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Thread: Falling skills

  1. #1
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    Default Falling skills

    I saw a post from Rory Miller on falling skills (ukemi) and wanted to share/discuss.

    Break falls, rolls, landing on the ground without injuring yourself...this is actually a very deep subject. The basic mechanics are not especially difficult, but start throwing in variables from the real world and it gets complicated very quickly. Rory describes the many challenges of learning and teaching it brilliantly so I won't rewrite it...I'll only say that his post resonated strongly with me because I see these same issues all the time.

    I have bolded the parts I think are most relevant or interesting

    Ukemi

    Before I get back to dissecting the lab, I wanted to dig into ukemi (breakfalls) and speculate on why they might be hard to teach. Hat tip to Toby for sending the video of teaching a back flip in under an hour. A back flip is more difficult than any individual breakfall (there are many of them) but...

    Okay. First the pros. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Protecting yourself from falling damage is a comparatively simple physics problem. Once you are thrown, you are an object of a specific mass at a specific height. Unless another force is added, that is all of the energy in the system. That is the force you have to mitigate. You can't make the energy go away, you just have to make sure the force is dissipated.

    Force can be dissipated in two (three*) ways. You can spread the impact force out over surface area, over time, or both.

    The flat falls are very efficient ways to maximize the surface area. If the energy in the system all goes into the point of a bone, like the tip of the elbow, or a joint, like when you reach for the ground with a stiff arm and all of the energy of the fall goes into your shoulder joint, things will break. If the same energy is spread over your hands, arm, side, butt and legs, it’s pretty manageable.

    There's a nuance, here. There are places that can take more damage than others. Palms can take more impact than, say, the back of the hand. The butt can take more impact than the bones of the hip girdle. So landing on the right surfaces is a big part of falling correctly.

    Rolls dissipate the force over time. Theoretically, if you have infinite space to roll and could do so without bumping, you could dissipate an infinite amount of energy.
    Theoretically**.

    And a proper roll does both. A simple somersault dissipates the force over the hands, shoulders and down the spine to the butt and then the feet. A proper shoulder roll dissipates the force down the entire diagonal from the lead hand, down the arm to the shoulder, diagonally across the length of the back and down the length of the opposite leg. The longer distance also creates a longer surface area and longer time to dissipate force.

    The mechanics of these are relatively simple and relatively simple to teach. That is, as long as the student can suppress the innate fear of falling. Factoid: There appear to be only two things humans are born afraid of— falling and loud noises.

    Here’s where it gets complicated and why falling is harder to teach in judo than in gymnastics: The bad guy gets a say. Always.

    Rolling is inherently more efficient than a flat fall. As said above, rolls could theoretically dissipate an infinite amount of force. That’s not true for flat falls. So why don’t we just teach the rolls and ignore the flat falls? Because you can only roll if you are allowed to roll, if the bad guy lets go of you.

    We need front, back and side flat falls, because the bad guy largely dictates whether you are going to land face down, face up, or sideways. Some martial arts teach the PLF (Parachute Landing Fall) as a breakfall. It’s very quick to learn and sort of efficient. Unfortunately, unless the bad guy is throwing you in such a way that you’re going to land on your feet anyway, it’s largely useless. And as for efficiency, it works pretty well, but there’s a reason why so many airborne soldiers get cashiered out for knee damage.

    So here’s the likely problem with teaching people to fall. It’s actually a number of skills. You have to be able to roll or slam. More importantly, you have to be able, while in the air*** to figure out what options you have, based on what the bad guy is doing, and choose the most efficient.

    With a little more practice, you may be able to alter the forces, say by hanging on to the person throwing you. Or you may be able to counter-attack when you are in the air.
    Most devastating version of that I’ve used was to curl into a ball so that the thrower swung me through his own knees. You should also be able to notice dangerous obstacles and contort your body so that a flat fall misses, say, curbs or jagged rocks.

    Summarizing. Before I thought about this at this depth, I’d seen ukemi as fairly basic skills. Mechanical skills. I’d assumed that the fear of falling was the bottleneck. Now I’m seeing it as more complex in the choice of which variation of the mechanical skills to choose, and the very limited time you have to gather that information. It takes time to be able to gestalt, in a fraction of a second, in the air: Your position in space, The vectors— linear and rotational— in which your body is moving, The grip strength and position of your opponent's hands… That’s a lot. And I’m sure I’m missing some things.

    * The DZR guys at the lab added flexing and/or bouncing and/or compression as a third way to dissipate force, but technically that is spreading it out over time as well.

    ** Remind me to tell you the joke about a physicist explaining cattle ranching.

    *** I’ve noticed that strikers have three distinct freezes when they are thrown. They stiffen up and their minds tend to blank: 1) When they feel their balance broken, 2) when they realize they are airborne and 3) when they hit the ground. All three of those freezes can be reliably exploited
    .

    Lots of good stuff there.

    I have been teaching this stuff for a long time. All he describes about the complexity of getting thrown is accurate. Falling well after being thrown in challenging circumstances is a deep skill and there's A LOT that goes into it. It is something I'm good at DOING, but this is an area that I struggle to teach it well. Teaching the mechanics of falling is simple. Teaching the nuances of feeling what your opponent is doing, how to respond, how to land most safely, how to counterattack while off balance, right after landing on the ground, or even while still in the air...teaching that stuff is very difficult and I still struggle with how to effectively teach that without requiring lots of repetition and experience.
    Last edited by Brent Yamamoto; 06-22-2022 at 11:56 AM.
    Brent Yamamoto
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  2. #2
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    I find the older I get the more important this is. I sort of go splat right now
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    I can always do a zoom class on falling, but it would only cover basic mechanics. That can be very useful but only gets people so far.

    Also, unless students have some mats to fall on, it is uncomfortable to learn.
    Brent Yamamoto
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    I am so glad that I learned some of this in my youth. In college, I signed up for an Aikido class. I figured it would be an easy, fun class that I could just tack onto the rest of a full semester, but I didn't really expect anything very enlightening to come from it. Turns out, it was fantastic. We spent 80% of the class learning how to fall, which was underwhelming at the time, but I now realize was a truly superb foundation for so many other skills. I'm also very glad that I learned that stuff when I was 18. At that age, I could get tossed to the ground repeatedly for an hour and then just clean up for my next class. It would not be as simple a lesson today.

    Given the above, I have two separate recommendations:
    (a) Do this. Learn it. This skill will help you in a fight, when the back wheel on a motorcycle slips out from under you, when you take a spill in an icy parking lot, or anywhere else. But you need to learn it deeply enough to ingrain it, which means lots of reps.
    (b) Find a way to push all of the young people that you care about to learn this skill. It is so much easier to learn this at 20 than it is at 40, even if you are in good shape.
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  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by LawDog View Post
    Given the above, I have two separate recommendations:
    (a) Do this. Learn it. This skill will help you in a fight, when the back wheel on a motorcycle slips out from under you, when you take a spill in an icy parking lot, or anywhere else. But you need to learn it deeply enough to ingrain it, which means lots of reps.
    (b) Find a way to push all of the young people that you care about to learn this skill. It is so much easier to learn this at 20 than it is at 40, even if you are in good shape.
    THIS.

    I tell people all the time that most of them are very unlikely to get in a real fight, but every single one of them will fall down more than once in life.

    And yes, it is MUCH easier to learn young.



    I didn't realize you had done Aikido.

    I think Aikido has a lot of value but only if one drops the idea that they are taking Aikido to learn how to FIGHT. Aikido is very good at ENHANCING skills if one already has a base for fighting. It's good at offering different options for times when you don't need to destroy the other guy (i.e. low risk situations where one has to protect oneself, but at the same time is trying not to break the other person).

    But for most people, the single biggest benefit of Aikido training is learning how to fall. I'll also add that Aikido is a gentler way to begin learning. There's a greater focus on ROLLING, rather than Japanese Jujutsu/Judo which has a greater emphasis on a flat fall. We should know both...but rolling is an easier way to begin learning.
    Brent Yamamoto
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  6. #6
    I find recorded sessions for pretty much any skill super valuable, especially from a trusted instructor. There is always a moment of "wait, what was this part again?" Even if it is just the basic mechanics of whatever is being learned, dicing mirepoix or learning to finger a tricky chord, its a great place to start- or to fix up uneven fundamentals already learned. One can try it, mess it up, re watch, slow it down and do it over again until it is correct. Nuanced, self teaching is not, and it sure doesn't take the place of repetition and experience- but it just might be enough to not dice your fingers along with the celery.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brent Yamamoto View Post
    I can always do a zoom class on falling, but it would only cover basic mechanics. That can be very useful but only gets people so far.
    XO and I are definitely interested in more classes/seminars.


    Maybe instead of or in addition to Zoom would be some expanded videos on falling.


    The videos on NW Martial Arts are helpful. Especially multiple angles and slow motion.


    No way to sugarcoat this, it's going to sound awkward, but one suggestion would be to wear different attire for demonstrations, the gi and hakama make it difficult to discern correct limb placement.
    "If you decide you can do something, you will." -Gabe, KWTL

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    Quote Originally Posted by Oscar01 View Post
    No way to sugarcoat this, it's going to sound awkward, but one suggestion would be to wear different attire for demonstrations, the gi and hakama make it difficult to discern correct limb placement.
    OK that is fantastic advice. I know that and purposely avoid wearing hakama, but I forget and lots if our stuff out there, the other guy is wearing a hakama. And of course I always wear a gi for dojo vids.

    but that is good. I will follow up.
    Brent Yamamoto
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    That's a great summary and explanation of what goes into falling. Makes me think of two experiences, one recent, one quite a number of years ago.

    The recent one was sparring with a buddy at school. I threw a (slow) kick, and he caught it, having a little bit of practice wrestling. I followed up with another—which was stupid—and he, expecting that, caught it as well. Suddenly I was airborne, falling, and hit the ground. I had all three freezes the guy you quoted, Brent, more or less all at once. Only sort of half-caught myself on my wrist, having had training in the basics of falling while training in TKD. Neat to see someone identify those freezes, though, and realize I did exactly all three while focused on striking.

    The other experience illustrates the importance of learning this stuff, at some level at least, early. I was probably 12, might have been 13, and riding my Razor scooter around the neighborhood. I used to go down this steep-ish (mostly long) hill, in which at one time utility trenches had been cut and then patched, resembling large stripes across the road. I would jump them on my scooter every time I rode down the hill. One time, I was thinking about something else, missed one patch I would jump, realized the next was right there, and hurriedly jumped. When I landed, the wheels were at a bit of an angle, so after what felt like an eternity of wobbling but was probably less than a second, I and the scooter parted ways, I over its handlebars and into the air, it into an impressive number of bounces and somersaults. What's neat is I came down more or less sideways on the road but kept my arms in it, turned it into a forward roll, and spread out in a more typical flat fall spread-eagle to slow down, then popped to my feet Turkish-getup style. I had torn a hole in my jeans and my knee, but nothing serious, and most importantly, my head was safe. I never wore a helmet while riding my scooter, so had I not learned to roll and fall, I might very well have been seriously injured.

    I enjoyed rolling and falling sessions in TKD class (which occurred only when my dad instructed that night) all the more after that. I of course told my dad all about it that evening.

  10. #10
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    More from Rory. His post is about standards, how to judge your skills. I think it's a useful thought exercise for lots of things, but he continues his thoughts on falling/ukemi, so I'm sharing. For clarity and ease of posting, everything that follows is his.




    Standards

    This is something Toby requested I put out after a phone call.

    There's no end state to skills. There are people who can punch, and other people who can punch well. And other people who can punch superbly. But how subjective are those tiers? Do the words mean anything at all?

    You can always get better, at anything, and there's no good answer to the question, "How good is good enough?" Because you will never know how bad a problem you might have to deal with.

    I've been breaking my own rules for teaching InFighting. I used to reserve that class for people who have superb distancing and breakfalls. So Toby very deftly got me talking about how I define superb breakfalls. So let's talk about that.

    I'll rate your breakfalls superb if you can take a flat fall four ways-- on both sides, face down, and on your back-- from shoulder height on concrete without bruising*.

    You must be able to roll in all eight directions on a hard surface without bruising when you didn't expect to be shoved. And specific to InFighting, your instinct has to be to relax when you feel your balance break. A lot of the takedowns at that range are knee entanglements, and if you stiffen up, there's a good chance your knee will pop.

    Superb distancing is a little harder to define. My favorite drill for it is the Maai Drill described in Training for Sudden Violence. Basically, your partner chooses a weapon. The partner is not allowed to move her feet in this drill, but everything else is fair game. You need to judge by weapon length, opponent's height, arm length, and grip (and anything else that matters) how close you can be and still be safe. You stand with the intention of the weapon missing you by less than an inch. Then your partner swings or pokes at you and tests your assessment.

    Your confidence in the skill is high when you're willing to do it with sharp weapons.

    Superb distancing is when you can do this in free play. It's harder to measure, and actively punished in most forms of point sparring, but you simply don't block anything that's not going to reach you. You always attack from the distance where you can deliver whatever level of force/penetration you have agreed to (the difference between full, stiff, medium, and light contact is dictated almost entirely by distance.)

    One way I measure/train this is absence de fer. Might not have spelled that right, and it translates to absence of steel, or absence of blade. I'll sword spar with the intention of having a robust defense, but without letting my blade touch my opponent's or vise versa. It really works your distancing, because that becomes your only physical (as opposed to psychological) defense. It also tends to really freak out most opponents.

    Some will get so desperate, that they will focus on your blade, reach for it, and you can easily get them to open up their center. Fun.

    I don't know if I have standards for the other skills I consider essential Building Blocks. Toby just started me thinking about this two days ago after all. Maybe more to come.


    *No bruising might be a little extreme, but I don't personally bruise much. I also find that people who practice ukemi regularly tend to toughen up and bruise less. Or maybe only non-bruisers stick with it. That's possible, too.

    Brent Yamamoto
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