Overcoming The Fear Of Falling
By Neil Ohlenkamp
everyone has an innate fear of falling, most martial artists should learn
basic falling techniques not only to avoid injury but to better learn
the transition from standing techniques to those on the ground.
The most universal and basic of all fears, across all cultures, is the
fear of falling. Behavioral research has established that babies are born
with only two natural fears. One is a fear of certain noises and the other
is the fear of falling. Over time people develop other fears. Many can
become critical problems that disable normal functioning. On the other
hand, most people can also overcome their fears and learn to cope with
them. Learning to deal with the fear of falling can establish an important
sense of confidence that often will translate into the ability to deal
with other fears.
The earliest and most primal fear we experience is falling, but most
people have many opportunities to fall and realize at a young age that
they can survive. Recreation and sports activities can accelerate that
level of acceptance. Activities as diverse as gymnastics, football, hiking,
and skateboarding provide plenty of opportunities.
No activity deals with the fear of falling so directly and positively
as judo and many jujutsu systems. Aikido is similar but places equal emphasis
on rolling as well as initiating falls in response to a number of joint
techniques. Karate, taekwondo, kung fu and other like systems also have
many tripping, sweeping, take down and throwing techniques. Some forms
of classical Japanese sword and weapon arts also incorporate foot sweeps
as part of their curriculum.
Richard Carlson, author of "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff," defines
fear with the acronym False Evidence Appearing Real. In general, fear
is an unrealistic expectation of a negative, usually painful, outcome.
It is often self-perpetuating and difficult to change. When we fear something
we often try to avoid it. Yet we all know that the way to overcome fear
is to face it, recognize its damaging effects, and begin a step-by-step
process of dealing with it.
In classes around the world this is typically the first thing judo, aikido
and many jujutsu teachers focus on with new students. Before people can
be expected to participate in any sports activity involving physical contact
or falling, they should develop certain skills and learn to overcome their
fears so they can feel comfortable falling. Yet judo, aikido and many
jujutsu systems are unique among sports and martial arts in the way it
incorporates a scientific approach to the methods of falling called ukemi.
Unfortunately most karate and taekwondo, and kung fu, neglect proper
training in falling or rolling. This is probably due to the fact that
throwing, sweeping, tripping or takedowns are considered secondary techniques.
But it is so important to success in any system that incorporates these
techniques that students practice ukemi (falling techniques) not just
when they are beginning to learn, but as a part of almost every practice
session. This is obvious in judo, aikido and jujutsu but also important
in other arts to avoid potential injury.
Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, explains the importance of ukemi this
"As I have often said if one hates to be thrown, one cannot expect
to become a master of the art. By taking throws time after time, one must
learn how to take falls and overcome the fear of being thrown. Then one
will become unafraid of being attacked and be able to take the initiative
in attack. Only by following this manner of training can one learn true
It is not possible to excel in throwing, or to defend against an attack
successfully, without a thorough understanding of falling. It is also
not possible to be successful in matwork (ground fighting) without learning
to control the transition from standing to the mat, the very definition
The traditional order of training is to move from the simple to the more
difficult. Each person will progress at his or her own speed but the basic
steps are as follows:
1. At first practice falling or rolling from a low position, and gradually
2. Learn one direction and style of falling, then learn to fall or roll
in other directions.
3. First fall or roll in place, then add movement.
4. In the beginning move slowly and carefully, then increase speed.
5. First fall by yourself, then have a partner throw you. In aikido learn
self-sacrifice throws only after mastering the basics of falling and rolling.
Here it is often helpful to have a partner assist you. In Judo or jujutsu
when someone is throwing you, repeat the learning steps 1 through 4 (i.e.
start with a low throw, one direction, no movement, and slow speed).
This step-by-step approach to safe falling, rolling or self-sacrifice
throws sets the stage for developing confidence, coordination, and control.
Learning to fall properly and safely can be a big step towards facing
some of the other more difficult lessons that come with intense training.
In addition, this method of learning will immediately transfer well to
the study of your first throws, sweeps or takedowns. For example, in judo
first learn easy throws, in one direction, without movement, slowly with
a cooperating partner. As you master each element then add other directions,
movement, resistance, etc.
Knowing the importance of ukemi, strive to improve your skills. Challenge
yourself by practicing different ways to fall, keeping safety uppermost
in mind. Constantly work on developing a fearless attitude that will eventually
allow you to relax and fully enjoy the complete Judo experience.
About The Author
Ohlenkamp is a martial arts writer and founder of www.judoinfo.com.
He is a certified United States Judo Association instructor, referee,
master rank examiner, and master coach (the highest level of certification),
and he was awarded United States Judo Coach of the Year for 1999. He holds
a sixth degree black belt in Judo and a sixth degree black belt in jujitsu
and has over 31 years of training and experience in various martial arts
as a competitor, instructor, team coach, and tournament official.