Ie viva meu Mestra, Part 1: Mestra Edna Lima

4 12 2007

The more I read about this woman, the more I can’t believe I’ve never heard of her before! She has done so much, and in such a seemingly short time that I can’t help wondering just how slanted all the glossy write-ups on her might be…
However, spotlight first, shadow-chasing later!

Mestra Edna Lima 

Edna Lima loved sports as a child and first encountered capoeira at the age of twelve, in her hometown of Brasilia, Brazil. She trained with Instrutor Dentinho for eight months, first secretly (using money she told her parents was for books) and then openly, with her mother’s wholehearted support. As the only girl in the class, Edna thought early on that capoeira might be “only for boys”, but her mother quickly relieved her of that thought, and fended off admonition from friends and relatives for allegedly risking her daughter’s “femininity”.

Lucky for Instrutor Dentinho, as he left Brasilia only after requesting that Edna take over teaching the class! However, two months later Edna herself left, in order to further her training with Mestre Tabosa of Capoeira Senzala. In 1981, it was he who gave Edna her corda vermelha (red), making her the first female capoeira mestre in the world, as well as the first mestra in Capoeira Senzala. Edna, barely 20 years old at the time, played hard for her belt that day. Capoeiristas came to her ceremony from all over Brazil, in order to test or just to see her: “‘Who is this girl getting a Mestre in capoeira?!’ The guys freaked out!” Happily, they got over it soon enough: “When people came to check me out, they got checked. Then, afterward, they would support me.”

It probably didn’t hurt that Mestra Edna was a black belt in karate as well as a master capoeirista. Edna started karate just eight months after starting capoeira, alternating her three weekly training days with four days of training capoeira. As she travelled throughout Brazil to increase her experience in capoeira and in the roda, she won five national karate championships along the way. That was when she decided it was time to move north: “With an extended visa, a burning desire to learn English, and no friends in North America, she travelled north to experience ‘the city that never sleeps’.”

Upon arriving in New York, Mestra Edna met Mestre Jelon and toured for some time with his performance group, Dance Brazil. (For capoeiristas who happen to be movie buffs as well, she also appeared in Rooftops.) Several years after, she joined Abada Capoeira, Mestre Camisa’s group branched off from Capoeira Senzala (Edna had also trained extensively under Mestres Camisa and Joao Grande). In 1997, she became one of the world’s first Mestrandas, or Contra-Mestras, and one of the first in Abada. Mestra, or Mestranda, Edna then went on to found an Abada Capoeira group in New York City, in addition to developing several other programs using her capoeira knowledge and experience, combined with her Master’s degree in sports science and physical education.

Today, Edna teaches capoeira at her academy in New York–where students of other Mestres occasionally drop in for a class or game or two–and leads workshops and batizados in countries around the world, including Spain, Israel, Japan, and Canada. She is an Adjunct Professor in the Dance Department at Long Island University, and has been inducted into Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame. She has seventeen international karate championships under her belt, including three Pan-American gold medals, and in 2000 the City of New York recognized her accomplishments with a Proclamation, during Black History Month.

For more information, please visit:

Update: The following paragraphs were originally written for the post after this one, but for purposes of clarity I’ve decided to merge them into this post and take them out of the other one.

There are just a few things I wanted to mention about the write-up I did on Mestra Edna Lima.  First of all, I know that my list of sources are not going to be winning any research awards!  If you are very concerned, you can check out this additional list of articles, but they all say basically the same things.  Second, one part I slightly glossed over was the other “programs” Mestra Edna developed with her knowledge of capoeira and degree in phys ed.  To be specific, they include: a capoeira program for school children instilled in at least ten public schools in Brazil, which she had the schools hire capoeiristas to teach; a capoeira program for youth; and…a trademarked capoeira aerobics workout program, of purported scientifically proven effectiveness. 

I have to admit I’m not crazy about that last one, and I can’t think of any capoeirista I know who would be, especially when such a program spawns articles like this one.  However, I suppose that having done that one thing does not diminish any of her other accomplishments.  Speaking of which…I have always been under the impression that it takes thirty or forty years to become a mestre; maybe twenty at the absolutely minimum.  So it seems very surprising that Mestra Edna received her corda vermelha at age twenty–eight years after her first capoeira class.  Needless to say, I’m not meaning to cast aspersions, but it’s interesting.  Thoughts?

Also, as I finished writing the profile/biography, I realized that my lead-in to it wasn’t quite true, on two counts.  First of all, I had heard of her before, briefly: she was interviewed in a documentary that I’d seen recently.  (The documentary, by the way, was great!  If you ever get a chance, definitely check out Mandinga em Manhattan.)  Second, I realized that it’s actually somewhat reasonable that I’ve never heard of her, considering the generation of mestres she belongs to.  After all, most of the names common to capoeirista knowledge, aside from the mestre(s) of one’s own and affiliated groups, are historical figures, whose experience in capoeira can be traced back to the days of Mestres Bimba and Pastinha themselves: Jelon, Joao Grande, Joao Pequeno, Camisa, Camisa Roxo, Gato, Sorriso, Waldemar, Leopoldinha, and Accordeon, for example.  Their students, however, and their students’ students, are the ones actively teaching and leading us today, and I know for a fact that there are plenty of capoeiristas out there who have not heard of my grupo’s mestre, and I haven’t heard of theirs. 


Click here to see other posts in Ie viva meu Mestra



2 responses

11 12 2007
jay likes this blog

can she actually play berimbau from negativa?

11 12 2007

Hahah, you’re awesome. Who knows? Maybe she’s telekinetic as well as an amazing capoeirista!

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