Mestre Bimba was in charge of preserving the secret of the capoeira, an illegal activity related to criminals, and to turn it into a traditional practice and with the social and cultural recognition that it has today. It was not easy for someone who came from a humble and numerous family, who had to do different jobs as a young person to survive before discovering capoeira and devoting his whole life to studying it, perfecting it by recovering its traditional values and teaching it by founding the first academy in the world . Since then he is considered the father and icon of regional capoeira.
Capoeira, with more than 500 years of history, owes Mestre Bimba that millions of people all over the world practice it nowadays and that it gains followers wherever it comes from developing both the physical activity as the mental, coordination, rhythm and, of course, the discipline of standards as a code of conduct that he also implemented.
Developed by the slaves As a way of preserving African cultural traditions, capoeira allowed them to be nimble and strong in the midst of an oppressive system that works to nullify them as individuals. The combination of balance and flexibility with the rhythm and strength of the dance, as well as with the speed, the cunning of the fight and the music have given it a brightness that does not contain the rest of activities.
The word capoeira has different meanings: one of them comes from a Congolese word that means to flutter and struggle, and that describes the movements of a rooster during a fight. Despite being censored and considered illegal for years, today is still alive thanks to the impulse that gave Mestre Bimba, which made it a national sport in Brazil, and the legacy it left spread throughout the world today.
Manoel dos Reis Machado was born in Salvador de Bahía (Brazil), on November 23, 1899. His name was lost as soon as he was born, since from that moment he began to be called "Bimba". Everything arose by a bet between his mother and the midwife during the birth; Her mother said that she was going to be a girl and the midwife would be a boy. When he was delivered to his mother with his first cry, the midwife said: "He is a boy, look at his bimba (male sexual organ)."
Bimba worked in his adolescence and youth as a miner, carpenter, warehouseman, stevedore and even as a driver of a horse cart to survive in a family in which he was the youngest of 25 brothers, but when he discovered capoeira he was so seduced by her that he never abandoned her He began to practice the variety known as Capoeira Angola with 12 years, thanks to an African named Bentinho. This variety was the one he would later teach for a decade before developing his own style, known as traditional.
In the years in which Mestre Bimba He approached capoeira, at the beginning of the last century, he was still persecuted for linking his practice with criminals, so doing it in public meant a fine of up to three months in prison. A few decades before, the punishment was to receive 300 lashes and even deportation.
When he turned 18, Bimba wanted to go deeper into capoeira and realized that it had lost its effectiveness as a martial art and had remained in a mere folk activity. It was then that he decided to begin to restore the traditional values and movements of ancient capoeira by adding movements of an extinct African style of struggle called the batuque, which he had learned in turn from his father, who was a recognized champion of that discipline. He also added movements created by himself, becoming the first person to develop a teaching method to help facilitate learning, since until that time capoeira was learned only by observing and practicing. This is how Bimba began the development of regional capoeira.
Mestre Bimba, who also began to be recognized with the name of Mestre (teacher), realized that capoeira needed a code of ethics before being able to recover his reputation and that it was accepted and extended to other areas beyond the underworld. crime, which were the only ones that recognized it as part of the country's heritage. Practitioners of the regional variety of Mestre Bimba should be presentable at all times and wear white and clean uniforms with colored scarves indicating range. It also included choreographed sets of movements and introduced throws and sweeps, which gave it a characteristic that distinguishes it from the other main type of Brazilian capoeira, the angola style.
This honor code also included rules such as not smoking or drinking alcohol; that the skills should only be demonstrated within the roda (circle formed by people, within which the fighting practices are carried out), although allowing the element of surprise in case of a real fight situation; that during the training the capoeira fighter should focus on the task; practice every movement to the maximum; that young practitioners had good grades at school …
Bimba also established his principles of capoeira in his teaching method. Among them: always gingar, which means staying in constant movement while fighting, since the ginga is the basic movement of capoeira; always dodge to evade the opponent's attacks; keep a fixed point on the ground, because acrobatic jumps leave one vulnerable; play according to the rhythm established by the berimbau (musical instrument of capoeira) and respect the opponent when he can no longer defend himself against an attack movement.
Master Bimba was able to create several traditions and rituals related to capoeira to support his teaching methodology: he used a chair for the training of beginners; also the charanga, which is the orchestra of capoeira, composed of a berimbau and two pandeiros; the song (quadras e corridos), songs composed by Bimba to accompany the game …
In 1928 Bimba was respected enough to question whether capoeira continued to be a prohibited activity. It was common knowledge that he taught it and that he had taken care to deepen its roots and perfect it.
After a performance at the palace of the governor of Bahia, Juracy Magalhães, Mestre Bimba finally managed to convince the authorities of the cultural value of capoeira, putting an end to its official ban in the 1930s. Bimba then founded the first capoeira school in the country. world in 1932, the Academy-School of Regional Culture, in Salvador de Bahia, although without mentioning the word capoeira in the name to continue associated with a criminal activity. Shortly after, the teaching of his capoeira was qualified by the then Ministry of Education, Health and Public Assistance as physical education.
The school became a place where people from all walks of life could go to learn the martial art, which gave capoeira an air of respectability in all social strata of Brazil and changed its image forever. Since then, thousands of people, from politicians to artists, to entrepreneurs and people of all ages, approached capoeira as a complete physical and sports activity.
In 1936 Bimba challenged wrestlers of any martial art style to try their regional style. He played four matches and won all. One year later he obtained the certificate that accredited him as trainer and registered his first school. In 1942 he opened a second capoeira school and in 1946 the first public exhibition took place as a Brazilian folkloric presentation, in addition to making capoeira a profitable economic activity, by which its practitioners could earn money honestly with their art.
In July 1953, Bimba held a demonstration of capoeira before the then president of Brazil, Getulio Vargas, who declared that "capoeira is the only sport that is truly Brazilian".
Numerous celebrities of Brazilian society passed through the school of Bimba as their students. After what is called christening, the Master began to teach them the most advanced techniques, such as flourish and personal defense sequences, which suggested that the learning of capoeira was infinite, although as he said, "the blows The basic principles of capoeira are seven, and of those seven, seven more can be performed, and so on, any movement of the body within a stem being accepted as long as it is governed by the son of the berimbau and maintains the rhythm of the ginga. "
With an exponential growth of capoeira, two decades later the lack of support from the local authorities of Bahia and the failure to comply with the promises made to continue supporting their schools made them, in 1973, take the decision to move to Goiânia by accepting the invitation of a former student. There he died a year later, on February 15, 1974, at the Hospital das Clínicas due to a stroke after feeling unwell, just after an exhibition of capoeira. He was 74 years old.
Turned into one of the most significant men in the history of capoeira and one of the most influential people in the history of martial arts in Brazil, his legacy remains alive because he managed to recover the original values of capoeira. For Bimba, capoeira was a fight that should always be avoided, as he believed it was a cooperative fight in which the strongest player was always responsible for the weaker player.
After his death, one of his sons, Mestre Nenel (Manoel Nascimento Machado), took over at the age of 14 from his father's capoeira academy and continues to be responsible for his cultural and historical legacy. At present, he is the president of the Filhos de Bimba School of Capoeira, but Mestre Bimba is still the most recognized master of all, including honorary degrees, such as the one posthumously granted him in 1996 by the University of Bahia.
In 2014, Unesco recognized capoeira as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which places it officially, and worldwide, as one of the most expressive popular manifestations of Brazilian culture.