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Mestre Bimba's Academy Ethic



A. A. Decânio Filho

Translation by Shayna McHugh


The ethical component of Mestre Bimba’s teachings in his “academy” was implicit in his pedagogy, exemplified by his behavior, and later, in the 1950s, made explicit by me in the guise of “regulation,” published in a frame on the wall opposite the entrance to the room.


At that time there was a multiplicity of conduct according to the universes frequented by the practitioners of regional: a) conduct inside the academy and in partners; b) relationship with the capoeira groups not linked to “regional”; and finally, c) behavior in a social context without connection with capoeira.


We cannot study the ethics of Mestre Bimba and his first followers, since it is a collection of rules of conduct in a certain historical time and pertinent to a specific universe.


Thus we will have to consider:

-         the rupture of the capoeira world provoked by the enclosure of the Bahian regional martial art, generated with the initial intension of amplifying the efficiency of the game of capoeira in fashion at the time and therefore, with the necessity of affirmation of this presumed greater efficiency in front of the practitioners of the original game;

-         the introduction of capoeira – an African cultural manifestation, legally forbidden and socially discriminated, or in other words, a manifestation of a dominated social segment, originating from an enslaved category – directly in the heart of those who granted themselves the title of masters of the land… therefore, in a hostile social environment (dominant class of European roots);

-         a relative discrimination among the participants of the groups differentiated by the presence of the work of Bimba, i.e., the mestres of the old order (game of capoeira) and the representatives of the new order proposed by Bimba;

-         the natural question – Why Bimba and not me? – implicit in the words and behavior of the mestres excluded from the preference of the new capoeira students, excluded from access to the source of social prestige and from the new and promising source of income. It is a question that necessarily drives one to jealousy, envy, and spite, with all its evil consequences;

-         the political necessity of maneuvers around legal obstacles to achieve the freedom of capoeira’s practice and around the webs of prejudices to win the liking of the mentors of the youth, from where the new students come;

-         the temperaments and cultural levels of Bimba and his first students, components of the amalgamation that is “regional,” fruit of the interbreeding of African, Brazilian indigenous, and Euro-Brazilian cultural components, that without a doubt influenced the technical and behavioral directives of the new face of the “brincadeira de pretos” (“playfulness of the blacks”).







The charismatic figure of Bimba appeared to us as the projection of patriarchal and magisterial authority, commanding strict respect and the imitation of his virile behavior, without hesitations or doubts. His word was law and truth: our truth and paradigm to be followed during one’s whole life, engraved in the heart and soul by the fire and iron of an unlimited honoring of the man, persisting in my case more than 60 years since!




The relation between the components of our academy followed the African ethical model and etiquette. It is fitting to accentuate that the sense of their rules and ethical connotations cannot be understood without familiarity with these African behavioral standards. The study and knowledge of the African vision of the cosmos, of African philosophy and logic, as well as of slavery as an economic factor in the cycle of world conquest and domination by European culture – all these things must be understood as basics.


Modern capoeira has come to be separated from its African roots by the Europeanization of its songs, music, rhythm, rituals, and techniques. It is thus necessary to return to the original source to collect the purest fundamentals of the cultural components. This is the only way to obtain the essential knowledge for the elaboration of the code of ethics, counter-balancing the contamination by the continuing violence of European colonization and the superiority claimed by the dominant culture.


The respect of the “oldest,” who are sources of learning by informal conversations and practical demonstrations, and keepers of knowledge and abilities unknown by the “youngest,” was commanded by tradition and by tacit recognition of superiority.


Respect for the companion was commanded,

Because of the lack of knowledge of his current abilities and because of rules…

“To trust always in the partner…

Distrusting in what he could do!”

“The partner is like a mirror, he reflects your conduct…

Don’t hit, so as to not get caught!”

“He who hits always forgets…

He who gets caught always remembers and waits…

One day he will get even!”




The firmly entrenched conviction of the technical superiority of regional over the traditional game of capoeira, combined with the bellicose courage of the students, the necessity of self-affirmation, the claim of cultural superiority of the dominant class (from where the “academics” were supplied), the humility of the practitioners of the traditional game, and the fear of the legal consequences of the confrontation of the lower-class person with the dominant – these disturbed the friendly relations between the “classical” (the traditional or popular capoeira) and the “modern” (Mestre Bimba’s regional “fight”), bringing about the obvious: a separation of the parties.


They accentuated the divergence and inflated the confrontation, the difference of ritual, and the tempo of the toques, since in Bimba’s style the use of the upper limbs in floreio and in attack was permitted and suggested, while the ijexá rhythm was accelerated as a result of the personal characteristics of our Mestre and his followers, fight-like and hurried.


There was the exception of the behavior of those students originating from the popular classes – among which I was included – who got along with their humbler colleagues, maintaining a more friendly relationship with the traditional capoeiristas.




The deification of Bimba’s figure by his students fatally led, without any evil purpose, to the diminution of the value of the old mestres before the majesty attributed to our Mestre. The old mestres were resigned to the secondary role of representative figures of an earlier stage in the evolution of our art, ancestors of historical value who were respectable, but surpassed.


The majority of the academies, however, kept the respect and consideration recommended by the etiquette of the dominant class in the treatment of people, independent of social category. Some, among which I was included, conserved the admiration for the beauty of the original capoeira’s toques and songs; the joy, discipline, and gentility of the rodas; and the extraordinary abilities in the inside game, in the low game, the elegance and gentleness of its movements, paradigms of choreography.




The dominant class, prejudiced against African-Brazilian cultural manifestations, and the legal prohibition drove the first students of the Mestre to an evangelism that was comparable only to that of Jesus’ disciples, always proclaiming the superiority of the teaching and of the conduct of the Mestre! In the house, in school, in the street, at festivals, in movie theaters, bars, and restaurants, in gatherings of whatever nature, the students exhibited their qualification, the nobility of being a “STUDENT OF THE MESTRE”! Every lecture was an opportunity to captivate a potential follower. Every instant was a moment to exhibit the excellence of the practice of capoeira as self-defense, physical fitness, and choreography. Every miss was a chance to demonstrate the efficiency of a rasteira, so characteristic of capoeira like the black skin of the Africans and their descendants.