We’ve all heard the saying or at least some variation of it. It is, of course, true. We all get knocked down, pushed off track, and epically fail at something in our lives at one time or another (or again, and again, and again).
Learning to fail is easier said than done sometimes; and even those that feel like they generally have a good grasp on it still have those moments of weakness where the anger and embarrassment get overwhelming. (I would lie if I said I have never lost my cool on the mat or after a competition). It is especially difficult to keep perspective when you fail at something that you have invested yourself into, whether it is your time, money, dedication, hard work, sweat, blood, tears, etc.
To me, keeping your perspective when you have failed means taking the experiences that you have had and learning from them. Why sweep your failures under the rug? Why forget your mistakes? The greatest learning experiences come when you must face the consequences of your mistakes! Sometimes you know exactly went wrong (I was triangled at a tournament after putting my arm between the legs in sidemount top…never again); sometimes it takes a few hours in the gym to understand really what went wrong and how you would prevent it next time (after burning out and losing my third match on points at the 2012 Pan-Ams, I came home and worked on my composure and the mental side of my game for months).
The trouble that many run into is being able to hang onto failures to improve oneself without obsessing over them, beating themselves down with them, trashing their self-confidence. Part of “getting back up” is striking a balance between learning and self-forgiveness. Sometimes, you just have to brush it off and start over (below is me, getting Vaporized by my teammate…again). Happy training everyone.
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?
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.