Dr. Yasisca Pujols is a food connoisseur, a world traveler, a licensed psychologist and Fenom Kimonos sponsored athlete. Her love for donuts inspired us to create our unicorn and donut design gi and her most recent jiu-jitsu adventure was in Japan where she won quadruple gold at IBJJF Tokyo Open in purple belt division. Dr. Pujols talks about her life, work, food and what it takes to be a successful athlete.
Why jiu-jitsu? How did you find it and what do you like about it?
I did capoeira for two years and absolutely loved it! I traveled all over the country to attend the belt ceremonies which are really big deals. The Troca De Cordoas, belt changing ceremony, is a weekend of seminars, sparring, and tons of fun. My Brazilian Portuguese was getting better too. I found jiu-jitsu in 2013, after I graduated from University of Texas at Austin and moved five hours south from my capoeira school in Austin, Texas. There wasn’t a close capoeira school in the area and I knew my head coach trained jiu-jitsu as well. I asked him about it and he said that I might not like it too much. I figured I would try it anyway and so my first class ever was at Gracie Humaita in South Austin. Once I officially moved, I started at Harlingen Jiu-jitsu Club and stuck with it ever since.
I really enjoy the challenge of learning and executing new moves. It never feels like a work-out and it’s a great way for me to relieve stress from my intense psychological work. I also enjoy competing because it is direct feedback of how well I’m progressing. Nothing like a hard competition match to highlight your strengths and expose your weaknesses.
How many days a week do you train? How do you recover? Is it necessary to do strength and conditioning?
My rule of thumb is to do jiu-jitsu every day. I usually don’t succeed in that because of life and responsibilities but I do attempt to schedule out my week in advance. About six days out of the month I travel to South Texas from Houston where I now live. So when I’m not in Houston training at the headquarters, I’ll pop into one of the gyms in the Rio Grande Valley. Some of the time I take two classes per day. On average I train five days a week with two of those days as doubles. My body is used to the training schedule now so the time between training sessions, 20 hours or so, is enough for recovery. I find it very difficult to take a competition class at night and then to train at 6:00 AM the next morning, so I try to avoid that.
I have always weight-lifted although not regularly. Since late last year, I signed up with a gym that focuses on athletic performance and strength conditioning. It’s been amazing to push that edge under the guidance of expert coaches. I really feel many of us in the sport do not strength and condition properly. It’s such a bonus for reducing injury too. At the end of the day, every body is different and we all have our own goals. I feel strength and conditioning is a must for me and so I had to level up and find a facility that can take me further that where I was.
What do you do in real life? What pays bills? Have you always lived in Texas?
Haha, in real life I’m a jiu-jitsu athlete! Then I pay my bills with my other passion: forensic psychology. Since mid-2018, I have been working for myself in private practice as a forensic clinical psychologist. It has allowed for the crazy training schedule and frequent travel. I currently work in both Brownsville and Houston, Texas. Then I also provide mindset and weight-cut coaching to other MMA and BJJ athletes locally and all over the world.
Honestly, I always wanted to live somewhere by the beach. I considered Florida and Texas when I was looking for work after finishing grad school. That’s how I ended up in South Texas, with 30-minute access to South Padre Island. My family circumstances pulled me back to Houston in 2018 and it has been great ever since. Now I just travel to beaches on my different trips. It’s nice to take in beach views from different parts of the world.
What is your biggest competition achievement so far?
If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have said winning Master Worlds at blue belt was the biggest achievement. After traveling to Lisbon, Portugal and winning the European Championship as a new purple belt, I cannot say that my blue belt title has as much weight. I am really very proud of my performance at the Euros. I know my training schedule was intense but it’s the mat time that helped me have several great fights there. I’m looking to compete in more majors because there are more competitors at my rank. Locally, the same few girls, which we are all friends now, sign up for the Texas opens.
Do you think it is important to compete?
I think competing is a personal decision. Although it might be a good idea to compete at least once so you get a feel for that experience. I think it really is valuable to know first-hand what it feels like to prepare and step out onto that competition mat. You’ll be better prepared to help teammates train for their own competitions. I am a very competitive person and I love the instant feedback that a competition match gives me. When I roll at my gym or go to an open mat elsewhere, I never know if the person is going easy or giving me everything they’ve got. When it’s comp time, you know it’s ON. There is no question how hard your opponent is trying to sub you. They want to win and you want to win and the person with the better jiu-jitsu will have their hand raised.
There are also some downsides to competing. It’s very expensive and some that want to compete cannot because of the cost. There is also a risk of injury too. I don’t like reading the waiver section of a comp registration form because it usually mentions death. I mean, I haven’t heard of anyone dying but this is a combat sport. People have torn ligaments, busted noses, broken bones, sustained concussions, and so on. It might not be worth the risk for some but I could easily say that the same risks can happen in class at any gym.
Let’s talk about donuts. What makes a good donut? Where did you eat the best donut ever?
I believe the most important aspect of a good donut is the dough. There are so many different kinds of dough for a donut. I prefer a fluffy, light consistency for the bread part of the donut and that glaze should melt in your mouth. Some glazes are chunky or gritty. My favorite original glazed donut is Krispy Kreme hands down. It’s not too large in size and usually can be bought warm when the neon hot sign is on. Also, they give out free donuts . . . freely! I also like gourmet donuts with crazy toppings like Gourdough’s in Austin, Texas. My latest offshoot craze is the churro. I’m considering hunting down a few spots in Japan after IBJJF Tokyo Open in June 2019.
How do you stay in such phenomenal shape? You don’t seem to go through weight cuts for competitions. What is the secret here?
The secret to staying in shape and at fighting weight is a basic formula of 1) staying consistent with the 2) right nutritional plan and 3) knowing how to balance fun foods sporadically. In other words, if you know how to eat healthy enough to walk around at your ideal weight, then you have half the solution. What tends to happen is that people encounter times where they eat unhealthy foods and gain the weight, then they do not know how to resume the nutritional plan.
It can be disheartening to step back on the scale after a weekend of travel and notice you’ve brought back a bit more luggage on you. That mindset of feeling hopeless and disappointed may lead someone to continue eating badly. I recognize this thinking trap and prevent it by keeping my favorite fun foods WITHIN my diet (i.e., donuts), but eating said foods in moderation. It is really hard to maintain a strict diet all of the time.
You are very athletic so finding a good-fitting gi is not a problem. What makes a good women’s gi: design, fabric or cut?
I’ve been a gi snob for quite a while. There are only a few brands I’ve worn over the years, Fenom included. I built up a decent gi wardrobe and then I had to resize into smaller gis after losing nine pounds two years ago when I decided to quit drastic weight cuts. I’m a taller- slimmer body shape. Before finding the right brand, I found it difficult to find a gi that was tall enough, without being wider. This is how I fell in love with Fenom Kimonos’ really fantastic size variety.
Design is also important to me. I have a bachelor’s degree in fine arts so having an aesthetically pleasing gi design is a must! In general, I like simpler designs and colors that aren’t the loudest on the mat. I want to be able to move well in the gi and not have it up-stage or overshadow my performance. The gi must be sturdy through heavy training and repeated washes as well.
Training with women: how important is it for you? Do you attend a lot of women’s open mats?
For my competitive career, training with women is crucial. However, I’ll highlight that training with women but not only women is important. We have a relatively large group of women and teen girls training at my gym. We have a different capacity for strength as well as for flexibility. It’s great to have that type of training partner for sure. Male training partners are biologically stronger as a whole, so they must adjust for us ladies at times. Training with women gives us a realistic measure of actual competition matches.
I try to attend open mats when I can and that usually falls on Sundays. The rest of the time I am training at my home gym or out of town for work. The only other time I get to spent mat time with the ladies is at the Girls in Gis events – and so forth it! I get to meet and train with tons of women across the state of Texas at these events. It’s great to see so many different jiu-jitsu styles coming together.
What is the best place you have traveled to?
I have always loved to travel. I’ve been to multiple European countries, the Philippines, several spots in Central America, briefly in Japan, Iceland, and the Middle East. It is really difficult to pick one place that was my favorite, but I would say that Iceland and the Philippines were both really memorable trips. Iceland was my first backpacking and couch-surfing adventure. The country is visually majestic! All that water and sun. The locals love sunbathing and so many folks had nice tans. I stayed with a lovely couple in their penthouse apartment along with a few other travelers. I explored the city on my own and sat around in some of the best hot springs in the entire world. Other than it being sunny at all hours of the night, I’d say I need to go there again.
My other top favorite trip was traveling to the Philippines in 2018. Talk about island-hopping! With over 7000 islands, this place was riddled with gorgeous beaches and hidden pools within tiny islands. Any beach trip is a great beach trip for me and if snorkeling is involved, even better. Those waters had the most amazing, living coral reefs. Everything was alive, wiggling, and colorful. I have never seen so many types of fish living among these coral reefs. My previous snorkeling was along mostly dead coral with trash littered throughout.
What would Marie Kondo find in your house that sparks lots of joy?
My gi collection sparks a lot of joy! I’ve had to move a lot over the past six years. I got tired of lugging around so much stuff! So I read the Marie Kondo book and thanked my unwanted stuff before shoveling it away. It felt so great to discard things I didn’t need or want after feeling frustrated that I was paying for storage space to keep said unwanted items. Oh, my small French press sparks joy too! I love coffee a lot.
Do you speak any other languages? Do you have any talents many people don’t know about?
I speak Spanish with my family and Spanish-speaking friends and sometimes for work. Otherwise, it’s English for me. I have a much greater command of English, it is the language that my mind uses. I also know some Arabic and some Portuguese. I have always wished to be fluent in a third language, but got much more busy with jiujitsu.
People have been impressed with my ability to sew lately. Not until teammates needed patches sewn onto their gis, did they even know I owned a sewing machine! I’ve had four machines up until recently. I reduced (Thanks, Konmari Method!) to two sewing machines now. I used to sew dance costumes for my samba dance team and I have sewn plenty of clothing for myself over the years.
Connect with Dr. Pujols on Instagram: @dr.yasi_fit