Category Archives: Life in the Academy

Being part of a team

The Right Frame of Mind: Getting Through Your First Practice

Once upon a time, there was a man who decided he wanted to try to play basketball. He had never played before, but thought it was a cool sport that would be fun and help him get into shape. He imagined himself flying down the court with ease, getting the ball and making the perfect jump shot. It was beautiful. He found a rec league to play with and attended his first practice. It was harder than he imagined; he was out of breath and had trouble handling the ball, let alone making a basket. In fact, the other players left him in the dust. The man decided that basketball wasn’t a good sport for someone like him and quit after one practice.


We see this a lot in our Brazilian jiu-jitsu class here in Appleton. We have a lot of people come in with absolutely no real experience and/or a low fitness level wanting to try the class. Very quickly they realize that the warm-ups alone are tough.Very quickly they realize that they don’t know anything, especially compared to the other people around them. Very quickly they realize the time and work it will take to see even the most basic positions and get their BJJ strength and cardio up.

And this is the crossroads. Will they have patience with themselves and realize that it was everyone’s first day at one time? Will they come back to the next practice and see what else they can learn and start chipping away at getting the basic positions down? Or will they decide that Brazilian jiu jitsu is not a sport that is for someone like them, inexperienced and out of shape?

Jiu jitsu is for everybody! It is for you if you are willing to judge yourself by your own personal progress, rather than in comparison to others. It is for you if you are willing to work hard at it and do your personal best. Michael Jordan didn’t come out of the womb as the best basketball player of all time. He looked as most everyone else the first time he held a basketball. If you come to Brazilian jiu-jitsu thinking you are going to be a superstar on your first day, you are going to be disappointed. But, it is not the sport….it is your frame of mind!

Train Hard!


FVGC Instructor Spotlight: James Peterson


Okay, who are you and what do you do?

I’m James Peterson and I do whatever the hell I want. Just kidding. I win tournaments. And teach adult and kids Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Team FVGC.

How long have you been training in the martial arts?

I wrestled in high school and a year in college. I have been training BJJ for almost 12 years. I trained MMA for a while, but stopped doing that to concentrate entirely on BJJ coaching and competition.

What do you consider your greatest martial arts accomplishment?

Winning the Pan-Ams twice, once as a blue belt and once as a brown belt. Each one is special for different reasons. Winning as a brown belt was great because it is such a high level belt; but winning at blue belt was awesome too because I submitted all of my opponents.

What were the most important aspects of your preparation for that accomplishment? That is, what were you doing to achieve your goal?

There was a lot of mental training that went into those wins. Even when I was training physically, like doing road work, I would be mentally running through matches in my head. The winning took place far in advance of the actual matches. I was also trying to train with as many high level guys as I could. I took a lot of beatings; a lot of subs. But I had to just take each of those as learning experiences and not look at them as the whole of my game. Oddly, I developed confidence through that adversity that I carried with me to the Pans.

What makes a great martial artist?

Great technique, thoughtfulness, and humility.

Who inspires you?

My family, my coaches and my team.

Any words of advice for people training now?

Always be learning. Learn from your instructors, from books, videos and whatever else you can learn from. If you are really interested in your art, then you should constantly be striving for improvement and trying to advance your skills. Study broadly. I mean, not just the study of your martial art, but other martial arts and other facets of life as well. Also, try to understand your performance moves in cycles. There will be times when it seems like you are not only not improving, but backsliding as well. That is not the case. If you are still learning and taking in information, it just means your body has not caught up to the contents of your brain. You should actually be looking for an upswing in your game in the very near future. Finally, have fun. If you are not having fun, then what’s the point of doing it at all?

A Team is a Family

From its inception, Team FVGC has had a culture of sharing, brainstorming, and experimenting. This culture, although maybe present at other schools, was especially strong with us since our gym was started by white belts. The culture was both a curse and a blessing: Although we had very little guidance for our training and technique, we developed into a strong team whose members took care of each other as friends and as teachers. There was a sense of pulling together and doing our best to improve in a less-than-ideal situation.

Our school has since grown and is now headed by black and purple belts and has just added 5 more to our existing group of blue belts. I believe that the level of technique in the school has never been better. Having the guidance from a strong affiliation and a strong black belt in the school has given people something to strive for, something to model themselves after. However, as we began to grow, I wondered whether the level of camaraderie and teamwork would decrease; whether people would focus solely on themselves and their game; whether the Rank Race would begin.

But, on the contrary, I feel like the strength of our team as only grown to the level of family. There is a sense of our school as a force to be reckoned with, a sense of excitement that people are improving and getting promoted. You still see people coming in to work on technique together; trying to perfect moves from class or for a promotion test. People are being good partners, speaking up when they feel a mistake or cheering their partners on through conditioning workouts. People celebrate the accomplishments of their teammates that happen both inside and outside of the school. The gym has a feeling of optimism and kindness.

As we train, we must never forget it is important that although our leaders and instructors are important, the heart of our school is our team, our students. A strong student body only amplifies the gains from good technical instruction. It does not matter where you come from, how you dress outside the gym, how much money you make. If you come in with the love of jiu-jitsu and your team, you are part of the family; and family can be a beautiful thing.