Rodrigo Vaghi - The first meeting
In 1998, I had just moved back to St. Louis and was studying Judo with Master Shin. The world had seen the power of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in 1994 with the first UFC and I was ready to see it for myself.
In 1998, Rodrigo was at a school in Manchester. I called and left a message with Rodrigo, telling him I was interested in stopping by and training. I told him I had trained Judo and wrestling and wanted to try Jiu Jitsu.
Little did I know I inadvertently put myself in the middle of an old school squabble between Judo, Jiu Jitsu and Luta Livre that started on the streets of Rio and lived on with every Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor from Rio.
If you type “Rickson Gracie beach fight” into YouTube, you will see Rodrigo’s instructor, king of the Gracie Family, Rickson, defending the honor of Jiu Jitsu by decimating Hugo Duarte, the head of Luta Livre in Brazil. Also in the crowd is Rodrigo.
When Rodrigo came to America, he carried this intensity along with the Jiu Jitsu flag and was ready to fight to the death to defend its honor against all challengers, real or perceived. Enter perceived challenge, me.
To make a long story short, it was a bad idea to let Rodrigo know that I was a Judo player and wrestler. Having never met Rodrigo before, I walked into his gym with my bag on my shoulder and told him, “I am here to train”. Apparently, that was the wrong choice of words.
For 1 hour, Rodrigo sent his killers after me. Mike Rogers, Todd Fox and Hal Goodman tapped me 100 times or more. I didn’t know I was being punished for the martial arts that I represented, I assumed this was the treatment everyone got when they walked in the door. After my hour long beating was done, I walked over to Rodrigo and asked him, “how can I join?” He said nothing, waved his hand in the air as if to say “be gone with you” and walked away. Again, I figured something was lost in translation because Rodrigo’s english was really bad at the time. Mike Rogers later went up to Rodrigo and told him, “I think this guy really wants to join!”
After licking my wounds for the next week, I came back to join. Rodrigo and I became very good friends and training partners over the next 15 years and I consider him like a brother. A very scary, intense older brother.
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