This is the English translation of a lightly edited transcript of an interview conducted with Mestre Boca Rica of Cordão de Ouro Barcelona, recorded in March 2019 for Papoeira Podcast #7.
How did you get started in capoeira?
Thank you, first of all, for the invitation. Congratulations on the Papoeira project. I think this is what capoeira now needs, at the moment, people who think about capoeira, who seek information, who can spread this to new people who are coming, right. This research is very important.
I started in capoeira, I think it was the end of 1991. Well, I always did sports, right… since I was little I had a lot of asthmatic bronchitis, and the doctors recommended to my mother that I play sports. So … since I was 3 years old I was swimming, and in parallel to that, my mother always looked for a martial art… so I did swimming and judo first, then I stopped and started to go to karate. And after a few years too, I went to Tae Kwon Do.
It was a bit like this, identifying with the art and “disidentifying” with the teacher. The teachers made me disinterested in the arts. Judo, then karate, then taekwondo, each time there was something that teachers did that put me off it…
Finally I started Capoeira in ’91 on account of a friend Caesar, who after a while even became a student of mine for a period. He started capoeira before me at our school, which was Mackenzie College in São Paulo. There was capoeira once a week, with a Professor called Teti who had graduated under Mestre Canhão (Cannon), a direct student of Mestre Bimba.
Mestre Canhão had a very traditional gym in São Paulo, called K-poeira (The K was a guy doing an AU, the drawing..) close by to the college, but when I started capoeira that Mestre’s gym had already closed. At first Mestre Canhão would visit once per month, then Teti, the professor, increased the classes to twice a the week, and the Mestre would visit every week, on the days that we did the roda. My batizado, the first cord that I got, it was in the house of the Mestre Canhão.
And then, the issue of the professors eh… the professor did not have much didactic skill, and he had a disagreement with my best friend, Caesar, and so I felt a bit out of place, I didn’t feel very comfortable training there.
Some friends had already gone to another capoeira academy, to seek more regular training, and also because of the attitude, right… So I decided to ask my parents if I could change. Coincidentally my brother was there, and he’d been riding a bicycle near my grandmother’s house and he said “I was a Capoeira Academy just by Grandma’s house, it said Mestre Suassuna”. My father said, “No, it must be his son, because I trained with him when I was your age, and he was already old then…”. And then he said “if he can go there, go there …” that at the time he was the best in São Paulo.
When I arrived, I found it was him, not his son! I remember the first day I arrived there and they were having a meeting of mestres – at the time I did not realise – I remember that the mestres were seated near the office, I arrived and I said, “Ah, I want to do my registration ..” And Master Suassuna got up, put his hand on my shoulder .. “chill, drink some water here…”- there was a water cooler there, I drank the water and he said “Now you come back here tomorrow at the same time to do the registration…”. And from then on I stayed…
I stayed for 6 months in both. I told him that I trained there in Mackenzie, so I went there once a week, and two, three times I trained there with him, until I became addicted to capoeira. After this, I told him I wanted to train under him, and he gave me the cord of the group. I was baptized with 3 months of capoeira, a little less, or more, I can’t remember…
Master Durinho, who is deceased today, he made a cord and Mestre handed me it in the roda, symbolic, right… It was 1 year or so that I trained in the two, until I left the Mackenzie and I began training only with Mestre Suassuna.
And then in that process, I brought Cesar, who trained at another gym in São Paulo, called Malungo. Some students from Mackenzie had gone to train in this gym, some friends, some 4 or 5 friends that we were very close … street friends, right, skateboarding, hitching onto the back of the bus, those kind of things…
We all got addicted. We were training every day, Monday to Monday… in the gym and Monday to Friday, my class at school was from 7:30am to 12:10 pm, then I would come home, eat, go to the gym, I would arrive at 3:00 p.m. and stay there until 2:00 a.m. morning… sometimes I slept in the gym, I would go to class, I would come back, I would ea…
So during a period, like that of 3, 4, maybe 5 years, it was very intense, very! It was a period that until the year 97, if I’m not mistaken, came the Contra-Mestre Tourinho, who took care of the academy for the Mestre, but until that time people were taking turns giving classes… There were the senior people, Mestre Durinho, Mestre Tiao, today Mestre Carlos, and others, then came Mestre Xavier, with whom I had class for almost a year, and others… Mestre Bilisco, as the Mestre was also trying to help him… I had a long time with him. During this period the personnel was very unstable… There was no one person responsible for running things, so I was very happy in this process because I had a lot of direct classes with Mestre Suassuna himself. And often just me and him. So in this process I had the fortune of being able to have that closer contact, right?
Was it normal for a beginner to have direct classes with Mestre Suassuna?
Yes, the Mestre gave many lessons in practice, right. From 15:30 to 17:00 this class was always him. Evening classes, he also gave sessions from 18:00 to 20:00 and then afterwards and advanced student would give the class from 20:30 to 22:00.
With time, as the academy was growing, older students were coming back, new ones were joining, then he began to choose the days and nights that he wanted to give the lesson… He’s still giving classes until today, right! I think when he stops – that’s only when he really can’t anymore. He has a really active personality, I can’t imagine him stopping.
I don’t think he’d ever stop just because he was getting tired, but sometimes now he doesn’t have the physical capacity… When I first met him he was 55, 56 years old… today he is 80. So, he was in very different physical condition then… he was still in amazing form. But as always, time goes on and people age. But at that time it was normal, yes, everyone who came to the academy had a class with him.
As a foreigner, it’s surprising to hear that you tried Karate, Judo and Taekwondo before Capoeira – how did that come about?
(Cutia: It’s funny, because people from outside have this idea that Capoeira is really popular, or really common in Brazil, but it’s not like that is it?)
Boca: I think that in Brazil, there’s this Americanization of things, right, a tendency to valorise things from abroad more than things from home. There’s much less prejudice towards the foreign martial arts, until today, than with the capoeira.
Capoeira, historically it’s a trickster thing, for vagabonds and criminals. My family were happy for me to train Capoeira, and have always supported me, but when I decided that I was going to live in capoeira, I had to work hard for them to accept this… They have always supported me, in fact, so I can’t complain, but they were resistant at first when I said that I wanted to make a living from this. I believe though that if I had wanted to be a teacher or master of karate I would not have had the same resistance, the same prejudice…
The other arts I started very early, only 3 or 4 years old, so I don’t really remember training them. Maybe there’s something in my unconscious, maybe some movements are in there, maybe I can still count to 10 in Japanese, but overall nothing really impacted me.
It was only when I first found Capoeira that I found something with which I really connected. I think it was precisely the fact that it was something joyful, something not so serious, right. Those other martial arts you enter, it’s all silence and seriousness, and I just did not identify with it.
I remember… the last martial art I practiced before capoeira was taekwondo, and what made me stop was a lesson that the teacher physically forced me into the splits… I was 12 years old, I left the class crying… I think that might be why my flexibility is not so good today! (Laughing).
Capoeira is more informal, it’s on the street… I remember that the first time I saw a roda, it was passion at first sight. I saw the guys doing aú, the other doing a backflip, and all I could think was “Wow!”… and I just had to learn that stuff. Then I saw the guys playing the berimbau, I said “Wow, cool, that’s different, that’s cool…”.
So I started… and luckily, what we were talking about there in the intensive, the social environment is also very important right. So I had a lot of friends, and luckily Caesar, who later, in this process, was becoming my best friend at that time, also did and we became, at that time, blood brothers. For many years we used to go together, travel, go to the Mestre’s house to train on the weekend, they were great times.
Was it a culture shock when you moved from Brazil to Barcelona to teach Capoeira?
It wasn’t too much of a shock as it was pretty well planned. I’d wanted to live abroad for a while, I’d already had a period in the USA, about 7 months along with Mestre Chicote, and wanted to try living outside Brazil.
My first move away from São Paulo was to Belo Horizonte, where I lived for 3 years, but even before I went to BH my ex-wife and I had said, “When you graduate from college, let’s go abroad for a while? “. So it was planned a long time in advance in that sense.
The idea was to work with Brazilian culture, myself, primarily with capoeira, right, other things too, but capoeira is the flagship. And it was, and it is a daily struggle, we have to have much perseverance and constancy, I believe, right. There are ups and downs, there are times that discourage, right… I was in an event the other day and a girl said, “Mestre, did you ever think about quitting capoeira?” I said “Today only about 3 times…”. Because, of course, it’s very good, it’s very gratifying. Capoeira, for me at least, it was very gratifying to have capoeira in my life. Everything I have is thanks to Capoeira, but it has its fickleness too, you know, it has the fatigue, there are all the things that I believe every profession brings in the long run, right? Every profession has an exhausting hour and such, but it’s the time that you have to take to recycle…
In those 10 years I believe that I, as a person, have been changing, too, through the circumstances of life, so I changed the didactics a little, the way to treat the students, to treat myself as a person, to seek new things when the body no longer works with old things, to look for alternatives of methodology, to pass an exercise, then you change.
I believe that when you first come out of your Mestre’s academy, you have the same range of teaching elements and class structures, which I think is natural, almost all students go through this, they are a carbon copy of their mestre. And then with the passage of time, I have 10 years that I am far from my mestre, so we are close, but physically distant, we don’t have that recycling, right, that we had when I was in Brazil.
He is a very creative person, always was, and we have to seek this creativity in other things. Doing classes with other professionals, not only in capoeira, doing classes with people who work with physicality, with music, with theater, with dance, everything that capoeira can aggregate and try to put it in your class.
(Cutia: It always goes through my head that we come from a popular culture that has this thing of, as in maracatu, which is “the Mestre says it’s like this, so it’s like this…” And so I was very shocked by the people here who speak “Just because this person says so, doesn’t mean it’s true… she is mestre here, but not of everything…”. And so eventually my way of thinking began to change, I imagine maybe for you too?)
Can you talk a bit about the close relationship you had with Mestre Suassuna, the good and the bad from being so close? Also how the relationship between Mestre and Student differs here in Europe?
Wow, what a good and long question, right…?! Well, I believe that answer is a bit tied to what I said earlier, right. We are always changing. There are two sides, right? People here, I sometimes feel resistance in the sense of, like you just said, “ah, it’s not because he’s a Mestre that he can tell me that…”.
I have always been very relaxed and confident with what I do, so I do not have this possessiveness with my students. If the student isn’t comfortable, they have the right to go to another place, to choose another teacher, another Mestre… This is natural. The sense of being able to teach the type of capoeira you like, in the manner you believe, you have to be always reinventing yourself.
My connection with the Mestre, I was a teenager, he was a much older person, right, I was at the time, 12, 13, 14, 15..yet, I stayed by his side 15 years. When I started he was 55, so it was until he was around 70 that I was next to him. So whether I want to or not I can not deny this influence in my life, right? And he, I always managed to have a good relationship with him precisely because when he crossed a line, I knew how to impose myself, but with a lot of respect because, I also believe in the baggage that many years brings. And I do not mean just in age, right, in part, yes it was, but also years within a certain discipline or art. So you spend 20, 30 years, of course, there are cases and cases, but if the person is an active person, is reinventing, is seeking, is working, is teaching, I think it is always worth listening to the advice of this person, no?
And the Mestre, due to his very strong character, very strong personality, sometimes he really, just as you said, not only I, as I believe all students, had moments of conflict. I’ve seen a lot of people get out of there talking badly, having a negative or malicious look or “Ah, this guy puts me down.” I do not know if it’s because of my relationship that I had proximity or friendship, or just because I know how to say “no” to him, but with respect, and he always respected me in that regard. So I’ve always been able to turn that negative side of him into something positive for me. I tried to see the good side of the things he wanted to teach me through shouting and swearing and everything… And today I here, bringing what I learned with him, I also have my moments of roughness, but I think can not even compare. There are times that we want to punish the students, but precisely because of these differences, first age, also culture, I think we can do the same thing in another way. If I were to teach here the way I learned, I would not have any students!
Today the Mestre has the ability to do as he likes, and select who he wants to train with him. He has already reached this stage. Here I do not… if I lose 5 students, it makes it difficult for me to pay the rent. But I’m not saying it’s all about money, money is my last concern when it comes to how you relate to people. So sometimes the people who are with you 3, 4 years, 5 years, “ah, I do not want to…” and you have to respect their feelings, “wow, okay”, what am I going to do, right? And this for us is always an apprenticeship, an evolution of our conscience as a teacher.
You recently wrote a biography of Mestre Suassuna – Can you talk a little bit about the book, the writing process, and how it was received by the Mestre?
I had this idea of writing the book just before I graduated in capoeira. In 2004 I graduated in the class that later he came to call “the miudinho generation”, because it was with our class that he the miudinho training sequences.
I’d always traveled with the Mestre, had a close relationship and everything, and I really followed closely the influence that he has inside the world of capoeira, not only in the Cordão de Ouro group. From the beginning, with the green cord, I started to travel with him, and actually at the beginning the events I went to least were those of Cordão de Ouro. I went to many other groups and saw how really important he was inside capoeira, and that had a big impact on me…
I started teaching in ’96 and since then, I’ve only worked with capoeira. Of course I’ve done other things on the side… I was a waiter, security, academy teacher… I’ve done a little bit of everything, but capoeira has always been at the centre… So from ’96 to 2004 I was already teaching. In 2004 I graduated. I always liked to research capoeira a lot. Searching, reading… If I found an old clipping, I kept it, if I had a little photo in the corner of the page, I kept that page of the newspaper… I was always trying to find books, LPs, anything to do with capoeira. Sometimes I would spend 2 or 3 hours in the old book stores… “Is there anything on capoeira?!”, then onto the next.
So I have a very large file. And then one day I said, “Ah, I’ll start organizing.” But it was a process that was not like this, “I’m going to do the book”, started and I did it. No… I first had a lot of material and I was a little lost, it was a process that I “ah, this here maybe works for the book”, then I would come, organize… The first process was to separate everything that was direct quotes from the Mestre, then put it in chronological order.
Then in my travels, when I already had this idea of writing the book, I began to interview the mestres who had stories or memories about the Mestre. So I went to Bahia, I interviewed Mestre Maneca, I interviewed Mestre Flávio, Mestre Sarará… I also had some materials that were already interviews that the Mestre himself had done, and other pieces of audiovisual material.
Then, in 2013, my family went to Brazil and I stayed a whole winter here alone, and that winter I decided to build the backbone of the book. It was 4 months that I was alone, I was at home on the computer… I had an interview with Mestre, which was an interview of almost 4 hours, and from this interview I actually took the basis of the book. And from there I went to get stories that other mestres told and related to this story, the stories that the Mestre told. And from then on, I was putting together the photos, until in 2017, on the 50th anniversary of Cordão de Ouro, I was able to launch the book, which this year, now in May, will be released in Russian in Moscow.
Is there an interview or story from the book that you could share with us now?
In fact the Mestre, for me, has always been a little box of surprises. Because I often doubted his stories. I’d think, “This can’t be true…”. But then a few years later, someone or something would prove to me that it was true. Certainly, the most amazing stories were his, no doubt. But that’s not a surprise as he is the focus of the book, right….
I really liked a passage from Mestre Caverinha, it was not an interview, in fact … I asked him to write something for the book, which he did, and it was a story I always heard from the other elders, and he did a great job of putting it in writing.
It talks of a fight that Mestre had with Mestre Bilisco, a disagreement in a bar, and Mestre Marcelo was able to summarize in a very poetic way, so I found it very cool the way he wrote.
The book is Mestre Suassuna – Zum Zum Zum Cordão de Ouro
Did you have much contact with Mestre Suassuna during the period you were going through the problems with your hip?
No, I did not. During this time I was quite distant from him, not even calls or messages… I spent this time more introspectively… It was a difficult period, after I did my hip surgery, right. I had an injury that doctors diagnosed as a type of injury to the femur cartilage and the hip acetabulum. I had been feeling pain for many years, some 7 or 8 years that I’d been suffering the pain, trying alternative treatments and, when I decided to operate, I waited another 2 ½ years.
So it was a rather harsh process, and in fact when I finally did the operation it was almost like a nervous breakdown, right, in many ways. It was a very life-changing process. I think everything comes to strengthen. Today I see myself stronger, it takes a lot to shake me. And we are looking for this strength inside, I think more than anywhere else… there is no other place to look for it.
When you are in a bad moment of your life, sometimes people are desperate, and try to look outwards, point the finger at other people, and I think it’s very important to look inside and stay open minded for solutions.
What other types of traditional Brazilian manifestations, aside from Capoeira, do you seek to explore within your group?
The base I do is a little what we did with the Mestre. So I always had the maculelê, the puxada de rede, the warrior dance, but besides that, I also have my personal research.
So we added other things like coco, jongo, and things that I learned from other mestres, like Mestre Brasília, who always contributed a lot to my capoeira, so the samango, the samba de angola, and then there’s the musical part where I’m always somehow trying to create something new.
Create in the sense of composing, or making an arrangement… I have some samba compositions, I intend to record, soon, and, part of it, the composition part of capoeira as well. I always liked writing lyrics for capoeira. I started in a way, without expectations, and then I saw that some people liked, it and this gives you more confidence and desire to do new things.
Aside from Mestre Suassuna, who are your references in Capoeira?
I believe that there in São Paulo, almost all the students that had passed through the academy of the Mestre, who were older, who were already Mestre, there were plenty… Mestre Xavier, Tião, Durinho, Sarará, Zé Antônio, Ponciano… this crowd were already Mestres, when I entered. If they weren’t Mestre, they were Contra-Mestre, they were people with active work, who were always an inspiration to people who were younger. But there are some people who make more of an impression, right.
So I can say, with certainty, the Mestre Brasilia, who was a person present at this time while I was there in São Paulo, at the side of the Mestre. Mestre Brasilia is very calm, very quiet, but he always comes with that phrase that opens your mind. At least with me, when I needed it, he came and said things that had a big impression on me.
Mestre Acordeon is a very close person too, for whom I have a lot of esteem and I admire a lot, as he sees and leads capoeira, teaches capoeira… I think they are the same… but, it’s just that we take a little bit of every master we go through…
Mestre João Grande is a great reference for me, I have had the opportunity in recent years to be a little closer to the Mestre, to meet him in various situations and also a person who, if you standing next to the Mestre, he will always be teaching you something.
Mestre João Pequeno, during the time he was alive, for almost 10 years I went every year to Salvador and made a point of going there to train at the Mestre’s Academy… I met him at various events in Belo Horizonte, in São Paulo, in Curitiba, so I had very memorable times alongside Mestre João Pequeno. I was a fan of his manner…
We always like to finish by asking if you have any advice for anyone just starting on their journey in Capoeira?
Well, one piece of advice … I think it’s the first response I gave today, which is discipline, constancy, and a lot of love for capoeira.
If you are starting to work with capoeira, we always have the prospect of growing in life, of course, capoeira opens many doors, but I think it has a very strong energy, that knows how to filter the people who care for it with affection.
So, love capoeira, dedicate, do with love, do with dedication, and discipline, constancy, and you will achieve. And the life of capoeira is very gratifying.
That was great Boca, thanks so much!
Did you think of quitting Capoeira yet today?
No, today no… (Laughing)