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.

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.

Comments (18)

18 thoughts on “How to Breakfall Naturally

  1. I usually tense the thigh muscles of my “impact leg”. Those muscles are pretty big and will take the impact without pain, protecting the rest of your body if you have a proper position.

    Disclaimer: This might not work on concrete, but it is fine on the tatami.

  2. “Accept that you’re falling and allow it to happen, even encourage it.”

    One thing that can help with this is to train grappling, if you don’t already. Strikers who don’t grapple are often (rightly) afraid to have the fight go to the ground. If you’re confident with your groundfighting skills, going to the ground is not so scary.

    1. It’s important to have a base in ground defense for a more complete self-defense skill set. If you have learned some skills on the ground, you won’t feel like a fish out of water trying to defend yourself from there. I actually have a book that’s being published by Tuttle Publishing that will be available next January, “When the Fight Goes to the Ground: Jiu-jitsu Strategies and Tactics for Self-Defense.” So, yes, I do advocate having skills in this area. 😉 Thanks for commenting!

  3. I had a similar fall on black ice many years ago. The most important thing that happened is that I kept my chin tucked to my chest, otherwise I would have landed on the back of my head… not pretty.

  4. This comment is not particularly relevant to this article. But, I just wanted to say that I recently discovered this blog and have been pouring over it for the better part of 2 weeks. And, I have to say, AMAZING STUFF! I enjoy the articles, videos, and feedback, and I find them immensely valuable to share with my students. I have posted several on our dojo Facebook page and even printed out “How to Be a Better Uke” and handed it to my adult students. Valuable information very well and succinctly rendered. Keep up the good work.

  5. Good post and great action photo. Breakfalling is indeed a foundational skill in JJ (keeps the insurance premiums down 😉 and one of the most important techniques you’ll learn in terms of overall usefulness on and off the mat. What stuck with me the most after reading the article is that it’s better to be drunk than sober when falling: meditate on this I will… Might be a great argument in favour of alcoholism. Seriously though: what kind of exercises do you use to help students with this, especially when they’re hesitant? Besides the standard rolling and falling in lines and the like. I’m always curious as to how other people teach it.


    PS: why the move?

    1. When teaching this concept, we try to focus on getting students to breathe out as they fall, kind of like a sigh as though you’re flopping down on a couch after a hard day. We also teach the breakfalls in stages, starting from our knees at first in order to give them confidence that they won’t hurt themselves before moving to standing breakfalls.

      We moved the blog because we have greater control over the content in this platform, plus it allows us to have the blog attached to our website (they are related after all). Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  6. Once I was reading my street bike and a car blow the stop sign and hit me. I hit the car so fast my body rolled over the windshield and into the street. No broken bones or joints. Pretty lucky.

    The question that I have is that where do you cross the line between defending the throw and realizing its time to just go with it?

    Great Post!

  7. Hi and thank`s for a great article. Fear is indeed the greatest enemy in case of falling, slipping or being thrown to the ground. I think the best way to get comfortable with falling is to build positive experiences to it. Letting the brain know it`s nothing dangerous would probably help to loosen up when falling (there will always be a risk while falling).

    Keep calm and break fall 🙂

  8. thanks for that. I am looking for how to fall forward. I can manage the side fall with break, the back fall with break. I just cannot get how to fall forward correctly, and I hurt myself each time I try. It’s become a real problem.

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