This is a story of a then young boy, Fernando, his passion and how lives can change in a moment for ever.
It was an early evening in May at a party that he met her for the first time… And what impact she had on him… What would happen that evening would change not just their fates forever but many others in the years to come…
There was nothing really special about the party itself: teenagers dancing, some american music, snacks… This was in 1963, a year before Brazil’s political turmoil would plunge the country into a 21 year of military rule…
It was Paulo, a friend from the sea scouts that introduced “her” to him later on when a fight broke out… A bigger kid didn’t like Paulo’s accidental bump while dancing and pushed him hard and marched at him… feeling threatened, he, in single move, threw his opponent across the room…
The strike itself didn’t hurt the bully, but it humiliated and demoralised him that his will to take things further dissipated as fast as the altercation had started.
Fernando was impressed and asked Paulo what was that he had just witnessed - It is Capoeira Paulo said. The kick used was a benção (blessing in Portuguese) a kick that in the later years would become Fernando’s trade mark kick.
That was the moment when Fernando met Capoeira, an art form that he had read and heard stories about. It was also the moment that initiated a chain of events that would lead to the creation of Group Senzala a unique and genuine group that would become known through out the Capoeira world, revolutionise this unique art form, the way it was taught and played for ever.
Fernando asked Paulo if he would teach him some and although he was no teacher at the time he was more than happy to share what he had learned during his school holidays in Bahia training at the famous Mestre Bimba academy. Fernando brought his brother Gil and slowly a few more gradually joined the group and soon Paulo’s place was too small to hold the training and they had to move somewhere else. A crack on the wall due to the bençãos training was a major reason for the move.
Fernando became know as Gato due to his agility and way he moved. He was given the status of being a Mestre when the organisers of the Berimbau de Ouro tournament barred him from entering the third year of competition after he won it with Mestre Preguiça the two previous years. That didn’t stop the group from wining the competition again with two other members.
Mestre Gato still in his early twenties was the pioneer of bringing Capoeira to the universities of Rio: both PUC, the catholic University of Rio and the Federal University of Rio. He was also the first to teach at the Associação do Servidores Civis do Brasil - ASCB a massive venue in the south-zone of Rio, where Mestre Camisa would return years later to teach.
Even though he was one of the most successful teachers at the time with over one hundred students be the early seventies, he made the conscious decision of not making Capoeira his main work as he told me many years later: “ I had a profound relationship, respect and love for this art and I did not dare to risk having that changed by financially depend on it.”
This year Mestre Gato will turn 70 years old. He dedicated the last 53 years of his life to the promotion, research and development of Capoeira even though he pursued his career as a civil engineer. He always managed to train, teach and organise events with other members of the Grupo Senzala and other groups as well.
A Capoeirista at heart, a researcher, a Mestre like few, a role model for anyone who is passionate and serious about Capoeira.