Rafael Lovato Jr. Seminar – Recap and Review

Rafael Lovato Jr. Seminar –  June 8, 2011


Rafael Lovato Jr. made history in 2007 by becoming the second American black belt to win the World Championships. Leading up to his winning of the most prestigious title in Jiu Jitsu, Lovato had been on a tear, claiming gold in the European Championships and the Pan Ams, among others. Since this time he has not faded from the competition scene like many of his peers, but has continued to win at the highest levels of Jiu Jitsu. Lovato recently won the 2010 no-gi Worlds and Abu Dhabi pro 2011 in no-gi, beating one of the most feared grapplers on the planet, Rodolfo Vieira in the finals. He took a respectable bronze at the 2011 World Jiu Jitsu Championships, having a tough rematch against Vieira that resulted in a win and a gold medal for the GF black belt.

One of the elements that allowed him to claim so many titles was Lovato’s development of the omoplata as a position unto itself. Although not the only one to do so, Lovato had evolved his omoplata game to act as a central hub for a variety of submissions and sweep combinations, some of which he shared with us on the 8th and 9th of June at Dynamic MMA. But Lovato’s Jiu Jitsu is much more than his signature position. He has been steadily working on all aspects of his game, and gave us a great introduction to his style of Jiu Jitsu.


Rafael Lovato Jr. seminar introduction


Out of respect for Rafael Lovato Jr. I won’t be sharing a detailed breakdown of each technique covered. However, if you are interested in Lovato’s teaching, please check out his iPhone/iPod iOmoplata iApplication over at the iTunes iStore. I picked it up after learning from Lovato and it contains a lot of the same details covered in the gi portion of the seminar.


Day One – Gi

The seminar was broken into two days, taking the place of our normal evening class. The first day was gi-based, focusing on spider guard, omoplatas and a brief segment on de la Riva guard. All of the techniques in this segment flowed very well together, and allowed for the development of a consistent, step-by-step guard game. I really liked his details on positioning in the spider-guard and most importantly, his series on breaking your opponent’s grips and establishing your own. Like many other top-level black-belts Rafael Lovato Jr. understands the importance of grip fighting at the highest levels, and gave us a great system to use to set up an aggressive spider guard. I use the spider guard quite a bit myself (some would argue that have I over-used it in the past), but I still took away a number of important details.

His concept of spider guard control was that of a box. Similar to how Ryan Hall explains back control, Lovato showed us how the shoulders and hips create four corners – or points of control. Controlling at least two points inside this box is vital for dominating your opponent’s posture for sweeps and submissions. For example, during the spider-guard omoplata Lovato had control of (a) one arm with his spider hook (grip and biceps control), (b) one hip with his foot and (c) one arm with his grip. He turned this into an additional point of control when he used the leg on the hip to also pressure into the shoulder, breaking posture. This set up a very high percentage omoplata.


Adam on the receiving end of Lovato’s omoplata.


Lovato covered not only how to initiate a number of sweeps from spider guard and de la Riva guard, but the proper positioning for following through with the sweep – coming on top and using your grips to achieve a dominant position. These sort of details are hard-won, and I am grateful that Lovato was able to share so many of the smaller aspects of sweeping that will increase our ability to dominate positions against higher level opponents.

Following the guard portion of the first day, Rafael Lovato Jr. demonstrated a passing series that was based around the x-pass (we have discussed Lovato’s passing previously on The Jiu Jitsu Laboratory). He gave us two linked passes from this position based on whether your opponent has upper-body (sleeve and collar) or lower body (ankle and collar) control. The first pass was referred to as the “Black Swan” pass due to its dynamic footwork, which was the subject of chuckles and even guffaws all around. The second variation led to a leg-drag smash pass if your opponent holds your ankle or pants. I’ve been drilling this pass a lot since we covered it and I am already adding it to my game after only a few days. It’s not too complicated, although the proper gripping sequence should be drilled to make it lightning fast.


Rafael Lovato Jr. discussing his open guard concepts.


The gi portion ended with a question-and-answer segment. There were several higher-belts in the audience who asked about deep half-guard passing (which wasn’t included in the seminar) and Lovato briefly showed some interesting and useful details on passing the deep half, including a variation if your opponent has double lapel grips. Well-known black-belt Stephan Kesting of GrappleArts.com asked about 50/50 guard, which set Lovato off on a brief tangent about the lack of positional progression associated with the 50/50 guard and the problem of stalling in general in major Jiu Jitsu tournaments. I found myself nodding along with the World Champion, although he did mention that they do train the position since it will inevitably be used against his team when they compete.


Day Two – No-Gi

The second day started with a surprise for me, as Rafael asked me to be his Uke, or demonstration partner. I wondered if it was because I had done something wrong, but I would like to think it’s because I’m just awesome (realistically, I’m a lighter guy who didn’t look like I’d be too spazzy).

The day was focused on the front-headlock position. Lovato started the seminar by describing his no-gi philosophy – (i) use techniques that focus on grasping the hands together to make up for a lack of grips, (ii) avoid arm-locks or other techniques that can be lost due to excessive slipperiness (use more chokes instead) and (iii) bypass traditional guard passing strategies to side control since it’s difficult to hold without a kimono and the number of potential finishing positions are drastically reduced.


Rafael Lovato Jr. demonstrating his collar tie and wrist control grips in butterfly guard.


During this portion of the seminar, all of these principles would be explored and expounded upon. The first series was from the sitting butterfly guard, which was focused on entries to the front-headlock and the resulting head-and-arm submissions (D’arce choke, anaconda, etc.). The second series covered the opponent’s possible reaction to your attempts to control their head, and finished with variations of the arm-drag to the back followed by the rear naked choke. It’s always an amazing feeling to have someone show you a technique that you have been using for years, and have it feel like the first time you’ve really seen it. I think that’s the hall-mark of a great seminar experience – and it was no different for this series of techniques.


Front headlock sweep from butterfly guard. Interesting in that it doesn’t rely on trapping the arm on the same side as the opponent is being swept.


Armdrag to the back.


Me getting D’arce choked by Lovato. Not the most fun place to be, but it was cool to feel how he did it.


Adam, Lovato and I.


The last aspect of no-gi Jiu Jitsu we covered was guard passing. However, calling it “passing” might be a misnomer, since Lovato focused on techniques to bypass the guard all together while setting up chokes – including an inverted guillotine that was a major “ah-ha” moment for me. Some might consider this option too flashy or low-percentage, but it actually provided the answer to a strategic problem I was having when it came to the options from a guard pass without a gi. Hearing Rafael tell it, getting to the back and finishing with a rear naked choke was option #1, while bypassing the guard and getting a front choke was option #2. You can bet I’ll be drilling this over and over until I can hit it consistently.

One interesting aspect of the seminar was that many of the techniques demonstrated had been shown to me previously by my coach, Adam. He and I discussed this briefly and I think it’s a case that when there is a new instructor present (particularly one as decorated as Rafael Lovoto Jr.) it focuses you and allows you to see things from a different perspective. That’s not to take anything away from Lovato at all, since his focus on details and concepts during the techniques really helped me make sense of these Jiu Jitsu movements as an entire framework, rather than a number of isolated techniques.

We at Dynamic MMA would like to offer our most sincere thanks to Rafael Lovato Jr. for spending two days with us and putting on a very well organized, very detailed seminar. I personally got a lot from it, and will be using all of the techniques and concepts shown as I continue to develop my own Jiu Jitsu game. Thanks also to the coaching staff at Dynamic MMA for bringing in a world champion for us to learn from.

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10 responses to “Rafael Lovato Jr. Seminar – Recap and Review

  1. Andrew Foster

    Did Lovato cover the mounted Darce? At ADCC 2009 against Bruno Bastos he got the Darce and he actually stepped to mount but before he could get there Bruno tapped. I wonder if he covered it. I’d love some details on how you guys entered the darce and anaconda from the sitting butterfly…. Or did you overhead sweep and then do the chokes? I can imagine how you would do the darce from sitting butterfly, by doing an armdrag and then shooting for the choke. But the anaconda? I would think you might have to lock the position then sweep them overhead so they land on their back and then you could turn in and clock your hips in to finish.

    I like the philosophy on doing more chokes in no-gi. When you say inverted guillotine do you mean the North/South choke?

    • Hi Andrew, Lovato didn’t cover mounted Darces, but a few of us were working them anyway during the seminar. Both head and arm chokes followed the sweep – the Darce coming after a conventional sweep to top side and the Anaconda coming after an overhead sweep the put us almost inverted over our partner (allowing us to use our knee to push the elbow forward a la Mendes vs. Rader in ADCC 2009).

      He emphasized using our already-established grip to pull our arm through for the choke rather than setting it up the more traditional way (e.g., pushing on the back of the head).

      The inverted guillotine was when we did a forward rolling guillotine from inside the open guard with our opponent flattened. It’s pretty common (Marcelo shows a few variations on MGinAction), but Lovato had us balancing on our shoulders and the back of our heads to get the grip then falling back to mount, trapping the arms. However, I usually chose just to finish while still in the inverted position as I’m pretty confident with my squeeze.

  2. Andrew Foster

    Also, when you talk about bypassing the guard all together no-gi and hunting for the back 1st, and front chokes like the guillotine and darce as a 2nd option, are you basically saying that the goal should be to force the turtle?

    That’s what it seems like. Sounds like an awesome seminar. I know I need to work on my omoplata a lot more as well. It’s such a versatile position. Interesting to hear his thoughts on the 50/50 too. When people talk about American BJJ players, everyone is so quick to mention Glover, Hall, and Cooper. But I think people forget about Lovato. Maybe it’s because of the name, and people assume he’s Brazilian? He’s the only American besides BJ Penn to win the Worlds at black belt as far as I know. He’s been on a tear since 2009.

    • Lovato gave a few examples of “bypassing” the guard and most revolved around forcing the front-headlock position specifically.

      Yeah, Rafael gave an awesome seminar and was a really chill guy. I’m hoping to get the chance to work with him again. Let me know if you have any other questions or ideas on these techniques!

  3. Andrew Foster

    Just a quick thought on why you don’t need to trap the far arm when sweeping with a front headlock/guillotine: the body follows the head. If you were to do a regular butterfly sweep, using your right leg as a hook, and you did not block their right arm from posting, BUT, you super-glued their chin to their chest, they probably would still flip over. With that much pressure keeping their head down on the guillotine, there is no way for them to stop the overhead sweep. Do a handstand, stay perfectly still, then tuck your chin and move nothing else. You will flip over. Same idea. I’m sure you knew this but I just wanted to chime in.

    • Always appreciated, Drew – and good point. It also helped that Lovato was sweeping me right over head more than in a traditional butterfly sweep – particularly when setting up the “inverted” anaconda choke.

  4. Andrew Foster

    Inverted anaconda? Details?

    • 3. Front Headlock Sweep to Anaconda
      a) If you sweep them over your head with them landing roughly parallel to you instead of on their side perpendicular to you, go for the Anaconda (Minotaur choke).
      b) Following the sweep over your head you should end up inverted or semi-inverted. Stay in this position and use your knee to push your opponent’s elbow up towards his head, creating space to slide your arms through, just past the armpit.
      c) Lock up the arm-triangle on the side of his body and either stay inverted and squeeze for the finish or fall to your side and walk into his body for the tap.

      From my notes.

      • Andrew Foster

        Awesome. So you’re just locking the choke while you’re still inverted after the sweep. I like the Mendes style leg press into the arm. So you want to do that before falling to your side, right? I’m guessing you could alternatively stay inverted, lock it up, and then roll back to the mount to finish?

  5. Yeah, that’s about it. I was working on it today and it kept turning into a mounted guillotine when they dropped the elbow to defend the anaconda. I think I have to be more aggressive with getting my knee in there.

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