Falling and Rolling

As a martial art system we practice Nage a great deal. In nearly every class you attend you will see, perform, or experience some form of a throw. As a result, we often find ourselves falling. To protect ourselves and greatly reduce the chances for injury we do two things; firstly, we practice controlled throwing so that when we throw a training partner we strive to prevent them from being injured and, secondly, we practice falling to reduce our risks of injury.

The purpose of most falling drills is to learn how to protect our vital organs as we fall and come in contact with a hard surface. When falling we will, where necessary, sacrifice other parts of the body to protect our vital organs.

When falling straight back such that you will land on your back you should tuck your chin forward as you fall. This helps ensure you do not allow the back of your head to contact the floor upon landing.  Do not allow your head to snap back as you land or a serious head injury could result. Additionally you should extend your arms outward about 30° from your torso with the palms facing downward and then slap the arms and palms forcefully into the ground just before your torso lands. This is designed to disperse much of the energy from the fall into your extremities so that this energy does not get dispersed into one or more vital organs or the skeletal structure of your torso. Do not strike too early, however, or you could cause injury to the shoulder joint.

Similarly, when falling to one side or the other, you should ensure your head remains up as you look to find the approaching floor. The arm closest to the floor extends forward about 30° and turns so the palm faces downward. If possible bend the legs and arm slightly. Just prior to contact you would drive the entire arm, palm, and thigh of the extremities closest to the floor downward so they again help disperse the energy from the fall through non-vital surfaces.

When striking the ground with the arms and/or legs it is important to ensure you do not strike the ground with your elbow, wrist, knee, or ankle first. This can lead to focused injuries at these joints. Instead, you must ensure the entire arm (or leg), from shoulder to palm (or hip to lower calf), lands in unison. This gives you the largest surface area for dispersing energy and ensures that no single part of the extremity takes the initial brunt of the fall. This is simple physics.

Falling forward offers another set of risks and you will practice how to protect yourself in these falls by either maximizing the surface area upon landing or by rolling to distribute energy over the large surface areas of your extremities and torso.

The most common injuries incurred as a result of falling forward are injuries to the hands, wrists, knees, and face. Broken, sprained or strained wrists are a very common injury resulting from these falls. Scraped hands and knees are also very common. When falling forward experiment with landing on your entire forearm rather than just the palm of your hand (but do not land on your elbows). Retract your head back and upward to reduce the possibility of your face contacting a hard surface.

We practice rolling from kneeling, standing, and moving postures. Begin from a kneeling position and then reach back with one arm so it extends under your torso and toward the ankle of the opposite leg. This should dip the associated shoulder down and backward, thereby tucking your head down and toward your knees. Now push forward with both legs so your head continues moving backward and under your torso as you roll over your extended arm and lowered shoulder. Your shoulder should not contact the ground. You back, just behind the shoulder, should be your initial point of contact with the ground.

Practice this on both sides until you can roll in a generally forward direction (toward your local angle 1). Ideally you will want to roll from the back of the lowered shoulder, over your back and eventually over the opposite hip. So you will roll diagonally across your back. This will cause you to roll in a linear or straight manner along the floor (which will sound counter intuitive until you have practiced it). If you were pointed toward octagon angle one while kneeling, then rolling in this manner will cause you to move directly toward angel one. Keep practicing until you can do this reliably. You will also want to practice until you barely notice any contact between your body and the floor. If you find you are making hard contact somewhere then you will need to consult with your instructor about how best to improve your technique.

When you are very accomplished with this roll you can begin rolling from a standing position. Learn to roll such that there is actually very little impact from the roll. You should land gently and in a controlled manner rather than with a thud. You will find that your impact is least when you launch yourself forward as you tuck your head and shoulders downward.  Ample forward momentum helps to quickly distribute forces over the large contact surface of your back.

Once you are very good at rolling from a standing position you may move on to rolling after stepping forward. Your instructor will help you with any minor details, but you should eventually be able to step forward, roll, and then stand back up immediately as part of the completion of the roll. As an example, you may step forward with your right leg, and while still moving forward, lower your right arm back toward your left ankle. Your forward momentum should cause you to land softly just behind your right shoulder and then roll with your back in constant contact with the ground until your left hip comes in contact with the ground. Tuck both legs in and continue rolling forward. If your legs are tucked properly you should be able to roll up onto one or both knees and then stand up from this position. If done properly you should experience a pleasant sensation as your body moves throughout the sequence.

Once you have been taught to fall correctly it is important that you practice these falling skills every time you work with someone else and are provided with an opportunity to fall or roll. When you are very accomplished then you should practice the rolls in the reverse order, e.g. roll backward and then regain your feet. As above, begin from a kneeling position first and become very accomplished at these rolls before contemplating attempts at standing backward rolls (which are much more risky and are not required as part of the curriculum).

All falling and rolling skills development should be done under the supervision of an instructor. There is great risk to these exercises if they are done improperly. You will want to ensure an instructor is available to offer you needed safety guidance and pointers regarding how you might improve your technique. As with all skills in Tensoku Ryu, you need an instructor to ensure proper understanding and effective skills development.

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