Physical Training Oct 2001

Ten Ways: To Softer Landings

by Kim Taylor Kim Taylor

It's always a good thing when you finally arrive alive on the ground after tripping, being thrown or just throwing yourself. Remember that breakfalls are just like landing airplanes, any one you can walk away from is a good one.

1. Choose your vehicle:

To get where you're going, you should if at all possible, choose the safest vehicle you can. If you can stop before hitting the ground, do it. If you can just sit down on your butt, do it. If you can roll, do it. If you can slide, do it. If you absolutely have to go airborne, well OK go airborne but for goodness sake, don't make it your automatic first choice. Sure it's great in class but hey, wanna launch yourself into the air when someone twists your wrist in front of the movie theatre saying hello to you while trying to look down the line at the same time? Pretty embarassing let me tell you.

2. Ease into it slow:

Of course you want to stay ahead of the throw, but don't accelerate if you don't have to, take your time getting to the ground. If you're on your own (bless those partners who don't help you right into the mat, throwing all the way) and have a foot on the ground, collapse that leg slowly to take as much energy out of the fall as you can before you hit the mat. You can rob a lot of energy from a throw by the sneaky use of musclepower before you actually hit the ground.

3. Lots of skin:

The secret is low pressure, you want to put the force of the throw and the weight of your body over as much area as you can when you hit the ground. Whole forearms are better than hands, whole legs better than knees. The more skin you can get onto the floor the less the impact per square cm.

4. Take your time:

Following the idea of getting as much skin on the ground as possible, try to spread it out over time too. If you're coming down out of the air try to get the legs down before the hips, before the chest, before the arm. That way you get the maximum skin down over the maximum time. While doing this use those muscles to keep stealing energy out of the throw before the next bit of skin hits the mat. The best version of this is to roll rather than to fall of course, that's the maximum skin and the maximum time in contact with the ground. A good front roll to standing means that you just transfer the power of the throw over the ground and into your legs at the end of the process, as if you just took a step back, but your wrist or arm is free of the thrower.

5. Sequencing:

Not surprisingly you should try to put things onto the ground in the correct sequence. Make sure that the first thing to hit the ground sets up a connected chain of other things that hit. For instance if you're rolling the first thing that may hit is your little finger, so follow it by your arm, torso, hip, thigh, calf and lastly your foot. If you land finger then foot, your foot is going to hurt, but you'll forget about it when your hip comes crashing down I suspect. If you're coming down from a nice airborne maneuver and your foot hits first, the sequence will be reversed.

6. Don't stop:

Once you start landing, don't stop. Cutting the sequence in the middle is not only hard on the muscles doing the stopping, but you also force all the remaining energy into the last part of your body that hits the ground. Not to mention the danger of collapsing onto your face when you start your roll and then suddenly decide to stop with all your body weight over your little finger.

7. Relax:

Of course this is how you keep from stopping, you have to relax into the fall. You also have to make sure that your muscles and bones are more like rubber than like glass. Be flexible not brittle. Of course you also have to have a little snap back or you will be more like a line of beads on a thread than rubber, and in that case the thread tends to snap. Relax also means don't hold your breath. Breakfall headaches are from all that air getting compressed in your lungs, compressing your heart in turn and shooting your blood pressure through the roof (or at least your eyeballs) as you hit. Not to mention that held breath makes a rigid torso which then allows your head to shake around on the end of your neck so that your brain sloshes around inside... Did I mention don't fall down if you don't have to?

8. Balls not sticks:

This all links together of course, be a nice round ball not a big tall stick. Think about how a ball hits the ground and rolls with maximum surface area in contact with the ground over time in sequence. Now think about how a stick just kind of falls over. Don't be a series of sticks tied together with string either, figure out how to turn those arms and legs so that what hits the ground is nice and round rather than flat. For goodness sake avoid angles like elbows and knees that tend to stick into the mat rather than roll along it. Sudden stops, remember?

9. Choose fat:

Hit with your butt, not your hip, your forearm not your wrist, your thigh not your knee. Padding helps.

10. Protect what's worth it:

Hey, unless you're some hellishly fit 20 year old who weighs nothing and is much too strong per gram for your own good, falling down hurts. It's mostly a matter of not admitting to anyone else just how much it hurts. Now that you've admitted it to yourself at least, resign yourself to sacrificing your ribs for your spine and head, your arms for your ribs, your legs for your hips. Do the damage as far from your centreline as you can and you'll at least recover if you don't walk away from the landing.

Happy flights!

Physical Training Oct 2001