Practical Skills from Aikido

I read on social media of another friend injured (though fortunately not badly) in a fall, and once again I want to teach everyone I know how to fall. Of course, even if you know how to fall, you can still injure yourself, but the odds are you will minimize the damage.

Everyone falls. Look at toddlers learning how to walk. They fall all the time. We get better at walking, but we still trip on things.

Doctors tell old people not to fall, but of course that’s useless advice. What people need to know — and to learn with their bodies — is how to fall safely so that we don’t hit the back of our heads or reach out to catch our whole body weight on a wrist.

The first thing you learn in Aikido training is how to fall. Judo players learn this as well, and I assume most jujitsu teaches it. It’s a vital skill for fighting arts, but more than that it’s a vital skill for human beings.

You have to learn it with your body, because in the instant moment of a fall, you don’t have time to think; you just fall. Years of experience helps, but even a small amount of solid training will make a difference. Bodies remember.

I understand that physical therapists teach falling in The Netherlands. They should teach it here. Even better, though, teach it in schools. But since so many old people didn’t learn it in school, teach it at senior centers.

One thing I remember in watching a kids’ aikido class was the children teaching each other to fall by protecting their partner throughout a throw. That’s a useful thing to learn, too, with applications far beyond the physical.

The other thing I’m glad I know from martial arts is how to physically defend myself. You are not going to intimidate me with physical threats or body size. That usually means no actual fight will happen.

I sometimes take this to extremes by responding to aggression with too much aggression myself. Even though I know there are better responses (all those years of Aikido), I do resent people — mostly men — assuming they can intimidate me.

You can’t. You really can’t. I am afraid of many things, but I am not physically afraid of some guy looming over me.

(The many things include viruses, wars, fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes. A hurricane hit Acapulco last week after blowing up from a tropical storm to a category 5 in less than a day. That’s scary.)

(I forgot to mention right-wing extremists committed to destroying democracy. Those people scare the hell out of me.)

Another thing I gleaned from years of martial arts is how to pay attention. If you’re going to be a pedestrian even in a city that qualifies as walkable, you have to pay attention.

I agree with those who say that’s not fair, just as I agree with those who say it’s outrageous that women have to learn to defend themselves because men are abusive.

But on the other hand, even compact cars outweigh me by a huge amount and so many people drive SUVs. And I have noticed a huge increase in drivers completely ignoring stop signs, not to mention crosswalks, and even traffic signals.

I haven’t noticed much of a change in male violence against women, either.

So I am glad I know how to pay attention and how to protect myself and how to fall. We need to change the laws and behavior, but we can’t wait for that to happen to stay safe.

2 thoughts on “Practical Skills from Aikido

  1. We were taught how to fall at school. Every time I fall, I think I might have done myself severe damage, but the worst I’ve done is break a single finger and be bruised – obviously that training sticks. Not as well as it should, but enough.

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