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BJJ Veteran Eduardo Rocha Training Winners in SF Bay
At first glance, Eduardo Rocha looks like just another muscle-bound bald guy, the kind you find pondering weight benches between sets. At second glance, he’s scary. With copper-colored eyes that pin you to your place like a memo on a bulletin board, Roche 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 his fast-growing academy, his son who’s growing even faster, and his typical Libra hobbies: surfing, snowboarding, and avoiding conflict.
Although a peace-loving nature may seem at odds with their 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’re doing. But I just let it go. It’s not worth making a problem.”
Roche’s balance of scales is useful for more than just ripping waves and avoiding bar fights. The migration process requires surfing skills of the soul. An immigrant leaves not only home and family, but his sense of identity behind. Experiencing a new culture, a new language and a new way of life means seeing the world through new eyes. The world becomes a 3D version of where Wally is, and are you Wally. It takes time 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 you throw running a business and raising a child into the mix, anyone can feel overwhelmed. But Rocha seems to take it all in stride.
“When I got here, everyone told me, ‘Be careful, there are some bad neighborhoods here.’ They had never seen the Favelas Brazil. This place is Disneyland.”
Born by the sea, Roche’s first love was the water. But when his family moved from the peaceful coastal town of Gaya to the grim reality of Rio, Eduardo then discovered a new priority: survival. So he traded his fins for fists and his goggles for gi and began his long love affair with the art of war.
After starting training in his teens, Rocha was awarded his black belt at the age of 27 by BJJ legend Royler Gracie. Now a fourth-degree black belt, Rocha has competed over the years in a seemingly endless variety of Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournaments—with strikingly similar names—both here and in Brazil. Rocha also competed in the sport known as Vale Tudo, which translates as Everything goes. As the name suggests, Vale Tudo is a no holds barred, knock them down with a chair affair that combines elements of Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and plain old wickedness.
Aside from the technical merits of strategy and form, Rocha’s preparation included countless hours spent perfecting the fine art of taking a punch.
How do you learn to punch?
Rocha smiles his crocodile smile. “You let someone punch you until they get tired. Then you let someone else punch you.”
Needless to say, Val Todo has a high attrition rate, and Rocha’s fondness for his teeth eventually won out over the dubious attractions of Val Todo’s testosterone-soaked pound-for-pound celebrations. Since then, he has devoted his time and energy exclusively to teaching and training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Roche’s life has had its ups and downs no less, but he talks about it with the even tone and emotional detachment of an accountant performing an audit. Rocha, the eldest of three brothers, felt the weight of responsibility at a young age. His fighting spirit seems to have been inherited from a Libra mother who kept her post-modern family in balance with a smile on her face and samba music playing in the background.
“It used to bug me,” Rocha says, echoing the sentiments of every teenager since he started who has been embarrassed by a parent’s 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 – all are part of Rocha’s personal Brazilian soap opera. Following a near-death experience in a car accident, a fight gone wrong and the birth of a son, Eduardo Rocha decided it was time to start thinking seriously about the future. Roche 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 immediately attracted an audience and Rocha became their prophet of pain, on a sacred mission to free the true men of the East Bay from their inner sissies.
The obsessive-compulsive behavior that BJJ instills in its practitioners along with its undeniable skills have 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 brand of Rocha ‘n’ Roll. The fanaticism that accompanies the sport may confuse those who have yet to hear 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; The new gi are Made Get; And every new style that’s going to 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 a seemingly unyielding care of scales.
When asked to explain his success, the crocodile suddenly becomes a coward.
“This is my charisma,” says Rocha.
Can be. But with a rosy future on the horizon, Eduardo Roche spoke to me about the past.
Why Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
My city, Rio, is very violent. I had to find something to protect me and my brothers.
Why not a gun?
Because a gun will put you in jail, fast. There are a lot of fights in Rio, but most of them don’t involve guns. The guns are in the favelas. At least, that was how I started. Now it’s different. Now it’s war.
What’s with all the fighting?
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, or a game, or what?
Jiu Jitsu is everything. Battle, sport and game.
In America we have a saying: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” what is important to you
Win. In Brazil there is no place for second place. You are either the first or the last. In Brazil they say: “Second place is the first place for losers”.
Is that why you moved to California?
I am 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 looks like a 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 very much, but some.
Can non-macho people gain 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?
On a big boat, traveling alone. The ocean will be my next challenge, when I can’t use my body to fight anymore.
I heard there are sharks in the sea.
(roha laughs) It’s a good thing. I love fear. The adrenaline makes me feel alive.
What about 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 stone?
I try to be as strong as one.
They are basking in the sun.
So are snakes.
We all adapt to the situation.
That’s the bad thing about rocks.
I guess nobody is perfect.
If you could be anyone but Eduardo Roche, who would you be?
Someone who doesn’t need anyone.
like a stone?
or a shark.
If you could turn back the clock, is there anything in your life that you would change?
Everything. I have made many mistakes in my life. I had to learn the hard way. Sometimes you have to go through hell to find the way to live.
You have many medals and trophies. What is it that you are 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 strange country. Showing people that I can do anything, not just fight like a bull.
What’s your pet peeve?
weak people People who are always looking for the easy way out.
What do you like most about America?
The way Americans do business. Here, you can really do something. In Brazil, it’s all 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 how to adapt to bad situations.
What is your main motivation as a fighter?
Do you have a hero?
No. But I love Batman.
This interview was conducted in 2006 in Oakland, California.
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