I’ve known Rafael Lovato Jr for a long time now. We’ve followed his career from his very early stages, sponsored him and became friends. His career has been quite remarkable, with dozens of important titles but his two most important accomplishments thus far has been his BJJ World Championship title at Black Belt (only the second American behind BJ Penn to accomplish this feat), and his ability to produce a IBJJF world Champion from start to finish in Justin Rader (both teacher and student took the podium at the No Gi Worlds in the Black Belt Adult division). All this and he still has a ways to go before he’s 30.
It’s not like I can honestly say that I’ve watched Rafael grow and change over the years. It’s not that he hasn’t, I’m sure of that, but rather that Rafael has always seemed wise and mature beyond his years since I’ve first met him. I’ll credit his father, Rafael Lovato Sr. with this, and the duo are among the first American father-son Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt combos. It was his Senior that first got Rafael into Martial arts (boxing and Jet Kun Do back then actually) and installed a lifelong discipline and martial way about his son. That’s not to say that Rafael Lovato Senior is a severe man. He may like military antiques and play a mean pipe organ from what I understand, but I’ve had some pleasant conversations with him and he shows good humor as well. Father and son don’t really have to demonstrate their pride and love for each other, but it’s very obvious if you spend any amount of time with them.
One opportunity I recently had was to bring Rafael Lovato Jr to my gym for a seminar. I have my eye as to what makes a good seminar and instructor, but perhaps more importantly my students raved about Rafael’s teaching abilities and the logical progression of information from his seminar. I liked his enthusiasm and his thoughtful way of engaging the class. I can see how he’s produced a world champion black belt himself and a very tough team besides that. I would describe the material he covered as fundamental concepts proven successful at the very highest levels of competition, making it especially relevant and contemporary, but really timeless at the same time. What he presented was easily accessible to every student who attended the seminar, and in the following weeks I’ve already seen it make a big impact on several people’s games.
I got to roll with Rafael Lovato Jr pretty much immediately after his world title run, and I got to roll with him recently and I can tell there has been a big evolution in his game. Not radically different, but a definite shift on what he emphasized and what he’s been working on the last few years. It would have been fair to characterize the Rafael Lovato Jr who won his first world title as a guard player, and I don’t think I’m spelling any secrets in saying that it is (and remains) remarkable. What was new to me was his pressure game, his methodical style of passing the guard and the weight he can seemingly effortlessly generate when he is on top of you. It’s nice to see one of the very best constantly trying to better himself technically.
I think if you have the opportunity to bring Rafael out for a seminar, you should. Aside from my testimonial, I can tell you how many of my students are eager for me to bring him back. I’ve always thought of Rafael Lovato Jr is among the best representatives for the best aspects of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, American or otherwise.
Of course you can’t book him too soon for a seminar, because he and Justin Rader are currently prepping for the ADCC World Championships in Nottingham England. But you can set up arrangements, as well as follow his progress at his website http://www.lovatojr.com/  But as soon as he becomes available, I highly suggest getting him to come out, or even visiting him at his home base in Oklahoma City.
-Gumby is the co-founder of OTM and has been involved in Jiu Jitsu since 1996. Aside from his space on the web here, you can visit him at his own academy Heroes Martial Arts in downtown San Jose http://www.HeroesMartialArts.com