Taking the fall…

December 5, 2009

This is a blog about budo, not yoga..

I stand five feet and seven inches above the surface of the earth. I’m not that tall by most standards. Average height. The ground is not so far away. Or so I thought.

My mind is consumed lately with the idea of falling. I am learning to fall, slowly, with my sensei. I am learning that the most important thing is to put my chin on my chest. I am learning that you can either control how or when you fall – but never both. I am learning that falling is not so scary. I am also learning that falling can take your breath away. I am learning that falling is an art as much as the intricate kata that I am studying.

When I began my budo training nearly eight months ago, I knew that I would learn to fall eventually. I studied with my teacher, sort of rejoicing that we spent almost five solid months learning other things besides Newton’s 3rd Law. But I knew it was coming. My friend joked with me that everything would change and my perception of the art would be altered when I started facing my body going down to the ground. He was right.

Falling is a different world.

I tell my yoga students that one of our most primal human fears is falling over backwards. We spend a great deal of our time controlling our falling. Walking, afterall, is just graceful, controlled falling. We see kids fall, see babies fall, see leaves fall. And we all avoid it.

Several weeks ago sensei pulled out the mat and said now we fall. I was anxious, but trusted that, like everything else he had taught me, this too would be paced and I would learn it gradually. I have learned a few falls. First, a backward fall. Then the forward rolling, and most recently a side fall. I’m still finding my way with all of these different falls.

I watch my teacher toss himself over on the mat so beautifully. It’s wonderfully graceful and he always comes out so nicely. I remember the first time I saw him take the otoshi (forward roll). I thought surely he did not expect me to do that. Oh, right, he does. Of course. We started with the backfall, which is still our mainstay. For some reason in practice, the backfall does not spook me. But in application when I am actually being thrown, I often grab desperately for my teacher’s keikogi, his wrist, his back, anything I can find. I curl up like a cat. Oh god, the ground, where is it?? My mind screams, and down I go. I am getting better at these and have even enjoyed them a bit recently. But you really cannot explain or understand this until it’s your body going down, carrying that veritable wrecking ball of your teacher’s body drop. You really have no idea what your body and mind will do. Hopefully, with good training, you’ll tuck your chin and go down, keeping the arms extended in front. You might even get a good slap. But all the while, even with proper execution, the monkey brain can be screaming NO NO NO!!! Or at least, that’s what they tell me.

I’ve experienced good and bad falls. Thankfully, none have been injurious. I’ve come away with a sore neck and some sore shoulders. But overall, the falls aren’t that bad. Recently my teacher threw me on a fall I’ve been bailing out of so fast I had no time to even try to bail out. There’s learning all around.

I’m learning to face some of my fears. Falling is giving me the courage to throw my uke with authority, execute the technique with a little confidence, and even face the unknown.

I know in my head how far I am from the ground (or mat). I know how to fall, from a technical standpoint. I know how to move and what to do. The next step is to get my mind to stop working, stop analyzing, and just take the fall.