Mestra Edna Lima

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Essence Magazine | July 2011 Issue | Deborah Gregory

For international Capoeira champion Edna Lima, the rhythmic power kicks and quick sweeps of her art represent more than just physical movements. “Capoeira stands for the freedom born from enslaved Africans in Brazil who were clever enough to create self-defense maneuvers and disguise them in dance rituals to trick their masters,” explains Lima, a Brazilian native who became her country’s first female master in Capoeira in 1981 and is one of only two female masters in the world.

Today the 49-year-old spends most of her time between New York City and her homeland, but travels around the globe teaching workshops to both male and female students. Young women, especially in Brazil, now account for a larger percentage of self-defense devotees since Lima became a one-woman Capoeira and karate force 30 years ago. Her mission is simple: “Wherever I travel or live, I have to reach out to kids and teach them–including special needs and handicapped children,” Lima says.

She also thrives on competing internationally and has earned more than a dozen karate titles, including being two-time Ozawa Cup International champion and four-time U.S. champion. She was inducted in “Black Belt” magazine’s Hall of Fame (which also includes the legendary Bruce Lee) and was ranked as a fifth-degree black belt (also referred to as Godan) in 1999 by the International Shotokan Karate Federation. Lima believes none of it would have been possible without her mother’s forethought and guidance.

“I saw Capoeira performed for the first time when I was 12 years old. It was unheard of for a poor Black girl to do such a thing, and we didn’t have the money,” recalls Lima, the youngest of seven children. “I begged my mother for the $20 a month so that I could take classes after school. She agreed and it changed my life.”

Lima is the one changing lives now. She’s become and international symbol to girls and has shown no plans of slowing down. “Today children all over know what I do, and I plan on teaching Capoeira and Karate until the day I die!”