(photo: laurenlemon)

Learn to fall and to fail with purposeful intent. Repeat success, even in small increments, to enforce self-confidence.

People often wonder why Martial Science practitioners do not get as many injuries as, let’s say, football players, especially when they are involved with combat and frequent contact with the ground.

My usual response is, “Because we are very good at falling.” In fact, a Martial Science practitioner becomes an expert at hitting the ground, getting thrown, kicked, punched, and swept. This happens so much that the student gets used to it. Surfers don’t mind falling, and neither do snowboarders.

They learn to fall correctly to minimize physical damage, and then get right back up. Falling, like making mistakes, is part of perfecting any sport or endeavor. Falling with purposeful intention is key to avoiding injury (and embarrassment!).

I am not talking about building up physical toughness, but more about learning the exact movements so well that they basically just go with the flow. In fact, when I teach my Personal Security Course (a beginners guide to self-defense), the first physical skill I teach is self-defense against the ground. If a mugger knocks you to the ground and you fall so hard or so clumsily that you break your shoulder, you can no longer defend yourself. You become helpless against further attack. If, however, you fall correctly, you can recover quickly and increase your odds of survival.

So what does falling have to do with success or dealing with our fears? Well, if you fall enough times, your fear of falling will certainly decrease. Our fears are eased with repetition. The first time you go rock climbing might be a frightening endeavor. What at first seemed impossible, can be easier to achieve with previous experience.

In the Martial Science we practice a lot of rolling and falling. Rolls are good not only in combat, but also for saving yourself when you accidentally fall or trip. If you can master the roll, then you can minimize injury in many dangerous situations.

I once knew a person who rode a motorcycle, but never wore a helmet. I asked him why, and he told me that if he crashed, he would just roll. Well, in theory this sounds okay; he knew what to do in case of an accident, so he thought he had all the necessary knowledge. Later that same day, after we returned from the park next to my house, we had to walk down a slanted twelve foot beam that rested on a fence separating the park and my backyard. I went first and he followed. On his way down, the beam twisted and he fell. It was a perfect chance to tuck and try to roll. He had the knowledge of what to do, but in order to act intelligently, one must be able to put that knowledge to use quickly and without thinking.

He didn’t roll; instead, he crashed into the ground and scraped up his nose and face. I cannot imagine what would have happened if he had crashed his motorcycle. This person knew on an intellectual level what he had to do, but couldn’t do it because it was not a reactive part of his mind. If he didn’t know that he didn’t know, how can he expect to change? So this experience was a lesson well learned.


I too make mistakes. I remember taking a few students up into the trees. One of them was quite fearful of the height, and although he stayed close to the trunk, he was still a wee bit shy of getting any higher.

I said, “Don’t worry, we are not that high. Here look…” I climbed out onto a branch, wrapped my legs over it and then hung by them upside down. I continued to talk and express how safe it was. Then the branch broke and I plummeted head first toward the ground. All I remember hearing during my fall was, “Sensei!” as my student called out to me. I guess the Universe was trying to help me prove my point.

Lucky for me, I knew how to tuck my head and take the blow on my shoulders and back. I stood up to finish my sentence unharmed. “…see, not dangerous at all.” I got a scratch on my calf, but the experience will last a lifetime and likely to never be repeated. However, I came out of the situation unharmed because I had developed a natural and reflexive reaction to falling, which was to roll.

To act intelligently and respond with natural reactions we have to be aware of what we need to know for our own survival and then solidify that knowledge by practicing our rolls and falls. Knowledge alone of something will not get us the success that we desire. We have to train and practice; we must prepare to perform. Do you fear riding a bicycle? Not likely. Most of us can jump on a bike even after many years have passed. The point is that you are not likely to fear having to ride a bike. The same is true with everything else you do. Whether that might be approaching the opposite sex, fighting off a mugger, or speaking to a large audience. The closer we come to the thing we fear, the more we understand, the easier it is for us to conquer it and lose any sense of fear. Like our rusty old bicycle, it holds no dread for us.

In order for us to learn more about, and become more familiar with, the things we fear, we need to ensure we are increasing our ability as opposed to focusing on our disability. Otherwise the process may not bring us closer to our goal. In rock climbing we call it training for failure. If you are working a certain climbing route, but are unable to complete the moves yet continue trying and failing with little improvement, you could be training yourself for failure. Remember, repetition is how we learn. So if you repeat failure again and again, that is what you will know. It is important that when you fail, you include success in your desire to gain experience. This could be done by setting easier goals by steps and or taking breaks so you can work on climbs that you will finish. Perhaps break up the climb into sections you plan to complete each day. Or rotate with other achievable climbs so you maintain a positive mental experience and the feeling of growth as you train.

If you go home with the knowledge that you improved, you are far more likely to return and/or to complete you goal. If, however, you go home with the negative feeling that you did nothing but fail and no new knowledge was gained, you are far more likely to give up.

You will not succeed if you do not learn to see life the way a child sees learning to walk. Have you ever seen a baby fall down and stay down? Do they think, “Oh, what the heck, I just keep falling so I might as well crawl forever.” No, they just keep bouncing back up, until eventually they walk. Then they run. So will you.

You will fall down. Just make sure that when you fall, you are falling in the right direction. Like football coaches teach, fall forward, and keep scrambling to move the ball. The key is to change strategies, but not the goal. Just change the paths you take to get there. Keep doing what you’ve always done and you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten. This is to say, that if you are trying to chop a tree down with a baseball bat and it isn’t working, try a different approach. Maybe get a saw. Knocking on the same door again and again isn’t how you succeed; either get a key or try another door. The idea is to keep on trying to get in.

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Think about a time when you “fell” or “failed.” How did you react? Did you abandon your goals? Perhaps this is the perfect time to tackle that goal, and plan for success. Like the seasonal changes of the clock, Fall Forward to Spring Back!

About the Author RICK TEW

I will do the splits for you too. I provide edutainment events that help you to be a Ninja in what you do. I offer Martial Arts Therapy Retreats on Samui Island in Thailand. My unique Winjitsu Mind-Body system of coaching inspires you to BE more fulfilled and to DO more to KickStart your ideas.

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