In this post of Guys and Gals Behind the GIs, Bay Jiu-Jitsu member, River Emrys, explains his method for improving, how he will still train in his nineties, and why it’s important to smile.

How long have you been doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu?
I’ve been training BJJ for just over seven years now. My parents had me on the mat doing martial arts when I was three, and I studied a wide variety of styles, ranging from Aikido to Capoeira to Boxing, as I grew older. When I started college, I began training in the Filipino martial arts, and my instructor introduced me to Brazilian jiu-jitsu. At first I was very hesitant; grappling looked messy and sweaty and unsophisticated. One kimura later, though, and I was sold. I’ve never looked back.

Do you participate in other athletic activities?
In addition to jiu-jitsu and my other martial arts, I cycle, run, swim, backpack, rock climb, surf, and practice yoga. In all of these activities, breathing properly is crucial. When you reach what cyclists call a “pain cave”, there is no way past it other than breathing. This also allows you to clear your mind, and be wholly present in what you are doing. In this way, I find similarity in all physical practices. In jiu-jitsu, being able to breath and remain clear not only prevents you from becoming “gassed”, but also prevents the frantic panic that so often sets in when faced with a tightening choke, or heavy knee-on-belly pressure.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment in Brazilian jiu-jitsu?
I don’t think of myself as having any big accomplishments in jiu-jitsu. I don’t compete, but even if I did, I doubt competition wins would come to mind here. My proudest moment was receiving my blue belt from Stephen. My biggest accomplishment will always, in a way, be my last roll, because that was (ideally) the best I’ve ever been.

How do you set your Brazilian jiu-jitsu goals?

I hope to still be training when I’m in my nineties. So, I don’t set big goals for myself, like “get my black belt”, or even “tap that guy.” Those will come. I set a new goal each time I roll with someone, whether that goal is as straightforward as tapping them out, or more specific, like tapping someone with no hands, or escaping the arm-bar as many times as possible, or surprising a black belt with one move they didn’t see coming.

What one or two things do you currently do in your training that are keys to your success?
I recently gave myself a project to spend two months using only the rear naked choke and the cross choke from mount to submit people, no exceptions. The results impressed me deeply. To my surprise, rather than having a more difficult time tapping people with such a limited set of submissions, I found myself tapping out training partners with much greater ease than before. It changed the way I rolled and the way I viewed jiu jitsu and self-defense in many ways. I do not believe there is any one “right” or “best” way to train; the greatest practitioners in the world all have different perspectives. So I try to continually challenge myself with new ways to approach training and learning and rolling, and take from each new approach those elements which aided me most.

What is your biggest challenge with Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and what do you do to manage this challenge?
My greatest challenge is one I suspect is shared by nearly everyone: not becoming dispirited. I often find myself not training for weeks at a time out of sheer mental exhaustion. There is such a staggering amount to learn, and an infinite space for improvement, that it can be overwhelming. I don’t know if there truly is an answer to this, for me, but in the end, jiu-jitsu is my soul, and I can never stay away for long before a ADCC highlights video gets me back on the mat.

Do you have any recommended resources to share (books, seminars, websites, coaches)?
I was self-taught for my first few years, and I attribute nearly all of what I learned during that time to Roy Dean. His instructional materials are simply exceptional. I also believe that Jiu Jitsu University, by Saulo Ribeiro, is the Bible of BJJ, and should be read by every student for its deep resources on survival and escaping if nothing else.

What was the best advice you were ever given regarding sports?
The best advice I was ever given was really a corollary of the “do what you love” philosophy: have fun. There will always be times when that just isn’t going to happen, when it’s just pain and it’s miserable and you can’t breathe and everything hurts, especially if you want to compete on the highest levels, but if you don’t spend at least some time enjoying what you do, why are you there? I try to live this by laughing when I roll, whenever I can. I try to actually have a good time rolling, and that helps me in so many ways. It even improves my game. I’m more relaxed when I roll, so I don’t tense up and miss things or lose my position or waste energy. So that’s my advice – laugh more.

Do you have a saying or motto that you live your life by?
If I seek to live my life by any words, it is these: Grace Under Pressure.

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