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BJJ Veteran Eduardo Rocha Training Winners in SF Bay
At first glance, Eduardo Rocha looks like just another muscular bald guy scowling on the weight bench between sets. At second glance, it is intimidating. With copper-colored eyes that pin you to your seat like a note on a bulletin board, Rocha doesn’t look like he’d have too much trouble in the dark alleys.
At the age of 43, Rocha is a fourth degree black belt and a world champion in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. When Rocha isn’t training for races, he’s busy with his fast-growing academy, his even-faster-growing son, and his typical Libra hobbies: surfing, snowboarding, and avoiding conflict.
While a peaceful nature may seem at odds with his chosen profession, Rocha’s long years of fighting have taught him to choose his battles with great care.
“Sometimes drunk guys want to make out with me,” she says. “And I think Man, you have no idea what you’re doing. But I let it go. It’s not worth making a problem.’
Rocha’s Libran equilibrium lends itself to more than just breaking waves and avoiding bar fights. The immigration process requires surfing skills of the soul. Emigrants leave behind not only home and family, but also their sense of identity. Experiencing a new culture, a new language and a new lifestyle means seeing the world through new eyes. The World becomes a 3D version of Where’s Wally, and you’re Wally. It takes a while to find your new self with your new eyes in your new world in a constant cycle of learning and forgetting, leaving and returning, joining and letting go. When you add running a business and raising a child, anyone can feel overwhelmed. But Rocha seems to be taking it all in stride.
“When I first came here, everyone told me, ‘Watch out, there are bad neighborhoods here.’ They never saw favelas in Brazil. This place is Disneyland.”
Rocha was born by the sea and his first love was water. But when his family moved from the quiet beach town of Gavea to the harsh reality of Rio, then-teenager Eduardo discovered a new priority: survival. So he traded his flippers for fists and his goggles for a gi and began his long love affair with martial arts.
After starting training as a teenager, Rocha earned his black belt at the age of 27 from BJJ legend Royler Gracie. Now a fourth-degree black belt, Rocha has competed in a seemingly endless series of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments over the years – with strikingly similar names – both here and in Brazil. Rocha also competed in the discipline known as Vale Tudo, which translates to something goes As the name suggests, Vale Tudo is a barrier-free, thrilling chair affair integrating elements of Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and plain old meanness.
Beyond the technicalities of strategy and form, Roch’s training included countless hours spent honing the fine art of striking.
How do you learn to take a hit?
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 allures of testosterone-soaked poundfests at Vale Tudo. Since then, he has dedicated his time and energy exclusively to teaching and training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Roch’s life has had more than its fair share of ups and downs, but he talks about it with the even tone and emotional detachment of an auditing accountant. Rocha, the eldest of three brothers, felt the weight of responsibility at an early age. His fighting spirit seems to have been inherited by a wild Libra mom who kept her postmodern family balanced with a smile on her face and samba music playing in the background.
“It used to annoy me,” says Rocha, echoing the sentiments of every early teenager embarrassed by their parents’ musical preferences. “Now I see why she likes it. It makes you feel – you know – happy.”
Blood and betrayal, sun and shadows, divine intervention and evil spirits are all part of Rocha’s own Brazilian telenovela. After a near-death experience in a car accident, an argument that went wrong, 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 to build something that would last for him and his family. His unique style attracted an instant following and Rocha became their Prophet of Pain on a sacred mission to free real East Bay men from their inner sissies.
The obsessive-compulsive behavior that BJJ inspires in practitioners, along with his undeniable skills, has been a recipe for success for Rocha 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 accompanying this sport can confuse those who have not yet heard the call of Jiu-Jitsu, but those who seem to think and talk about nothing else. The conversations of BJJ fighters revolve around three things: the submission they almost got; new gi oni did get; and any new style will revolutionize the game forever – or until next week, whichever comes first.
Eduardo Rocha maneuvers the shifting styles and conflicting loyalties of the California Jiu-Jitsu scene with the seemingly unwavering confidence of a Libra.
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 talked to 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 land you in jail fast. There’s a lot of fighting going on in Rio, but most of it doesn’t involve guns. The guns are in the favelas. At least that’s how it was when I started. It’s different now. Now it’s war.
What’s with all the fuss?
If you want respect in Brazil, you have to be able to prove that you are strong.
Wait a minute. Is Jiu-Jitsu a fight, a game or what?
Jiu-Jitsu is everything. Fight, sport and play.
In America we have a saying, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play.” what is important to you
Victorious. There is no room for second place in Brazil. You are either the first or the last. In Brazil we say: “Second place is first place for losers”.
Is that why you moved to California?
I’m in California because a door opened for me at the right time. California is the capital of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in America. I’ve been 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 into the diverse population of the East Bay?
There are also some macho guys in the East Bay. Not a lot, but some.
Can non-macho people get something out of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
My school is open to everyone, but Jiu-Jitsu is not for everyone.
What are you most afraid of?
In this world, sharks. Bad spirits in the other world.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
On a big ship, traveling alone. The ocean will be my next challenge when I can no longer use my body to fight.
I heard there are sharks in the ocean.
(Rocha laughs) That’s a good thing. I like fear. Adrenaline makes me feel alive.
What about the pain?
No. I don’t like it, but you have to learn to live with it.
Your name means “rock” in Portuguese. Do you feel like a rock?
I try to be strong as one.
The rocks are cold.
They warm up in the sun.
So are snakes.
We all adapt to the situation.
That’s the bad thing about stones.
I think nobody is perfect.
If you could be anyone but Eduardo Rocha, who would you be?
Someone who doesn’t need anyone.
Like a stone?
Or a shark.
If you could go back in time, is there anything in your life that you would change?
All. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. I had to learn it the hard way. Sometimes you have to go through hell to find a way to live.
You have a lot of medals and trophies. What are you most proud of?
Medals do not make a warrior. You are what you are. The thing I am most proud of is surviving here in a foreign country. To show people that I can do anything, not just fight like a bull.
What is your pet?
Weak people. People who are always looking for the easy way out.
What do you like most about America?
The way Americans do business. You can actually do something here. In Brazil, it’s all about having a good time.
How do you define happiness?
Beautiful women my son and a great day of surfing.
Did jiu-jitsu give you anything besides muscles and lots of trophies?
Jiu-Jitsu gave me balance. It teaches you how to survive when you’re not on top and how to adapt to bad situations.
What is your main motivation as a fighter?
Do you have a hero?
No. But I like Batman.
This interview was conducted in 2006 in Oakland, California.
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