Author: geisi

Anníbal Burlamaqui, customs officer and poet; Zuma, capoeira and boxeur (1898-1965)

By Ana Paula Höfling, University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

“Gymnástica Nacional (capoeiragem) methodisada e regrada”, Anníbal Burlamaqui, 1928.

On August 18, 1965, the Jornal do Brasil published a note where Mrs. Burlamaqui and family expressed their gratitude for the condolences received; Anníbal Z. M. Burlamaqui, the author of the influential 1928 capoeira manual Gymnástica Nacional (capoeiragem) methodisada e regrada, was dead at the age of sixty-seven.[1] Burlamaqui, whose booklet galvanized efforts to move capoeiragem from the police pages to the sports pages of Rio’s newspapers—to legitimize and de-stigmatize this Afro-Brazilian combat game— was among a growing number of enthusiasts of gymnástica nacional (national gymnastics), a strategic re-naming of a practice that was prohibited by law as capoeiragem.[2] It is unclear with whom Burlamaqui studied capoeiragem and for how long; what is clear is that in Rio de Janeiro in the 1920s there was no shortage of opportunities to study national gymnastics. Burlamaqui could have studied in formal learning spaces such as the Gymnástico Português, where physical education teacher Mario Aleixo taught national gymnastics since 1920, or he may have joined men practicing “capoeiragem exercises” in public spaces such as Rio de Janeiro’s plazas and squares.[3] Under the nickname Zuma, he competed in matches throughout the late 1910s and early 1920s using both his boxing and capoeiragem skills.[4]

Although we don’t know very much about Zuma—the sportsman, capoeira, and boxeur–beyond his influential 1928 publication, we do know bits and pieces about Burlamaqui’s life beyond capoeiragem: he worked as a customs enforcement officer (guarda da polícia aduaneira)[5] and was a member of the Niterói-based literary society Cenáculo Fluminense de História e Letras (Rio de Janeiro’s State Society of History and Letters), which he joined on March 8, 1930, occupying chair number 33.[6] In the 1950s, as part of the directorial board, he was a member of the committee on writing and peer review (redação e parecer) and he was elected president of the society twice. The Cenáculo hosted poetry readings and music recitals, and sponsored publications of books written by its members, such as Burlamaqui’s book of erotic poetry, O meu delírio: poêma do instinto (My delirium: a poem of instinct) published in 1939, a book that reveals Burlamaqui as a passionate man who dared express his lust and desire in writing.[7]

As Zuma, the sportsman, and as Burlamaqui, the writer, Anníbal seemed like the perfect person to publish a book that would support the ongoing efforts of de-stigmatization of capoeiragem spearheaded by several other white, middle-class, well-educated carioca capoeira enthusiasts, such as journalist and cartoonist Raul Pederneiras. In a two-column article published in the Jornal do Brasil in the same year Zuma’s book was published, Pederneiras, signing as just Raul, mentions previous failed efforts of organizing and creating a method for “Brazilian gymnastics,” and praises Gymnástica Nacional as a much-awaited methodization of this practice: “a work of great utility which should contribute to the adoption of this national sport in gymnasia with great probability of success. The sure proof of this success is the great demand for Zuma’s book, which makes a great contribution that allows us cultivate and appreciate, with efficacious results, that which is ours, which is very Brazilian.”[8]

It is clear that the Zuma’s main goal in Gymnástica Nacional was to legitimize the practice—to remove the stigma from capoeiragem.[9] Dr. Mario Santos, who wrote the book’s preface and who also posed as Zuma’s opponent in the twenty photographs that illustrate the book, cites the legitimization of English boxing, French savate and Japanese jiu-jitsu as precedent and asks: “Why […] would capoeiragem, in Brazil, escape the evolutionary march or its sister forms? […] Why should we not create rules and regenerate capoeiragem?”[10]

Throughout the book, Zuma does just that. Drawing from two popular imported sports, boxing and “foot-ball” (soccer), Zuma prescribes the diameter of the circular playing field, the starting position of the contenders, the duration for each round (three minutes, with a rest of two minutes), and the criteria for establishing a winner for each match: a fighter would win either by incapacitating the opponent, or, if so agreed beforehand, points would be counted by a referee who would proclaim the fighter who caused the most falls as the winner.[11] With these rules, Zuma hopes to mainstream capoeiragem, turning it into a form of “self-defense, a sport like any other.”[12]

While many of Zuma’s rules—the presence of a referee, a point system, a match divided into timed rounds—clearly constitute borrowings from foreign sports, Zuma rearticulates street capoeiragem in hegemonic terms through these foreign borrowings. While much attention has been paid to Zuma’s rules for capoeira matches—his methodization—and the evolutionist language of “improvement” that permeates the text, the photographs provide ample evidence that Zuma’s practice was grounded in street capoeiragem. Both the rich movement descriptions and the photographs that illustrate Gymnástica Nacional attest to Zuma’s in-depth knowledge of the practice; it is likely that he had been training for at least a decade by the time he published the book.

Zuma instructs the reader on the proper stance for the guarda: “one brings the body upright, in a natural alignment, in a noble and erect attitude, twisting to the right or the left.”[13] However, in more than half of the photos in the book the players appear crouched low and bearing weight on the hands, contradicting this upright, “noble” and erect stance.

Zuma and Santos demonstrate a technique that demanded movement close to the ground, either by ducking under a kick or initiating a kick from below. The erect stance of the guarda, which Zuma further describes as “the first position, noble and loyal,” remains almost entirely rhetorical, invoking nobility as part of his effort to remove the stigma that marred the practice of capoeira in the early twentieth century.[14]

The bulk of Zuma’s attacks and defenses are based on leg sweeps and kicks rather than punches or strikes with the hands, precisely because the hands are instead used for supporting the weight of the body. Freeing the feet to attack by placing the palms of hands on the floor, Zuma’s capoeiragem demands that players constantly shift weight from feet to hands and from hands to feet. Zuma’s technique has been interpreted as a stiff, upright version of capoeiragem where movements do not flow from one another. However, a reader following Zuma’s descriptions and instructions would constantly rise, fall, dive, duck and jump. The text provides ample evidence of sustained interaction, and in fact Zuma instructs his readers to initiate an attack from a defensive move, in the same way that strikes and evasive maneuvers flow from each other in present-day capoeira. A move Zuma calls pentear (to comb) or peneirar (to sift) not only gives further evidence of the game’s flow, but also embodies tapeação (trickery), the element of deception central to capoeira and capoeiragem. Zuma instructs: “One throws the arms and the body in every direction in a ginga, in order to disturb the attention of the adversary and better prepare for the decisive attack.”[15] Contrary to today’s understanding of the ginga in capoeira practice as a basic connecting step, Zuma’s peneirar has the express intention to confuse and deceive, a tactical maneuver in preparation for an attack. Deception, trickery and unpredictability, the same tactics consider foundational to capoeira today, run through Zuma’s Gymnástica Nacional.

Descriptions of capoeiragem that precede the publication of Gymnástica Nacional point to several continuities between Zuma’s national gymnastics and nineteenth-century street capoeiragem. In one of the earliest detailed movement descriptions of capoeiragem, included in Brazilian folklorist Alexandre Mello Moraes Filho’s 1893 Festas e tradições populares do Brasil, we find accounts of several moves almost identical to the ones included in Zuma’s Gymnástica Nacional. More than half of the strikes mentioned by Mello Moraes are also found in Zuma’s book: the rabo de arraia, cabeçada, rasteira, escorão (straight kick to the adversary’s stomach), and tombo da ladeira (tripping a jumping adversary).[16] Likewise, descriptions by Plácido de Abreu (1886), Raul Pederneiras (1921;1926) and Henrique Coelho Netto (1928) attest to a capoeiragem not dissimilar to Zuma’s national gymnastics. Zuma did take credit for inventing three new moves listed in the book: the queixada (kick to the chin), the passo da cegonha (lit. stork’s step, where the defending player grabs the attacker’s raised leg while sweeping his standing leg) and the espada (lit. sword, a kick aimed at disarming the opponent).[17]

While Zuma undoubtedly sought to “improve” capoeiragem through codification, he also championed its intrinsic value: capoeiragem “encompasses, albeit still a little confused and ill-defined, all the elements for a perfect physical culture.”[18]  In fact, he proposed capoeiragem as a tool of self-improvement for young “family” men; cultivating the body through capoeiragem, Brazilian men would become “strong, feared, brave and daring.”[19] If all young men learned capoeiragem, Zuma predicted, the Brazilian citizen of the future would be “respected, feared [and] strong.”[20] Although he proposes to “improve” capoeiragem, Zuma imagines a Brazilian “citizen of the future” improved through an Afro-diasporic practice that already encompassed all the elements for a perfect physical culture. Cultivating both body and body politic through an Afro-diasporic game turned eugenicist thought on its head, allowing Africanity to be viewed as a source of “regeneration” rather than degeneration, and as a source of strength and national pride.

Works cited

Rio de Janeiro newspapers consulted at the newspaper database (hemeroteca) of the Biblioteca Nacional:

Jornal do Brasil

Correio da Manhã

O Jornal

Abreu, Plácido de. Os capoeiras. Rio de Janeiro: Typ. da Escola de Serafim José Alves, 1886.

Burlamaqui, Anníbal. Gymnastica nacional (capoeiragem) methodisada e regrada. Rio de Janeiro: n.p., 1928.

__________. O meu delírio: poêma do instinto. N.p.: Cenáculo Fluminese de História e Letras, 1939.

Coelho Netto, Henrique. “Nosso jogo.” In Bazar. Rio de Janeiro: Livraria Chardron, de Lello e Irmão, Ltda Editores, 1928.

Höfling, Ana Paula. Staging Brazil: choreographies of capoeira. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2019.

Lopes, André Luiz Lacé. A capoeiragem no Rio de Janeiro: primeiro ensaio, Sinhozinho e Rudolf Hermanny. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Europa, 2002.

Mello Moraes Filho, Alexandre José de. Festas e tradições populares do Brasil. Third edition. Rio de Janeiro: F. Briguiet, 1946 [1893].

Silva, Elton and Eduardo Corrêa, Muito antes do MMA: O legado dos precursores do Vale Tudo no Brasil e no mundo. Kindle edition, 2020.


[1] André Luis Lacé Lopes reports Burlamaqui’s birthdate as November 25th, 1898. A capoeiragem no Rio de Janeiro: primeiro ensaio, Sinhozinho e Rudolf Hermanny. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Europa, 2002, 88.

[2] In the mid 1910s, a few reports of matches of capoeiragem began appearing in the sports pages of the Jornal do Brasil, although at this time news of capoeiragem still appeared primarily in the “complaints” column of this newspaper and in its police pages, where it was associated with stabbings and murders.

[3] Newspapers report regular daily practice of capoeiragem in public spaces in the 1910s and 20s in Rio de Janeiro, often in a public complaints column (such as the “Queixas do povo” column in the Jornal do Brasil). “Exercises of capoeiragem” took place at various plazas in the city, such as Praça Quinze de Novembro and Praça Onze de Junho, as well as train stations, residential street corners, and various locations in the suburbs (Engenho de Dentro, Cascadura, and Rocha).

[4] In a note in the sports page of the Correio da Manhã on April 20th, 1920, and in a note in O Jornal on April 19th, 1920, Zuma is referred to as “capoeira and boxeur.” Zuma explains that his nickname was derived from his second name, which Silva and Corrêa report as Zumalacaraguhi. Anníbal Burlamaqui, Gymnastica Nacional (capoeiragem) methodizada e regrada (Rio de Janeiro: n.p., 1928), 15. Elton Silva and Eduardo Corrêa, Muito antes do MMA: O legado dos precursores do Vale Tudo no Brasil e no mundo (Np: Kindle edition, 2020), no page number.

[5] He is referred to as a “guarda da polícia aduaneira” in a newspaper article recounting a tricky situation where the male officers had to find a creative solution to be able to search a woman suspected of carrying contraband under her skirt. “Um contrabando complicado e engraçado,” Correio da Manhã, June 15th, 1924; Silva and Corrêa claim that Burlamaqui rose through the ranks and, from customs officer, reached the position of internal tax auditor (fiscal de impostos internos) at the Ministry of Commerce (Ministério da Fazenda). Silva and Corrêa, Muito antes do MMA, no page number.

[6] “Posse do novo acadêmico,” Jornal do Brasil, March 2, 1930.

[7] The book received a mixed review in the Jornal do Brasil, and a scathing review in the Correio da Manhã. “Registro Literário,” Jornal do Brasil, April 14, 1939; Álvaro Lins, “Critica Literária—Poesia,” Correio da Manhã, November 16, 1940.

[8] Raul Pederneiras, “A Gymnastica Nacional,” Jornal do Brasil, April 22, 1928.

[9] For a close reading of Zuma’s Gymnástica nacional, see Ana Paula Höfling, Staging Brazil: choreographies of capoeira. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2019.

[10] Burlamaqui, Gymnastica nacional, 4.

[11] Burlamaqui, Gymnastica nacional, 18-19.

[12] Ibid., 15.

[13] Ibid., 23.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Burlamaqui, Gymnastica nacional, 42.

[16] Alexandre José de Mello Moraes Filho, Festas e tradições populares do Brasil. (Rio de Janeiro: F. Briguiet, 1946 [1893]), 448.

[17] Ibid., 21.

[18] Ibid, 13.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., 15.


Por: Jorge Felipe Columá, PhD in Physical Education and Culture

Thiago de Paula dos Anjos de Souza, BA in Physical Education

Rômulo Reis, PhD in Sports Sciences


Zé Pedro and Paulinho Castro. Photo: Acervo André Lacé. 

Capoeira as a socio-cultural phenomenon had a singular shape in Rio de Janeiro and was normally linked to survival and malandragem (vagrancy or rogueness). Repressed by the government during the nineteenth century, the Cariocan capoeira resisted, adapted itself like a chameleon, obeying good sense and ramifying in many lineages of groups, masters and students. Among these, one capoeira master stands out, a Vale-Tudo (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter, and a jiu-jitsu black belt, who distinguished himself with ginga, kicks and hard game in the capoeira rodas and those of life: the grand master Zé Pedro, leader of the legendary roda in Bonsucesso in the 1970s.

We start our narrative with an interview with Mestre Zé Pedro in the afternoon heat of the Olaria suburb of Rio de Janeiro. Born in the city of Santa Rita, in the Northeastern state of Paraíba, Mestre Zé Pedro arrived in Rio de Janeiro aged six, after losing his father. Destitute, he still managed to become literate aged eight, and got on with his life without never abandoning his studies, and always guided by the strength of his will to follow his path forwards. He enlisted in the Brazilian Navy as a sailor, having to lie about his age to be accepted, a way he found to survive.

He passed an examination to enter the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro (PMERJ) where he served as a soldier. He took a degree in Law after he reached the age of thirty, and specialised in combat, including a course at the Jungle War Instruction Centre (CIG) in Manaus, Amazonas state. In his military career he ended up promoted to Commander (Major), and was one of the founders of the special unit BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Especiais) of the PMERJ, a unit that became legendary and a reference for many.

M Zé Pedro claims that he never received any help from others through patronage or clientelism during his entire career, but developed thanks to his own struggle and merit. He nevertheless had a great friend at his side in the rodas of capoeira and of life, Paulo Sérgio da Silva, Master Paulão Muzenza, who always told him “we are not born to be soldiers, we have to move upwards”.

Assisted by his training in other combat modalities, M Zé Pedro participated in some Vale Tudo (precursor to Mixed Martial Arts) contests.  The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) master Hélio Gracie awarded him with a black belt and said that he considered him a “golden boy”. According to Zé Pedro’s own account, he remained unbeaten in these MMA contests: “I never lost a fight in Vale Tudo”.

His initial contact with capoeira happened when he saw a group of capoeiristas practice at Mestre Valdo Santana’s academy, the brother of the famous fighter from Bahia, Waldemar Santana, trained in boxing, luta livre (free-style), jiu-jitsu and capoeira. Waldemar helped to disseminate combat sports in Brazil and is known for the longest fight in the history of Vale Tudo, with his former teacher Hélio Gracie.

He started training capoeira kicks and movements, later entering the academy of Mestre Mário Buscapé (Mario dos Santos), with whom he trained for three years, and learned, according to his teacher, capoeira with great facility, given his interest in sports.

In the academy of Mario Buscapé he met various well-known masters, such as Mestres Paulão Muzenz and Mintirinha. In this breeding-ground of tough guys, M Zé Pedro developed his skills with the berimbau, an instrument he is proud to play ver well – and became a singer with a profound knowledge of chulas and other capoeira songs. Zé Pedro pursued this path further, until becoming one of the main exponents of the “hard style” capoeira in Rio de Janeiro.

“When a guy tried to provoke, we made him fall a little bit”.

Mestre Zé Pedro opened his first own academy in the Rua Cândido Benício, in the Jacarepaguá neighbourhood, a space which he shared for some time with Mestre Mintirinha. It is here that he founded his first school, the group Pequenos Libertadores (Little freedom fighters), a name that brought him some trouble, as he had, in this period of military dictatorship, to explain to Secret Service (in this case the DOI-CODI), if the name was linked to some opposition or “resistance” to the military regime.  His story in the Bonsucesso neighbourhood began in the early 1970s when he started to teach capoeira in a venue located at the first floor (sobreloja) of the Rua Uranos, nº 497.Teaching initially was for the group called Filhos de Amaralina,  and included the realisation of rodas and shows.

Paulão and Zé Pedro. Photo: M Paulão Muzenza.

The group changed his name to Guaiamus and Nagoas, in homage to two rival capoeira gangs that formerly existed in Rio de Janeiro. In this period Zé Pedro revealed that he enjoyed access to other capoeira groups, attended rodas all over the city, made friends, taught his students and supervised many rodas at this academy.

“I took over the academy, assuming all responsibilities, and organized the big rodas”.

And so the legendary roda of Mestre Zé Pedro in Bonsucesso was born. According to the master, the roda was attended by many good capoeiristas of the time and only tough guys managed to play. Asked about some game or special moment of the roda, the master replied: “The rodas, my friend, were excellent. I can’t enumerate them all. Like saying this one was best”.  However, he confirmed the attendance of capoeira masters such as Arthur Emídio, Leopoldina, Mintirinha, Paulão, Camisa (Camisa Roxa), Camisinha (Camisa), Touro, Dentinho, Gato, Paulinho Godoi, Celso, Peixinho, Itamar, Anzol, Silas, Corvinho, Amarelinho, and Garrinchinha.

“My academy became known because we had a contract with RioTour (official Tourism Board of Rio de Janeiro), so the name of my academy figured on the tourism events calendar  for the whole world”.

Hence the roda and academy of Zé Pedro became a core reference, and the capoeiristas from Brasília, São Paulo e Bahia came there to play. The venue at times also hosted them and became a reference for meeting friends.

The roda was usually led by one berimbau and happened on Sundas. The playing styles were very diverse, as the master always argued that “capoeira is capoeira”. There were games that were more flexible and malleable, or very quick, and those for kicking hard (“Pancada”), closer to his own style, the hard game, the close combat. The capoeiristas of the Bonsucesso roda played with malice and naturally rivalries emerged, for example, the one always mentioned between Mestres Paulão and Camisa. However, despite these hard games, M Zé Pedro points out, nobody became ennemy of the other, they were capoeiristas of the soul, and after the roda there always were the moments of confraternization.

M Zé Pedro had the capoeiristas Paulinho Guaiamum, Alfredo, Célio, Élcio, Valmir, Murilo and Luiz Peito Queimado as advanced students. In 1979, he followed a “call from life” and stopped teaching capoeira to study and pursue his career as a sergeant. But his legacy for capoeira remained in the annals of the history of Rio de Janeiro, and his contribution to capoeira is always remembered by the elder ones, who refer to his roda as a capoeira place of pure capoeira, technical, dexterity, agility, power and malice, a symbol of a generation of masters and practitioners from the Cariocan capoeira.


Based on an interview with M Zé Pedro by the authors and M Paulão Muzenza, 17 October 2018.

To see More