Wednesday night in red and black belt class we practiced falling. “Don’t drop like you’re dead,” my instructor said to me and the other bo dans after we morosely plopped forward, landing forearms-first on a heavy mat. “Hit your arms against the ground and don’t sink your body into it,” he said, emphasizing his statement by popping his arms. Falling face-forward is scary, but if you know how to protect yourself, you can fall with confidence.
Our falls aren’t passive. In a way it’s similar to the technical aspects of partner work in modern dance and ballet. If you’re the lifter you’re not just muscling up dead weight, and if you’re the one being lifted (or in the case of taekwondo, thrown), you’re not a limp rag doll, even if you are pretending to be a rag doll in some kind of weirdo contemporary dance. You have to think about foot placement, weight distribution, safety, breathing, protecting your back if you’re the lifter/thrower, following silent cues from your partner, and landing so you protect your joints and head.
Anyone familiar with martial arts has probably heard the adage, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” Or if you’d like a more modern version of this tenet in the rap song “Still” Dr. Dre says, “Even when I was close to defeat I rose to my feet.” Indeed, Mr. Young, indeed.
Perseverance is one of the guiding principles of taekwondo. It can also be easy to forget in the heat of defeat. Lying passively on the ground can be quite comfortable, but you can’t stay there forever. I encountered a major disappointment over the weekend, and I did have that dark moment of thinking things were never going to get better. But they do. If you’re lucky enough you wake up the next day and are still breathing. If you’re really lucky you can put one foot on the ground and then the other. Falls are going to happen. The trick is to break the fall so they don’t break us. Re-watching “The Big Lebowski” helps too.
Later in the class we played around with some advanced self-defense throws. To demonstrate one of the techniques my instructor hooked his arm around my leg after I’d kicked at him, grabbed my lapel with his other hand, and swiftly threw me to the ground all in a matter of about 3 seconds. I knew it was coming, but I was still a little stunned when I slammed into the mat. It was scary because he threw me so fast and I hit pretty hard, but it was also a little exhilarating. I had survived. I had made it.