Exclusive!  Rafael Lovato Jr talks to the Fighting Photographer!

Rafael Lovato Jr was in the UK last week, after competing at the Euros in Lisbon; Rafael visited UK black belt Eddie Kone and gave a seminar on guard passing at Eddie’s club.  I was fortunate enough to grab a few words with Rafael, who kindly took time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions, prior to the seminar.  Thanks to Eddie Kone for allowing the interview to happen and in bringing over Rafael once again to the UK.

Rafael Lovato Jr Bjj WeeklyHi Rafael, thanks for taking time out for the interview; you’re in the UK for a few days, after competing at the Euros in Lisbon right?

Thank you Carl and that’s right, I was at the Euros again this year, it’s a great tournament as it’s at the beginning at the year and it’s always full of tough competitors and world champions.  Any mistakes I make at the Europeans I can adjust and go back and fix them up and get better and better throughout the year and get ready for the major comps later in the year.

It’s like a testing ground before the Pan Ams and Mundials?

Exactly right Carl.  The Worlds is all that matters, you can lose at every other tournament but if you win the Worlds you’re the world champion that year.

What brings you to the Euros year after year?

The level of competitor at the start of the year is huge here at the Euros and although I didn’t get the result I wanted, I got bronze in my weight bracket and Absolute, but I felt like I performed fairly well.  I was playing my game that I had been working on you know, so with all that said I felt pretty good.  I beat some pretty tough guys, but I lost to Bernard Faria in the semis in the Absolute, it was 4-2, a really close match and at the end of the match I swept him with a kimura position and if I had picked up the points I would have won, but the time ran out ya know.

Again in the weight class, I competed against Tussa Alencar, we have fought many times and they have been really close matches and this time it was his time win, I lost by takedown and once again at the end of the match I swept him and got to his back and finished the match with both my hooks in and didn’t get the points.  I felt at least I could have the points for the sweep which would have given me the match, as I was ahead on advantages, but it didn’t work out that way but that’s OK, better to lose here at the Euros, so I can go back and correct my mistakes.

So what’s the score between yourself and Tussa now Rafael?

Four to one in my favour.

So plenty of healthy rivalry throughout 2012 then?

Yes for sure, he’s a warrior and fights hard, I respect him a lot, he’s a fighter and has his own academy and I know what it’s like to have an academy and compete, it’s a little harder for us than people who are just full time competitors.  If I lose to him, at least I know I have lost to a high calibre fighter.

Who did you prepare with for the Euros? Did you manage your own training as well as running the academy?

I have a strength and conditioning coach and I did all my drilling and preparation in Oklahoma at my academy in Oklahoma City.  Sometimes it is hard, as my number one training partner Xande Ribeiro, he lives in LA and for the major tournaments we make sure we get together.  As the Euros is so early in the year we weren’t able to get together and train, so I stayed in Oklahoma and I felt really good, I worked very hard and all the guys had me in great shape for the event.

You’ve been to the Euros a number of times now Rafael, what are your thoughts on the level of jiu jitsu in Europe?

The Europeans has a lot of very tough competitors and seen the game rising a lot; I first competed there in 2007 and now five years later, the tournament is a lot bigger and tougher.  You see a lot of the European fighters doing very well, this year Luke Costello from the UK did very well in the brown belt and I saw a lot of good blue belts and purple belts as well.  They are doing very well and there are a lot of Brazilians competing here too and I think everyone out here are hungry to learn jiu jitsu.  Everyone are watching the black belts fights and studying the way they compete and I get a lot of people coming up to me and tell me they like to watch my matches and are fans and it’s really nice to feel the energy from these people.

As a top level competitor, how do you keep up to date on all the latest techniques, when you’re far away from Saulo and Xande?

I just study.  The fact that I compete so much always keeps me up to date, always going against whoever the new best guy is you know, so I study video, watch all their matches, I know who’s coming up, I even watch brown belts, as I know soon enough I’ll be competing against them.

Are you always in competition training mode, saying as you compete so much? Does anything change nearer the time to the major events?

I’m competing more or less all year round, there is no real season for me, the only season really is gi season and no gi season, so I am training all year round, so my regime is pretty high all the time.  Right after a tournament I’ll tone it down a little and my strength and conditioning coach is very good at knowing when to taper a workout and as the competition approaches, the workouts get more intense.

How do you keep motivated to train at such a high level all year round and the pressure that comes with elite level competition?

There’s two parts to that question; firstly the discipline part is easy you know, because I am so motivated, the challenge motivates me.  I am coming into my eighth year as a black belt and been competing so much, even as a little kid; I think to myself when are you gonna slow down? What’s gonna be the age you’re gonna look to retire?  Then I compete and as soon as the event finishes I can’t wait to do it again, I feel so alive and enjoy it so much and it’s just what I do and I am so hungry to challenge myself and try to improve myself, so that motivates me day in and day out.

It’s hard for sure you know, it can drain you at times and you have to be able to fit in some fun time as well, I spend time with my wife and we go out at the weekends and try to have that balance.

As for the mental aspects of competition, that is something that takes a lot of training and a lot of people don’t put the same sort of effort into their mental side as they do their jiu jitsu and conditioning.  Over the years, it’s something I have worked on a lot and I feel I am at much better level at my mental training, a lot of times you might lack that little bit of confidence or have that little bit of doubt when going up against certain guys, or dealing with the pressure of the world championships.

I have worked a lot on this and the main thing I have used is auto suggestion, where you write something that says what you want to win and why you want to win and why you deserve it, that kind of thing.  I say it to myself over and over all the time and I truly believe in my ability and I can make this dream become a reality; I have experienced it happening to me and when you see it coming true you have that power to turn anything into reality and if it doesn’t come true, you stay positive and know there’s a reason why that wasn’t for you and there’s something better in store.  So you keep on going and going and that’s what I’ve been doing for many years now.

So you apply this to injuries and dealing with losses?

Everything you can imagine, you always have to have a positive outlook, even when you lose a match.  I was very sad and bombed out that I left with two bronze at the Euros, but afterwards I said, Ok it’s the Europeans, the start of the year, there’s plenty time to correct things and improve myself for later in the year.  You can use these same principles in life and it’s that same outlook of overcoming obstacles.

You have a few new black belts at your academy?

 That’s right Carl, things are going great right now, my team is doing really and is looking like we’re going to have a great 2012 and my school is growing and expanding and we’re going to have expand again and I’m very excited right now.  There’s myself and my father who are black belts and in 2010, I promoted my first black belt, Justin Rader and in January this year, I promoted Robert Harper and Travis Serna to black belt, right before I left for Lisbon.

You have been a regular visitor to the UK and with Eddie; what is it you like about the UK, as it’s certainly not the weather?

(Laughs) Man, I love London and Europe in general, the people treat me well and Eddie was the main reason I came back to the UK.  He invited me over and host me for a seminar and we got along really well and like his students and I see that Eddie works hard to get the best jiu jitsu into his academy for his students.  That’s something that’s very important for me as an instructor, so when I see other people doing this, I am attracted to that and want to help them as much as I can.  I now see a good relationship with Eddie and I see myself helping him more and coming back to the UK more, probably again at the end of the year.


What advice do you have for guys that want to compete for the first time and are unsure and for the newly promoted guys, who may suffer from that dreaded affliction ‘belt-itis?

There has to be something of a desire to compete, but everyone needs to understand that competing in jiu jitsu, before you’re a black belt and this goes a long way with your training and everything else related with your jiu jitsu, you are on a path and everything you do up to black belt, it’s there to help you reach black belt and to become the best black belt you can be.

You cannot be afraid of losing or failures and not let it stop you progress, as it’s part of getting better and stronger and challenging yourself and you learn about yourself and what you are capable of, how you deal with pressure, failure that kind of thing.  The more you know who you are, the more successful you’re going to be; you have to know who you are and what you are capable of.  Through competition, I have learned so much about myself and life in general, these things you go through, the ups and downs in competition, they make you a better person and help you inspire others to become better people.

Anything that happens at the lower belts doesn’t mean anything, no one thinks back so much about the guys like Xande and Saulo, Roger, Braulio, whoever ya know, they think about what they have done as black belts. 

Once you’re a black belt it becomes more serious but then it’s about being the best black belt you can be and getting out there and doing it and it was a huge reason for my success as I never had a black belt to train with in my State, they were miles away and I had to go and search the competition and even travel just to train somewhere good.  I always competed and lost ya know, I say to my students, all you guys put together haven’t lost as much as I have ya know, so forget about it, it’s a process and you go through the losses to get to the higher point. The more you think about it the right way, that’s how you are going to get to the next level, but if you let it hinder you, it’s keeping you from achieving your full potential, so my advice is do the mental training and find your zone and what puts you in the best state to compete.  Some like to be calm, some pumped up, so you have to find what works for you and it’s gonna take more than one competition to get there.

A lot of guys get to the point where at first they didn’t like it too much, now they’re addicted to it, well I’m for sure addicted to it (laughs).

Me too Rafael.  Thanks so much for taking the time out and for some very inspiring answers, now let’s get to the seminar.

My pleasure Carl

For more info on Rafael visit www.okbjj.com

Carl Fisher is a BJJ brown belt with Combat Base UK and a regular contributor to BJJ Weekly.com and you can follow his BJJ adventures on his Blog at http://thefightingphotographer.blogspot.com