Safe Falling Class: Instructional Details

Some important notes for Falling Technique Instructors

1. By the time we hit our fifties, we ALL have some physical issues, even if we are in generally good condition. The first thing to impress upon your safe falling students is that they must pay attention to their own bodies. Especially in the first class or two they should keep their effort level and range of motion to about 60-70% of what they think they can do. If any particular movement or angle causes a sharp pain, DON'T DO THAT MOVEMENT. Take it easy.

2. Some students may not have done much physical exercise at all. The biggest problem areas for them are neck and core (abdominal) muscles. The first floor exercise, the "Rocking Chair" works both of these areas.

Rocking Chair

When first doing the Rocking Chair, each student should firmly hold the back of her knees as she rocks back. This greatly reduces the stress on the core muscles, and lets the student focus on "tucking" the pelvic area and clamping the chin to the chest.

When comfortable with this movement, the next step (usually by the third class) is to have the student cross her hands and clamp them to the front of the chest (the "King Tut" position). This puts more load on the core muscles, but still allows the chest muscles to help with the curling-up motion, and reinforces the pulling of the arms in and up to the face and chest.

For the final version of the Rocking Chair the hands are balled into loose fists and clamped behind the neck. The folded arms wrap protectively around the head to give maximum coverage. Rocking back with the hands and arms up around the head will create noticeably more tension in the lower core muscles: the extra weight of the arms adds force, and the upper chest muscles can't help as much.

Important: if the student does not rock right back up, they should NOT strain or wiggle to try for a full sit-up. They should relax, turn on their side, and use their arms to get back to the seated start position. The object is to get used to holding the curved-back rocking chair position and exhaling constantly during the full rock back and return motion.

3. The neck muscles are very important for preventing "head whip" at the end of a fall. In a backwards fall, the chin should be tucked down firmly towards the chest. In a forward fast fall from a trip, the neck should be tightened up in the back, lifting the chin and face up away from the floor.

When practicing the "Slap the Cheese" technique on the slightly tilted vertical mat surface, be sure that students are tensing their necks and looking UP towards the ceiling. If they leave their necks relaxed and look directly at the mat they will bump their noses, even at low speeds.

When practicing the basic sit-down and back side roll, emphasize really clamping the chin to the chest near the very end, while still rolling back on the mat. The neck muscles do not have a lot of stamina: they are good for only about half a second of strong action. If students clamp their chins down too early they will run out of strength just when they need it to prevent head-whip. This is largely because the practice falls are slow: about a half to a third the speed of a real fall. It is important for the chin to be tight at the end of the fall in practice so the memory imprint will be correct: rolling back without any head-whip. In a real fall, just clamp the chin immediately! 

4. The pelvic tilt in the sitting down motion is very important.  The students should always be reminded to "tuck their hips." This means to tense the muscles in both butt cheeks (similar to the Kegel exercise). This, and the advice to try and "sit on your heels" acts to give a more positive curve to the lower back and sacral area:

Hip Tuck: J-L
Visualizing the lower body as a letter "J" can help students get the right curve. You can demonstrate (on a soft mat!) the harsh results of a sit-down in the "L" position. The "pile-driver" effect of an "L" sit has been experienced by many: a direct jolt up the spine and possibly bruised tailbone. This makes them leery of sitting down quickly. Emphasize the "J" curve and sitting on one cheek of their butt rather than squarely, and they will find that the fast sit is actually quite smooth and easy on the thick mat. They will roll back faster, however, and need to use good chin-tuck to avoid head whip at the end of the back-roll.