João Pereira dos Santos or Mestre João Pequeno de Pastinha (27 December 1917 – 9 December 2011) as he was known within capoeira circles. Together with Mestre João Grande he is later to share the honour of being one of the late Mestre Pastinha’s two most learned students – the ones to whom he entrusted his legacy.
Joao Pequeno started learning capoeira from a Mestre Gilvenson in a place called Sao Jovencio. At some point, he went to the city of Salvador and became a student of Mestre Barbosa, and later became a disciple of Mestre Pastinha – the father of contemporary Capoeira Angola.
In 1970, Mestre Pastinha said the following about João Pequeno and João Grande, “They will be the greatest Capoeira players of the future and I have worked hard with them, and for them, to achieve this. They will be true masters. Not just impromptu teachers, as can be found anywhere, who only destroy our tradition which is so beautiful. I’ve taught everything I know to these young men. Even the Pulo do Gato. That’s why I have the greatest hopes regarding their future.”
So, what is the “Pulo do gato”? Well…
Edward Powe in his book, “The ABC and Bay-a-Bah of Capoeira Angola”, tells us about a story told to him by Mestre Pastinha, about a certain cat, and his student, the dog.
The dog was a diligent student and worked very hard to learn everything his master taught him. One day, after many years of teraining, the dog humbly asked the cat if there was anything else to learn, and the cat responded, “No. I taught you everything. You now know everything I know.” With that the dog said, “If that is so,then I no longer have any need of you.” He then attacked the cat, who reacted quickly by leaping onto, and climbing a nearby tree. The dog said, “But master, you never taught me to climb a tree.” The cat then replied, “Had I taught you that, I wouldn’t be alive today”.
In “The Street-Smart Song”, by Nestor Capoeira, The same story is told, but it’s with a cat and a tiger. But the main idea is the same.
It’s the one move, or group of moves, that is kept to oneself to use in dire circumstances. It is usually never taught to anyone, to keep its element of surprise.
As you may know. many masters of Oriental Martial Arts traditionally did the same thing.
During the 70s, traditional Capoeira Mestres and dedicated practitioners amongst the populace faced great hardships to continue the practice of their beloved art. Many of them died poor and hungry. Those who were able to, chose to migrate to other parts of brazil, and even to other countries in search of greener pastures. Many Capoeira schools couldn’t survive. However the most significant loss of the time, was to be the closing down of Pastinha’s Capoeira academy (Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola) and his death in 1981.
On 2 May 1982, with the world barely starting to recover from the recession, João Pequeno had picked up the spear from where it has fallen (So to speak), and founded the Academia de João Pequeno de Pastinha with the purpose of continuing the lineage teaching of Capoeira Angola in the manner it was taught in Mestre Pastinha’s academy. This lineage was very nearly destroyed when Pastinha’s academy was first closed down by the local government to “renovate” the buildings in the PELOURINHO neighborhood, where the academy was located.
You see, it’s well known that the government confiscated his school space for renovations, but the space was never returned to him. What is not as well known is that Pastinha, assisted by João Grande and João Pequeno, had been keeping CECA going under very difficult conditions. In 1979, They were given a small space on Rua Gregoria de Mattos at Ladeira do Ferrao. The subsequent death of Mestre Pastinha 2 years later only made things more difficult.
The authenticity of João Pequeno’s academy in following Pastinha’s academy was not limited exclusively to the technique and teaching methods, but also in the manner of spiritual and cultural development. In a way, João Pequeno revived and succeeded in achieving the original purpose for which Pastinha’s Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola was established – that is, to preserve and promote the traditions of Capoeira Angola, the fundamental tenets of the Angoleiro and to provide a community based support for Capoeiristas.
The impact of Pastinha’s death was far reaching, and even João Grande chose to stop playing Capoeira for a time. Despite these events, João Pequeno persevered in these difficult years, working to revive Pastinha’s school.
Mestre João Pequeno dedicated his life to teaching Pastinha’s style of Capoeira Angola ever since and has graduated students who today are well-known Mestres in their own right. Into his 90’s, Joao Pequeno continued to teach and practice capoeira at his academy in the FORTE do SANTO ANTONIO ALEM do CARMO which has, through the work of Mestre João and GCAP, come to be called the FORTE da CAPOEIRA which is off to the north side of the historical center of Salvador da Bahia which is also called Pelourinho.
At the ripe old age of 93,Mestre João Pequeno passed away on December 9 2011.