Grand Masters

Two of the greatest and most respected proponents of Capoeira are: Mestre Pastinha and Mestre Bimba.

Vicente Ferreira Pastinha, Mestre Pastinha (1889–1981)

Vicente Ferreira Pastinha, Mestre Pastinha (1889–1981)

Mestre Pastinha was the proponent of Capoeira de Angola, and was one of the greatest celebrities in the popular life of Bahia.

Vicente Ferreira Pastinha was born on April 5th 1889 in Salvador, Bahia. He formed, in his time, a great number of capoeiristas, not only because he was an exceptional one himself, but because of his remarkable personality, his philosophic and poetic words, his love and knowledge of Capoeira Angola fundamentals. He was the son of the Jose Señor Pastinha and Maria Eugênia Ferreira. His father was a Spanish businessman, owner of little shop in the historical center of Salvador and his mother was a Brazilian woman of African descent from Santo Amaro da Purificação who was earning her life selling acarajé (a typical meal of Bahia) and washing clothes for rich families of Salvador.

Some say Mestre Pastinha was exposed to Capoeira at a tender age by an African from Angola named Benedito. Pastinha often got beat up by an older and stronger boy from his neighborhood. One day Benedito saw the aggression and told Pastinha: “Instead of wasting your time playing and flying a kite, stop by at my house so I can teach you a few things of great value.” Others say Pastinha learned Capoeira later in adulthood.

Mestre Pastinha taught Capoeira mainly to his colleagues from the Marines, where he began working at the age of 12. When he got out of the Marines at age 20, Pastinha opened his first Capoeira school. Pastinha was not only a capoeirista but also a professional painter; he even gave painting lessons.

In 1941, he founded the port center of Capoeira Angola located at Casarão numéro 19 of the Largo do Pelourinho. It was his first academy school of Capoeira.

Discipline and organization were mandatory rules at Pastinha’s school. His students always wore black pants and yellow t-shirts, the same colors of the Ypiranga Futebol Clube, his favorite soccer team. In Pastinha’s view, the difference between Capoeira Angola and Capoeira Regional resides in the fact that Angola does not have any method: it is sacred and it is malicious. Pastinha did not accept the mixture made by Mestre Bimba who incorporated moves from other martial arts into Capoeira.

Pastinha dedicated his life to Capoeira Angola. He became one of the resourses in Afro-Brazilian culture. He died on November 14th 1981, at the age of 92, blind after 18 years, given up by the public organizations and most of his old friends.

Pastinha’s definition of Capoeira:
“Angola, Mother Capoeira!
It is a sorcery from slaves who long for freedom.
Its beginning (principle) has no method,
Its end is inconceivable to the wisest of mestres.”

Manoel dos Reis Machado, Mestre Bimba (1900-1974)

Manoel dos Reis Machado, Mestre Bimba (1900-1974)

Mestre Bimba created the style of Regional Capoeira and also modified the historical image of Capoeira. Through his work, Capoeira found representation among varied social classes and within varied geographical regions of Brazil (beyond Bahia).

Manoel dos Reis Machado was born on November 23rd 1900 in the neighborhood of Engenho Velho, Bahia. Son of Maria Martinha do Bonfim and Luis Candido Machado, he was the youngest of 25 sons. He received his nickname during his birth when his mother lost a bet with the midwife (who predicted a son instead of a daughter). His father was known to be a great batuqueiro (a batuque fighter, a form of combat from Northeastern Brazil which unfortunately disappeared).

Bimba was introduced to Capoeira Angola at the age of 12 by the captain of Bahia’s Navigation Company named Bentinho.

Mestre Bimba was known to be a skilled fighter – accepting challenges in the ring – and a practitioner of traditional Capoeira Angola. In the 1930s Mestre Bimba met a student named Cisnando Lima, from a traditional family of Ceara. Cisnando practiced other martial arts but learned Capoeira from Mestre Bimba.

From that relationship were born many terms used in Regional (mestre, batizado, formado, formatura, calouro, orador); and a new method of teaching. Cisnando suggested the name Regional (because at that time Capoeira was prohibited by law). Mestre Bimba then created the “Luta Regional Baiana” which became what we know as Capoeira Regional. Unlike Capoeira Angola that was practiced in the streets, by improvising, Capoeira Regional was taught in closed places, with strict method and code of ethics, rigid physical conditioning and training sequences.

One may say Manoel dos Reis Machado changed the course of the history of Capoeira. He set new standards in the art; perhaps by being in touch with college students and upper middle class people of that time; maybe by accentuating the vision of the artists who perceived reality ahead of his time, by emphasizing the fighting aspects of the art while adapting it to society’s reality.

Capoeira did not always have today’s accepted status. There was a time when Capoeiristas were considered thugs and outlaws because many were involved in disputes, killings, burnings, sabotage and other atrocities. Mestre Bimba realized that it was necessary to initiate some changes in Capoeira so that it could evolve and ultimately conquer its place in the cultural, educational and sports fields of Brazil.
After Capoeira was taught rigorously in closed spaces it became a national discipline.

In 1973, Bimba went to Goiânia, where he died at the age of 74 on February 5th 1974.

“At that time, Capoeira was for dockworkers, carriers and malandro. I was a dockworker, but I was a little of all that. Capoeiristas were persecuted by the police like damned dogs. One typical penalty to a capoeirista caught in the act, was to tie his wrists to the tails of two horses and race the horses to the military barracks. As a joke, it was better to pick a fight near a military barrack.”