The quick and easy break falling system.

Let’s face it, if you study any form of martial arts, there is an element of break falling involved. Traditional arts place heavy emphasis on the need to break fall such as Aikido or jiu-jitsu, but these principles can just as easily be applied to MMA or Thai Boxing when being swept or taken down.

Break falling is one of the most crucial aspects of martial arts to learn, especially as a beginner for a number of reasons.

Safety first

The first and most important reason to learn how to break fall safely is obviously safety! In most martial arts, traditional or sport based, at some level you will have to learn how to take a fall. This could be from a sweep during sparring in kickboxing, or Muay Thai, to a single or double leg in MMA. From a wrist lock in Aikido, to a hip throw in jiu-jitsu, break falling is a crucial aspect of the martial arts to learn to prevent injury and keep you learning and on the mats.

The idea of the break fall, is to do exactly that – break the fall. We land in such a way as to absorb the impact, reduce damage and prevent any long term injuries. Break falling can start simply – with a simple back fall to protect the head, neck and spine, but quickly progress. At the most advanced levels we have silent break falls or high break falls, gymnastic in approach, but also functional in controlling the impact you receive off the technique or takedown.

Progression

In many martial arts, break falling is crucial in order to feel how the technique is done. Arguably, the best way to understand a technique is to feel it first hand from the coach, sensei, professor etc and if you can fall well and safely, you are more likely to be able safely feel how the technique works.

A single leg takedown can be drilled over and over again, but 1 demonstration of the single leg where you feel how it is meant to be applied is worth 100 drills on your own or with a partner who is also figuring it out.

If you get good and competent at safely falling, your skill level will increase. You’ll be able to feel how the technique works, and you’ll also be able to safely train, meaning less time off the mats for any niggling injuries! Win, win!

Drill development and principles

A lot of the principles found in learning to break fall occur in learning a martial arts. We learn the form, we learn the main points to consider, then we figure out how it fits best for us. I’m of small stature, so my break falls are likely to be quicker and more compact than someone who is 6ft tall and 18 stone. The way we teach the break fall is the same to ensure safety first, but the way it is applied and made your own differs.

The same can be said of martial arts. We teach the jab, the main points, get the range right, rotate the hip and shoulder and retract it with speed. Then we play! We experiment with the angles in light sparring, we try to improve our success rate of hitting it. My jab again, will be different to a jab of a 6ft tall practitioner simply because they have a longer reach! Therefore, we learn and adapt, same as in break falling.

When we figure out these core principles we can develop drills to help with agility, speed, flexibility and cardiovascular and muscular fitness – all important for martial arts.

The Break Falling for Martial Artists video series.

Time for a shameless plug now! As a 3rd degree black belt in Yoshinkan Aikido, break falling was instilled into me from a young age. Say what you like about the efficacy of Aikido (I may even agree). but one thing they do do well is break falling! This has served me well during my time cross training in other styles both in terms of the practical break falling element, and also the principles it teaches.

I’ve packaged what I’ve learned about break falling into my own course this lockdown! Starting with the simple basics of how to do a simple backfall, then progress to slam backfalls and angled ones, then moving to forward and backward rolls. Then finally flip falls and more gymnastic, but less practical break falling. With this I’ve added some drills and skills you can train yourself, or alternatively use in classes if you instruct kids/adults and want to add some break falling in. The basics, up to advanced, with some drill ideas to implement into your class. Super simple, but also super needed!

I’ll be launching this course at a 50% discount rate at the end of June, so be sure to subscribe to The Martial View to receive this discount if you want to take your martial arts training up a gear, or want another element to add into your classes.

5 Steps to improved Jiyu Waza fitness

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5 steps to improved Jiyu Waza fitness

I’m sure everyone who does Aikido can relate to the fact that Jiyu Waza takes a special kind of fitness! I like to consider myself a fairly fit guy but after a few rounds of Jiyu Waza I’m pretty tired! I’ve known long distance runners, gymnasts and athletes be tired after one or two rounds! So what makes Jiyu Waza so tiring and how can we improve our endurance?

Firstly there’s the fact that it takes a certain kind of cardio-vascular endurance! You attack, get thrown, spring up and attack again. It’s dynamic, its athletic, and its tiring! Secondly there’s impact. Impact takes it out of you. You get thrown hard and the body tenses in order to prepare for the impact. You don’t breath correctly, you tense up in anticipation of the fall. You hold your breath as you meet the floor. You get tired! Thirdly, its not just tiring for the one receiving the fall, its tiring for the one applying the techniques! A difficult, stiff and inexperienced partner can make you tense and it can feel like throwing a sack of potatoes if the partner can’t yet fall correctly. Again this leads to fatigue! So what can we do about it?!

5 – Overall Fitness

This is pretty much a given, if you’re in reasonably good shape and have good muscular endurance as well as cardiovascular endurance, this is obviously going to help your jiyu waza! High intensity training where sprints are followed by periods of low intensity exercise are shown to be extremely effective in increasing cardio relatively quickly and is more effective than just running for miles and miles in terms of jiyu waza and martial arts in general. Jiyu waza is fast, dynamic and high intensity. Self defence situations are fast, dynamic and high intensity.

4 – Ukemi

Get comfortable falling. Simple as that, get comfortable falling for back falls, front falls, side falls, weird and wonderful angled falls. Just get comfortable falling. The more comfortable you are falling, the more your body will relax on the impact and the less fatigued you will become in both cardio and muscular.

3 – Know your techniques

Get comfortable practicing different techniques to use during jiyu waza and just repeatedly practice until you have a good “set list” of techniques at your disposal. The more comfortable with techniques, again the more relaxed you will be and the more you can focus on things like breathing, not trying to think of a technique to do!

2 – Breath!!

We’re all guilty of it. We tense up and we forget to breath! As Robert Mustard Shihan is fond of saying, its a well known secret of the martial arts that if you don’t breath, you die! Establish a pattern of breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth and you will notice an improvement in your endurance almost immediately in comparison to erratic breathing when you are panicking and tense.

1 – PRACTICE

So how do we get comfortable doing all these things?! Practice! Do rounds of jiyu waza, building up slowly as both the receiver and the thrower! Think about your breathing, the techniques you will use and the correct way to fall properly. Get a good training partner who wants to improve their jiyu waza too and get practicing. Enjoy!!

The need to breakfall

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Ukemi (Breakfalling)

Ukemi or breakfalling is arguably one of the most important skills to master in Aikido and the martial arts in general. From the very first time we enter an Aikido school and our very first class, we are working with a partner and so need to breakfall. This is different to some other martial arts where the first few classes are spent practising form or certain strikes. Aikido, day one you work with a partner and so the need to breakfall correctly is of paramount importance.

The back fall

Aikido at first looks at the back fall breakfall used in techniques such as shihonage where you are taken down in a certain way so as to end up on your back. Protecting the head and back is of critical importance here, and ukemi is built up slowly so that we can take progressively harder and harder falls without hurting ourselves. The neck is tucked in to prevent the head hitting and bouncing off the mat, and the knees are bent to ensure you land butt first, not back first which will just knock the wind out of you.

When we are comfortable with this breakfall, we step it up a notch and progress to the high backfall, mostly used during dynamic jiyu waza techniques such as irimi tsuki and irimi nage. Here the legs are kicked up to head level to take the high breakfall, and the impact is dissipated in the shoulders and arm you use to break the fall with. The key component in the high breakfall is controlling the legs. If the legs are controlled and together at the time of doing the fall, the rest of the body can be controlled, and so the impact is minimal. Conversely, if the legs are separated, it can be difficult to control the rest of the body and the impact may be taken on the back or even worse the neck. Below is a demonstration of high back falling at around 1 minute 40.

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The forward roll

In terms of forward rolling, Aikido employs a kind of sideways forward breakfall whereby we roll up the arm to the shoulder, and from the shoulder to the opposite hip in a diagonal line down the back, avoiding the spine. This is different to traditional gymnastics rolls where the roll is taken over the head and down the spine. Due to the nature of Aikido it is possible to throw people very hard using the hips, and so taking ukemi over the spine is not recommended for impact. Progressing on from this we look at the flipfall, again used in jiyu waza or techniques such as kotegaeshi. The flipfall is in many ways an aerial forward roll with the impact being taken on the arm we use to break the fall.

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The clip below illustrates the power in the throws and the need to be able to fall correctly, as well as demonstrating the backfall, high backfall and flipfall breakfall as used in Aikido techniques.

Protect the body, build the body

Break falling correctly can help us protect the body, but can also help us to build the body. While recently teaching Aikido at a secondary school I was amazed to find how many of the students of only 13 or 14 years old couldn’t complete a simple forward roll due to lack of strength and coordination. Rolling and break falling helps to build core muscles that protect the spine, as well as developing coordination, fitness and agility. Simple break falling practice can build the body in a number of ways as well as protecting it and so is crucial to the development of children in my opinion.

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Falling correctly and making this second nature can help in everyday life. How often do we hear of people falling down the stairs and breaking and arm or leg? Could this have been prevented if someone had an idea of how to fall properly without injuring themselves? Also in terms of self defence, many fights end up on the ground and so if taken down we need to be able to protect the head, shoulders and limbs. In sport martial arts such as MMA or Judo, take downs are ¬†key component and so before being taught to take down and throw, practitioners are taught how to breakfall. This allows us to increase in confidence with our ability to fall properly. In everyday life, a flipfall or high back fall may not be useful, but the principles it teaches, and the way it allows us to comfortably take a breakfall, protecting the major areas may one day save us from serious injury. Due to this, I believe ukemi or breakfalling is key to any martial arts training, as well as just training in everyday life. Breakfalling must focus on a strong core and form to begin with, then gradually built up, introducing new falls from different angles, or faster falls that you perhaps weren’t expecting. When we can comfortably fall from a technique or throw where we don’t know where we are going, this is surely a good sign that our training has allowed us to process and absorb the form, and so if we ever need to break a fall in real life, our training may instinctively kick in.

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