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.
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.
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.