BJJ, Competition

First Competition at Purple Belt

Eight weeks ago, I embarked on a newly designed training camp for my first tournament as a purple belt. I knew I wanted to be as prepared as possible for my debut so I followed some of my usual routines for mental preparation. Mental preparation is a common topic and everyone does it a little bit differently – which is good! We all have different needs and anxieties. Our routines should reflect our individual differences. 

Mindset Training Starts Early

When you start to train heavily for a tournament (or fight/bout/match, etc.), one thing that’s often left out is specific training for your mind. It’s very common to feel anxious, but these emotions must be dealt with much earlier than the week of or day of the fight. For more on anxiety symptoms read my blog post – click here.

Almost every competition training class, where we live sparring non-stop for up to 75 minutes, I would practice my mindset routine to help get me into the “zone”. Yes, that infamous zone where you go into a tunnel-visioned state of intense focus. Nothing else matters except the target in front of you.  Your mind quiets and your muscle memory takes over. Psychologist, Dr. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi wrote about the concept of getting into the zone, coined as “flow”, in the 1970s. This mental process just like the physical training requires practice and effort. 

Creating My State of Flow 

  1. Read my jiujitsu notes with particular attention to the game plan that I want to use for competition day. 
  2. Listen to a playlist of the music that amps me up. 
  3. Stretch out using yoga movement. Use foam roller as needed. 
  4. Review goals that I set for the competition. (Usually I pick something focused on my own performance, not on the result of the competition.) For the San Antonio Open, my goal was to show up and play my game plan of pulling into closed guard. I had no other expectations for myself. 
  5. With 15-20 minutes before I fight, I stop listening to music. I acclimate to the surrounding environmental noises. 
  6. I review a short list of reminders on my phone. Example: Constant Pressure. I know by reading this quick note, I can keep it fresh in my mind as I step onto the mat. 
  7. Three deep breaths. . . and Go Time. 

I trained the day before the San Antonio Open and was able to practice all of the sequences I had planned to refresh my memory. Pulling to closed guard and three sequences of attacks to submissions. 

I fought in the Master 2 Women’s featherweight division for purple belt rank. Four of us women fought for the top spot. I won my first match exactly how I practiced – pulling with collar and sleeve to closed guard and then attacking the arm, bailed and submitted by triangle by the third minute of a 6-minute match. Step-by-step, each of these movements is exactly what I wrote down for the game plan. These sequences were my focus throughout the training camp. I came and I executed. 

Setting up arm attack.
Transitioning to triangle attack.
Triangle choke for the win.

On the other end of the bracket, my teammate won her match and that result placed us together in the finals. We closed out the finals match by a handshake. 

In the end, I’m very happy with the result of my hard training and rewarded myself with not one, but TWO Krispy Kreme donuts! Hoping to set up a sponsorship with my beloved donut factory. 

For those of you interested, I’ll be opening up a Yasi Fit office in Houston, Texas to work with athletes to help improve their mental game. I hope to get the practice going as soon as possible. More on that when I get the details straightened out!

Until next Monday’s post, train smart and eat well. – Dr. Yasi

BJJ, Competition

Getting Stronger, Faster.

Now that I’ve received my purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I updated my training camp for my first competition in December 2018 as a new competitor in the purple belt division women’s master division.

I decided to add strength and conditioning training because I didn’t feel I was maximizing my time in the weigh gym. I’d go often but didn’t want to bulk up. For example, the workout regimen was basically the same stuff I was doing years ago. I didn’t have explosiveness – I was never a sprinter. I also  felt that I could be physically stronger. 

This summer I took an invitational class at Studio Fitness in East Downtown Houston and met the gym owner, Layne Chess. I approached him about helping me to increase my strength without putting on additional body weight.

After my initial assessment with Coach Layne, he confirmed my timeline and short-term goals. He sent me an individualized strength and conditioning program. The strength element is a kettlebell-based workout and the conditioning element is a cardiovascular exercise component. 

Strong First Kettlebell Workout

Now, I’ve used kettlebells here and there in the past informally but I’ve long since lost good form. The greater probability was that I had subpar form to start! I did not know very much about how a kettlebell workout could translate into strength on the jiujitsu mat. Coach Layne goes into a good deal of explanation and science during our sessions. 

Dr. Yasi: How does kettlebell translate into functional strength? 

Coach Layn: One of the greatest values of working with a kettlebell is that the load of the ball is in front of the handle, unlike a dumbbell in which the load in in line with the handle.  Even the most basic of kettlebell movements cause you to work through a larger range of motion, increasing the flexibility demands of the exercise, and strength through length is key.

Cardiovascular Interval Exercise 

When I decided to work with Coach Layne, I assumed that I would be doing only strength training. I did not even consider some form of cardio to supplement my training camp. The way I had thought about cardio for jiujitsu was in the form of, um. . . live sparring in my competition classes? This is was I was told from early on. Cardio happens on the mat so why waste time doing cardio if not for weight-cutting? What is the deal with all this H-I-I-T stuff? Cardio is cardio, right? 

Dr. Yasi: What’s the benefit of heart rate-based interval cardiovascular exercise? 

Coach Layn: First it’s important to understand what you’re using the cardio for, and then program for that.  For you, we designed a cardio regimen that gets you into your Zone 5 for a bit to replicate full on intensity on the mat.  Then we allow short rest periods to simulate those moments of recovery you get between rounds.  Over time we’ll shorten your rest periods helping to train you to recover quicker.  It all correlates.  The body knows time and intensity, so the better you can replicate these forces off the mat, the better you’ll handle them on the mat.

Dr. Yasi: Why does intense cardio make you want to vomit? (Asking for a friend.)

Coach Layn: There are several reasons this can happen, from under to over hydration, or merely blood leaving the stomach to supply the body when intensity is super high.

My final point is that I am a data-driven person. I have experienced noticeable gains in strength and cardiac performance already. Plus, I’m just starting week 4 of this program. My lesson learned is to hire an expert, even if time-limited, to help me in my areas of weakness. I don’t know what I don’t know. Please reach out to Coach Layne if you’ve hit a strength and conditioning plateau, feel stuck or lost in the weight gym, or just want get an edge on the competition. I’m not his only competitive athlete at his gym, but probably the most excited!

Reach Coach Layn and his staff at:

BJJ, Coaching, Competition

“Pre-competition jitters are N-O-R-M-A-L!” Managing Sports Performance Anxiety

Anxiety is a completely normal and expected response. It signals us that danger is lurking around the corner. Back in the day (eons ago), humans encountered lions and tigers and bears out in the wilderness. Seeing a dangerous predator like a lion triggers a very natural fear response in the brain. The brain sets off a series of “alarm bells“, also known as fight-or-flight response.

Specifically, fight-or-flight response is a series of physiological changes in the body that prepare for either fighting, fleeing, or sometimes, freezing in the face of danger.

What happens during fight-or-flight activation? I’m generalizing here so as not to go knee-deep into biochemistry.

  • The brain perceives a threat and signals the pituitary glad to release cortisol, the stress hormone, meanwhile the adrenal gland releases adrenaline.
  • Heart rate elevates to pump blood to the major muscle groups, fueling them for action.
  • Breathing rate increases to oxygenate the blood pumping through the heart, now that the heart is pumping blood faster.
  • The digestive system slows down or stops as a result of the blood being redirected through the heart to the major muscle groups.
  • Muscles start to tense getting ready for action, either running away or fighting.
  • Vision narrows to focus on the target, known as tunnel vision. Peripheral hearing loss may also occur.
  • The brain determines the best action based on the situation. The early human either started running towards to protective shelter or attacking the lion for food.

Nowadays, we do not have the same threats (lions lurking in the neighborhood) but we react in the same way to perceived or even imagined danger! Thinking about an upcoming competition can elicit a fight-or-flight response that may feel like anxiety or panic. Learning to identify when your body is activated in this way is the first step in managing that type of physical anxiety.

Feels like this? Below may be helpful for people with a tendency to become very anxious about their sports performance.

Racing heart: Feels like you are going to have a heart attack or your heart is going to pop out of your chest cavity.

Reality is that your mind is reacting to the imagined activity you are planning to do in the near future.  Initially, your mind does not differentiate between visualized activity and actually doing the activity. In actual danger, there’s no time to *think* about the threat, thus this response is automatic. It reacts by saying to the body, “Hey guys, it’s about to go down so everyone get fire up!” If you interpret your racing heart as a negative or dangerous symptom, you will become anxious. Instead, by interpreting your racing heart as a positive symptom, one that helps you prepare for action, you can better appreciate your body’s conditioning and preparation.

Faster breathing: Feels like you are hyperventilating, your chest may feel tight, and feels like you are going to have a panic attack.

Reality is that your heart is designed to pump in the used up blood carrying cell waste and carbon dioxide (darker red, almost bluish) into the heart. In the chambers of the heart, the blood is infused with nutrients, oxygen, and hormones (bright red) to be transported out to organs, tissues, and cells of the body. Yes, this includes those large muscle groups made for action! Again, your body is getting ready for physical sports performance and an elevated breathing rate is a positive symptom. Although, if your breathing is very shallow and rapid, it is not as efficient in bringing in fresh air into the entire lungs. Slower paced, full breaths ensure you maximize the oxygen supply for your heart to use. Deep breathing also slows down the heart rate because it doesn’t have to work as hard (i.e., pump faster) to get more oxygen from smaller, shallow breaths.

Breathing takes practice! One way to practice your breathing is to wear a heart rate monitor and just after your cardio exercise, use deep breathing to slow your heart rate. There are many ways to deepen your breath. I like inhaling for four counts and exhaling for four counts. You can return to your regular breathing rate and see the heart rate climb up a little. Returning to deep, slowed breaths usually can bring the heart rate back down.

Side note: You can measure the amount of oxygen in your arterial blood with an oximeter. Normal range is 95% to 100%. Some devices including smart phones have this ability. Below is my own oxygen saturation reading using my phone.


Slowed digestion: Feels like butterflies in the stomach, stomachaches, feeling like vomiting.

Reality: Since the heart is recruiting extra blood for the major muscle groups. The digestive system, which largely uses blood to digest food, is almost stopped. If you’ve had food in the past few hours, stopping midway may result in feeling queasy as those digestive enzymes and acidic juices may begin to bubble up in the wrong direction. It affects everyone differently. Sensations may include aches, fluttering, tightness, cramps or “knots”, bloating, indigestion, and feeling nauseated.

Depending on the type of stomach symptom, you may consider changing the time you eat, reducing or changing the type of food you eat, incorporating peppermint or ginger in the form of candy/mints/drops, tea, or in essential oil form. Relaxing the abdominal muscles may help with the tightness or pressure on the stomach area.

Muscular tension: Feels like shaking, trembling or very tense muscles throughout the body or localized to a particular body region.

Reality is that your heart and lungs have coordinated to provide energy to the large muscle groups in preparation for action. Your muscular system might also have some adrenaline to further energize the muscles. It can feel uncomfortable to have involuntary flexing of the muscles and by interpreting the sensations as negative can hinder or distract your mind from focusing on your sports performance. Having responsive muscles is definitely a positive symptom, but managing the excess energy is crucial so as not to expend that energy too early. Thinking “My body is ready, let’s go!” is a great interpretation and very motivating. Gentle movement like walking around, shaking off the nervous, as in nervous system, energy and focusing on quality deep breathing can help alleviate the muscular tension.

Inability to hear or see around you: Feels like you cannot focus on your surroundings and it’s hard to track the location of others, i.e., your teammates or coach. Feeling scatter-brained with the influx of external stimuli.

Reality is that narrowed vision and hearing was the body’s way of focusing on the threat of danger, for example, that prehistoric lion’s advancing movements. While one popular strategy is to listen to music or whatever on headphones, just before the event it can be beneficial to reacclimatize your hearing to the environmental noises (the court, arena, or gym) so you can prepare yourself to hear your coach over or through the noise.

In closing, use your natural fight-or-flight response to help your performance instead of fearing the symptoms. Become aware of the way your own body manages these physiological changes. Acknowledge that your body is doing exactly what it needs to for undertaking a large amount of athletic activity. Your mindset determines whether your body is your ally or your enemy.

Author: Dr. Yasi Pujols