OKLAHOMA CITY – The family that brought a now popular form of martial arts to America are still fighting and competing to bring the latest martial arts to students in Oklahoma.
Rafael Lovato Jr. is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ). He is the owner of Lovato BJJ, a mixed martial arts school located in Oklahoma City.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a martial art that ground fighting and grappling. It is based on the idea that a smaller, weaker person can defend themselves against a bigger, stronger person.
Lovato said he started training from the time he could move. There has not been a time in his life he can remember when he was not training in martial arts. His first teacher was his father, and namesake, Rafael Lovato Sr.
His father started teaching in 1993 and specialized in the practice of Jeet Kune Do. While Brazilian jiu-jitsu focuses on grappling and fighting on the ground, Jeet Kune Do is more of an overall training method that is sometimes used by BJJ fighters to fill in the gaps of their training.
At the time, jiu-jitsu was not widely available in the United States. The Lovatos were among the first to bring the martial art practice to the country and eventually Oklahoma.
Lovato Junior trained in both BJJ and other martial arts. When he received his black belt in jiu-jitsu he joined his father as the first father-son duo in the country to achieve the honor and become a professor in the discipline.
Lovato took his first trip to Brazil when he was 16 for the BJJ world championships. In 2000, he won two medals at the Brazil championships. This tournament allowed him to not just participate, but watch other fighters. After watching BJ Penn, a fighter with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Lovato knew he wanted to be the next American BJJ World Champion.
Seven years later, Lovato became that champion. He claimed the world’s top prize in the Brazilian martial arts tournament.
Lovato stepped away from the professional fighting circuit in 2009 after his father’s heart attack. While his son was touring, Lovato Senior said he was a “one-man show” running the Oklahoma-based school and teaching classes.
While his father was recovering, Lovato took over the school and classes so his dad could retire. It was his mother who finally convinced her husband to let Lovato take the reins of the family business.
Lovato did not stop his own training. As he taught classes he also taught himself to compete in a sport that had begun to grow in popularity, mixed martial arts (MMA).
Lovato said the transition from BJJ to MMA was not as difficult for him as other fighters because he already had training in other forms of martial arts.
He said MMA was a great way to put all his training together.
Lovato’s first MMA fight was in Tulsa in 2014 where he won by submission. He has had nine other fights since then.
Even with a full fighting schedule he still keeps his family business running to train the next generation in the same school that brought the martial art practices to Oklahoma.