falling with style

do you ever need to accelerate or change direction really quickly? if you’re practicing karate then you know you do. what if i told you that you could be as quick and agile as Lewis Hamilton, and i don’t mean Lewis Hamilton doing karate, but Lewis Hamilton doing laps in his F1 car.

What if i told you that you could accelerate at 10m/s2? if that sounds like a made up number then it is actually 1g, or planet Earth’s gravitational pull. that (along with the title) probably already tells you that i’m not talking about accelerating in the usual sense, but about falling, only with style (and in a way the contributes to motion).

to illustrate the idea watch this short clip showing Bayern M√ľnchen’s Manuel Neuer making a fantastic close range stop. when the shot is made on goal not only does Neuer have to get down to the group super quickly, he also has to change direction.

as the play develops Neuer is moving from (his) right to left to close the angle to the attacking player, who then shoots across goal to the (seemingly) open far post.

at that very moment the excellent Neuer is in a wide straddle stance and as i mentioned before his momentum is carrying him from right to left (or away from the ball). Neuer then has to drop to his right very sharply against that movement.

Neuer achieves that by pushing slightly off his left leg (to cancel the momentum), but also by taking his right leg all the way to his left. in so doing Neuer destabilises himself by positioning his centre of mass outside his base of support (or rather adjusting his base so that his centre of mass is outside it).

from that moment Neuer is in free-fall and is accelerating at 10m/s2, which is nearly as fast as an F1 car (and definitely much fasted than anything i’ve ever driven). it might not appear that fast because the distance is short, but if you accept that Neuer basically falls to the ground then it is that fast. really.

this is in essence what i call “falling with style”.

so, how can this be used in karate, is the question you might be asking. well, think about all those places in kata where you are stood in heisoku dachi and need to move out into the next technique (quite often ending in kosa dachi). the very first move of bassai-dai is a prime example, but there are many more.

what you want to try and do is get your centre of mass (or hips for simplicity) moving forward of your standing leg (e.g. your left in bassai dai). if you do that (without leaning back) you will be effectively falling. from that moment it is all about controlling that fall and lading with good posture and poise.

this sounds simple enough only that we are wired to avoid falling and it takes some practice to learn how to destabilise the body and then regain posture quickly. the quicker you can do that the more explosive the move becomes. the best way to learn this is to experiment.

what works for me, say in bassai-dai, is pushing with the ball of the left foot, peeling the heel off the floor, whilst dropping the knee. at the same time the right knee is lifted and thrust forward. it is basically a lunge step into the air. once you do that you will be falling. you just wait a brief moment and your body will let you know that you are falling. that is the signal to consolidate and get your feet sharply back underneath you. again, the faster you destabilise the sharper the move will become because your legs will move almost instinctively to support your falling body.

not convinced or not clear on how that works? just play with it. again, try to get your hips (and the rest of your torso) ahead of you standing leg and figure it out from there. the bolder the move, the greater the result. enjoy!