Retrogram: Falling Habits

Published 8. June 2018.

Retrogram: I realized that although my practice of publishing essays on this site has been on pause, I was still writing off-the-cuff riffs on Instagram to accompany the videos that I share there. That wasn't the case for all my Instagram posts, but for those that have thoughts worth expanding, I'm bringing them back home. In part, this is pragmatic: one shouldn't lean overmuch on a platform you don't control to showcase your art(work) or rely on income—the platform may shut down someday; a change in the developer's priorities will make it effectively obsolete for your uses; or you could be banned or barred from use, whether that banning would be justified or not. On the creative side, it's an opportunity to take the often rough thoughts written for the medium of Instagram, and improve and/or expand upon them. After I've mined my old posts this series will continue, sometimes with the same process, but also flipped to write here first before distilling for sharing on social sites.

Further update:in thinking further on this, and with Instagram/Facebook changing some of its API policies to make embedding these take more work on my current site's framework I've decided to just port these to Youtube. I like the community on Instagram and all, but I find Instagram's walled garden approach to search to be problematic, to say the least.

Now that the prelude is out of the way, let's get started.

With the bulk of my movement practice revolving around martial arts and Parkour, I fall a lot. If I didn’t pay attention to falling well, I would undoubtedly already have hurt myself much more seriously than the occasional scrapes or bruises I do get. All that repetition has built a solid foundation of habits for avoiding or minimizing injuries when falling, especially considering the hard surfaces I choose to train on or lack of total control when being thrown by an opponent/partner. These falling techniques are all practical and efficient, which sounds fine. However, my practice in the past year has expanded to include stunt and stage combat skills, for which the aspect of convincing storytelling is paramount. In these contexts, falling is a performance, and more often than not the falls called for by a story must look painful or even deadly. There’s much less room for the graceful recovery movements that my engrained falling and rolling habits exhibit by default. There's a catch though: however frightening or painful the fall needs to look, it must still be safe.

At ground level with minimal padding, the stunt falling techniques are similar enough to what I already know that little modification has been necessary to change them from safe and efficient to still safe but nasty-looking. I've found that if you're able to include a roll in the fall, it's relatively simple to keep yourself safe and still sell the movement as painful. But there's a whole category of stunt falls that require you to land deliberately on your back, and the physics of the fall limits the amount that you can mitigate the impact, so on-body padding and crash pads become necessary to make it a safely repeatable move. These are the falls where some good-in-other-contexts habits start to interfere with safety, especially as these types of falls are often done from considerable heights where minor technical errors are amplified by momentum (here's an extreme example).

Now for specifics

Now we can get technical. Here are the habits I'm working on changing and the reasons why they need to be changed in the context of these particular falls. Which falls? The ones I'm practicing in this video. Other videos on this sort of practice will show up soon with further examples.

  1. Introducing rotation during takeoff: useful for acrobatics and rolls, but a really really bad variable to add in when the fall is over 5ft without a roll to buffer the impact. Unrehearsed rotation will change where you need to land, creating the possibility that the pad/bag that you're supposed to land on will be out of position. In the Instagram video, I was trying to remove this habit on very small falls, but in retrospect I think that it's far more difficult to clear this particular habit on low falls. As I move forward, I’ll continue this practice the way I first learned it: with higher falls that leave enough time in air to experience a longer moment of falling before rotating into the landing position.
  2. Knees tucking up on back falls: useful when grappling for keeping your opponent from gaining either a side or top mount on you after being thrown, but liable to make you knee yourself in the jaw with the momentum from a bigger fall. This one I'm already making good progress on. It's a simpler fix because instead of attempting to remove an automatic response that has historically kept me safe while falling, I instead change/add a movement. In this case, that’s straightening my legs out once I feel that my hips and shoulders are parallel to the ground after the takeoff.
  3. Dipping the hips backward as a back fall begins: when the fall can transition into a back roll, the action of rocking back from foot to head smoothes out the movement, but it's not great if your goal is to land with your hips and back at the same time to spread the impact out to the largest surface area possible. Instead, I’m keeping my body line straight as I fall.

That'll conclude the brief ramble on the technical aspects of falling. It's a fascination of mine that's only growing further as I expand my skillset further into using falling as a performance tool. Before you go, if you also enjoy being more adept at falling safely, Amos Rendao currently has pre-orders for his course The Art of Falling up now. There's no sponsorship or affiliate deal here; I'm just a big fan of Amos's work on falling and am excited to see what he's developed in the years since I briefly trained with him in Boulder.