Rafael Lovato Jr. and Rafael Sr.
Our guest for the eighth installment of White Belt Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Private Sessions is none other than the most decorated American BJJ competitor today: Rafael Lovato Jr!
“Rafael was born in June of 1983 and following the influence of his father, began studying martial arts when he first started walking. At the early of age of thirteen, Rafael found his passion when his father introduced him to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In August of 2004, shortly after turning 21, Rafael became the youngest American to receive a black belt in BJJ at that time.
Rafael has continued to make history in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, becoming the most decorated American BJJ competitor today. Rafael became the first person ever to win the European Open Championships, Pan-American Championships, Brazilian National Championships (Brasileiro), and World Championships (Mundials) at the Black Belt level and earned the prestigious BJJ competitor of the year award. He is also part of an elite group to ever win Black Belt World Championships with and without the gi. Rafael, as an instructor, also became the first American to produce a Black Belt No-Gi World Champion.
Now, Rafael is the full time owner, operator, and head instructor of Lovato’s School of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts which is one of the top schools in the country, producing BJJ World Champion medalists and UFC fighters. He praises his excellent coach, the legendary Saulo Ribeiro and his incredible training partner, Saulo’s brother, Xande Ribeiro. Rafael is still an active competitor, but now some of his greatest joys come from the success of his students.” – lovatojr.com
Rafael is competing this weekend at the 2014 Pans in Irvine, California. We are grateful that he took the time to sit down with us, in the middle of his training for this important competition.
We now bring you Rafael Lovato Jr!
WBBJJ: What brought you to BJJ?
Rafael Lovato Jr: My father is a lifetime martial artist who was influenced by Bruce Lee. As soon as I could walk he was teaching me martial arts and taking me with him to go train. My journey started with Jeet Kune Do concepts including a lot of Muay Thai and Boxing. My father was always searching for the best and most effective martial arts and he found out about BJJ at a JKD instructor’s conference. He then dedicated himself to learning BJJ any way possible, traveling all the way to California or bringing Black Belts to OKC to teach seminars. As he learned, he taught me and I loved it right away. As I got older, it became easier for him to send me to learn and train since he was busy running the academy. I started competing a lot when I was around 15 years old and I did my first trip to Brazil to compete at the Worlds when I was 16 years old in 1999. The rest is history…
WBBJJ: In your experience what should lower belts do more of/less of?
Rafael Lovato Jr: I believe they should do more note taking and asking of questions. I think you should keep a BJJ journal where you document your journey. The notebook can be used for much more then just note taking of techniques, you should also analyze what is happening during your training and take note of what positions you feel weak in and what techniques people are able to do to you successfully. I don’t think there should be a day of training that goes by that doesn’t make you come up with a question in your head. Documenting everything that happens on the mat will help you figure out what questions you need to be asking. The notebook is also a great place to put your short term and long term goals, motivational quotes, and weekly/monthly plans of what area of your game you will be focused on during training.
I think lower belts should do less of trying to learn advanced techniques too soon. Don’t overlook the basics and try to rush into learning the advanced techniques that people are using in sport competition. This applies especially to the guard. Many people jump right into learning advanced open guard and half guard games before they ever really worked on their closed guard, cross chokes, arm bars, triangles, and side control/mount escapes. Being fundamentally sound is so important and will help you have the foundation necessary to create any sort of advanced game you want without any holes. Also, you can’t forget that BJJ is a self defense based martial art and the basics is what will save you in the street.
WBBJJ: If you could go back in time and give White Belt YOU guidance, what advice would you give?
Rafael Lovato Jr: Well, that is really hard to say. I went through a lot of tough times with my game technically, jumping around a lot without any real guidance or mentorship from an instructor on a daily basis. My father and I were always on our own without a Black Belt instructor in our state, so we would have to take everything we learned on a trip somewhere back home and work on it. Hopefully, we were drilling it correctly, but if we weren’t or if we had any questions that came up, we couldn’t get them answered until the next time we traveled somewhere where there was a higher ranking person we could ask. As difficult as that was, I really appreciate that now, because it gave me a deep understanding of Jiu-Jitsu and it helped me understand how to get better and it made me a great instructor. So I think the advice I would give myself wouldn’t be about anything technically, but more mentally. I think I would just give myself a talk about competition and how to perform at your best. This was something I didn’t learn until I became a Black Belt. I don’t think I ever competed to the level of my capabilities until I became a Black Belt and had the mentorship of Saulo Ribeiro. There is a lot that would go into that conversation, but if I was to say just one thing, I would tell myself to read “Think & Grow Rich” immediately.
Rafael and his Strength and Conditioning Coach, Luke Tirey
WBBJJ: For you what’s been the hardest part of the journey?
Rafael Lovato Jr: Well, like I said in the last question, my father and I were always on our own, so the whole journey was very tough! Besides not having access to a Black Belt instructor, there was no internet or huge library of instructional tapes for us to learn from. When we were able to get the Renzo Gracie/Craig Kukuk tapes or the Mario Sperry tapes we were blown away! This gave us a deep appreciation for any technique that we learned and we always had a list of questions ready to ask a Black Belt as soon as we had the opportunity. Once again, as hard as all that was, I am happy I went through that. I think the hardest part of my journey was making the jump from competing as a brown belt to competing at the Black Belt level. Not having that consistent access to World class level Black Belts or even getting to watch them in competition, besides the times I was in Brazil, made me build them up the whole time I was coming up as like Jiu-Jitsu gods that I looked up to. So whenever I became a Black Belt it was hard for me to believe in myself enough to be able to beat the best Black Belts out there, because those were the same guys I had been looking up to. I was happy just to be fighting them and if I was able to just give them a good match I was happy. This is where the mental training became the thing I needed to make it to the next level.
WBBJJ: In tough times what had helped you get through and allowed you to persevere?
Rafael Lovato Jr: Well, the only real failure is the one that makes you quit, so I just tried to use any of the tough times as something to learn from and make me stronger. I fully believed that I was doing what I was meant to do in life and there was nothing that was going to stop me from giving it my all. Also, there are great people in my life who have always been there to help me. I am very fortunate to have great parents who supported my dream. In the beginning of 2004 I was still going to college and it came to the point where I knew I needed to dedicate my life fully to Jiu-Jitsu if I was going to accomplish my dreams. They understood and supported me when I quit school. Also, my wife has always been there by my side to support me and give me strength whenever I needed it. Lastly, the Ribeiro brothers are the ones who really changed my life in Jiu-Jitsu. I am so grateful that Sensei Saulo saw something in me and he took me under his wing. His mentorship and the training I received with them is what took me to the World class level.
WBBJJ: If you weren’t doing this what would you do?
Rafael Lovato Jr: Before Jiu-Jitsu, I was very focused on boxing. From around 9-12 years I was boxing everyday and fighting in golden gloves. I wanted to reach the Olympics and then turn pro. If I didn’t do anything martial arts related, then I would have probably tried basketball or something music related.
WBBJJ: What do you tell someone who says they want to do BJJ and then gives the standard excuses, time, money, etc?
Rafael Lovato Jr: I would try to explain to them how life changing the BJJ lifestyle is and that what you learn about yourself through Jiu-Jitsu is priceless. It makes you a better person in life. There are 168 hours in the week and you owe it to yourself to give yourself the gift of Jiu-Jitsu at least 2-4 hours a week.
WBBJJ: Favorite activity besides BJJ?
Rafael Lovato Jr: I really enjoy working out! I have a fantastic strength and conditioning coach and he made me fall in love with being in the gym. Even when I don’t have a tournament coming up, I am still in the gym working on making my body healthier, stronger, and more mobile. Look up my coach, Luke Tirey, on Facebook and like his page, he posts a lot of great stuff. I also like to play basketball, but it has been a while. I just tried surfing for the first time at my BJJ camp in Costa Rica earlier this year and I thought it was really cool. I definitely see how that could become your passion.
WBBJJ: What’s on your iPod?
Rafael Lovato Jr: Well, I am heavily into hip hop. I download all the latest mixtapes and stay up to date on new songs and artists. I pretty much have every significant hip hop album since 1996 on my iPod, but as far as right now I am listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar. I think he is my favorite new guy out right now. I am also listening to a lot of Meek Mill, Pusha T, Yo Gotti, Rick Ross, & Drake and Jay-Z is always in rotation, he is my all time favorite. Also, I like to listen to my best friend’s DJ mixes. He is in Atlanta coming up and you can hear his stuff at his sound cloud – www.soundcloud.com/irathe4th
WBBJJ: What was the last movie you watched?
Rafael Lovato Jr: I watched Rush recently and thought it was very good.
WBBJJ: If you could train with someone living or dead who would that be?
Rafael Lovato Jr: There is so many! I love to train and think about training with different people all of the time. I would like to train with a lot of the guys I looked up to back in the day like Rickson, Renzo, Roleta, Fabio Gurgel, Leo Vieira, BJ Penn, & Nino. Other people I would love to train with are Jacare, Terere, & Buchecha. Even guys I have competed against before I would like to train with like Cyborg, Galvao, Romulo, & Rodolfo. I have trained with Braulio, Roger, Clark, & Lo before and would love to do that again too. I just love to train!
WBBJJ: Any final thoughts?
Rafael Lovato Jr: I would like to thank all of my fans out there for their support! The fan love means so much to me and I am so thankful to be in a position where I can inspire others to go after their dreams. I want to thank my sponsors Lucky Gi, www.OnTheMat.com, PR2 Systems, Mike Calimbas Photography, and Five Grappling for their support as well..
I want to let everyone know about my new blog www.lovatobjjvideos.com. There is already some great articles on there from Henry Akins and Nicolas Gregoriades with more on the way. Also, you can sign up there to receive free videos and content from me. Make sure to follow me at my fan page – www.lovatojrfans.com and on twitter & instagram @lovatojrbjj as well!
Interview by Todd Shaffer WBBJJ