Wringing The Other guys neck | Rio Fighters With Milton Vieira

Published on by Nico Ball

I recently had chance to spend a couple of days at Rio Fighters with UFC Veteran and Luta Livre black belt Milton Vieira. Milton Vieira, a student of Murilo Bustamonte from BTT, founded Rio Fighters in 2013, which is located in the Humaita neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. Unlike the majority of academies in Rio that teach Gracie Jiu Jitsu and focus primarily on IBJJF competitions, Milton focuses primarily on Luta Livre or NoGi training for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). I thought it would be interesting to see first hand what it is like to visit an academy that focuses primarily on the NoGi aspects of Jiu Jitsu and see how it compares to the traditional Jiu Jitsu I learned training with Fernando Terere.

Milton sat perched on a green yoga ball overlooking the academy from a quiet corner. Every now and then he abdicated his position to go and mess around with someone, popping out from behind a punching bag or faking head kicks to unsuspecting targets as they strolled away. Eleven fighters in board shorts, rash guards, and MMA gloves began running, rolling, and shooting around the mats. After about 20 minutes of pummeling and executing guard passing drills that seemed to all end in a flurry of punches, I was beginning to think that maybe I needed to come back for different class if I wanted to see some “Jiu Jitsu”.

Milton and I sat down at the edge of the mats to chat, but he soon had to pop off to get in some time with the physical therapist that sponsors Rio Fighters. He was probably better off chilling with me because after a few minutes, he was wiggling around and slapping at some weird 4 pronged contraption that was being suction cupped to his arm.

Eventually, he came to a truce with the physical therapist and settled back down to pay attention to his fighters. He is a busy guy. Owner and head trainer of a new MMA team, father of two twins, and a manager to all of his fighters, I was impressed that he wasn’t more irritable. Instead he had laid back demeanor, laughing and smiling a lot as he alternated intermittently between different social medias, emails, and texts, all the while trying to arrange fights for several different fighters. (Yes, I was hovering over his shoulder. No, I did not find any juicy gossip to report).

He worked away and I sat there watching training absentmindedly until, finally, he plopped his cellphone down next to me and strolled onto the mats. The team gathered around him in preparation for the day’s technique. At first it seemed like your typical sprawl and brawl, MMA defense that sent Milton and his partner rolling across the mats and ended in a flurry of punches. It was effective but lacked the subtle intricacies of the arte sauve that I was here looking for.

"Double leg takedown, sprawl, and then… and then, in the flash of an eye, came the Jiu Jitsu."

I watched as he repeated the move, this time a slightly different variation. Double leg takedown, sprawl, and then… and then, in the flash of an eye, came the Jiu Jitsu. I knew it was Jiu Jitsu because I was left standing there completely confused as Milton’s opponent flailed his legs and tapped helplessly to an anaconda choke.

Jiu Jitsu, when done properly, should leave you somewhat perplexed (especially at the lower belts). This is the result of constant evolution. Unlike Muay Thai or Boxing, where you only need to master the basic blocks and punches, Jiu Jitsu is constantly changing and adapting to differences in size, style, flexible, and current Youtube trends. Athletes like the Miyaos and the Mendes brothers are constantly innovating new moves like the Berimbolo, a technique best hit when training in the traditional kimono.

At Rio Fighters, however, Milton prefers to focus on the NoGi grappling, evolving a style that is more transferable to MMA. He is known as the “inventor” or the king of the Anaconda choke. He may not have invented it per se, but since adding the move to his arsenal as a blue belt, he has learned to execute it with stunning agility. Now, as a black belt in Luta Livre and a UFC veteran, he has created over 52 different variations for entering into his favorite submission. It was one of these variations that had me staring dumbfounded on the side of the mats! Before I could fully grasp what had happened, they moved to a leg lock defense.

"How did he go from defending his leg to wringing the other guys neck!"

Well, Milton clearly said “leg lock defense”, but by the time I had finished musing on the differences between Gracie BJJ and Luta Livre his opponent was once again tapping to the Anaconda choke. What!?!?! How did he go from defending his leg to wringing the other guys neck! I watched again. And again. In fact, I almost pulled out my phone and took a video as Milton rolled out of the leg lock and transitioned effortlessly into his own submission.

“We don’t tap to leg locks”, he repeated ad nuseaum.

Being only a blue belt in BJJ, I’m generally unskilled in attacked anything below the waist. Milton’s class made me realize how liable I could be in a NoGi or MMA match against someone as adept in leg and footlocks! This is one of the major differences between Gracie Jiu Jitsu and Luta Livre. Luta Livre, or Brazilian catch wrestling, places a greater emphasis on more practical submissions, allowing for foot and leg locks at any belt level, unlike Gracie Jiu Jitsu that reserves these techniques for higher belts.

It didn’t take long for Milton to call everyone back to attention. In Jiu Jitsu, details are essential and Milton was not about to let his fighters forego any of the fundamentals. Again he reviewed the same move, this time emphasizing the difference that two inches could make in finishing the submission. He talked briefly about base and leverage, making sure his fighters understood the mechanics, instead of resorting to brute force. These were the subtle intricacies that made Jiu Jitsu so fascinating and that are often forgotten when fighters transition into more aggressive and physically taxing MMA training. Milton himself stressed the importance training both both Gi and NoGi in order to achieve a well rounded ground game. He noted that there is a faster more chaotic rhythm inherent in NoGi where fighters are constantly vying for position, instead of learning to stabilize and working for the submission.

After drilling, fighters peeled off their gloves and hand wraps and paired off for some NoGi rolling, or submission as they call it here in Brazil. This time, as I watched the fighters face off with each other, I could see traces of Milton in their movements. The way they attacked the legs, the defense that always seemed to end in a choke attempt, even his playful demeanor.

I spent three days hanging out with Milton at Rio fighters trying to get a better grasp on just how the Arte Suave transferred to the growing, and notably more aggressive sport of MMA. It wasn’t the typical Jiu Jitsu training that I’m accustomed to but the technical aspects and attention to detail that I often considered lacking in NoGi training were all present. Milton attributes this to the fact that a lot of MMA schools find someone with decent standup and throw them into the MMA mix without being able to pass to them the vital aspects of Jiu Jitsu: how to stabilize, immobilize, and then attack or even the details to the basics of a triangle or an armbar. Milton on the other hand makes sure to focus on the details, ensuring that everyone, from white to black belts understand the fundamental concepts that will help them win in both Jiu Jitsu and MMA. Although he is known as the King of the Anaconda, Milton hasn’t abandoned his Gracie Jiu Jitsu roots and you can find him and a small group of fighters training in their kimonos at least two days a week. Training in a kimono, he says, is important for learning to slow down the rhythm of a fight and for developing the patience and tenacity needed to work submission. In the end, I found exactly what I was looking for. I definitely walked out of Rio Fighters with a new respect for NoGi grappling AND a new leg lock set up that I am going to try out!