Rocci Twitchell’s story is one of inspiration and respect. He has turned his childhood experience as the victim of bullying into a desire to teach others the art of self-defense.
But not just any self-defense. Rocci specializes in the Indonesian and Filipino martial arts disciplines of Pencak Silat, Muay Thai and Kali.
His story begins with his father, Rocci (Rocky) Twitchell, Sr., a boxer who learned how to take a punch, was a sparring partner with Ursal “Jack Ginger” Snaap, his boxing coach at Nevada Union High School. Snapp compiled a record of 75-0 as a professional boxer.
When his father moved to southern Utah, Rocci, Jr moved too so he could train with his dad. Rocci, Jr. had been bullied and picked on in school and his dad wanted him to channel his energy into something positive to help build his self-confidence.
Upon his return to Grass Valley, Rocci, Sr. worked with the Grass Valley Police Department, which donated a large space by Kmart for a boxing gym where he could teach boxing to at-risk youth for the department. The facility was closed after a few years when the GVPD turned its rehabilitation focus for at-risk youth to technology instead of physical outlets.
Rocci followed in his father’s footsteps and in 1991 earned a Golden Gloves championship. He came up short in his bid to make the 1992 Olympic boxing team and then became a sparring partner for Diego Corrales, a boxing champion in Sacramento.
He retired from boxing shortly thereafter and joined his dad’s gym, T-5 (T for Twitchell and 5 for the 5 brothers who all boxed), as a teacher until two years ago when Rocci, Sr. died of cancer.
It was back in 1982 when the martial-arts bug bite Rocci. He needed to expand his horizons out of boxing and into martial arts. His passion was to train with someone who had trained with the legendary Bruce Lee. After some investigation, he discovered the now-defunct Elk Grove Martial Arts Academy in Elk Grove.
In 1995, he began training with Bruce Lee’s close friend and one of his top student’s, Larry Hartsell, who came up from L.A. twice a year to teach Jeet Kune Do and Wing Chun of which Rocci is now considered a 3rd generation Full Instructor. He stayed with Larry until he passed away in 2007. Rocci still trains annually with Guru Dan Inosanto, another friend and top student of Bruce Lee’s.
“After Larry died in 2007, I started my own gym in Sacramento in my garage and began working for the U.C. Davis Fire and Police Department. I stayed with Bruce Lee’s method because he incorporated boxing, kicking and weapons,” Rocci said.
During that time, he met Restita DeJesus from Seattle, who wanted to induct him into the Masters Hall of Fame of Martial Arts.
“I wanted to say yes, but I couldn’t afford the trip to Hollywood for the induction event,” Rocci recalled. “The UCD police chief at the time, Matt Carmichael, offered to pay my way since I was also the self-defense instructor at UCD. Thanks to him, I made the event and am in the Masters Hall of Fame of Martial Arts, which means a lot and now I go every year as alumni.”
His self-defense and martial arts acumen also has earned him the instructor title for active shooter classes at UCD. “I think we were the first to offer such classes in the country, that snowballed into self-defense classes on campus and now I do one or two classes a month for staff, sororities, students, anyone who wants to get a group together on campus.”
Rocci’s new project is his own gym that he’s hoping to have finished by February. He now offers limited classes and his reputation is preceding him.
Matt LaRoche comes to Grass Valley from the Bay Area every Saturday and says “the closest you can get to the authentic disciplines Rocci teaches is in L.A. where Guru Dan Inosanto still teaches. Too many instructors just want to take the money and not share the art.”
Carl Britton from Sacramento comes twice a month and says Rocci has extremely affordable rates but “what sets him and his philosophy apart from the rest is he wants to freely share what he knows. He doesn’t believe in secrets. He fully encourages learning other martial arts and he truly believes in the mantra he learned from Larry: to make your students better than yourself.”
Rocci sums up his drive for success and, perhaps, his very real success this way.
“It was instilled in me to be a protector, that’s why I love teaching. I want to teach others of all ages how to protect themselves and their families.”
For more information about Rocci and his classes, call 916-747-3694.