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Winners of BJJ Veteran Eduardo Rocha’s Training at SF Bay

At first glance, Eduardo Rocha looks like just another muscular bald guy, the kind you find yourself meditating on the weight benches between sets. At second glance, it’s intimidating. With coppery eyes pinning you in place like a note on a bulletin board, Rocha doesn’t seem to have too much trouble in dark alleys.

At 43, Rocha is a fourth-degree black belt and a world-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter. When he’s not training for competitions, Rocha keeps busy with a fast-growing academy, an even faster-growing son, and typical Libra hobbies: surfing, snowboarding, and avoiding conflict.

Although a peace-loving nature may seem at odds with his chosen profession, Rocha’s long years of fighting have taught him to choose his battles very carefully.

“Sometimes drunk guys want to mess with me,” he says. “And I think Man you have no idea what you doing. But I just let it go. It’s not worth creating a problem. “

The Libra de Rocha balance is useful for more than breaking waves and avoiding bar fights. The immigration process requires navigation skills of the soul. An émigré leaves behind not only his home and family, but also his sense of identity. Experiencing a new culture, a new language, and a new lifestyle means seeing the world with new eyes. The World becomes a 3D version of Where’s Wally, and these Wally. It takes a while to find your new self with your new eyes in your new world in the constant cycle of learning and forgetting, leaving and returning, connecting and letting go. When running a business and raising a child are included, anyone can feel overwhelmed. But Rocha seems to take it all in stride.

“When I first came here, everyone told me: ‘Watch out, there are some bad neighborhoods here.’ They never saw the favelas in Brazil. This place is Disneyland. “

Born near the sea, Rocha’s first love was water. But when his family moved from the quiet coastal town of Gavea to the harsh reality of Rio, then-teenager Eduardo discovered a new priority: survival. So he traded his fins for cuffs and his goggles for a gi and began his long love affair with the art of war.

Having started training in his teens, Rocha received his black belt at the age of 27 from BJJ legend Royler Gracie. Now a fourth-degree black belt, Rocha has competed over the years in a seemingly endless series of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments, with strikingly similar names, both here and in Brazil. Rocha has also competed in a discipline known as Vale Tudo, which translates as anything goes. As the name implies, Vale Tudo is an unconstrained, toppled chair punching affair that integrates elements of Thai boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and old-fashioned pettiness.

In addition to the technical subtleties of strategy and form, Rocha’s preparation involved countless hours spent perfecting the exquisite art of taking a hit.

How do you learn to get punched?

Rocha smiles his crocodile smile. “You let someone beat you until they get tired. Then you let someone else beat you.”

Needless to say, Vale Tudo has a high attrition rate, and Rocha’s affection for his teeth eventually won out over the dubious attractions of Vale Tudo’s testosterone-soaked pound parties. Since then, he has devoted his time and energy exclusively to teaching and training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Rocha’s life has had many ups and downs, but she talks about it with the even tone and emotional detachment of an accountant conducting an audit. Rocha, the oldest of three siblings, felt the weight of responsibility at a young age. Her fighting spirit seems to have been inherited from a fighting Libra mother who kept her postmodern family in balance with a smile on her face and samba music in the background.

“It used to bother me,” Rocha says, echoing the sentiments of all teens since the time began that they have been embarrassed by their parents’ musical preferences. “Now, I see why he likes it. It makes you feel, you know, happy.”

Blood and betrayal, sun and shadows, divine intervention and evil spirits, all are part of Rocha’s personal Brazilian soap opera. After a near-death experience in a car accident, a fight that went the wrong way, and the birth of a son, Eduardo Rocha decided it was time to start thinking seriously about the future. Rocha arrived in the East Bay in November 2004 with a suitcase, a surfboard, and a dream of building something that would last for himself and his family. His unique style attracted immediate followers and Rocha became his Prophet of Pain, on a holy mission to free the true men of the East Bay from their inner ladybugs.

The obsessive-compulsive behavior that BJJ inspires in practitioners along with his undeniable abilities have been a recipe for Rocha’s success in Oakland. In a sport where black belt instructors are treated like rock stars, Rocha is the king of his own brand of Rocha ‘n’ Roll. The fanaticism that accompanies the sport may perplex those who have not yet heard the call of Jiu-Jitsu, but those who do seem to think and talk about nothing else. BJJ fighters’ conversations revolve around three things: the submission they almost get; the new gi them did get; and any new styles that will revolutionize the game forever, or until next week, whichever comes first.

Eduardo Rocha maneuvers through the shifting styles and conflicting loyalties of the California Jiu-Jitsu scene with seemingly unflappable pound poise.

When asked to explain his success, the crocodile suddenly becomes shy.

“It’s my charisma,” says Rocha.

Could be. But with a rosy future on the horizon, Eduardo Rocha told me about the past.

Why Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

My city, Rio, is very violent. I needed to find something to protect me and my brothers.

Why not a gun?

Because a gun will put you in jail, fast. There are many fights in Rio, but most of them do not involve weapons. The weapons are in the favelas. At least that’s how it was when I started. Now it is different. Now it is a war.

What about all the fights?

If you want respect in Brazil, you must be able to show that you are strong.

Wait a minute. Is Jiu-Jitsu a fight, a game, or what?

Jiu-Jitsu is everything. A fight, a sport and a game.

In America we have a saying: “It’s not about whether you win or lose, it’s about how you play.” What is important for you?

Victorious. In Brazil, there is no room for second place. You are the first or the last. In Brazil we say: “The second place is the first place of the losers.”

Is that why you moved to California?

I’m in California because a door was opened for me at the right time. California is the capital of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the United States. I was here before for tournaments, and when the door opened, I walked in.

Jiu-Jitsu seems like a pretty macho game. How does your school fit in with the diverse East Bay population?

There are also some macho guys in the East Bay. Not many, but some.

Can non-macho people win anything from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

My school is open to everyone, but Jiu-Jitsu is not for everyone.

What is your biggest fear?

In this world, sharks. In the other world, evil spirits.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

We have a great ship, traveling alone. The ocean will be my next challenge, when I can no longer use my body to fight.

Heard there are sharks in the ocean.

(Rocha laughs) That is good. I like fear. Adrenaline makes me feel alive.

How about the pain?

No. I don’t like it, but you have to learn to live with it.

Its name means “rock” in Portuguese. Do you feel like a rock?

I try to be strong as one.

The rocks are cold.

They heat up in the sun.

Snakes too.

We all adapt to the situation.

The rocks break.

That’s the bad thing about rocks.

I guess no one is perfect.

(Rocha laughs)

If you could be someone other than Eduardo Rocha, who would you be?

Someone who doesn’t need anyone.

Like a rock?

Gold a shark.

If you could turn back the clock, is there something in your life that you would change?

Everything. I made a lot of mistakes in my life. I had to learn the hard way. Sometimes you have to go through hell to find a way to live.

You have a lot of medals and trophies. Which one are you most proud of?

The medals do not make the fighter. You are what you are. What makes me most proud is surviving here, in a strange country. Show people that I can do everything, not just fight like a bull.

What bothers you the most?

Weak people. People who always look for the easiest way out.

What do you like most about America?

The way Americans do business. Here, you can really do something. In Brazil, it’s about having a good time.

How do you define happiness?

Beautiful women, my son, and a great day to surf.

Is there anything else that Jiu-Jitsu has given you besides muscles and lots of trophies?

Jiu-Jitsu gave me balance. It teaches you to survive when you are not at the top and to adapt to bad situations.

What is your main motivation as a fighter?

Fear.

Do you have a hero?

No. But I like Batman.

This interview was conducted in 2006 in Oakland, California.

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