This feature is designed to spark your interest in researching the world of capoeira's vocabulary, history, and philosophy.

Our Capoeira Wiki-Word series invites you to research the word of the week and post your definition(s) and translations. At the end of each week, the entries will be reviewed and then summarized into a translation and a definition of the Capoeira Wiki-Word of the week.

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This week's Capoeira Wiki-Word is:





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From the Aurélio Dicionário da Lingua Portuguesa...

Mestre (n)

1.  Person who teaches.
2 .  Individual that has a position of their own, or that works without technical indications
of others.
3.  One who directs a workshop (workshop in the sense of a facility, not a class/seminar).
4 Artist (painter and sculptor) of great merit.
5.  Person who dominates well a profession, an art, an activity.


So, this is the literal or book definition in Portuguese.  For many people this may be enough.  However, when it comes to capoeira, and when it comes to aspects of Brazilian culture, we often see the word "Master" as the English translation for the word "Mestre."

Setting aside what it means to be a "Mestre" in capoeira in terms of the do's and don'ts for someone in our favorite art of spinning and kicking our friends, let's instead explore what the term is trying to communicate.

I looked for a while for various resources on the internet, and in books that I have about what the word means to a capoeirista and native Portuguese speaker, and I keep coming back to two things.

Before I go any further, I have to admit a bias here:  I am a student of Mestre Acordeon...  when he talks I listen, and I like a lot of what he has to say about capoeira related topics.  Also, I do not have any direct quotes from Mestre Acordeon on this, so I am pulling from various conversations with him.  (Note to kick self for not having a recording device next time this subject comes up.)

The first is what I have heard Mestre Acordeon say about this word and how it's translated.  Mestre Acordeon has always had a bit of an issue with the idea of translating the word to the English "Master."  I am not sure where the disconnect here is, whether it's the idea that comes along with that word in an English speaker's reference, or if it's the discrepency between the English meaning of master and the Portuguese cultural reference that Mestre Acordeon has. 

Either way, it's interesting that he is not at all satisfied with the word "Master" as a translation.  I have heard him say that the way he understands "Mestre" is something that is more like a guide or a mentor in one's community.

The second thing is a first hand experience with my cousin Zé who is a well respected Brazilian Ju-Jitsu teacher for many years in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil...

I was talking with Zé one time when we were on our way back from the World Ju-Jitsu championships in Long Beach in 2010.  I noticed that when we walked around the arena where the event was held, Zé knew like everybody.  Also, it was interesting that when he would say hello to folks, the younger ju-jitsu players often used the word "Mestre" when they were talking to Zé.  I have never heard say use the word "Mestre" about himself, in or outside of his academies.  So, I asked him about it.  The conversation went a little something like this...


Zé, I have a question.

What is it?

Well, let's say I was in one of your ju-jitsu classes, and I had a question.  How would you want me to address the teacher of the class in order to get their attention?

Umm, well I would say that I would use the word "Professor."

Oh yeah?  Not "Mestre?"

"Mestre?"  No, not "Mestre."  "Mestre" is something that those in your comunity would call you, but not what you would use officially for the class.


This was very interesting to me because it felt in sync with what I had heard Mestre Acordeon say over the years.


So, is there a one word translation for "Mestre" from Portuguese to English? 

Yes, and it's "Mestre" as far as I am concerned.  English is constantly adapting words from other languages, from Yoga, to Sushi, to Soup du Jour. 

So why not "Mestre" for those of us of the dance-fight game persuasion?


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