Aikido and Learning to Fall
Learning how to fall in Aikido is very important. You learn how to avoid being seriously injured and also how to be a good uke. Why do I have to learn how to fall you ask? Anyone can fall down when they trip or slip on a patch of ice, but can you get back up from those falls with little pain? When we are toddlers we fall all the time learning to walk and it is not big deal. As we grow older though we are taught to be afraid of falling because we do not want to get hurt so we avoid it as much as possible. When you begin training in Aikido it is almost like learning to walk again or fall in this case. Seeing other students performing forward rolls, backwards rolls, break falls or back break falls can be intimidating at first.
Will falling hurt? It might hurt a little the first couple times. Depending on the surface your mats are on and what you are attempting. Forward rolls are often taught beginning down on your knees and you work up to standing rolls and then break falls. Nothing actually is broken in a break fall by the way. If you have never attempted rolling before as you do in Aikido you will roll like a spare tire the first time you try it, don’t worry you will straighten out. When you move up to standing it can be intimidating to see the mats coming for you. This is where that little bit of pain might come in. A lot of people (including myself) throw themselves over the first time while standing instead of letting gravity do its job. You panic, stiffen up and just throw yourself hitting the mats with some pain waiting for you. After the first time you will remember to relax. Remember everyone started as a beginner and learns this lesson in some form.
The first standing roll begins in kamae (remember kamae is everything) you extend out towards the next mat not right in front of you. As you feel yourself moving off balance relax and breathe and let gravity do its job. Use your leading arm as a wheel and keep in connected to the mats. Finish the roll by coming back up into kamae. If you pull your arm in and only use your shoulder as you roll, it is going to hurt after a while. The second standing roll is just like the first except you are hitting the mats with your bottom hand (left hand if you are in right side kamae) as you roll through and you still end in kamae.
Break falls are important to learn to keep yourself safe and eventually will be the only forward rolls you practice. Instead of rolling and coming back up into kamae, you land with your back leg straight after you go over, slightly on your side, and you hit the mat. You are hitting the mat with your forearm not you palm. This helps to dissipate the energy from your fall by spreading it out. This way the force of the fall is not focused on one part of your body. The break fall will become second nature after you practice it and it quite fun. Kote Gaeshi , Kaiten Nage, and many more techniques will end in a break fall on your part.
Backwards break falls are often taught in place of backwards rolls to avoid neck injuries. A backwards break fall involves choosing what side to fall on first. If you are starting on the right side step diagonally back with your right foot, cross your right hand to the left side of your face. Shift your weight back and sit down hitting the mats while swinging your hips and legs to the side. You will end in that beautiful break fall position. This requires a lot of practice as uke during techniques so we are not moving ahead of shite. You swing you’re your hips and legs when you fall so your feet are not in shite’s face after you are thrown.
So learning how to fall is not as odd as it sounds. After you train for a while it becomes second nature and you might be surprised how useful learning to fall is. More than once I have avoided serious injury on ice. Each time I had to remind myself I wasn’t in the dojo and my sensei was not there to see it. I was a little disappointed they were not there but very thankful for my training I received. Keep practicing and have fun falling. Osu!