Rafael Lovato Sr. and Rafael Lovato Jr are without a doubt an American success story
Typically, when you think of epicenters of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, areas with a high concentration of schools such as Brazil or California come to mind. Each year, many people will flock to these areas to improve their skills and increase their level of abilities. Outside of the areas of highly concentrated schools there also many excellent schools across the landscape, some standing out like oases where you would least expect them. One such place exists in Oklahoma City, the home of Lovato’s School of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
The Lovato’s are the first American father and son black belts of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. As Rafael Lovato Jr has traveled the world to become known as one of the top competitors in the sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu today much of his success can be attributed to Rafael Lovato Sr, who raised his son in the martial arts and is building the legacy at home. Having a school that had outgrown its actual square footage sometime ago is a (albeit welcome) challenge for any instructors, and the Lovato’s spent the last year working on opening the facility of their dreams. They graciously invited me to the grand opening and the chance to hang out with some old friends, as well as sharpen my skills on the mat were too much to pass up.
The stats on the new space are impressive. A four thousand square foot facility with half of that dedicated to mat space. Heavy bags hanging on one side with focus mitts lining another wall. A cage stands in the back corner to prepare the team for mixed martial arts. A pro shop in the fornt with all of your gear needs (including OTM products :) towards the front. Rafael Jr. is quick to point out the hard work and sacrifices his father has put in to make both of their dreams come true.
The Grand opening saw at least 60 students on the mat, with dozens of more well wishers filling into the academy, various local celebrities and important people about town and plenty of prospective new students signing up. Students from far and wide showed up, includig many who have moved on to other towns and remain part of the extended family, and even memeber of the Lovato association from Oregon showever up!
The day began with some promotions: Congratulations to Shiloh Roberts on his blue belt, and to Paul Coffey & Antonio Munoz for their purple belts.
“Our grand opening was truly a dream come true for me,” says Rafael Sr. “I was 14 when I first walked into a martial arts school, from that very moment I was hooked. There was never any doubt that the martial arts would always be a big part of my life, and that one day I would love to have my own school and teach others.
I came from a pretty typical low-income minority family from the south side of Chicago. The temptation to join a gang and be just another punk was great, but I had two idols growing up: Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali. Two other minorities that came from humble beginnings and reached their goals. I believe that if you aim for the stars, you can at least reach the mountaintop.
It's been a lot of hard work, but I have always been confident that we could be successful. I have a wonderful supportive wife who has always believed in me, and as you know a great son who has always worked hard and been a high achiever. I have great students who have stood by us to make Lovato's School of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu a success.”
There have been a number of successful competitors to come out of Lovato’s school (led from the front by Rafael Lovato Jr. himself). So it might seem natural to ask if the main focus of his student body is on competition.
“Maybe 5 or 10 percent of our school is hard core competition jiu jitsu guys. We have everyone from the young kids to the high school and college kids to doctors, lawyers, we even a priest! Family men, business men just a whole broad range of people who are different ages and different backgrounds dedicated to becoming better in jiu jitsu. It’s for everybody and we teach anyone who wants to learn” Rafael Jr says. “Anyone can be good, anyone can be tough. It doesn’t matter how in shape you are, how flexible you are, how old you are or any of that kind of stuff. Anyone can create a game that works for their body type or attributes. Anyone can be good. There are a lot of guys who want to compete and want to test themselves that way but then there are a lot of guys who aren’t into competing but still come in here and give those other guys a run for their money and push them. They’re all pushing each other and they’re all learning and I love how people can create many different friendships and bonds with people they probably never would have met outside of getting on the mat. I love them all.”
Highlight of the grand opening weekend was a seminar given by multiple time world champion (and OTM Submission Grappler of the year) Xande Ribeiro. The seminar was one of the best I’ve attended with about 60 participating and fitting on the mats, with many more guests coming in to see the academy. Xande showed his “classical” approach to Jiu Jitsu and gave new perspective to some classical techniques that had both Rafael Jr. and myself taking copious notes. After spending a weekend on the mat with Xande, I began to see “the Arrows of Jiu Jitsu” as he put it.
In addition to being good friends, the Lovato Jiu Jitsu Academy is an official representative of the Saulo Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu Association. In addition to world class techniques from one some of the greatest jiu jitsu competitors ever, the Ribeiro brothers are trying to reintroduce the sense of “martial arts” and honor into jiu jitsu which they feel is increasingly in danger of being lost in the commercialization of the sport.
“There’s not enough nice things I can say about Saulo and Xande and what they’ve done for me,” says Rafael Jr. “They are excellent competitors, excellent teachers and excellent people. Their jiu jitsu is awesome and it’s a pleasure to be affiliated with them. The progress that they’ve helped me through has totally filtered down to my students. The more they help me and help to understand the finer points of jiu jitsu the more I can help my students understand the same things. We’re all growing together. It feels good to be associated with such well known and well respected people like that and we make a nice big family.”
The association has been a particularly fruitful one as Saulo’s association enjoyed many successes over the past year, including OTM’s naming of Xande as the Submission Grappler of the year for his success in ADCC and the Super Grappling Challenge, and for taking gold in four international Jiu Jitsu competitions including the worlds (a feat unprecedented by any competitor) Rafael Jr was named OTM’s BJJ competitor of the year.
“The funny thing about Rafael is that I never intended for him to be a world champion,” says Rafael Sr. “The most important thing to me was that he be a world champion human being. A man of integrity, honor, a man that others would look up to and be privileged to be his friend. Martial arts training would teach him good exercise habits, to take care of himself, and besides it would be a great way for us to bond and spend time together. Honestly his successes don't surprise me, he is talented, but more importantly he has great discipline and drive.”
On behalf of everyone who has children or loved ones in Jiu Jitsu, I had to press Rafael Sr. a little more to the secret of their successes and he shared with me, “The best advice I could give to other parents would be to support your children 100%. Let them know you love them especially through the disappointments. I've always tried to emphasize to Rafael that the most important thing wasn't the titles he won, but what kind of man he would become.”
If you want to visit the new Lovato Jiu Jitsu Academy it is located at
4419 NW 50th
Oklahoma City, OK 73116