Friday, August 23, 2013

Richmond Man Celebrate's 70th Birthday with Bike Ride to Brazil

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group

RICHMOND -- As his 70th birthday nears, Ubirajara Acordeon feels the pressure of time now more than ever. 

He could be content to spend the next phase of his life relaxing and reviewing his life's accomplishments. But getting on a bike and riding 14,000 miles from here to Brazil is more this man's speed. 

Acordeon, who has taught capoeira, the Brazilian art form that combines self-defense, music, and philosophy in Berkeley for 35 years, is using the yearlong bike ride to raise money for an organization he runs in Salvador da Bahia called Projeto Kirimure that helps poor children live a better life. 

"At this stage in life, there is an urgency," the charismatic Mestre, or master, Acordeon said to a gathering of his students at United Capoeira Association Berkeley. "I have this fear that I will suddenly collapse and not be able to help these kids anymore." 

He leaves Sept. 1 from his studio at the corner of San Pablo Avenue and Hearst Street, where he plans a block party send off. 

Acordeon, who turns 70 on Aug. 30, said many of the kids his organization helps come from families where six or seven live in homes no larger than 8 feet by 8 feet. Crack use is rampant in the neighborhood and many of the children are doomed. 

"You go to where they live and you are shocked," he said. "We have a nice life in the United States compared to that. We lost a 10 year old girl who already had a job carrying bricks for construction. She just disappeared." 

Along the way to Brazil, Acordeon plans to make a documentary film about how capoeira has influenced people in Brazil, and he will hold capoeira workshops in towns on the road. 

"I want to take capoeira to people who have never seen it before," Acordeon said about the workshops. "I always tell people nobody can know everything about capoeira. It transforms us. In it, there are universal elements of group dynamics and the desire to know oneself. And that's also what I want to capture in the film." 

Coming with him on two wheels are his wife, Suellen Einarsen, who is also a capoeira teacher and the first American woman to attain the Mestre designation, five other riders and a support truck. 

Diego Arana, a Berkeley capoeira student who is going on the yearlong ride, said when he first heard about it he thought it was a bad idea. 

"That's just crazy,'" Arana said. "Then I started thinking that could be cool. The idea grew on me about all the experience I'll be getting. I told my boss I was going to quit and my boss said, 'How about taking a sabbatical?' So it's going to be great." 

Acordeon concedes that riding from Berkeley to Brazil "will be a big adventure" and it will be hard on him. 

He's not worried about riding a certain number of miles each day. 

"I will have to listen to the body and respond to the needs of the people with me," he said. "I don't feel too tired. As they say, 'to get a banana, you have to plant a banana tree.' And I want to give these kids a better life that they don't have." 

The block party to launch his ride on Sept. 1 starts at 11 a.m. on Hearst Street near the corner of San Pablo Avenue. For more information on the ride and how to donate, visit 

Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him on Twitter @douglasoakley.

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