How to Adjust Breakfalls for Movie Stunt Work

How to Adjust Breakfalls for Movie Stunt Work*WARNING: This article is for informational purposes only. If you wish to put these concepts into practice you should do so under the supervision of a trained professional. 

Knowing how to do breakfalls is really useful for a stunt performer. A high proportion of the movie stunts performed involve falling, whether it’s for a fight, chase, or off a building. But it’s not enough to be good at the breakfalls you do in martial arts training.

When we do throws and takedowns in Jiu-jitsu, our first and foremost goal is to prevent injury. In stunts, the goal is to make the fall look realistic. These two goals can clash, however. The big slap and controlled leg position of a very safe breakfall are the same things that make it look as though the person falling didn’t get hurt. No big surprise, right? (more…)

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Connection & Subtlety for Improving Effectiveness of Throws

This past weekend I attended the Canadian Jiu-jitsu Union Invitational Summer Camp held in Sicamous BC. In its fifth year, this camp is a great chance to learn from some really talented instructors. In the five years I’ve been attending this camp it’s grown, and yet the level of instruction is consistently excellent, with all instructors contributing a high level of expertise. It’s unlike any other event I’ve attended as there are no weak links at the instructor level, and all the instructors, despite their long years of experience, are approachable, affable, and still learning. Their enthusiasm not just for teaching, but for learning from each other is really great to see, and there’s never been any of the one-upsmanship or arrogance that has been on display at some of the other events I’ve attended over the years.

As always, I try and take away concepts from these events, rather than specific techniques because I find concepts easier to remember and often have greater impact on my overall development. (more…)

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Tripping vs Throwing: A Different Way to Conceptualize Throws

A Different Way to Think about Jiu-jitsu ThrowsThrows get very mixed reviews. Some people absolutely love throwing, and really look forward to learning how to toss people about the mats. Other people get nervous and apprehensive when it comes to learning throws.

The very word throwing carries with it a lot of connotation. Throwing implies a requirement of strength, dexterity and energy, and is generally done in the movies by big tough guys with large muscles.

When people try to throw for the first time, you can almost see the big intake of breath before they try and pick someone up and throw them, regardless of how you’ve explained the technique.

Throwing is one of reasons that the assertion made by Jiu-jitsu instructors that it can be done anyone regardless of strength and size is often met with skepticism. The punching, the kicking, that’s ok, even perhaps the locks seem attainable. But tell someone that they’re going to learn to how throw people larger then themselves, well, that’s hard to believe. (more…)

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The Benefits of Kiai for Sharpening Focus & Form for Breakfalls (or Anything!)

Recently I was working with Rick, my stellar 65-year-old Jiu-jitsu student, on a couple of his higher impact breakfalls (breakfall #8 and #9 in Can-ryu). He had been working on improving them diligently for over a year now, trying to overcome his fear of falling hard. Being an older guy, he is naturally a little scared about hurting himself. As a result, he has always found himself holding his breath, tensing up and resisting the flow of energy when doing these higher impact falls, when what he needed to do was quite the opposite; he needed to breathe out and relax to take the edge off the impact, and go with the flow so his body could naturally turn into the ideal falling position. For months we gave him the same type of feedback, making very gradual progress all the while, but then he reached a plateau and he wasn’t making the jump he needed to really “get” the breakfall.

Then we added the kiai. (more…)

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5 Awesome Judo Videos

A martial art derived from Jiu-jitsu, Judo shows beautifully on film. Some of my favourite YouTube videos featuring martial arts are of Judo. As a bit of a lighter post today, I figured I share a few of my favourites.

This first video is a demo that was put on at a festival celebrating the sport, performed by two Olympic-level Judoka. Their core strength is awe-inspiring as they demonstrate Judo throws in slow motion (both forward and in reverse). Also LOVED the Jedi-style throwing from a distance (which can only be seen to be understood). Have a watch: (more…)

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Balance Breaking Games for Martial Arts Training

Balance, stance and structure are all important concepts in the martial arts. When you take your attacker’s balance, shift them out of their stance and compromise their structure, you can more easily throw them, take them to the ground, draw them into locks/submissions, etc. Conversely, by maintaining strong stance and structure, you apply locks, throws, strikes, etc with greater efficiency making them easier to apply with less effort.

One way we like to emphasize these concepts in our classes is by playing balance breaking games in stances like horse stance and forward stance. These help students understand the give and take of balance stance and structure and its relevance to the martial arts. Watch the video below to see how we play these games. (more…)

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6 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Force It in Martial Arts Training

In Jiu-jitsu, as in many martial arts, the goal is to develop great technique so as to use one’s energy with the greatest level of efficiency for maximum effect. Jiu-jitsu literally translates to mean “the art of pliancy or flexibility.” When students get stuck on a technique though, sometimes they will try to use power to force it to work. This not a good approach if your goal is to become a better martial artist. Water is often used as analogy of how we should train in the martial arts. It finds the path of least resistance and flows around its obstacles. Bruce Lee himself said: “Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it.”

There are a variety of practical reasons for not trying to force your way through martial arts techniques. Here are 6 examples from my own experience: (more…)

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How to Breakfall Naturally

258874_10150191534151365_511821364_7181066_4587697_oThis 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. (more…)

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Need for Speed: 3 Principles that Shouldn’t Be Sacrificed to Go Faster

As you progress in your chosen martial art into more advanced levels of development, you start to work on higher level skills. At our dojo, higher level students, usually purple and up, start to learn to apply their skills with more speed. Speed is important in the martial arts. The faster you can move, the more likely you are to catch your attacker off guard and get out of the way of incoming attacks. That being said, there are 3 principles that should not be sacrificed in order to become faster. They are as follows: (more…)

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How to Tweak Your Side Breakfall for Really Hard Throws

Some of my intermediate students are starting to deal with being thrown harder than they did when first started learning to be thrown with Judo style throws like major hip throws (O-goshi), shoulder throws (seioi nage), etc. Last night I took the time to emphasize a few tips that I have gleaned over the years through general experience, as well as a few that our Shorinji Kan brethren have shared with us. I’d like to share these tips with you in this blog.

1. Relax & breathe out as you fall. While we teach this point right from the beginning, you notice how important this becomes when you start getting thrown harder. Breathing out (similar to a heavy sigh) helps you to keep relaxed, which is better for dispersing the energy when you make impact. When you hold your breath or clench the muscles in your body, the energy stays contained in your body, making you feel the impact more.

2. Don’t grab the thrower. Everyone with a little experience knows they’re not supposed to do this, but when you start getting thrown harder, you sometimes revert back to an earlier state of learning, instinctively grabbing the thrower to minimize their speed of the throw. When you do this, it causes your legs to come around and hit the ground ahead of your body, preventing you from landing evenly so as to more fully distribute the impact. Rather than grabbing, you can add a little resistance by letting your arm drag subtlely across the thrower’s back, causing friction that can slow the throw down ever-so-slightly, giving you just that little extra bit of time to control your descent.

3. Keep your bottom leg straight. As you’re swung over someone’s body in a fast, powerful throw,the bottom knee can swing twist funny as you are swung through the air aggressively if you’re not careful. You can also tweak your knee on impact. This happens more often if you keep your bottom leg bent. By keeping your bottom leg straight, you engage all the muscles that stabilize the knee making it safer to take hard throws.

4. Keep your bottom foot engaged. Engaging your bottom foot serves to draw your ankle away from the ground while bulging out your outside calf muscle, which helps minimize the joint’s impact when you hit the ground. There are a couple of ways you can do this. Curl your toes back turning your foot away from the ground (like the foot position used in a side kick – see below). If you have bulbous ankles that tend to stick out more, however, you might find this method makes it worse. In this case, curl your toes back and stick out your heel (like the foot position used in a back kick).

5. Keep your bent knee pointing straight up on impact. If you are swung around hard in a throw and your knee is not pointing up, your knee will have a tendency to twist across your bottom leg, twisting your back and potentially crush your testicles (if you train without a cup). Keeping the knee straight up on impact reduces the chance of this. If you have a tendency of slamming your legs together when thrown, this technique will also help reduce the risk of that.

6. Catch more of your impact with your bent leg. By curling your toes back and pointing your foot with your bent leg (like the foot position used in a front kick), your bent leg can serve as a spring to “catch” more of the impact of the throw. As the ball of your foot touches down, it can be used to subtlely cut down the impact of the rest of your body. It can take time to develop this skill but it can make a big difference with practice.


7. Keep track of the ground. Keeping track of the ground as you’re thrown doesn’t make much difference when you’re thrown correctly, but it makes a huge difference you take a bad throw. By knowing where the ground is, you give yourself a chance to orient your body to it. If you’re in the midst of a bad throw, you can make adjustments in the air so you hit the ground the best way possible. It can take time for your body to learn to do this intuitively, but keeping an eye on the ground gives your body a reference point from which it can learn and adapt.

8. “Hit” the ground! As you gain more experience, you should strive to become more and more active in your breakfalling technique, rather than just letting yourself be thrown. Attack the ground with your body, aligning all of the above principles. Actively slap the ground with your breakfall arm with gusto. When doing side breakfalls (the ones used when being thrown from hip throws, shoulder throws, etc), this action helps to rotate the body in the air causing you to land more on your side rather than your back. This is an important aspect of honing your breakfalls for hard throws, because if you don’t “hit” the ground, the ground hits you.


In addition to these tips, be sure to let your instructor know if you are noticing any pain when you’re being thrown. It’s not supposed to hurt so don’t just grit your teeth and bear it. By letting your instructor know where it hurts they can give you feedback to fix your breakfall so you need not endure any pain. Got any further breakfall tips of your own? Please feel free to share in the comments. 🙂
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