Sutemi: falling without getting hurt

"The archer strikes the target - partly by pulling, partly by letting go."

Nobody likes to fall to the ground - though the choice is not always ours. - We fall to the ground - not only due to accidents but also due to physical violence. Police statistics show that about half the injuries attained during assaults come from falling to the ground. Learning how to roll and fall, without getting hurt is an important part of learning JuJitsu. DanZan Ryu JuJitsu includes very efficient and safe falling techniques that can be learned by almost anybody. These techniques have been tested not only in physical confrontations, but also in many accidents, including slipping on ice, tripping on curbstones, slipping in the bathroom, bicycle crashes and many other sporting accidents.

The human body (and more so the mind) has an incredible ability to protect itself. Yet it is helpful to learn certain movements that come as a matter of good habit whenever one falls. The basic idea is to fall as flat as possible to avoid any unnecessary concentration of impact force on any particular body part. With the necessary preparation and sufficient practice safe falling can become a natural habit and it can probably be learned by anybody. To be clear, falling on hard ground always hurts, but one may as well learn ways to minimize injury and pain - if not avoid injury altogether.

The Japanese term “sutemi” conveys a very important philosophic concept. Physically sutemi means to learn how to fall without tensing up - by relaxing, by ‘going with the flow’. Tensing up leads to injuries, while relaxing helps to avoid injury. Mentally it means to be not afraid to relax and adapt, while not losing track of one’s original goal. Relaxing in the face of a pending threat comes naturally to some - and has to be learned by most.

Another way to look at “sutemi” is that it means relaxation while at the same time taking control over one's body (destination) so that the impact of the fall does not result in injury. It is the ability to commit oneself completely and entirely to that which is inevitable, while remaining in self-control ("sutemi" can be translated as "commitment"). It is about “letting go” - not only of preconceived ideas but mostly of one’s fears. This may be an apparent contradiction to the novice, yet it is not a contradiction to a well seasoned martial artist. More so, it is a fundamental principle in self-defense, i.e. going along until the opportunity arises to take over (“never think defeat, think opportunity”).

We teach falls by first showing a student how to roll without getting hurt. When learning to roll, one learns certain body postures that will eventually become the foundation of one’s ability to take safe falls. One must practice much of the rolls and falls to become expert in them. This is the only way one can entirely lose one's fear of falling and, therefore, become relaxed enough to prevent one's opponent from determining one's next move from one's tenseness.

Obviously, the main reason why in JuJitsu we spend so much time on learning how to fall without getting hurt, is that throws are such an integral part of the system. To be able to learn throws one has to learn how to fall, so one’s partner can also learn how to do the throws. Interestingly, once you learn how to take good falls you will realize that falls are an excellent way to strengthen and tone the body (if nothing else - pain builds character ). And once you become addicted to those endorphins that help mobilize your body’s protective and self-healing abilities - you may get to a point where you can’t imagine not taking falls.

But what about those who may never be in any shape to take falls? - The foundation of JuJitsu is Yawara, an endless list of joint locks, escapes and restraining techniques. Yawara can be developed into a very efficient self-defense system of its own, without having to take falls. For that reason JuJitsu is practiced not only by athletic types, but also by women, children, seniors and even the handicapped.

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If you have any questions about Jujitsu, please contact,
Burkhard Bohm, Sensei (530) 836-2208
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