While I was in New Zealand to teach seminars, I had the pleasure of doing some training with Jules Robson Sensei. One of the topics we spent a lot of time on was breakfalls, as you can see in the photo on the right taken at his dojo. He posited that many martial artists train their breakfalls in a more performance oriented way. By this I mean that the uke being thrown has full control over their balance and structure allowing them to get more leap and spring so as to enjoy greater control over one’s fall. When well trained, these falls and rolls look quite beautiful, but when applied as a response to a throw, it’s a beautiful lie.
Breakfalls that Train Poor Throw/Takedown Habits
To do the controlled breakfalls as described above, the uke performing them needs to have enough control over their structure that they can get the necessary spring loaded into their feet to do the fall. The problem with this is that it can cause uke to pre-empt tori’s technique. In essence, uke is throwing themselves and leading tori to believe the technique was successfully applied, when they never really even got to the point to know one way or the other. This is most noticeable when using rolls to fall out of sacrifice throws like yoko otoshi (side drop) or what we call valley throw in Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu. If tori does the throw properly, there isn’t usually enough time for uke to do a full shoulder roll safely, so often you’ll see people not fully commit to the dropping action of the throw to make the roll possible. This is why we don’t teach our students to attempt the roll as a response to these types of throws.
The other problem with training to do breakfalls before tori has fully taken balance is that it prevents tori from seeing the natural counter openings that their technique is leaving open. If uke always falls, regardless of how well or poorly the technique is applied, the feedback loop that application failure offers is taken away. The technique is never truly put to the test.
Double-Loading the Feet for Breakfalls
If balance is truly taken, the uke’s weight is double-loaded in such a way that they can’t step or sink their weight to counter without compromising their structural alignment in a much worse way. Robson Sensei posits that this is the way we should be training to do breakfalls. This makes total sense, but it can be hard to do when training solo breakfalls without a partner to do said balance breaking. He led me through a series of exercises that led to working on this concept as applied to rolls. I started getting the hang of it over a few sessions, but it is challenging to train myself not to spring into the roll. Fortunately, we don’t really use rolls to fall out of throwing techniques, using them more for when a fall comes out of the blue, say from tripping or if someone loses balance after a throw, the roll can be used to fall over uke without falling into them in a way that makes tori vulnerable. It did however, get me thinking about the utility and functionality of breakfalls and the roll of uke in being thrown in concept. Instructors who teach throws and breakfalls should consider how the breakfall training methods affect the way throws are performed one should not negatively impact the other and vice versa.
Over to you. Do you teach throws/takedowns and breakfalls? If so, is this something that you’ve considered? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.