There’s another aspect to learning from falling that didn’t occur to me until a week or so after I’d written Lessons from Falling. Recently I spent some time being thrown to the mats during Gasshuku, and after some reflection and a couple of ibuprofen, I came up with another lesson learned from falling. Namely, other people can benefit from our experiences with falling.
I’ve had a few lessons in grappling and, in recent months, senior students have been dumping me to the floor by catching my kicks if I’m too slow with them during sparring. I’ve had a good many opportunities to practice falling. From one perspective, this is a bad thing – we’re supposed to stay on our feet during sparring, and I most definitely have my work cut out for me in order to avoid going splat. But on the other hand, all that time I’ve spent between sky and Earth directly benefited two other karateka.
One was a beginner who’d had very little experience with grappling. After receiving my partner’s assent that she knew how to fall, I did the exercise a couple of times then turned it over to her. I knew she needed more help than I did, and there were plenty of black belts circulating. I “dig in” when I’m the uke, resisting until I feel my center of gravity shift – i.e. when my partner has proper leverage. Sure enough, my partner’s unsuccessful attempts attracted a Sensei’s attention and she got the help she needed. In the limited time we had to do the exercise, she learned the technique thoroughly. It meant I took way more than my fair share of falls, but I didn’t mind at all. It was worth it to see that young lady grow!
How often in life have I taken more than my “fair” share of falls for the benefit of others and maybe even at my own expense? More times than I can count because I am a mother. A toddler can’t possibly comprehend the issues involved in breaking an expensive vase, but a mother can take that fall by paying for the vase and apologizing. I’ve taken painful physical falls so that my children wouldn’t be injured. You don’t have to be a parent to take a fall for the benefit of others. If you’ve ever stuck out your neck for your co-workers, friends, or family members you know what this is all about.
The second karateka who benefited from all the times I’ve been dumped on the floor was afraid of hurting people. I looked her in the eye and said seriously, “I bounce. You won’t hurt me.” I assured her I’m quite comfortable with being thrown and falling. Timorously, she tried the maneuver. I dug in and… She couldn’t throw me. Sure enough, this situation was a “Sensei magnet,” especially as my partner outranked me.
My partner expressed concern about hurting me. I protested, “You won’t!” Next thing I knew, the black belt was demonstrating the maneuver on me. I was on the mats in the twinkling of an eye. The throw must have looked more brutal than it felt because my partner was a bit wide-eyed after I scrambled back up to my feet. The black belt asked (for my partner’s benefit) if I was hurt and I asserted that I was just fine. The black belt walked my partner through the maneuver.
I dug in, my partner got the proper leverage, and I went down. I got back up and reset my stance. My partner subsequently came at me with confidence each time and threw me again and again. Maybe some day she’ll remember this lesson and not hesitate to demonstrate take-downs to a dojo full of her own students.
Let’s say your friend asks you for advice about something that is not easily dealt with – something that might end up with a third party getting hurt feelings. Let’s say you empathize with the third party because you’ve “been there” – you’ve been on the receiving end of the pink slip, the “let’s be friends” speech, or whatever your friend needs to say to that third party. You’re in a position to teach your friend that yes, people survive these “falls,” and to give her the confidence and tools to say what needs to be said.
No one likes falling. I admit I’d far rather throw someone to the mats than to be thrown. On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for what one learns from falling. As I’ve written in a prior blog post, I learn not to undermine myself and to avoid reactions that make the fall worse. I learn the importance of being a good example. Most importantly, I can take what I have learned about falling and help other people. I hope I’ve helped you, dear reader.