Dr. Yasisca Pujols: the Fittest Donut Lover


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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

Unicorn and Donuts Gi in White Pearl Weave Plus


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We are excited to announce the release of our 10-year anniversary gi! Unicorns and donuts? YES! We have survived in a very masculine sport and industry for a decade making women’s gis exclusively and feel like a true unicorn. And who doesn’t like a good donut on their birthday? We hope you like the fun, colorful gi and celebrate with us. Jacket is made of 550 gr white pearl weave plus fabric and pants are made of traditional light weight cotton drill fabric. Gi comes in all regular, tall and curvy sizes from A0-A4 and also in kids sizes M00-M2. Adult sizes retail at a very affordable $115.00 and kids sizes are $80.00. Happy shopping!


Women’s Grappling Camp


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AJ Clingerman along with her husband James run Indiana Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu/Fight Hub HQ in Greenwood, Indiana. This jiu-jitsu power couple will be running their 6th Women’s Grappling Camp May 3rd-5th. The event has become so popular that the initial limit of 60 sign ups was reached in a record time. Due to overwhelming demand the organizers had to rent a larger venue and extend the max capacity several times. The camp is expected to have 150 participants and this year’s guest instructor is Emily Kwok who is a third degree black belt, a world champion and the founder/master instructor of Princeton BJJ.

AJ spoke to us about how it all started and what to expect this year, “I attended a training camp that Rachel Casias of Zenith Team in Tennessee organized a few years ago. It was such a great event that I knew I wanted to do something similar. Rachel is the only instructor who has taught in all of my events. Women love her teaching style and energy and she really knows how to get ladies fired up at the end of a long weekend. 

I run a competition and rolling session during the camp but I bring in the big guns do the actual teaching. Besides Rachel, I usually invite another guest instructor. In the past we have had Michelle Nicolini, Nikki Sullivan, Angelica Galvao, Angela Marino, Julie Kedzie and Vanessa Wexler. To be honest, I mostly choose instructors who I want to train with and learn from. If I am excited about it, other ladies are probably too. 

We always work with a charity for all our events. I am on the board of My Bruises Are From, a charity benefiting domestic violence victims and I think it is important for strong women to help other women in their time of need. We have donated to the Julian Center, a domestic violence shelter for women and children, at each of our previous camps and will continue doing so this time around.

I want to make sure that the ladies have the absolute best time possible, so I do everything I can to make it happen. I have an amazing husband and a women’s team who help me with it all. I could not do it without them!”

Fenom Kimonos is donating one gi to the camp raffle and the lucky winner can pick a gi of her choice from the product line of 19 different women’s gi designs. Good luck and happy training!

Part II of the Tale of Two Tall Ladies: Joy Pendell


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Our second part of the Tale of Two Tall Ladies is about Joy Pendell. Joy is a world champion purple belt, amateur MMA fighter and Fight to Win regular. She started training in the summer of 2014 at Urijah Faber’s Ultimate Fitness, under Dustin Akbari and according to her, plans to stay there for a long time.

Her commitment to training made her drive two hours one way, two to three times a week, for three years until she moved to Sacramento, closer to the gym. Joy talks about her life on and off the mat. Enjoy!

What pays your bills every month? Do you like where you live?

I am a beekeeper. My family owns a business where we take care of lots and lots of beehives, make honey and raise queen bees to sell to other beekeepers. Bees are very nice if you handle them gently, and are a lot of fun to work with. I love where I live. Half the time I stay with my parents near where I work and the other half of the time I live at my own place near where I train.

You are Fight to Win regular competitor. How did you get involved with FTW? How many fights have you had so far and which one is the most memorable?

I heard about Fight to Win because my coach, Dustin Akbari, was competing for them. I was only a blue belt at the time but I knew as soon as I got my purple belt I would sign up. I am 3-1 for FTW and can’t wait to get more matches. Seth and Missy do an awesome job running that event and I appreciate them so much for giving all grapplers the stage to showcase what we can do. My most memorable Fight to Win was my first one in my hometown. It was against Kim Bowser who is a Pan Am champion and a very seasoned competitor. I have a lot of respect for her and I feel like we put on a really good match for everyone.

Do you prefer gi or no-gi training? You’re a world champion in no-gi. Is that what you consider your biggest achievement so far?

I like training in the gi and no-gi equally well. I feel like I’m equally good at both too. I can never decide which I like more or which I am better at. I compete in both a lot. My biggest achievement so far is definitely snagging a gold medal at the no-gi Worlds as a purple belt. But I would consider being awarded my purple belt my biggest accomplishment overall. Being awarded your next belt represents a lot of hard work and also your coach’s faith in you and recognition of your progress.

What is more important to have one or two really good submissions or to be decent at many? What is your favorite technique?

I like guard passing the most. Specifically, I like the knee cut pass. I always like it when someone pulls guard right away because I get to pass without going to the work of scoring a take-down first. I think having one or two really good submissions is much preferable to having a bunch that you are okay at. I definitely have a few favorite subs I always use in competition even though I know many.

What part of the training do you dislike the most?

I hate warm-ups. I always feel slow and sometimes I get winded for no reason even though I have a great cardio. It may just be something in my head. But I know it is good for me so I try not to be late and miss any of it.

Tell us a little bit about your Muay Thai and MMA career. What are your goals?

Ever since I started training BJJ I had been curious to try using it when strikes are involved. MMA is the perfect way to find out how effective your grappling can be when all sorts of other attacks are allowed. I have had a couple of amateur MMA fights, a handful of Muay Thai fights and enjoy the challenge of the other martial arts. My goal is to go pro in MMA and see how far I can get in the women’s light-weight division. There are a lot of opportunities right now in MMA and I would like to take advantage of them.

Do you consider yourself to be a nerd? Were you popular in high school?

I am not nerdy but I can certainly be awkward sometimes. I feel shy a lot but I try to be as friendly and outgoing as I can force myself to be just because I know most people feel shy also and someone needs to break the ice. I was pretty quiet in high school and mostly kept to myself and had a small circle of friends. I am much more social these days and make a point to get my friends together and do things.

What is the oldest thing you own?

I have some really old family photos I hung around my place. I like old black and white pictures a lot and those are particularly special because they all have a story.

What do you think about when you are alone in the car?

I spend a LOT of time in the car because my job is still far away from my gym so I listen to a lot of podcasts. But when I am just thinking, I am usually daydreaming about BJJ and MMA or what competition I’m doing to do next or something along those lines.

What is your biggest BJJ pet peeve?

My biggest pet peeve is people not washing their gi and their belt. I have a lot of competitive success and I wash my gi and belt all the time. None of my good luck has washed away but I have contracted staph and ringworm from all the “good luck” on others’ belts and clothing.

How do you want to be remembered?

I want to be remembered as someone who never gave up, always had a good attitude and was a humble student of the sport. I’ve had a lot of success and a lot of failures but I think what is really important is to have the hear of a warrior and not back away from a challenge even when you are afraid.

Do you have any secret talents?

I play the piano and guitar; speak some basic French; I am a good horseback rider: I am a decent ballroom dancer, and a decent chess player. I don’t know how unique any of these are but I also don’t think too many people come across those hidden talents these days.

Joy and Lyzz: A Tale of Two Tall Ladies


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We bring you a story about two best friends, Joy and Lyzz, who go by the name of HoesNKimonos on Instagram. Lyzz is a brown belt* and Joy is a purple belt and they have a pretty unique relationship. These two ladies are a ton of fun, so we decided to do a joint interview and also individual stories on both of them. Here we go with Part 1.

Tell us a bit about HoesNKimonos. Where did the name come from?

We were driving to the Worlds in 2015 and discussing Ralek Gracie’s comments about women in jiu-jitsu and his music video “G in a Gi”. It is a very long car ride from Sacramento to Long Beach and somewhere along the road we decided we should make a rebuttal song “Hoes N Kimonos”. We had a lot of fun coming up with our own rap lyrics (neither of us rap, just to be clear) and even though the song remains unfinished, the spirit of the idea remains and we have been the HoesNKimonos ever since.

Do you train together?

Joy: Yes, as much as possible. We met each other on my first day of BJJ class. Lyzz was super friendly and asked if I would be back to train. Lyzz was elated to have another female in class (especially one the same weight class) and always made a point to partner up with me, make me feel welcome, and help me along with the techniques. Lyzz had been training for about 6 months before I started and had a lot of other previous martial arts experience so she was always a step ahead and able to help me along, and make me feel less dumb when I didn’t understand something. Today we continue to partner up in class, drill outside of class, help each other prepare for tournaments, travel, and compete together. Lyzz has always been my main Hoe!

Lyzz: Oh Joy! You’re MY main Hoe! Hoes that train together, stick together! Through thick and thin, sweat and chokes, giggles and guillotines.

How would you describe your personal relationship? Tell us something great about each other.

Joy: Lyzz and I are pretty much doppelgänger, grapple twins, etc. We are so much alike in so many ways it’s very surprising. Lots of people assume we are sisters and even people we know will still call us by the wrong name sometimes or get us mixed up. One of my favorite things about Lyzz is that she is a really bad texter like me so I never have to feel bad if I forget to text her back. We are both pretty scatter-brained and cut each other a lot of slack in that area. It is great to have someone who understands. She is also a really reliable secret-keeper and I can tell her all my dirt. Lyzz, your turn!

Lyzz: Thanks Girl! To echo Joy, we both love grappling and we are both trained in working with insects. Sisters from another mister. One of Joy’s greatest attributes is how friendly she is to everyone at the gym. She believes in the best of people and is the gym’s supplier of honey. Sweet both inside and out!

Who is a better cook of the two of you?

That is really tough because we are both pretty good cooks. We have our own specialty dishes. Lyzz makes amazing sushi and Joy makes some bomb carrot cake. Since Lyzz has a rad husband from Croatia who makes really cool Croatian food, we think Lyzz takes this one.

Would you participate in a beauty pageant if someone asked you to?

Of course! We both love to dress up and show it off. Participating in a beauty pageant would be super fun and now we really hope we get asked (hint hint)!

You both have great hair. Jiu-jitsu women complain about hair loss and breakage during training. How do you keep your hair so fabulous?

Thank you! We both keep it pretty simple for training hair-styles. We do ponytails, simple braids, buns, etc. I think lots of conditioner is key along with a healthy diet that includes lots of collagen. We both rarely use a hairdryer because we think letting it air dry after class is a bit gentler.

Who would make a great President? Lyzz or Joy? Vice President?

Joy may be the slightly more organizer/decision-maker type so Joy will take the President role and Lyzz will be there to back her up when people get sick of her bossiness and impeach her.

If you could choose two black belts to be your parents temporarily, who would you choose?

We think King Gordon Ryan would be the world’s most fun dad so we will go with him as our pops. Hopefully he would dress us up as his royal princesses and we would follow him all over NY trolling other black belts and eating tons of pizza.

To balance it out, we would need a really solid, responsible mom like Bia Mesquita to keep us grounded and make sure we are not missing too much training. She would make sure we get signed up for all the big tournaments plus Leticia Ribeiro would now be our BJJ grandma!

Being tall ladies, you are perfect A2Tall models for Fenom sizing. What do you want gi companies to improve in tall sizes? What is the most important thing in a gi?

Fenom has always been one of our favorite gi brands. In fact, almost every gi we have ever bought has been Fenom gi. Other companies could take a page from your book and realize that not all tall ladies are thick ladies. The A2Tall Fenom makes is suited for the tall and slender type but is cut roomy enough for some hips and butt. It is important that the gi keeps its shape and doesn’t shrink too much over time especially when we are crunched for time and throw it in the dryer. We think the most important thing in a gi overall is the fit. If it is not comfortable, you will avoid wearing it. We want a gi we can look forward to throwing on.

Do you think people who quit BJJ are losers?

Joy: No, not at all. BJJ is a special hobby and it is not meant for everyone. If jiu-jitsu does not fit with your lifestyle and you do not enjoy it, there is no point in continuing other than to know some basic self-defense. There are many other martial arts to try or other active hobbies in general that are good for your health and well-being.

Lyzz: Hardly! Don’t call it quitting; call it taking a break. I have heard great success stories of those who have taken breaks for 8-25 years and eventually made it back to the mats! I believe there is hope in everyone to start or come back to BJJ. They just need the right people and the will to learn #OneOfUs, #WeArentACultYouAre.

What is something you are really bad at?

Joy: I am really bad at the jump rope. We jump rope to warm up for boxing class and no matter how much I practice, I trip and fall like I have never done it before.

Lyzz: Despite being one with water on the mats, I do not know how to survive with water surrounding me. I am like a sad wet cat trying to paw paddle my way back to safety.

In a tandem bike, who would be in the front and why?

Joy: Lyzz would be in the front because I am afraid of cars and would be terrified to bike through Sacramento. My eyes would be firmly shut in the back the whole time and I would be only good for peddling. Lyzz knows all the good spots around Sacramento so she would navigate us to a nice place to eat or a quiet park, so I could open my eyes.

Lyzz: Most days I think I would be in front so Joy can navigate without having to look at the road. Joy has difficulties multitasking with electronics and I fear we may crash at the helm of Joy.

Cats, dogs or babies? Who would you watch if asked?

Cats, especially really fluffy cats who purr a lot. Babies are too loud and dogs need too much attention. Cats are nice and chill and would not mind when we are gone training for a while.

What makes you really happy?

Jiu-jitsu of course! We both do this sport for the love of it and the friends we make. There is no better way to decompress at the end of a long day and reconnect with people. Other than that, we like to be fed, dress up, go dancing, or just laze around and talk. Sometimes the simple things are the best things!

*15 days after the interview was published, Lyzz was awarded her black belt in BJJ. Congratulations!!

Judoka Chiharu “Gigi” Davis


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We had the pleasure of interviewing judo black belt Gigi Davis. She is USA JUDO certified judo coach in Texas, Registered Nurse, and Japanese-English medical interpreter. According to Gigi she wasn’t athletic, hated exercising and had no interest in judo initially. She started training in high-school and joined the school team just to hang out with her good friend. She ended up becoming a judo black belt, a competitor and an instructor! Gigi lived for over a decade in the United States but two years ago moved back to her homeland, Japan. We wanted to learn more about her international family, training, and life in two very different countries.

How did you find your way to the United States and why did you move back to Japan after so many years here?

I had been dreaming of working abroad since I was a high school student but had no chance to make it happen until I was in my 30s. In 2004, a huge tsunami devastated Indonesia and I had the opportunity to join DMAT to go to Banda Ache, Indonesia as a tsunami task force. I was quite confident to complete the mission because I had been learning English in a tutor school and thought I would have no problems there.

However, I was totally shocked because I could not understand international medical teams conversation in the medical team meetings. I realized my English skill was not good enough to complete tasks and work globally. After I completed the DMAT mission, I decided to go to the United States to improve my English. I set my final goal in the U.S. to obtain my RN license. In fall 2005, I went to the States as an international student and started learning English and strategies to pass NCLEX test.

The reason we moved back to Japan is for our children. They have two heritages, Japan and American. They have right to keep both cultures and receive education in Japanese and English. My son and daughter attended Japanese school in Dallas every Saturday but it is quite hard to maintain basic Japanese. Besides, both my husband and I are Registered Nurses and saw the dark side of the U.S. My husband is a psychiatric nurse and he took care of so many people suffering from drug abuse, domestic violence, and severe depression. I was a RN working in the recovery room and I saw a lot of gun violence victims. Well, we have some of the same issues in Japan except for gun shootings. In addition, my hometown is in the countryside and have plentiful nature. Children can walk by themselves, have more freedom, and there is less crime. Therefore, we thought raising our children in my hometown would be much less stressful.

Why did you decide to train jiu-jitsu in addition to judo?

Since I started coaching judo in the United States, I realized that more than half of children lost their match by newaza (groundwork when both competitors are on the ground after a throw or attempted throw). I understood the reason. Children cannot throw a perfect Ippon most of the time because of their immaturity of throwing techniques and the match is decided on the ground. If a child does not know ground technique well enough, they instantly lose the match. This is why I started BJJ with my kids. Today so many judo athletes have both judo and BJJ black belt. If we would like to go to a world level championship tournament, we better learn BJJ and judo.

Your whole family trains judo. Is it hard or easy when everyone has the same hobby?

It is fun to practice judo and BJJ with all the family members. Nothing is hard except coaching. Coaching my own children is challenging because I see my children as athletes on tatami but they see me as “mother” all the time. I mean they would like to think I am their mother no matter where they are. Therefore, I sometimes do not coach my kids on tatami and ask someone else to do it.

How much does it cost in average to take judo classes and jiu-jitsu classes in Japan?

It is extremely cheap to take judo lessons in Japan. Our team charges children only $19 per month per child. This is average cost to learn judo. Jiu-jitsu is a bit higher. I have been paying $40 per month for myself and my kids train for free. It looks great financially but we face several problems. All coaches are volunteers and they do not receive any pay or reward from their team. On top of that almost every week they have to work as a volunteer at tournaments. The coaches have too many responsibilities for their judo team and receive no compensation.

What do you think is harder, jiu-jitsu or judo training?

I love both judo and BJJ. I don’t feel neither is hard. Jiu-jitsu is more difficult than judo for me at this time because I am a white belt in BJJ instead of a black belt in judo.

What is the biggest difference between Japan and the United States in general?

I love Japan because most people are really polite, honest, and kind. Safe environment allows us to let our kids go outside freely. No gun violence (only in Yakuza – Japanese criminal organization) makes all parents comfortable letting kids go to school without being concerned about gun shootings. However, Japan still needs some improvement. People prefer using cash instead of credit or debit cards. We still need to work on making our country more foreigner-friendly. I see lots of issues that still need to be resolved but I also love Japan as it is now. Japanese people respect their culture and try to maintain it.

I also love the United States. People are very funny and respect individuality. People are free and living their individual life. I like that a lot. I am just happy to have the opportunity to live in both countries.

If someone wants to visit Japan, what is the one place they should visit for sure and why?

I truly recommend to visit rural areas of Japan like my hometown. Most foreigners like to visit urban cities like Tokyo and Osaka or they visit historical cities like Kyoto and Nara. However, rural Japan has numerous sight-seeing spots. People are really nice. Please visit my hometown, Yamaguchi prefecture, it is really beautiful! People can enjoy historical areas, our beautiful ocean, and nature as well. You will like it!

Do you have any other hobbies?

Yes, I do. I used to love all kinds of board sports such as snowboarding, skateboarding, wakeboarding, and surfing. Today I love fishing, climbing, and hot yoga!

11. Tell us something most people don’t know about you!

I was a judo champion in my hometown when I was 17. It is equivalent to a state champion in the U.S. I got first place in -52kg division and went to All Japan Judo Championship. I won my first match but lost the second one. I made it to the top 24 in Japan.



Jiu-jitsu community has lost a wonderful, vibrant young lady, Anna Paige Burdette Cooper. Anna lost her battle to cancer on February 25th at the age of 32. She was a brown belt, a huge advocate for women’s jiu-jitsu, and a successful competitor. She was Fenom sponsored athlete in 2015 and we enjoyed our partnership with Anna greatly. Her smile and energy were contagious and she will be missed dearly. To celebrate Anna’s life please wear a pair of colorful, crazy socks this Saturday. Rest in peace, Anna.

Anna’s celebration will be at the Milan Puskar Stadium Touchdown Terrace, 1 Ira Errett Rodgers Drive, Morgantown, starting at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 9, with a reception followed by the time of the celebratory service beginning at 3:45 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, please make a donation in Anna’s memory to WVU Cancer Institute, 44 Medical Center Drive, PO Box 9300, Morgantown, WV 26506 – 9300. Make your check payable to the WVU Foundation, and in the memo line, include “IMO Anna Burdette Cooper”.


The Mighty Dames


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Big women in jiu-jitsu are a minority and face different set of challenges. One remarkable lady, Torrie O’neil, has decided to provide a platform for the heavy-weight ladies. Torrie is a blue belt training out of Grappling Mastery in Eustis, Florida under Brian Ruscio. She has been training for about four and a half years and is the founder of The Mighty Dames, a jiu-jitsu community centered on representation of female heavys. When she is not on the mats, she is busy at Bookworks, an early literacy program which provides story times and free books to children at low-income child care centers and elementary schools. Torrie answered a few questions about her life, The Dames and big girls’ challenges in BJJ. Enjoy!

You love grappling and reading. How did you discover jiu-jitsu and what kind of books do you enjoy reading?

I actually was not looking to do jiu-jitsu. I wanted to wrestle. I was a huge WWF fan as a kid and got into freestyle and collegiate wrestling in my late teens. After finishing up grad school, I moved back home and started looking for a wrestling gym. Since Florida isn’t exactly known as a wrestling state, the closest thing I found was my current gym that offers wrestling classes on Fridays. I came in for a wrestling and Muay Thai class and afterward my coach, Brian, showed me a couple of jiu-jitsu moves and I’ve been hooked ever since.

When I’m not reading kids’ books for work, I mostly stick to non-fiction books, such as history, politics and society centered books and older fiction. My favorite book is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith and I’m currently reading a book called Dancing at Halftime by Carol Spindel about the use of Native Americans as mascots in sports.

How often do you compete? What is the biggest hindrance for you? What is your biggest achievement in competition?

For the most part, I try to compete 3-4 times a year. I did not get into jiu-jitsu with the idea of being a hyper active competitor but I like to test myself from time to time against my peers. My biggest hindrance would have to be the combo of lack of opponents and time. Due to lack of competition in my division at the smaller events, I wait for the IBJJF championships in my area.

Also, I travel a lot for work and various other community groups, so my weekends fill up rather quickly with other obligations. My biggest achievement would have to be winning double gold at Miami Open in the spring of 2018. I had been out of commission for a couple of months due to a knee injury and had some really tough matches.

Are you having a hard time finding gis that fit properly? What do you want gi companies to know and improve about women’s gis for larger ladies?

Absolutely? It can be very discouraging to get into BJJ only to be unable to find a gi that fits and is affordable and be regulated to no-gi as you hunt for one that fits well. 90% of my gis are mix-and-match combo of gi pants and jackets from different companies. With my weight and height proportions I can rarely order a gi as is.

Once I find a pair of pants that fit well, I buy a couple and just rotate jackets that match. I would love if larger companies allowed mix-and-match sizes. For instance, I’m A5 in pants but float between A3 and A4 jacket meaning I have a bunch of pants just collecting dust. Another thing would be taking into account the height for bigger women. A lot of women in The Mighty Dames struggle with finding bigger gis for shorter women. At 6 feet my gis are often too long, I can only imagine the struggle for someone my weight and 5’5”.

Do you feel like larger women are sometimes invisible in BJJ?

Sometimes, yes. It almost feels like we are a niche, inside an already niche sport. That’s the part of the reason why The Mighty Dames came to exist. But it does help to have figures like Tayane Porfirio and others competing at the highest levels.

Why are there so few African American women in BJJ? What do you think should be done to attract more of them to train and compete?

Short answer, exposure. If you really think about it we don’t see many African Americans in other martial arts/combat sport besides boxing or wrestling. It’s simply not a sport traditionally tied to the community. Most of my family still thinks I do Karate. How we improve this? Exposure. Bringing BJJ into communities with more black people or doing events or seminars in public space or just having the sport more visible can all help.

I do think that the higher exposure of MMA helps as well. We are seeing more black athletes competing at the highest levels of MMA giving the younger generations new role models to look up to and want to emulate.

You have said that you prefer training with men over women just because you have more training partners that way. How often do you have a chance to train with women your size? Do you attend women’s open mats?

To be honest, I’m probably one of, if not the biggest person at my gym, man or woman. While I find value in training with all sizes, I need the weight of bigger training partners to keep me honest with my technique and development. I’m really lucky to be a part of the Central Florida BJJ community where we have quite a few big girls who are always down to roll and are great training partners.

About twice a month I try to make it over to train with Melissa Lohsen at Darkwolf MMA who just earned her black belt in December 2018. She is a fellow super heavy, only about 45 minutes away and her school has a couple other heavys so it works out great. She also runs Pretty Dangerous Women’s Jiu-Jitsu which hosts monthly women’s open mats at rotating gyms in Central Florida.

Larger ladies have been accused of using too much strength (the infamous Gabby Garcia/Mackenzie Dern match brought out the worst in some, calling Gabi a man and other names) in their matches. What is your take on that? If a smaller person is allowed to use their speed and flexibility, why is strength not acceptable?

Let me tell you… I have thoughts on thoughts on thoughts about this topic. I always found this argument a bit hypocritical. Isn’t one of the main selling points of jiu-jitsu learning how to overcome a larger opponent? And what is too much strength? There is no measure for it. I understand that it can be very frustrating to deal with a stronger opponent, but jiu-jitsu is full of frustrating things. It is easy to name call and come up with reasons to bash larger women who compete, to explain away a loss but it is much harder to admit you simply have not devolved a game to handle a larger opponent. Also, these mix matches in size like Gabby Garcia/Mackenzie Dern are in open-weight bracket where the individual signed up knowing that all weight classes are able to enter. If they know the stakes going in, why should it be an issue?

Personally I see it as a cop-out; a preconceived excuse. As long as I or any other heavy isn’t out here trying to seriously harm someone, I see no issue with using my physical attributes to win in a physical contact sport. If the biggest/strongest person always wins, I should be undefeated in competitions. And I’m clearly not. I get outworked and outmaneuvered by smaller opponents all the time; it’s all a part of the game.

According to IBJJF any lady above 175 is a super heavyweight. What’s your opinion on that? Is it fair for women above 175 to have to compete against 20-60+ lbs weight difference while lighter weights get to compete against someone much closer to their weight?

There can be some big weight differences, sometimes 50 – 80 lbs., in the IBJJF super heavy division. Is that ideal? No. In a perfect world, we would have more weight divisions and women to fill their brackets, but we don’t at this time. Organizations are not going to change their model unless they have to and shallow divisions do not provide motivation. We see more and more heavys joining the sport and now we need to get them competing. Once more women show up and prove that another weight class is viable; I’m confident will happen. Look at all the success that older female competitors have had in affecting change in the IBJJF. I think female heavys should follow their example and prove we are more than just talk.

What prompted you to start The Mighty Dames?

The Mighty Dames started on a whim. About two years ago, I wrote a blog post about the “Plight of the Big Girl” where I laid out some of the issues I had come across being a bigger woman in the sport. After receiving a great response from fellow heavys, I wanted to create a space to continue the conversation. I started up the Facebook group “The Mighty Dames: Big Girl BJJ Crew” in May of 2017 with the hope of connecting female heavys from all over the world.

Jiu-jitsu can be daunting for anyone to start, and it can be very discouraging when you are the only woman of your size in a gym. Either you get paired up with men or women, someone who is undersized. It can be awkward and isolating. My hope was that The Mighty Dames would help show some support to all those women, to show them that they are not alone and that there is a whole community behind them willing to help out and encourage their journey.

What are your plans for The Mighty Dames this year?

We have a couple of things coming up for the Dames. We will be celebrating our second year in May with some giveaways and I am working on getting more gear for larger women, rash guards and spats. Mostly we are going to keep doing what we have been doing: providing a platform to represent and connect female heavys and promoting positive, healthy body image.

What is your biggest pet peeve in BJJ?

The gym cult mentality. I just don’t get it.

If you had a chance to train with any black belts, who would they be?

I will be the first to admit I am terrible at watching upper level BJJ. But I would love train with Hillary VanOrnum or Dominyka Obelenyte.

Tell us something that most people don’t know about you.

Before jiu-jitsu, music was my main obsession. I was a band kid for most of my life, even going to college on a music scholarship. I played tuba and trombone mostly, but I also play four or so other instruments as well. My early 20s was filled with jam sessions and open mic performances with local musicians.

Check out Torrie the Grappler on Facebook, @torriethegrappler and @themightydames on Instagram.