I met Emilia Tuukkanen and Santeri Lilius over a year ago while traveling through Europe. We hit it off right away when I stopped in to the Roger Gracie Academy in Malaga, Spain to train and they encouraged me to come back for a Roger Gracie Camp and even let me stay with them for a week to participate.(If you missed it, I recently wrote a 2 Part piece on this year’s camp. Pt 1 and Pt 2) It was an awesome experience and I learned a lot about them, Finland, and the daily life of a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu power couple.
If you don’t know them, Emilia and Santeri are Finnish athletes with multiple titles between them. They are Roger Gracie Brown and Black belts respectively with recent accomplishments of Emilia placing 3rd at Worlds and just fighting in Copa Podio for the Vikings and Santeri winning both weight and open at the Rome Open. In addition to being fierce competitors, they have huge hearts. They have started a grassroots pet adoption program that has saved the lives of countless abandoned dogs.(BJJ Heroes wrote about it Here)
How They Met:
Santeri began training in Jiu Jitsu after starting in MMA. Sometime later Emilia joined the budding Finnish team. Neither remembers who asked who out first. After training together for so long it seemed to just naturally happen. It’s worth saying that Emilia counts their first date as the first time she choked him and Santeri claims he tapped her first. Spoken like a perfect couple! Santeri did tell me once that he waited a while to see if Emilia would do well in competitions before they started officially dating so it seems like he had his eye on her from the start.
As is typically the case in relationships, Emilia is the brains of the operation and keeps the two organized. Santeri takes at least twice as long to respond to anything and isn’t nearly as put together.(You’re most honest when you talk about your friends) His gifts are drive, discipline, and resilience. They meet in the middle with huge hearts and a generosity that is absolutely inspiring. The list of people they’ve fed, housed, and helped is too long to list. They are not overly affectionate in public, likely because they never know when the other one is going to attack them, but you can see how good of a couple they are from the moment you meet them and they bring a great balance to each other.
Many people think the Jiu Jitsu lifestyle is glamorous but it’s pretty much just eating, sleeping, and training. They typically get up around 9 or 10am and cook a simple healthy breakfast. Emilia goes to her job as a paddleboard/fitness instructor and Santeri teaches jiu jitsu at their new gym LiliusBarnatt Martial Arts. After tough workouts, they return home for home cooked lunch and naps if training is uber intense. They have to tell their dog, Culo, to “go away” about 57 times and play with him as he leaps after ropes higher than an Olympic high jumper and it’s pretty much time for the night training session. Upon returning home they have another healthy meal and Santeri typically logs some time either watching Jiu Jitsu videos or playing video games while Emilia busily writes for her blog or other publications.
After 5 days of hard training the weekend has some rest built in. They sleep in, hit the beach, and take Culo out for walks. Santeri usually has one cheat day outside of competition that is either a cute brunch spot in Torremolinos; or more often than not, a big burrito filled with Doritos and other unknown substances.(It’s pretty bomb by-the-way!) If there are tournaments or seminars, they are on the road and if there are fight events, they are watching them.
Pros and Cons of being a BJJ Power Couple:
For anyone trying to be a world champion all of the above may sound like a dream but it’s not without its costs. I asked them both their favorite and least favorite part of being a power couple. For a more in depth look you can read an article Emilia wrote on the subject.
Santeri: The best thing is that you never have to justify the need to train, travel, or attend a seminar. Also, if you’re exhausted and just need to rest your partner gets it. The worst thing is that I get really upset when she beats me up!(It’s worth noting that Emilia just flying armbarred him a day ago so it’s fresh in his mind)
Emilia: The best thing is that he knows how to support me because he knows the situation I am in. He understands the sacrifices that come with being a full time athlete. The worst thing is the lack of normal relationship stuff. There aren’t many dates and we are both very tired from getting up early and training hard.
You can expect to see this hot young couple at the European Open and I’d put money that they’ll be on their respective podiums. There are also some cool things coming in Spring so stay tuned. If you would like to follow them on social media find their athlete pages on FB. You can also find Emilia on Instagram at @emiliatuukkanen and on SnapChat @Emiliabjj. Santeri is on Instagram @santerililius
Santeri and Emilia would like to thank their sponsors: Scramble Brand, Total Shop, Roninwear, and LiliusBarnatt Martial Arts.
I hope you’ve enjoyed a more in depth look at the life of a jiu jitsu couple. Would you want to live their life? Leave me a comment on the blog and let me know! Also, don’t forget to like and share.