuquerque)

The Capoeira Circle and the Capoeira Masters Craft

The Roda de Capoeira and the Capoeira Masters Craft are cultural assets recognized as Cultural Heritage of Brazil since 2008. The Roda de Capoeira was internationally recognized by UNESCO, in 2014, as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Following the guidelines of the publication Safeguards of the Roda de Capoeira and the Capoeira Masters Craft – Support and Promotion (IPHAN, November 2017), the Senzala de Capoeira Group intends to act for the Safeguarding of Capoeira, through an inventory of the characteristics, practices and fundamentals of capoeira that it has practiced, taught and spread in Brazil and around the world over the last 56 years.

Capoeira, as popular art, has its own subjectivity, nuances that its practitioners feel, understand, but often cannot explain due to this subjectivity. On the other hand, it is important to make an inventory of its characteristics and fundamentals, for its own cultural preservation.

Capoeira is a dynamic and popular manifestation that has been changed by its practitioners since its inception, according to the social context. It is fight, play, dance, body expression, and rhythm; all these elements are present in the practice of capoeira, which needs to be exercised collectively, with the Capoeira Circle, which integrates and includes its participants spontaneously.

The Senzala Group

The Senzala Group has its origins in the Bahian capoeira, initially following the method of capoeira regional, where the student learns the basic teaching sequence, the cintura desprezada (balões) sequence, the falls and unbalancing attacks, presenting “sketches” (attack and defence in combined sequences, containing falls, rasteiras or sweeping kicks, balões) and playing to the different rhythms of the regional style.

Capoeira in Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s mainly featured capoeira from Bahia, brought by the masters Artur Emídio, Mário Santos, Roque and Paraná, but there was still a remnant of capoeira carioca, capoeira of the rogues, of the pernadas, the samba duro and the jackknives, represented by the capoeira of Sinhô and the roguery of the shantytowns on the hills of Rio. Without the continuous presence of a capoeira master, whilst being influenced by the capoeira that existed in Rio de Janeiro at the time, and needing to teach to larger groups of students, the group developed its own teaching and training methods, characterized by the following main features:

Warm-up and gymnastics, developed from the basic fundamentals of capoeira, using ginga and negaças when training attacks and defences, feints, movements of high, medium and low game, practice of evasive movements and defensive positions, guards, descending and ascending movementss, and steps. Conducting these trainings sessions with the entire group of students performing the ginga at the same time, doing physical and muscular conditioning through capoeira positions and movements, such as the bananeira, corta capim, aú com queda de rins, rolê,and various types of negativas, among others..

Strike and hit training on light targets and hitting bag.

Training two by two, simulating game situations.

Attack, defence and counterattack training.

Using training sequences, such as those of regional capoeira, with variations with the use of dodges and defences, such as front and side dodges. Training of low and medium game sequences, trying to practice different movements such as cabeçadas, rasteiras, bandas and tesouras.

Developing didactics for learning, how to teach possible forms of attacks, for example, making an armada by entring diagonally to the aim or defending and counterattacking diagonally.

Stimulating the student’s creativity and spontaneity, through intuitive teaching methods.

Improving rhythm in movement and play through training to accompany different rhythms, respecting capoeira traditions and rituals, as described below.

    • Jogo de Dentro – a game to work on continuity and proximity, exercising esquivas de coluna, quedas de rins, entradas and saídas de tesouras, trying to stay close to the berimbau throughout the game. Pace – Inside Game.
    • Jogo de Iúna – a game to work on continuity and movement flourishes, using balões from the cintura desprezada of Regional style. The Senzala Group started to allow the practice of the the Iúna game only for blue belt graduates. Rhythm – Iúna.

    • Angola game – Rhythm – Angola or São Bento Pequeno, medium or slow.

    • São Bento Grande game – Rhythm – São Bento Grande of Angola fast or São Bento Grande of Regional.

Uniform and belts

Such training methodology provided rapid development of the capoeiristas from the Senzala Group in technique and efficiency of the blows. In addition, the group adopted a uniform consisting of white mesh pants (which came to be called abadá) and a grading system symbolized by the colours of the students’ belts.

The student, when baptized, received the white belt, moving on successively to yellow, orange, then blue, which was the first advanced level, when the student had to present, during the graduation ceremony, their knowledge of the berimbau rhythms, the songs and play a Iúna game, showing the balões of Cintura Desprezada.

Subsequently, the green, purple and brown belts would follow. After a while on the brown belt, the student was proposed for the red belt, becoming a representative of the Senzala Group. In the 1990s, Mestre Peixinho created the gray belt, for the intermediate level between beginner and advanced, after the orange belt and before the blue belt, which was adopted by the other masters of the Senzala Group.

Group methodology

The Senzala Group has stimulated interactivity between its red belts {masters] since the late 1960s, which allowed the formation of a completely different group from other capoeira academies and associations existing at the time. In the group’s weekly rodas, every capoeirista was welcome, thus creating the opportunity to play / train with someone different every time. During the summer holidays, some members of the group went to Salvador, to train at Mestre Bimba’s academy, to visit the street rodas and the masters of the “old guard”.

Mestre Gato, 2019. Photo: Capoeira History Project.

Back in Rio de Janeiro, the group discussed how to practice those movements, the low game, the high game, the malandragem (roguery) they observed, carrying out real training labs which, together with visits to the rodas of masters Artur Emídio, Zé Pedro, Roque, Celso de Pilares, in Rio de Janeiro, were going to strengthen the training methodology and didactics of the Senzala Group.

Since the late 1960s the Senzala Group has organized the capoeira rodas with 3 berimbaus, Gunga, Médio and Viola, an atabaque, one or two tambourines and sometimes a reco-reco. The classes consisted of 3 parts, a warm-up inspired by capoeira movements (Mestre Gil Velho made great contributions in this regard), training of kicks, sequences and game situations and the capoeira roda. In the late 1970s, due to the large number of students in the classes, Mestre Garrincha started to make several capoeira circles before the final roda, which became a common practice of the Senzala Group.

Group fundamentals

In addition to the characteristics described above, the masters of the Senzala Group seek to practice and teach capoeira according to the following fundamentals and principles:

respect for capoeira traditions and rituals, with the rhythm of the game commanded by the berimbau gunga;

respect for capoeiristas and older masters, building and maintaining an environment of camaraderie which is welcoming to capoeiristas of all origins;

discipline and development of the capoeiristas’ technical level and establishment of a standard of physical conditioning at an athletic level;

cultivation of humility and effort to learn from each game partner;

development of the perception of rhythm and of the other, always looking for a favourable situation in the game and not being surprised, but accepting the steps in a good mood and calmly seeking your rematch;

encouraging good humour and playing in the game.

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Mestre Leopoldina – part 3

By Nestor Capoeira

The disciple

I met Leopoldina in 1965, at the age of 18. He was 31 and, and despite being in great shape, full of energy, with a lean and muscular body that was very toned, his face looked like that of a much older man. The curious thing is that as the years passed, his face and body remained almost the same.

I was attending the UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) School of Engineering, located on an island in the Guanabara Bay called Ilha do Fundão. Leopoldina taught capoeira in Atlética, the sports department there.

Leopoldina was kind and friendly to students. He did not allow an older or more experienced student to hit a beginner. He carried the most interested of his students to samba, candomblé and umbanda, to the hills and to the carnival parades on Avenida Presidente Vargas.

He was a great Master without even trying to be one, who introduced those university students, myself among them, to Brazilian “popular” culture; to the philosophy of high-spirited roguery – “good business is good for everyone” (as opposed to the so-called Gérson Law, “I take the best from all”, the 171 fraudsters and ordinary scammers); and with a radical and revolutionary approach towards women and sex as compared to bourgeois morality and sexist approaches: “No one belongs to anyone”.

Mestres Leopoldina, André Lacé, Artur Emídio e Celso do Engenho da Rainha at Apoteose – Sambódromo, Rio de Janeiro. Photo collection André Lacé.

 Leopoldina thought that capoeira classes should only be taught twice a week, and that they should last one hour; the rest of the time would be for rodas and games.

His teaching method consisted of a brief warm-up (a run around the room and some jumping jacks), some strikes and counter strikes in pairs of students (similar to those he learned from Artur Emídio, who in turn based this on Mestre Bimba’s exercises). Occasionally there would be training of kicks, with students approaching a chair in a row and giving a blow over the chair one by one, and at the end of the class, there would be a fifteen to twenty minutes roda. The classes generally had four to eight students. Leopoldina has never been what would be considered “successful” in terms of student numbers, nor did he teach for more than five years in the same location.

In fact, when I met him in 1965, although he was known and beloved amidst capoeira practitioners, Leopoldina was not as renowned as Artur Emídio was or, later, the Senzala capoeira group. His fame grew slowly over time, on the trips he constantly made to São Paulo and on the friends he made among the Grupo Senzala, which became hegemonic in Rio at the time. This was mainly due to his high-spirited and positive personality, as he was someone who only made friends and avoided enmities, and was liked even more for his capoeira songs which, while being inventive with the lyrics and especially in harmony, appealed even to the players that wanted to remain closest to tradition.

Gradually, his figure began to be associated (and rightly so) with the last of the “good rogues” and Zé Pelintra himself, a spiritual entity from the Afro-Brazilian religion Umbanda.

In 2005, when he was over 70 years old, he was still in great physical shape, playing at a fast pace with four or more young capoeiristas, one game followed by the next. He was one of the best-known masters of our time, along with Mestres João Pequeno and João Grande (former students of Mestre Pastinha from Salvador).

His greatest interests were women, capoeira, samba, big cars (which he bought and equipped with a lot of chrome and painting), trips around Brazil and abroad (where he started to go around 1990), parties, friendships – in short, he enjoyed the small pleasures of life.

To see more

The documentary Mestre Leopoldina – o último bom malandro brings an interview Leopoldina gave to Nestor Capoeira. Click here the third part.

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Where did we go, huh!

Julio Cesar de Tavares

Professor of Anthropology, Universidade Federal Fluminense (Niterói, Rio de Janeiro)

Who would have been able to imagine, a century ago, that today, capoeira would be out and about in the world and bringing out more and more capoeiristas to the artful game of rogues?

No doubt, this was not accomplished without suffering, effort and dedication. Nor did it happen without humiliation, frustration, persecution and exclusion. Capoeira, by its original definition, was, is and will continue to be the art of disguise (ginga/mandinga), whether Capoeira Regional, Capoeira Angola, Contemporary Capoeira or an independent style. It is deeply shaped by rebellion (hidden resistance/resilience) against the injustices of the State regarding the daily lives of subaltern individuals and subordinated social groups. This is, like it or not, one of the most intriguing aspects, in any of its styles or denominations – this permanent libertarian communication, demonstrated by the interest of individuals empowered by a certain rebellious condition when they let themselves be captivated by capoeira. Emerging through permanent recreations and projections by the Afro-descendant population, there is an endless appeal to creativity in capoeira beyond the very conditions that created it.

In spite of being concentrated, until the beginning of the 20th century, in the most subaltern groups of the population in large urban centres, such as in Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and Recife, and in addition to being classified by hostile and defamatory categories, loaded with negative associations, capoeira always managed to circulate among other social strata and attract individuals from other ethnic-racial origins. For this very reason, it has always shown enormous flexibility in overcoming racial and social boundaries. And, surprisingly, it entered environments totally characteristic of the plantation’s big house (casa grande), while preserving the characteristics, the main features, the language, the way, the rhythm, the nostalgia and sorrow typical of the ancestral tradition present in black African music throughout its diaspora. This paradoxical process allowed capoeira to recreate itself and adapt to the demands of a world in constant transformation, which, every day, is founded again in what we call the contemporary ways.

Today, in 2020, capoeira is not only anchored, increasingly refined, careful and meticulously centred in its knowledge of technical, physiological, musical and artisanal research, but also supported by the various academic fields of History, Anthropology, Ethnomusicology, Performance Arts, Literature, Physical Education, etc. What most calls our attention is the speed with which all this happened – in little more than half a century, if we consider 1966 as the landmark of capoeira expansion.

Yes, Mestre Pastinha was present at the First World Festival of Black Arts, in Dakar, Senegal, and hence the song by Caetano Veloso that goes: “Pastinha has already been to Africa, Pastinha has already been to Africa, to show capoeira from Brazil (…)”. And there he presented, on the soil of the mother continent, the matrix of an African movement celebrated in the swing (ginga) of the diaspora, and the most relevant transnational fact, which was the insertion of capoeira into the world, in the context of that first great pan-African and Afrodiasporic encounter. The First World Festival of Black Arts in Dakar, in 1966, with the presence of Mestre Pastinha, voiced to the world the dynamic asymmetry, the rhythmic movement driven by the beat (levada) of the berimbau, in multiple synchronicity with the infinite combination of movements on the ground, in standing, in flight and in addition, with playfulness, the game, and the permanent joy and smile of enchantment.

From then on, capoeira won over the world. It managed to spread its phenomenal development at an exponential speed, which until then seemed impossible to imagine. We witness that everything had happened in a smooth and cautious way, cannibalized by the world and exemplified as a symptom of the emerging transnationalization of Afro-Brazilian culture.

After its presentation in Africa, capoeira expanded throughout the United States and Europe, still in the late 1960s. Until Katherine Dunham, the beloved student of anthropologist M. Herskovits and considered by Levi-Strauss as the founder of Dance Anthropology, with her ethnographic examination of the religious dances of Vodou in Haiti, and the gestures and movements of Santeria in Cuba, interfered with the overall direction of Afro-Brazilian culture. And it did so, transcending the choreographic dimension of capoeira, by combining the capoeirista’s body with diasporic politics of recognition and visibility. Dunham accomplished this through a professional gesture when hiring capoeira practitioners for her dance company and also enroling as auxiliary teacher for her classes at Saint Louis University Eusébio Lobo, known as Mestre Pavão (now a professor at Unicamp). Her dance group, the Katherine Dunham Company, was developed and composed entirely by blacks specialized in this type of dance.

It is necessary to point out here that Katherine, beyond her professional invitation to the capoeirista and capoeira-teacher Eusébio, also accomplished a political gesture of incredible importance for Brazil. I’m talking about the public denunciation of racism which she did, in 1950, well before hiring Eusébio which only happened in the 60s. When travelling in Brazil she was prevented from taking a room at the Hotel Esplanada in São Paulo, which did not accept black guests. Conscious of her political role and her ethno-racial origins, the intended humiliation of the Tupiniquim (=Brazilian) racism did not manage to silence her because this episode became a national scandal, shaking the political, judicial and intelectual spheres. Gilberto Freyre, Afonso Arinos and other MPs initiated a great mobilisation to demonstrate the need to penalise cases like hers. In fact, Afonso Arinos managed to approve the first anti-racist law in Brazil which bears his name: the Afonso Arinos Law of 1951. Gilberto Freyre’s involvement in the case shook the political and cultural sectors and the project of the MP Afonso Arinos was approved by a large majority. Today, the Afonso Arinos law of 1951 has been revoked [translator’s note: and replaced by another legislation]. Hence Katherine Dunham made an involuntary contribution to the approval of the first law that attempted to punish racial discrimination in Brazil.

Returning to capoeira, how could we imagine capoeira would be registered as Brazilian intangible heritage in 2009? It was even less likely to predict the circulation of the category “intangible heritage” which is currently used in the field of anthropological and historical studies on Heritage. In the early 1980s, this was as unfeasible to imagine as the fall of the Berlin wall (1989). Today, solidly present in more than 150 countries (in some, even, as an integral part of official education policies), capoeira is booming, as did jazz, jiu-jitsu, judo, ballet and classical music, examples of great performances, both musical and corporal, which reached transnational expression.

Imagine that, at this very moment as we read through these words and lines, tens of thousands of the more than 200,000 capoeira practitioners all over the world, are singing a chula (a type of capoeira song), playing an instrument and playing a game in the capoeira circle (roda)! Can you still imagine that this game, with several centuries of history, whose players communicate through Brazilian Portuguese in this art form, won over the world, won over fans and expanded its practice without any interference from the Brazilian state for this to happen? The strength of the capoeira diaspora is witnessed by our diplomats and recognized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which reiterates the omnipresence, brilliance and vitality of this art form/game/fight and its important role in the dissemination of the Brazilian vernacular and body language.

We found that, in fact, capoeira is an intersectional performance/fight/game that is built as an art movement amidst a constellation of many other art forms. Certainly, it is in this complex web of connections that characterizes it – a body in motion, the music, song, poetry of its litanies (ladainhas, another type of capoeira song) and the craftsmanship of its instruments – that one finds the great power, magic, charm and mystery of capoeira. And so, magnetizing hundreds of thousands of practitioners, it multiplied across Europe, all states of the United States, the countries of South America, several countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, in addition to the Caribbean countries.

It is an art that experiences intersectionality. Capoeira is expressed and thematised in many other art forms such as literature (for example, in Jorge Amado’s work), and has a growing presence in cinema, soap operas, theatre, dance, visual arts and, more recently, even in video games. It has achieved full recognition of the extensive performative strength of Afro-Brazilian culture and of all the transnational effort of the capoeirista community.

It is accepted that capoeira provides an effective contribution to the development of multiple cognitive skills. This Brazilian heritage should therefore be integrated into school education, from childhood to university, as a traditional expression of the Afro-Brazilian practice of resistance and resilience, of extreme motor coordination, which integrates in harmony and asymmetry, an enduring combination of multiple intelligences. Incorporated into the cultural repertoire of national pedagogy, it becomes an updated post-colonial representation of resistance to domination and cognitive injustices. This fantastic expression of concealment becomes a true transnational epidemic, which enchants men and women, children and adolescents, adults and the elderly all around the world. At the same time, it promotes a permanent reinvention of movement, technical investigation and aesthetic sensibility in individual bodies that carry both a unique and global body memory.

Check out the author’s book; Dança de Guerra

There is one aspect that needs to be pointed out that is of great relevance in this process of expanding capoeira’s borders. Yes, we can say that capoeira expanded the frontiers of national culture because it broke the provincial view that was tied to the idea that Brazilian​​culture is framed by specific locations in Brazil in contrast to an external culture. Suddenly, capoeiristas believed that they could expand Brazil’s borders by taking a culture from deep inside to the outside world. In this process the culture from the inside was indeed taken to the outside world. And look! Capoeira and other cultures from within shared this invasion of the outside world, and puxada de rede, samba de roda, maracatu, maculelê, jongo, expanded all in conjunction with capoeira, in public demonstrations, belonging to a markedly Afro-Brazilian diasporic cultural network around the world.

This fact and factor signal the making of capoeira leadership, represented by the masters (mestres), which need to be better appreciated today. By spearheading this movement across the world through a wide network of ‘Made in Brazil’ cultures with an Afro-Brazilian brand and matrix, capoeira has created a leadership, which although not self-reflective is still manifesting itself. A true cultural enterprise has been established, with challenging times for many of the founding heroes, who left without knowing what they were sowing. Some failed to see the creation of this globalizing landmark or the strength of what has been created with capoeira around the world. And who is managing this powerful machine of bodily knowledge and who really dominates it in the most profitable environments? The Afro-Brazilians? Why or why not? That is a question that needs to be asked in order to reveal the explicit role of politics in capoeira’s transnational practice.

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Mestre Leopoldina – part 2

By Nestor Capoeira

Master

Quinzinho (approx.1925-1950) was a dreaded and well-known young outcast in his day. Drauzio Varela, the doctor from the Carandiru Penitentiary who wrote a highly successful book which later became a film, mentions Quinzinho in his Estação Carandiru (SP, Cia. Das Letras, 1999, p. 270):

Mr Valdomiro is a mulatto with a creased face and gray patches on his frizzy hair… Seventy years and countless prison stories alongside legendary bandits such as Meneguetti, Quinzinho, Sete Dedos, Luz Vermelha, e Promessinha made Mr Valdo a respected man in the prison.

Leopoldina recounted (in a testimony to Nestor Capoeira, included in the film Mestre Leopoldina, the last good trickster (2005) how he met his first master, Joaquim Felix, or Quinzinho, around 1950; Leopoldina was about 18 years old and Quinzinho was maybe 23 years old.

Leopoldina: “I would look at him [Quinzinho], look at the guys around, and he would scream at me ‘Flip!’. When I prepared to attack, he would do these things with his body. I thought: ‘I’m going to kill him!’ Inside the Central Train Station, hidden under the tracks, I had an 8 inch knife that I used to hide there. At dawn I would take the knife and fall back into the night. So I left Quinzinho and went to Central Station to get that knife. At that moment, a newsboy I had never seen before, I think he is dead now, called Rosa Branca, asked me: ‘what is going on?’. He saw me very agitated and asked: ‘what is going on?’. I said, ‘Quinzinho stole my hat and I’ll give him a facada conversada’ (a stab in conversation)

Leopoldina explained what the facada conversada was:

The facada conversada is this: I’d have to wait for the moment when he was drinking, approach from behind, and tap his shoulder for him to turn around. When he turned I would stab him from the front, not the back. Because if I was arrested later this is how I would be thought of in jail: ‘This is a rascal, he gave the guy a facada conversada’. But if I stabbed him in the back, they would say, ‘Coward,’ and they would beat me.

Luckily for Leopoldina, White Rose calmed him down and he didn’t go looking for Quinzinho. Shortly after, Leopoldina was at a bus stop and found Quinzinho once again:

Leopoldina: “Mineiro Bate Pau, another guy named Peão, Testa de Ferro they also got off the bus, and then, Quinzinho. When I saw Quinzinho, I froze and thought, ‘This is it!’ But no one there knew what happened between us and they started talking to me. Quinzinho, seeing that I was respected and a friend of the rogues, approached me and said: ‘I don’t want trouble with you, because you’re also a trickster’. He was holding a cuíca and passed it to one of the guys. He went through his cuica and suddenly gave me a geral (searching someone for weapons)! Just imagine. He said, ‘I don’t want trouble with you because you’re a rascal, etcetera and all,’ and then gave me a geral! ”

The weeks go by and Leopoldina, who is eager to learn capoeira, is slowly working up to approaching Quinzinho:

Leopoldina: “I said, ‘Quinzinho, I want to ask you a favor’. ‘What?’ He replied suspiciously. ‘I want you to teach me capoeira’. ‘Then go to Morro da Favela tomorrow’. Gosh, I wouldn’t be so happy if someone gave me a million reais. That first day, I went back to Morro do São Carlos and went to sleep on a mat. The next day I could not get up. My whole body was hurting. And at the same time, I was worried that he wouldn’t want to teach me anymore. ‘How will I go?’ And in the Favela I still had to climb over a hundred steps. So I went the next day and said to Quinzinho: ‘I couldn’t come because I was hurt’. And he, without giving me any trouble said: “It’s okay, it’s okay”. And he started to teach me: ‘do it like this …. do it like that.’

Then one day Juvenil appeared. He said hello, looked at me and said: ‘Let’s play?’ I looked at Quinzinho and as he said nothing, I said: ‘Let’s go’. Juvenil took off his hat, vest, tie, and stood naked from the waist up, and we started to play. But as soon as we started playing, he gave me a kick that grazed me on the head. Quinzinho was sitting with a 7.65 tucked into his waist. He was in shorts. At that time (approx. 1955) we wore football shorts and not the swimwear of today. Everyone wore shorts. And he had a handkerchief in his lap, hiding the pistol. When the Juvenil shot that kick, Quinzinho stood up and pointed the pistol in Juvenil’s face: ‘Don’t do that! Don’t do that, or he’ll become a coward!’

Elegance in dress and care in berimbau: Mestre Leopoldina. Photo collection André Lacé.

The outcast and the master

I find this story, told by Leopoldina, amazing. You see, Quinzinho was a dangerous young outcast, a gang leader. When the then young Leopoldina met him, around 1950, Quinzinho already had some deaths on his conscience and had already served time in the penal colony. We could think of Quinzinho as a kind of heir to the violent capoeira practiced by the carioca gangs in the 1800s.

Quinzinho didn’t really have a structured teaching method; as this method already existed in Bahia, with Mestre Bimba, since 1930; or with Sinhozinho, in Rio, in the same period. Leopoldina explained how Quinzinho taught: he was playing with the apprentice and saying, “Do it like this … Do it like this.” However, when he embodied the “capoeira master”, Quinzinho had an impeccable work ethic. Even more impeccable, because at that time, in Rio in the 1950s, students learned capoeira taking beatings to “get smart”. And even today, even if the teacher doesn’t hit apprentices (some do), it is common for more experienced (and / or stronger) students to beat beginners (and / or weaker ones).

I see this story as something very emblematic of the complexity of the capoeira world, with its bizarre paradoxes, which, in fact, do not seem so strange to those who have the body and the head shaped by the foundations of capoeira malice.

Artur Emídio teaching method

Mestre Leopoldina told me that Artur Emidio’s teaching method was based on sequences similar to those of Bimba, but performed to the sound of berimbau played at a fast pace.

At first, according to Leopoldina, it was Mestre Paraná who played the berimbau at Artur’s academy, another Bahian who became well-known in Rio and was the teacher of, among others, Mestre Mintirinha. Artur only started playing berimbau later on.

Artur, like every Mestre, worried about the continuation of his style. Around 1963, Leopoldina began to attend an informal circle of angoleiros, estevedores of the docks in the harbour, which was held in their backyards in the suburbs of Rio. Arhur complained that Leopoldina was getting “very slow,” letting himself be influenced by Angola when, according to Artur, Leopoldina should “impose his capoeira.”

To see more

The documentary Mestre Leopoldina – o último bom malandro brings an interview Leopoldina gave to Nestor Capoeira. Click here the second part.

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Mestre Paulo Gomes

Paulo Gomes. Source: Machado, 1998.

By Marcelo Cardoso da Costa

Lecturer in Sociology (IFRJ – Campus Duque de Caxias) PhD Student specializing in Social Memory UNIRIO/PPGMS) E-mail: marcelosociologo@yahoo.com.br https://unirio.academia.edu/MarceloCosta

Paulo Gomes da Cruz, 1941-1998

Paulo Gomes da Cruz was born on January 25th, 1941 in Itabuna, southern Bahia – a cocoa region and native home of writer Jorge Amado. He moved to Rio de Janeiro like many other Bahians who, according to Iphan (BRASIL, 2007), came looking for better life opportunities.

In the carioca capital, he learned capoeira from Mestre Arthur Emídio, who was also from Itabuna and who had a capoeira academy in Bonsucesso, a suburb north of the city centre. There, he trained and graduated as a Master along with other important names such as Leopoldina, Celso do Engenho da Rainha and Djalma Bandeira. It was at this academy that he came to be respected and known as Mestre Paulo Gomes, his capoeira baptismal name. His genealogy in capoeira is as follows: “Son” of Mestre Artur Emídio (1930-2011), “Grandson” of Mestre Paizinho (Teodoro Ramos) and “Great-grandson” of Mestre Neném (MACHADO, 1998).

In the 1960s, Mestre Paulo Gomes moved to the Baixada Fluminense, or more specifically to São João de Meriti, in the Coelho da Rocha neighborhood. It was in this district that he began to teach capoeira and to instruct capoeiristas, among them Mestres Valdir Sales (1942-2019) and Josias da Silva, who became his main disciples and established important academies in the Baixada, respectively the Capoeira Association Valdir Sales, in the municipality of São João de Meriti, and the Capoeira Josias da Silva Association, in the municipalities of Nova Iguaçu and Duque de Caxias.

Mestre Paulo Gomes and his wife, Aureliana, in his academy in São Paulo. Source: Machado, 1998.

In another chapter of his life, Mestre Paulo Gomes went to live in São Paulo and there, just as in the Baixada Fluminense, he was one of the founders of a capoeira community, where he created the Capoeira Centre Ilha de Maré and, in 1985, the Capoeira Association of Brazil (ABRACAP). Mestre Paulo Gomes was also an advisor to the former governor of São Paulo Mário Covas, helping to establish the State Law nº 4.649 on August 7th 1985, which defined August 3rd as a “Capoeirista Day” in the State of São Paulo.

Mestre Paulo Gomes met a tragic death in 1998. He was murdered at age 57 in São Paulo inside his capoeira academy Ilha da Maré. The motive for the murder had been a debt the master owed to a car rental company (Folha de São Paulo, 1998). According to the testimony by Mestre Ribas Machado (1998):

It was at night, when the class had just ended and many students were changing in the locker room, when a bailiff, accompanied by another man, for reasons that only those who were there know and can speak of for certain, unloaded his weapon at the Mestre who, after a while, was taken to hospital, but he did not survive… During the tragic occurrence, two other capoeiristas were lightly wounded while trying to appease the situation, and they are Mestre Fernandão (ABRACAP leader at the time and traditional capoeirista at the Praça da República Roda in São Paulo) and Cristhiano, a capoeira graduate.

Mestre Paulo Gomes’ wake was held in the academy hall, full of homages from fellow capoeira masters, who gave speeches and held a roda in honour of the Mestre. Again according toMestre Ribas Machado:

Then we all went to the São Pedro cemetery (located at Francisco Falconi Avenue, 837 – Vila Alpina – São Paulo) and there, in the presence of more Mestres and capoeiristas (who had been gathering since the wake), the body was buried to the sound of cries, capoeira songs, [chulas], prayers and berimbaus …

Mestre Paulo Gomes is greatly missed in the world of capoeira, with acknowledgments and contributions given by his disciples for the memory of capoeira, such as the 1982 book “Capoeira: Brazilian Martial Art” and the CD “Roda de Capoeira da Ilha de Maré”.

To learn more:

MACHADO, Ribas. A Capoeira de São Paulo (e do Brasil) perde Mestre Paulo Gomes. Consultado em 21/10/2019. 1998. Avaiable on: http://www.fontedogravata.org/1998/09/capoeira-de-sao-paulo-e-do-brasil-perde.html

FOLHA DE SÃO PAULO. Oficial de Justiça mata assessor de Cova. In: cotidiano. Consultado em 21/10/2019. Avaiable on: https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/fsp/cotidian/ff24099832.htm

BRASIL. Ministério da Cultura. Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional. Inventário para registro e salvaguarda da capoeira como patrimônio cultural do Brasil. Brasília: MEC, 2007.

OLIVEIRA, J. P.; LEAL, L. A. P. Capoeira, identidade e gênero: ensaios sobre a história social da capoeira no Brasil. Salvador: EDUFBA, 2009

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Master Leopoldina – Part 1

By Nestor Capoeira

I was in my first year of UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) School of Engineering, in the distant (in relation to Copacabana, where I lived with my parents and brothers) Ilha do Fundão. One day, I was in the schoolyard talking to some friends when I saw a man on the road pedalling at full speed.

As I approached, I began to notice the details of the figure’s clothing: a short-brimmed hoodie worn by sambistas; a red vest with white polka dots, completely open over his bare chest, which swayed in the wind like a bird’s wings; striped pistachio green and gray bell-bottoms and a wide black leather belt with a huge buckle at the waist; 3-cm-high platform soles, studded with silver stars.

He entered the courtyard at full speed and then skid, spinning, ended up standing beside a pillar, where he calmly left the bicycle after jumping. Then I noticed something even stranger: he was carrying, between his lips, a kind of twig painted black, red and white, about 30 or 40 centimetres long. Suddenly, the twig began to move and wrapped itself around the strange person’s neck: Leopoldina raised snakes at home, and this one – a milk snake – was one of his favourites.

I asked a friend, “Wow, who is this guy?” He replied: “It’s Master Leopoldina. He teaches capoeira in Athletics”- which was the sporting part of the student directories. “He comes by bicycle from Cidade de Deus to Fundão Island. It’s far…”- completed this friend of mine.

CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH

Demerval Lopes de Lacerda (1933-2007), the master Leopoldina, was born in Rio de Janeiro on a carnival Saturday. He was raised by his mother, and later by aunts and other ladies who took him in. When he was still a child, he ran away from home to sell bullets to other kids who dominated the railway lines of the Central Railway of Brazil, which joins the city centre with the more distant suburbs of Rio. It was in Central Brazil that he graduated and made after degree in trickster, approximately in 1950.

As a teenager, and in a time of great poverty, he went of his own accord to SAM (Serviço de Assistência ao Menor) – a dreaded Child Care Service. Leopoldina had no complaints from his time there; on the contrary, as a young street rogue, he soon joined the “directors” team. He learned to swim, among other things, regularly circling the island where the institution was located, which left him in excellent physical shape.

When he left SAM, already eighteen years old in 1951, and too old to sell candy and peanuts on trains, he began selling newspapers and soon set up a team. For the first time, he began earning money, dressing in expensive clothing and visiting the Zona do Mangue brothels, where he encountered fame due to the size of his penis. Leopoldina frequented prostitutes, often more than once per day, without wearing any protection, and somehow never contracted any venereal disease.

Mestre Leopoldina, joyous on a parade day at the Rio de Janeiro Sambadrome. Photo Collection André Lacé.

CAPOEIRA

It was at this time that he met Quinzinho, or Joaquim Felix, a dangerous young delinquent and gang leader, who had already served time in the Penal Colony and had a few deaths on his conscience. Quinzinho was a capoeirista and was Leopoldina’s first master in the art of “tiririca”, the capoeira without berimbau of the carioca reprobates, descended from the capoeira of gangs of the 1800s.

A few years later, Quinzinho was once again arrested and this time murdered in prison. Leopoldina disappeared from the area due to fear of reprisals from delinquent enemies. When he returned to the streets, he met Artur Emídio, recently arrived from Itabuna, Bahia. He became Artur’s student around 1954, knowing then the Bahian capoeira was played to the berimbau.

Later, Leopoldina went to work at Cais do Porto and eventually managed to join Resistência, one of the dock branches. He retired early – before the age of forty-five, due to a work accident (which fortunately left no consequences) and lived the life of a capoeirista and high-spirited trickster more intensely.

THE MANGUEIRA

Another important aspect of Leopoldina’s life was his relationship with samba. He went out with Mangueira for the first time at the 1961 Carnival at the age of twenty-eight. Mangueira was the first samba school to include capoeira in its parades, which gave capoeira great visibility. Leopoldina even organized a group of sixty capoeiristas to demonstrate the artform in the V.C. Entende wing, the show hall of Mangueira. He kept his partnership going with Mangueira until about 1974.

I myself paraded several times in Mangueira when I was still a capoeira novice, at the invitation of Leopoldina, around 1968/1970.

TO SEE MORE

The documentary ‘Mestre Leopoldina – The Last Good Trickster’ brings an interview Leoopoldina gave to Nestor Capoeira. Click here the first part

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