Most people try to fall down as little as possible as they go through their everyday lives. Starting in 1997, I made it a point to fall a lot! Why did I do this? Well, I don’t like breaking bones and hurting myself. Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? It’s not! It all started with my first belt test in my long-ago martial arts practice. Sensei emphasized that the first thing one must do to be an effective practitioner of martial arts is to know how to fall without hurting yourself. So we practiced hitting the ground and rolling, over and over. We practiced how to land on soft parts of our bodies and diffuse the force across our bodies. We learned a parachuter’s fall. We incorporated all of this into an active practice. At first, I figured it was all in the name of being better at knocking the tar out of my opponent effectively. Little did I know that it would prove to be a helpful skill for everyday life!
Applying falling and rolling techniques in everyday life
Forward and side shoulder rolls for falling down steps. I got to test my martial arts rolling skills one winter morning several years ago when I slipped and fell down my icy front porch steps. Basically, the trick is to absorb all the impact on the meat of the upper arm and diagonally across the upper back area. The forward shoulder is aimed downward as you roll so that your head and the front of your body is protected. I escaped my unexpected fall with some knee bruises and a damaged ego, but nothing serious. Tip: Don’t try to break your fall with your hands! That’s a recipe for a broken wrist or arm, as your joints aren’t designed to absorb the impact of your entire body weight at once. Instead, use your arms to direct your roll and to protect the more sensitive parts of your body.
Using a side roll to fall out of a yoga pose. I really enjoy yoga, and I’ve been practicing it for about seven years. But my arm balance skills still leave a lot to be desired. More timid yoga students may not even attempt arm balances for fear of falling. I’m here to say it isn’t a crime to fall out of a yoga pose. While attempting to perform Crow Pose, wherein one balances one’s knees against one’s arms and holds the body aloft using only the hands, my weight occasionally shifts too far forward. I’ve fallen out of this pose countless times. Instead of falling on my face, which is what would have naturally happened, my martial arts training kicked in. I thrust one arm across my body underneath me, turned my head to the side, and took the impact as a side roll, diffusing the force across my shoulders and upper back. I was saved the indignity and pain of a smashed nose, and it hurt a lot less. Then I tried again and again. I still fall, but I’m good with that.
Dizzy spells and sitting down anywhere. Last year I suffered from debilitating dizzy spells. They usually happened after I had exerted myself in some way, so they often struck me while I was outdoors doing heavy work. I managed to avoid injury mainly by attaching myself to either a fence, a wall or the ground. Sometimes I would simply sit down in the yard. Sitting and falling are very similar in nature. Falling is simply a slightly less controlled version of sitting. I have learned to sit without the use of my hands by employing part of a back roll technique that starts with lowering the body onto the meaty outer part of the thigh . The impact is so spread over this area that it does not hurt at all. It just takes practice to consistently hit with the soft parts of the body. Another good method for falling painlessly is the parachuter’s fall. One raises one hand and cradles the head against it, which shields it, while both knees bend slightly to the same side of the body. Ideally, the body hits on the outer thigh and along the side of the body. The arm slaps the ground while the legs bounce slightly to absorb the impact. Skydivers have been using this fall for years to avoid injury when they hit the ground after jumping from thousands of feet in the air!
Saved from a bucking rototiller by a leaping shoulder roll. A sudden powerful lurch occurred as I was using a rototiller to plow a row for planting several years ago. The tiller leaped forward, causing me to lose my balance and fall towards it. I would have fallen right onto the grinding tines of the machine if I hadn’t remembered to angle my body slightly sideways and perform a leaping forward right shoulder roll while letting go of the handle. I went head over heels, but I avoided the dangerous machine in the process! I don’t even think I got a bruise doing it, but it sure was scary! By the way, I don’t use that rototiller any more.
Use It or Lose It: Practicing for Old Age
I cannot stress enough that it was the endless repetition of these falls and rolls that enabled me to use them when I needed them. Without practice, the body forgets. I maintain my falling and rolling proficiency by laying out a gymnastics mat in the aerobics room at my local gym and throwing myself around on it until I’m exhausted. I haven’t trained formally in martial arts in almost 15 years, having stopped because of chronic pain and injury. But I was determined to do enough to keep in practice on the basic skills. The medical community seems to have gotten the same idea lately. They believe that using martial arts falling techniques can enable people to avoid potentially life-shattering injuries as they age. Martial arts isn’t for everyone, but I believe it has a lesson to teach that almost anyone can learn and apply to real life problems. I haven’t done a sword form practice in years, but I’m convinced that the breakfalls and rolls I learned so long ago are useful training for my old age, which is quickly approaching.