What are breakfalls and how to learn them

How to minimize the damage of a fall

Continuing the discussion about the basic principles of controlled fallings (read The fundamental concepts of the fallings) we go a step forward to talk about breakfall technique.

Breakfalls are the first fighting techniques that are taught in 99% of martial arts courses, they are specifically created to:

  • Preserve the integrity of our body during a voluntary / involuntary fall
  • Position  the body to avoid that its most delicate parts risk being damaged during a fall
  • Recover a safe / effective fighting stance in the shorter possible time and in the less risky way
  • Reach a certain position of the scenario and / or to take by surprise our opponents (at an advanced level)

In Kung Fu, there are many types of falls (some very acrobatic, others within everyone’s reach) but once again, what interests us is to:

  • Absorb the core concepts contained in the techniques
  • Learn to adapt the theory to the infinite facets of the practice
  • Condition our body and our mind to act instinctively and effectively

Not on all occasions, we will be able to apply exactly the methods that we will list (slope of the terrain, obstacles, damaged limbs, etc.) and to do the right thing at the right time, we need to train intensively.

“Do not stop. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” – Muhammad Ali

How to train breakfalls

Many people are not able to stand on a rigid surface with their knees without feeling pain (and this is not strange at all).

For a novice, an ample part of the main martial concepts (like breakfalls) is made of completely new topics. Is for precautionary purposes that, before explaining the 3 basic techniques, we are going to see a few useful introductory exercises.

A note by Master Kongling – I remember with amusement the first time I was thrown to the ground, the master had seen that I took everything seriously and decided to make me feel (at least in part) the thrill of a (relatively) violent bump. It was a completely unusual experience, at the end of which, despite myself, I was not at all sure that all my bones were in the right place. Especially when we start, the vibration that crosses the body when it clashes against the ground appears (is) intense and if we do not know what to do (and when) we really risk doing harm.

Although the ultimate goal is to be able to limit the damages in each kind of scenario (very rigid / irregular surfaces, etc.), especially the first few times it is crucial to conscientiously choose the training environment and internalize some of the basic dynamics.

Where to train (at least for the first 6-12 months):

  • The best possible choice is, as always, with a qualified instructor and in a structure equipped with the right tatami (the classic training mats)
  • If this is not possible we must first of all take care of the surface on which we are going to “lay down”
  • Better to opt for a flat lawn (with a soft ground), a sandy beach, sports mattresses and / or other structures as long as it can separate our body from surfaces (for now) too hard
  • Let’s avoid anything that at the minimum compression becomes inconsistent (too thin layers of foam rubber, etc.) or composed of elements that break / separate easily (eg pool of soft elements but not sufficiently deep)
  • Let’s prefer elastic surfaces able to absorb shocks but at the same time, also able to maintain a certain cohesion (eg. polyurethane foam)
  • On the other hand, if we exacerbate the morbidity of the surface, we lose all the usefulness of the practice
  • Let’s opt for large landing areas (at least 2x2m) and voluminous (at least 4-6cm), free of rigid parts (eg. unstable springs)
  • Let’s choose areas that make us able to interact with the ground without risk (obstacles, unstable parts, steps, etc.)

A note by Master Kongling – Japanese traditional tatami are made of pressed straw covered with vegetable fibers (eg. cotton or linen lining). Nowadays, interlocking mats containing polyurethane foam and rubber-coated foam are widely used (they are better damper and more hygienic). It is not impossible to find second-hand professional mats at a good price (for example, used for tournaments).

The exercises:

  • Exercise 1 – On the ground, in the supine position, we grasp our knees and we swing our body backward and forward in the most harmonic possible way
  • Exercise 2 – From a standing position (in guard stance), we flex our knees (like a squat), we sit on the floor, we swing back on our back, we swing forward and we stand-up again
  • Exercise 3 – On the ground, resting on one side of the body, we raise our feet and our head, with the help of our leaning forearm we swing our entire body first in head direction and then in feet direction (always in the most harmonic possible way, as a crescent moon knife)
  • Exercise 4 – From a standing position, we do a vertical jump, when we lean to the ground we flex our knees (like a squat) and we (gently) press on the ground with our hands (flexing the arms) to distribute our weight (then we repeat)
  • Exercise 5 – Leaning on a wall with our entire body we laterally open our arms, without moving our feets we swing forward and, swinging back, we touch the wall first with the shoulders, then with the upper part of our arms, then with the forearms and las with a slap of our hands to push us forward (let’s try to avoid any fragmentation of the movement, let’s try to be harmonious)

Final notes

Let’s conclude with a few tips and ideas:

  • Each exercise must be performed with a correct breathing (read /// Subscribe (it's free!) or Login to see this content ///)
  • The practices described in this article can also be a valid warm-up (read How to correctly perform warm-up)

In the next articles, we will finally see the 3 basic breakfalls of 6 Dragons Kung Fu (read The backward breakfall).

In-depth articles


Reply in the comments and share your experience:

  • Do you find difficulties executing the exercises provided?

Author: Master Kongling

Founder of 6 Dragons Kung Fu.

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