Every capoeirista has his own mestre to whom he must show respect and obedience in order to gain the skill, knowledge, and essence of capoeira. However there was a particular mestre who saw a potential in capoeira as more than an outlawed street fight. This mestre, Manoel dos Reis Machado or Mestre Bimba, began a journey in the 1930’s to evolve capoeira into a sport that could be respected by fellow Brazilians, the government of Brazil and even the world. He named it Luta Regional Baiana, or Capoeira Regional. Mestre Bimba himself embodied, what many considered, the characteristics of a perfect capoeirista. The fundamentals of capoeira he displayed were consistent, firm, and could not be emulated; his skills with the berimbau, the main instrument in Capoeira, were incomparable; his knowledge of the Afro-Brazilian culture was undisputed.
Mestre Bimba was born to Dona Maria Martinha do Bonfim and Luiz Candido Machado in the Brazilian northeastern state of Bahia on November 23, 1900. His love for the martial arts was instilled in him by his father, a champion of Batuque, the African martial art full of contacts and traumatic kicks. Mestre Bimba began his capoeira training at Estrada das Boiadas in Salvador, Bahia. He trained under Mestre Bentinho, an African captain of the Companhia de Navegaçao Baiana (Bahian Navy Company) for four years and taught for more than 10. In 1932, after many years of training and teaching with his mestre, Mestre Bimba opened a studio dedicated to practicing a style of capoeira he developed, which was influenced by other martial arts like Batuque, Jiu-Jitsu, and Boxing. This type of Capoeira, Capoeira Regional, was more upright, offered higher kicks, and a faster rhythm. In 1937 he registered as a Physical Education instructor and utilized this opportunity to teach Capoeira Regional at the Centro de Preparaçao de Oficiais da Reserva. He officially opened his second studio in 1942.
As a result of his hard work, Mestre Bimba became very well known throughout all of Brazil. His students ranged from children and the poor to those with great political and social status. His presence could not be denied anymore; Mestre Bimba was given the opportunity to bring Capoeira Regional to the Bahia’s Governor Juracy Magalhaes. In 1953, the governing officials gave Mestre Bimba the privilege to show the sport in which he invested so much to the president of Brazil, Getuilo Vargas. Mestre Bimba viewed the opportunity crucial to the development and acceptance of the African culture into the Brazilian population. Mestre Bimba succeeded, Vargas allowed Capoeira Regional to be practiced as a Brazilian martial art and through the Ministry of Education.
Mestre Bimba created a new reality in capoeira. The recognition of capoeira’s cultural significance is historically connected to Mestre Bimba. His creative, spiritual, and administrative organization promoted capoeira to the masses, drawing the interest of audiences with rodas, performances, and workshops. Local tourist agencies worked with Mestre Bimba to coordinate performances and demonstrations where he handed out flyers, brochures, and tickets to all who watched. At Mestre Bimba’s academy, Centro de Cultural Fisica Capoeira Regional da Bahia, Capoeira was thought not just as a game, martial art, or fight, but also as a way to get involved with the community and to improve one’s life. He taught his students discipline during strict practices, gave them responsibility to organize and promote capoeira events, and created for them a sense of awareness of capoeira in society.
Mestre Bimba’s academy became the model for all other academies, even academies today. In 1973 Mestre Bimba moved to Goiania where he died of a stroke one year later. Mestre Bimba was responsible for a revolution when he created Capoeira Regional in the 1930’s. The agility of the movements, the offensive posture without using violence, the “malicia” or fake attacks, the quick thinking during the game, the different rhythms, and white uniforms are just some of the characteristics of Bimba’s Capoeira that still exist in Capoeira today.