Rafael Lovato Jr is huge. Not just in height and weight, but huge in personality and enthusiasm - facets that filled the room at today's excellent seminar at my former instructor's academy, The Ultimate Fitness Centre. The academy was rammed with eager students - some travelling from hundreds of miles away (Hi Adam and co from Factory BJJ!) who all had a blast sweeping the feet off each other. In fact Rafael taught a whole series of sweeps and attacks stemming from the spider guard, all of which I found to be extremely useful, easy to apply and filled with nuggets of wisdom that could only come from a world class champion.
Rafael was keen to highlight the details of not just the actual mechanics of the sweep, but he placed as much importance on where the opponent would land. Rafael cited many occasions where he saw top class competitors pull off a beautiful sweep only to fall into a triangle or other bad position due to the lack of control over where his opponent landed. Rafael also made sure he covered how to use a spider guard sweep against an opponent who countered in various ways.
After the seminar, Rafael sat down with us and during the Q&A, he revealed the compelling story of his upbringing. A BJJ obsessed father and son duo who trained together in a place where there were no other academies to train at. And a dad who hated flying so had to send his young teenage son alone around the world to train and learn BJJ from the best, and bring back the knowledge. As a 15-16 year old, Rafael would hit every tournament he could, study every VHS tape he could get his hands on, learn from every instructor he could find. His story of a life dedicated to jiu-jitsu is incredibly inspiring. Fast forward to today, with Mundials gi and nogi titles (among a zillion other titles) under his black belt plus a thriving academy in his home State, Rafael has carved a glittering career for himself. And there's plenty more to come as he will compete at next week's IBJJF Europeans and further ahead, is looking to make his MMA debut. When Rafael was asked what had jiu jitsu given him? He smiled and said: "I'm just the boy from Oklahoma, look at me now, I'm in London - teaching and training the thing I love the most. Jiu Jitsu has given me so much!"
I think that said it all.
The seminar was a technical masterclass but the icing ontop of today's gi-wrapped cake was the chance to take some studio lit snaps of Rafael and the chance catch up with my former instructor Eddie Kone. All in all, a super day out for the Meerkat.
My thanks to Eddie for hosting Rafael and welcoming us back to his academy, thanks to Rafael for patiently waiting around while my camera misfired, and thanks to Callum who teamed up with me and wrote the interview for Jiu Jitsu Style Magazine (issue 2) within which you will see the rest of my Lovato snaps.