This is a bit of a contradiction in terms. Breakfalling is one of the most unnatural things we teach to new students, to consciously let yourself fall to the ground without trying to stop the fall or slow your descent. We naturally fear the threat of injury we have learned can result from impact. In truth, we are our own worst enemy with this line of thinking. But what happens when this fear is removed from the picture?
Have you every taken a fall so fast that you had no time to even recognize that you’re falling? I know I have. While I was in Ottawa over the holidays I was rushing out of the house down my parents’ sloped driveway. There was a half inch of new snow. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the new snow was covering a thick layer of ice from the freezing rain we had prior to the snow. As I committed my hurried step to the ground, my foot just slipped out from under me banana-peel style with no time to think or react. I was carrying bags in both my arms at the time too. The funny thing was that there was no “breakfalling” but I managed to fall without hurting any part of my body.
You may say that this is probably because I have so much training, and while it is true that it does help, I remember times prior to my training when I fell similarly. I have also witness people fall in a similar manner with no training and get up without injury. How and why does this happen?
When people know that they’re falling, they anticipate impact and usually try and resist the fall. Most people react by putting their arms out or by tensing up, which lead to greater chances of injury to wrists, collar bones, etc. This is why drunk drivers are more likely to walk away from crashes with minimal injury. They often don’t even realize they’re about to crash so they’re relaxed, protecting them from injury.
When you fall quickly and unexpectedly, on the other hand, your mind doesn’t have enough time to register that you’re falling. You’re more likely to be relaxed and to fall in a way that distributes your impact all across your body because you’re not trying to prevent yourself from falling.
So how do you apply this concept to breakfalls? The trick is to embrace the fall rather than resist it. Accept that you’re falling and allow it to happen, even encourage it. Recognize that in doing so, you’ll decrease your chances of injury. This will help you relax, which is a vital component for improving breakfalls, which in turn reduces your chances of injury. Hmmm… there is a bit of a ‘chicken vs egg’ thing going on here in this logic.
Yes, there are certain things you can do to actively lessen chances of injury, that’s where the principles of breakfalling (i.e. timing, body position, breathing, etc) come into play. But if you can let yourself relax on top of that, you’ll vastly improve your ability to do basic falls and give yourself the platform you need to handle more advanced falls.