Monday, March 19, 2007

Those magical soft breakfalls

Some ukes - typically only the most skilled - are able to attack vigorously and get smashed by tori but still manage to land softly. They appear to break the laws of physics with this skill - being thrown hard but magically landing softly. But this is a skill and it can be taught and learned. Telling you everything that you need to know to do soft breakfalls is beyond the scope of this few-hundred word post, but I can give you some hints...
  1. The essence of the soft breakfall is skillful coordination of the muscles of the trunk - primarily the abdominals. Skilled ukes are able to contract when appropriate and relax when appropriate.
  2. Small wheels turn faster than large wheels. Skilled ukes stretch out at the right timesbecause it slows things down and absorbs some energy. When they are ready to turn over they curl up and the energy stored by stretching out is released into a fast roll.
  3. In forward roll, energy is absorbed in different muscle groups at different times. Watch a skilled uke and try to figure out when during the roll they are extending their trunk and when they are curling it. This is the essence of the thing.

Try this exercise - do several repetitions of forward roll alternating between rolling to standing and sticking the landing. You'll notice that it is easier to keep from slamming your feet when you roll to standing than when you stick. The energy is going somewhere - Where? Hint: the answer does not involve the circular nature of the rolling-to-standing form. Remember what we are talking about in the first place - some ukes are able to stick a landing from a forceful fall SOFTLY.

Keep doing the forward roll alternating between these two forms and pay attention to the state of contraction of your abs. You'll notice that when you roll to standing the abs lock and the energy of the lower body is transferred to the upper body and throws you out of the mat. The abs are like a fulcrum in this action.

So, a major part of the soft breakfall skill is the ability to contract and relax at the right times. Work on it and if you want some good instruction in this skill, drop me a line and hop on down to Mokuren Dojo.

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