I work for a national company and manage a national brand. There comes a time in the year that I like to call “visit our business regions to get a pulse/temperature of the business at the local level. At first I found the trips a bit boring and daunting because more often than not they can be unproductive. My company in particular is big on making sure our regional offices get a lot of love so these visitations can be like bending the knee to a king and kissing the ring.
However, I had an epiphany after my trip to Denmark and meeting the BJJ Globetrotter, Christian Graugart. I realized that I’m visiting some major metropolitan areas and with the proliferation of BJJ in the U.S. I could find an academy and train. I could be the American trotter! LOL! So an opportunity presented itself this week where I had to travel to Oklahoma City. Guess who is in Oklahoma City? The world champion phenom Rafael Lovato, Jr!!!!
Yep, the same guy who tapped Kayron Gracie with a Kimora. The same guy who defeated Romulo Barral and Pablo Popovitch. I contacted Rafael’s academy via a phone call to see if a visit was possible. I immediately got a phone call from Tina Lovato, Rafael’s wife. I got really excited just talking to her because that put me 1 degree away from Rafael in a sense. Tina gave me the information I needed, but had to call me back to check something.
Rafael’s Wednesday class starts at 7PM and goes to 9PM. My flight landed at 7Pm and the school was about 15 minutes away from the academy. As a visitor the last thing I want to be is disruptive, which I explained to Tina so she double checked if it was OK for me to get in half-way through the class or just wait until 8PM when the open mat started. She got back to me quickly and Rafael was OK with me cutting in and going from there.
I actually walked out of my office with this HUGE smile on my face and started telling all the other brand managers about my trip. None of them know anything about martial arts let alone Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu so they feigned interest and excitement for me. I didn’t really care, my trip, which involved a set of visits to stores at 5AM just got a thousand times better.
So I arrived on time, got my car and was at the academy. The academy is located in a strip mall with a Dollar Tree, a laundry mat and a few odds and ends stores. As I was pulling my gi out of my trip bag and putting my stuff together I got really excited. I walked into the lobby and met Tina who greeted me most warmly.
More BJJ academies need to have a lobby like Rafael’s. It was very professional with a couch along one wall on your left as you walk in and to your right a big counter where you can buy equipment like gloves and shirts. There was also a TV above the counter showing various videos of Rafael and his students training. There was a room down past the counter, but I don’t know what it was for; however to the left past the couch is Tina’s office.
I paid Tina the mat fee of $30 -which is nothing, I actually charged it to my company as part of my “trip expenses,, my company will never know. Hee hee. Then, she took me through the school, the main mat area where Rafael’s students where sitting against the wall listening intently while Rafael demonstrated a half-guard passing technique. There he was, 15 feet away from me. Wow.
The mats were black and ran from the floor to the wall and there was a convenient “walking” area where you can keep your shoes on and get to the changing area. There were a few kick bags set close to the “walking” area and there was another room to the right that had a bunch of guys training in Muay Thai. I changed as quickly as I could and went back over to where Tina was standing so she could introduce me to Rafael before I joined the class.
He was done showing the technique and the guys paired up. Tina called Rafael over and I shook his hand. Wow. He asked me where I was from and was genuinely excited that I had come out there to train just for the night before I attended to business the next day. He paired me up with a BB named Ed and a BrnB named Gabe. They were really nice and were interested in a guy who comes down to Oklahoma to train just for the night. They took me through the technique just to make sure I had it. We went a bunch of times back and forth while Rafael walked around and checked on his students. He stopped by and checked on me too.
Class was called and we lined up, bowed and shook hands with everyone. Rafael called for the open mat to start, set the timer for 5 minutes and we paired up and went for it. I have to apologize for not remembering names. I rolled with a bunch of guys so I can’t remember all of their names except for a few (and that’s only because their names were unique).
I first rolled with a PB who tapped me a couple of times with triangles and a mount choke. It was really hard to defend against his triangle, which has me thinking about my own defense, which I want to work on now. Then, I paired up with a young BB and he didn’t get me, but we went back and forth. I almost got him with a key lock from side mount, but the timer rang so we shook hands and I moved on.
Then, I paired up with another PB and he destroyed me with triangles. It turned out he was an instructor under Rafael, which explained why his technique was flawless. Then, another PB came along and we went back in forth for about 3 minutes before he unleashed on me and tapped me more times than I can count. Then, I rolled with another BB who tapped me from mount with a few tricky mount chokes.
I sat out to catch my breath and the room began to thin out a bit. Another BB came up and wanted to roll so I went over and I played in his guard for a while before he swept me and with about 30 seconds left he tapped me with an arm triangle. It was great. I sat out and was contemplating calling it a night (I had to get up at 4 the next morning and it was getting close to 9:30PM, I had traveled most of the die and my body was calling for sleep) when I heard my name from across the room and it was Rafael calling me to roll with him.
Oh boy…this was so exciting. Being invited to roll with a BlkB is so awesome; being asked to roll by Rafael Lovato, Jr. is nothing short of an honor. We clapped hands, bumped fists and the next thing I was in his guard. I tried working a pass but Rafael was neutralizing me at every attempt. I’m not sure what actual techniques he used because I’m not that familiar with the techniques outside of the 2 basic guard passes, but they were definitely effective.
I couldn’t get any sort of advantage or chance to pass. Eventually he swept me and I ended up on bottom in side mount. He was playing with me and I found some space and attempted to get him into my guard but he moved around in such a way that he stood up and walked around me. He did that a bunch of times as we rolled. Eventually he got to mount and he got me with a collar choke. We reset and it was more of the same. Me trying something, failing and him handling me like I was a child. It. Was. Awesome.
There’s a reason why Rafael Lovato, Jr. is a world champion. He moved so fluidly it was like he was Hydroman (a Spiderman villain whose body is made up of water and he can shift from solid to liquid at will, he’s basically the opposite of Sandman). He just walked around any sweep attempts and avoided any attacks like I was a fly. The most amazing part is how easily he did anything.
I roll with my eyes closed because it relaxes me and it forces me to rely on the person’s movements and weight. Rolling with Rafael with eyes closed is the equivalent to being blind for the first time. I couldn’t sense any of his movements to the point that it felt like I was rolling with a shadow.
The timer rang and we shook hands. I told him it was an honor and thanked him for having me at his school. I went back, changed and said good-bye to everyone who was still there. Hopefully, it won’t be the last time I visit and I look forward to the next one.
Hopefully, you will get a chance to do the same thing.
Chau e bom dia!