A sure sign a beginner needs help is when a martial arts student ‘chickens out’ of a forward roll half way through. If this happens to you, you will discover that you fall rather painfully onto the flat of your back. (This is where having decent mats underneath you really helps to prevent injuries in the dojo.)
Many beginning students have difficulty building the courage to launch their legs high in the air for these rolls. You arent alone. Also, you just haven’t built up your muscle groups yet.
You can help your training partner by gently and carefully lifting their legs in the air for them the first few times.
Take the weight and lift them over, then lower them in a smooth arc, which is aimed straight in the direction of their roll. They should help you in this way, too.
STOP AND CHECK
Once your body has rolled and landed, stay down on the mat and check your position very carefully:
Your legs should be pointing in the direction of your fall, not 90 degrees to the side.
Your head should be raised off the mat, with your chin close to your chest.
On the side where your hip is on the ground, your straight arm and bent knee and ankle should be extended.
On the upper side of your body, your free hand should rest on the belly and the knee should be bent with the foot firmly on the floor.
If any part of your body is not exactly placed as I describe, please correct it before you even consider getting up.
Leg placement is very important and even black belts can get it wrong once in a while.
This is especially distressing for male students, because your testicles can get squashed between your thighs in some hard, slamming breakfalls.
Your watching friends will fall over themselves laughing at your discomfort, if they realize what has happened. It has happened to me more than once, so believe me, I know!
WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE?
After a month or more of practice, when you are perfectly comfortable doing your rolling breakfalls, you can start to make them more challenging.
First, learn to do them from standing up. Just bend forward, place your hand palm down in front of your foot. Point your fingertips towards you, or you will break your wrist. Bend the arm ever so slightly like a bow (think of a steel spring) and use your back leg to launch your body forward.
Do the roll and stay on the ground.
As you get more experienced, try getting up again quickly, all in one movement.
Later, extend your arm one foot (30 cms) in front of you before rolling. When you can do that easily, increase the distance.
Next, try falling gently over a friend who kneels, side-on, on all fours for you. At first the friend can crouch really low, later they should lift their body a bit higher. This builds your skills and increases your confidence.
Try not to knee your friend in the ribcage. It happens often, and it hurts if you get bruised.
Have fun with your martial arts training and, whatever else you do, be sure to stay safe!