Mindful Capoeira – Move Free

A Capoeira Journey of 34 Years

Chapter I: Formative Years as a Student under Many Mestres

Martelo de solos, queda de rims, meia lua de compassos (capoeira movements and kicks from the ground) practiced together by agile young women and men greeted me on my first capoeira class. It was the fall of 1981 and I came to sign up for capoeira at the Mission Cultural Center in SF. Students were practicing movements and kicks on the ground that I later came to know as: Martelo de solos, queda de rims, meia lua de compassos. The mestre, Bira Almeida, Mestre Acordeon, and his students welcomed me to my first class. 

I practiced for a year in the Bay area under Mestre Acordeon before moving to NYC to continue studying under Mestre Jelon. 

Three mestres brought capoeira to the United States and I practiced and learned from each of them. Mestre Acordeon in SF and the Bay area, and in NY, Mestres Jelon and Loremil. The late Loremil Machado was a nephew of Mestre No and among his first generation of students to graduate. Loremil’s wildly free and expressive jogo in the roda and in life touched and inspired everyone who saw him. Perhaps, as he never taught capoeira classes consistently, he is not given credit with Mestres Acordeon and Jelon as the founders of capoeira in the US. 

I went to Rio and to Bahia to experience and train capoeira under many welcoming mestres including in Rio Mestres Camisa, Pexinho, Garrincha, Sorriso and in Bahia, Mestres Bobo, Joao Pequeno, Moraes, Boca Rica, Almiro, Bamba, Falcao. I had learned well under Mestres Acordeon and Jelon. Playing hard in the rodas, singing and playing instruments, I made many friends and training buddies. 

In Bahia, at the Sunday roda of Mestre Joao Pequenho, I met Mestre No. His jogo was unlike anything I had seen. Playful and relaxed, it seemed he was not really paying attention to his opponent. I was used to a more direct game with kicks, headbutts and take downs. Mestre No’s jogo confused me at first. After the roda, I was introduced to him as “Mestre No, Mestre dos Mestres, Grande Mestre da Bahia.”

Mestre No invited me to his batizado the following weekend. On my last day in Brazil, before returning to NYC, I saw the most spectacular variety of capoeiristas at his event. Diverse, powerful, creative, spontaneous and dangerous yet playful, effortless, and full of malandragem (the art of deception), dozens of capoeiristas impressed me that day. The next day, before boarding the plane for NYC, at the Lagoa de Abaete, Mestre No invited me to return to Bahia to study capoeira under him and to live with his family in their home.

In 1987, I returned to Bahia for a year to begin a master-disciple relationship with Mestre No. I went to classes at his academia Capoeira Angola Palmares, I participated in rodas and batizados around Salvador, in the interior of Bahia, in Maceo and in Paraiba. Keeping a journal, with Mestre No as a patient and articulate teacher, I learned fluent Portuguese. By the end of the year, most people thought I was from Bahia. 

I went into the woods with machetes, learned to identify biriba, to cut it, clean it of its bark and prepare quality berimbaus. I designed many silk screens for academy and event t-shirts. At the Feira de Sao Joaquim, Salvador’s huge market for produce, fish, meat, I bought food for my new family. In the kitchen I helped Dono Sonia prepare moquecas de peixe, camarao, mariscos, and my favorite, polvo. She was the daughter of a fisherman, grew up on the Island of Itaparica and knew how to make the most delicious meals from scratch. We ate everything with Molho, a fresh hot sauce prepared with limes, cilantro, malagueta peppers, sweet onions, salt, pepper and cumin. 

The capoeira training under Mestre No was less physically intense than I was used to. Less of a “work out” and more of a game to play relaxed. I was confused. Most of my training until then, had emphasized speed and force. Now I was acquiring a relaxed and calm way of playing. “Capoeira e de dentro ‘pra fora,” as Mestre No says, from the inside out. He was showing me the path towards a more internal practice and expression of capoeira. A traditional expression of capoeira that he learned from his mestres. A capoeira that emphasizes above all, malandragem. Technique, timing, creativity, intelligence were important, in addition to speed and force. As Mestre No often says, “Capoeira used to be more dangerous and less violent.”

Every evening, I went to classes. Tuesday and Thursday with Mestre No. Other nights, I was visiting academias in the center of town, in the periphery, and in nearby towns. Weekends were spent traveling and participating in capoeira rodas and events. In Salvador, especially in the streets, most rodas featured capoeiristas from regional, from angola and from unrecognizable and diverse styles. Too many times I saw the fastest, strongest, meanest capoeiristas defeated by smarter, more malandro jogadores. Defeated without violence or aggression.

Thirty four years later, my love and gratitude for capoeira, continues to grow. I wanted to play like those guys who were calm and confident without being arrogant, who using simple movements well done, who were able to control anyone in the roda using elegance with minimal effort. This I chose as my new capoeira path.

Becoming a Mestre

To be a mestre, start by being a student. Being a good student is based in the 5 pillars of capoeira.

1st Pillar: Join an academy and train under a mestre. 

Be a member with a group of students, a community of people under the guidance of a mestre. Honor your mestre, be grateful by being the best student you can be. Practice with your class mates, be consistent in your attendance, inspire others towards excellence. Your mestre is someone who gives her/his life to inspire others towards health and wisdom through capoeira. Your mestre is your guide, your coach, with the vision to bring your beyond your own goals.

2nd Pillar: Home Practice

Start a daily practice. Review the basics, the fundaments, the ABC's. Train what you are learning in class. Work by yourself mindfully to internalize good technique, balance, coordination, strength, flexibility. Practice sequencias and jogos with a partner to develop communication, reflexes, instincts, flow, timing. In home practice you develop from the inside out. Here, you are your guide, your inspiration, your teacher.

3rd Pillar: Participate in the Capoeira Community

Participate in workshops, rodas, events with other groups, though choose wisely. Discover how your jogo works with othercapoeiristas, how your style works with other styles. Find things you admire in the practice of others. Reinforce what you like about your style, find areas for development. Discover areas for improvement through your participation in the international capoeira community.

4th Pillar: Take care of your Mind, Body & Spirit

Do the things that promote health, vitality and longevity.  Eat nutritious foods, hydrate, get plenty of sleep and rest: a good place to begin. Develop habits that develop your mind, body and spirit. Push your boundaries, explore outside of your comfort zone. Live well, share and be considerate. Give back to others, to earth, to the universe.

5th Pillar: The Universe

This realm is for each of us to explore with an open heart and mind. The forces of nature that are unseen, unsung, and undiscovered are everywhere. Be open and receptive to their power. They effect us all in realms of which we are mostly unaware. 

These 5 Pillars are to be explored and developed. All 5 Pillars promote growth, balance and longevity in capoeira and in life.

- Mestre Ombrinho

Hello from Mestre

Saturday, August 16, 2014

My morning began before sunrise. I share two photos of the sun's rising over Newcomb Hollow beach, Wellfleet, Cape Cod, MA. Paddle boarders, standing on the ocean, going hither and yon to catch a wave, add a surreal element to an amazing expanse. Blessed way to start one's day.

Later in the day, after shopping at the Wellfleet Flea Market, I was heading north on Route 6, to pick up my mom and friend for a swim in a pond.

I do remember the medic kneeling over me asking me my name, address and date of birth. I replied clearly and intentionally, knowing that something serious occurred. I was in a peaceful realm and knew somehow that everything was going to be alright. I saw that a huge piece of my arm, the size of a hamburger, was sitting upside down on my forearm. I didn't see red blood and felt no pain. The medic noticed that I was looking at that hunk of flesh on my arm.

"You were in a head on collision. You are going to Mass General Hospital. This helicopter is taking you to Boston." said the medic. I wonder if he was surprised that I was awake and coherent. I was impressed with the body's capacity to function in a state of trauma.

I woke up again at Mass General Hospital with the surgical team surrounding my bed. We were waiting for the Operating Room to open up. I found my cell phone and managed to call my brother Ricky, who was traveling with his wife and son in Vermont. "I was in a head on collision. I am at Mass General in Boston. Call mommy," I shouted to overcome cell phones and bad connections.

In a few minutes my cell phone rings. Mom. I must have been drugged with pain killers, I had lost a lot of blood, and was in a state of shock. She is hard of hearing and the cell phone connection was poor. Our conversation, between mom and injured son, must have been a scary and confused mess, especially for her. She was waiting since 3:00pm for me to take her to the pond for a swim and it was now around 6:30pm. Ricky's phone call to her was the first she heard about me.

In the operating room, the surgeon cleaned out the gash in my arm and sewed it up. Pins were screwed into various pieces of femur and secured with bigger pins up and down my leg to keep them in place. Five days later, back in the operating room, surgery removed the pins and properly set the bones in my leg, screwing the pieces into a huge titanium plate (the largest plate they could find in the hospital). My doctor, Dr. Lowe, a leading trauma specialist, handled the initial care of many of the most seriously hurt people injured in the Boston Marathon Bombing. My injuries, though serious, were in his range of experience. I am in great hands.

Ten days after scraping me out of the car, ten days of critical care at Mass General Hospital, I am accepted to Spaulding Rehab Hospital. Spaulding is one of the top rehab facilities in the country. Here, after the Boston Marathon Bombing, many folks injured by the bomb, are fitted for prosthesis, and taught to move around and walk again.

I am here at Spaulding almost two weeks. The rehab hospital is new, less than two years old. Built on the old Boston Navy Yard, the area is surrounded by water with views of Boston Harbor, passing boats, ships, sail boats, seagulls, walking trails. I'm now able to get out of the building on a wheelchair. Pushed and accompanied by my mom, I've seen the diverse views of the water and surrounding area. As she said to me, "It's been 53 years since I pushed you in a chair with wheels."

I am grateful for:

  • surviving a crash that defies all common sense
  • surviving the blood loss and getting the best care in the quickest time possible
  • being at the best trauma hospital and then being accepted to the best rehab hospital under the supervision of great doctors, nurses, therapists, and care workers
  • having my family around to hold my hand, massage my leg and participate in the conversations and choices
  • having friends in Boston and New York who came to make me smile and to bring me delicious things to eat while my appetite and sense of taste is dormant and twisted
  • good fitness and health towards a "speedy" recovery
  • capoeira, cultivating positive thoughts and energy, teaching me about healing from the inside out. providing real stories of people overcoming crushing obstacles and overwhelming odds to move, to flow, to play.

I look forward to the healing. I have physical and occupational therapy three hours a day. Making progress through the pain. I'll get there! It may be months before my leg can be weight bearing enough to walk. Then ginga. Slow and steady. Ginga is swing and swagger. Aú... Rolê...

Please light a candle, burn some incense, for me. Enjoy a beer in my name. Most importantly, put one foot in front of the other and walk into CAQ Academy for a class or two or three. Bless our space and our community with your presence and participation. Be consistent, take your time with, and be grateful for every move you can do and every move you "can't (yet) do." I will catch up to you some day soon and again we will play.

Joke: What's the difference between an Asian Massage Parlor and the Hospital

In the hospital, "Happy Ending" means I moved my bowels.

Love and Light,

Michael Z. Goldstein
Mestre Ombrinho

PS the photo of me standing on the beach is just moments before I left for the Flea Market.

Opening a mindful practice for all ages and abilities.