Teach me to fall safely!
November 6, 2010 2:45 AM   Subscribe

I have poor balance, compromised 3D vision and tend to daydream a lot. Today, I suddenly found myself sprawled across the sidewalk, with many bruised and bleeding appendages. My first thought was of a friend who broke BOTH wrists in a similar situation - yes, I did "instinctively" use my hands as "brakes," and ended up getting cleaned up and patched up in the ER...but fortunately, no broken bones in my case. But this could have SO easily happened. I need to develop more useful instincts as regards falling, and also work on improving my balance. I've heard that martial arts training, in particular aikido, can be helpful. Am a bit hesitant to involve myself in something which might incur further injuries before consulting the hive-mind.
posted by dorgla to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Vibrating shoes improve balance in the elderly. I have no idea where you get vibrating shoes.
posted by orthogonality at 2:54 AM on November 6, 2010

I'm guessing that the particular art for you might depend heavily on the rest of your condition-- ie, how'd you get to this point? I have bouts of migraine-associated vertigo and shit-tacular vision on multiple levels... but my docs prefer that I avoid martial arts where I run a risk of taking a shot to the head or falling wrong. (Much to my annoyance, mind-- before this got like this, I was perfectly happy to do ridiculous sparring feats with dudes twice my size.)

I have a cane, and I do yoga. I would suggest investigating either-- yoga is a pretty low-key and supportive environment where they do challenge your balance, and having a cane is psychologically reassuring as well as damn handy when your balance centers suddenly take a break mid-stride.

If you can take a controlled fall and drill with a partner safely, aikido is probably a great art to try. T'ai chi might also interest you.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:58 AM on November 6, 2010

Maybe try non-combative Tae Kwon Do.
posted by londongeezer at 3:11 AM on November 6, 2010

Seconding t'ai chi and yoga. Both involve exercises that can enhance your balance and mental focus (and thus also situational awareness) without necessarily involving any biffo.

I haven't done it ages, but IIRC, judo lessons involve a whole lot of learning to fall before you start learning to knock someone over. Maybe seek out a class or instructor that is willing to take you that far and no further.

And possibly out of left field, if you're near a beach with gentle surf and no reef, just learning to stand and surf straight to shore on a long board is likely to do amazing things for your balance without the risk of falling onto hard ground.

Good luck!
posted by Ahab at 3:41 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

You want to learn ukemi or breakfalls.

Both judo and aikido will teach you this. Find a good school and you'll be falling safely and instinctively in no time.

Forget TKD, that's no what you're looking for at all. Daft advice, that is.
posted by the cuban at 3:42 AM on November 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

Ballet taught me how to fall. We actually had classes on how to land to reduce injury. It also taught me a general gracefulness. I am a dizzy klutz and I've somehow managed to never break a bone (I've never even sprained anything) and only had two years of classes when I was eight.

The bonus with ballet is that it's also a great workout and will improve your posture too. It might not be as cool as Martial Arts (especially if you're a guy, although the name in your profile suggests female) but it will help you be more graceful.
posted by TooFewShoes at 4:14 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Please consult a neurologist before you start any sort of training.
posted by vincele at 4:39 AM on November 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't worry that much about starting aikido or judo. If the class is properly taught, beginners will be taken aside to give them individual instruction on how to roll properly. You'll practice basic, safe rolls on the mat before they build you up to bigger rolls and falls.

In any case, if they let you, you should sit in on a class and observe what's going on, how people move, how they fall, etc. Any good aikido or judo school will have a lot of falling and rolling. I would ask the instructor specific questions on how they teach ukemi. If they don't let you watch because they have secret techniques only the initiated can know, go elsewhere.
posted by chengjih at 4:56 AM on November 6, 2010

Tai-chi will give you grace and balance -- teach you how to not fall at all.
posted by pracowity at 5:17 AM on November 6, 2010

I think you should see a doctor about your falling.
posted by fire&wings at 5:30 AM on November 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

You want to learn ukemi or breakfalls. Both judo and aikido will teach you this.

This. You have to get comfortable falling on your side and train yourself to "slap out" as your body becomes parallel to the floor. This transfers much of the impact that would otherwise go to more vital things like your skull.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:37 AM on November 6, 2010

On the rolls front, circus skills, specifically tumbling. Added bonus of being a whole lot of fun.
posted by Ahab at 6:09 AM on November 6, 2010

An alternative/addition to training might be wrist guards, as used by rollerskaters and snowboarders. Not sure how practical they would be for everyday use though.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:13 AM on November 6, 2010

I got some really good answers to a very similar question a couple of years ago.
posted by Kat Allison at 7:08 AM on November 6, 2010

I asked a somewhat similar question a few years back. I got lots of helpful answers.

Are you up in your head a lot? Meaning, do you tend to be a thinker, forever exercising your brain? One thing I've learned about myself since asking that question, which may help you as well, is that it's not so much that I'm clumsy, but that at times I get so involved in brain processes that I become careless and unaware of my limbs, body, etc. moving thru space.

So yes, activities and exercise, but also think about what things might be taking energy away from being fully present in your body, especially while doing seemingly mundane tasks like walking down the street. Then you won't need to rely so much on learning damage control tricks for the long way down.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:12 AM on November 6, 2010

Several studies have been done on Tai Chi showing that it improves balance and appears to decrease falls. It can be done at any level you want. If you can find a Tai Chi Fundamentals or Tai Chi for Arthritis class in your area, these are specifically geared for people with some physical limitations such as balance issues, if not any class should be able to accommodate you. Whatever you, you will have to practice daily, once a week isn't going to cut it in developing the necessary skills. You may also want see a physical therapist who can tailor an exercise program for you to work on balance issues. With a referral from your physician, insurance may pay for this.
posted by Lost at 7:13 AM on November 6, 2010

As someone with naturally terrible balance and depth perception, I've found dancing very useful for this. Depending on the type of dance/martial art and the quality of the instruction, a dance class might be less likely to injure you.
posted by bookish at 7:42 AM on November 6, 2010

With regards to the recommendations so far:

Tai Chi involves lots of slow movement exercises and will improve your balance and kinesthetic awareness, but does not usually include training on how to fall safely. You should be able to practice Tai Chi with no risk of injuries.

Tae Kwon Do will help your balance in an entirely different way (it involves lots of kicking and therefore standing on one leg.) It also does not usually involve training in how to fall. It does involve striking-based sparring, which may not be good for you if you have vision problems. It can have other benefits, notably cardio.

Judo will improve your balance and teach you how to fall. My biggest concern is that the slapping method of taking a fall, as taught in judo, is less than ideal on concrete. Still, it's better than breaking your wrists. Judo will also build great physical conditioning. Judo is a fairly intense sport and injuries are not that uncommon. (How uncommon depends on the club and how the art is taught.)

Aikido will also teach you both balance and falling methods. It's not usually taught in a sporting context, so the demands on physical conditioning are less than in judo. The chance of injury depends on how hard the techniques are applied at that particular school. (Aikido schools can range from soft to brutal in that aspect.)

I personally learned to fall without injury back when I was training in ninpo taijutsu. I've had several instances where I tripped over a curb or wiped out riding my bike down a steep hill on an icy day and walked away without a scratch. (I was initially annoyed with myself because my fall didn't look technically smooth or correct, but then happy when I realized that I had no scratches, bruises, or more serious injuries.)
posted by tdismukes at 7:52 AM on November 6, 2010

Three layers of bubble wrap... well I think about it sometimes. I did a lot of ballet, fantastic in many ways, have excellent balance, but I'll still space out and trip and whack. On ice I take little mincing steps, when I remember. Had a bike accident and now constantly remind myself to pay attention, verbally out loud to just watch traffic. All the training options suggested will help, find the one you enjoy and will continue with steady, it takes time and ongoing upkeep. Also agree talking to the right doctors, were you aware of the tumble? If not that should be discussed. Take care, stay focused.
posted by sammyo at 8:40 AM on November 6, 2010

I'm gonna take a totally different tact here and suggest that you start out with baby steps. Perhaps try the Wii Fit? I have always been a bit of a klutz, but I found that regularly using the Wii Fit and doing the balancing exercises and some of the Yoga positions has really helped improve my balance. It's very low impact and low risk, and would get you started in your own home before you go on to some of the other suggestions.
posted by gemmy at 9:05 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are you looking to study martial arts in general? I learned breakfalls in a women's self defense course. I don't know your gender, but if you search for "self defense" as well as martial arts, you may find something that's less of a commitment to an entire martial art, and involves more of simply practicing falling down and learning how to hurt someone quickly. I took my course about ten years ago, but if I slip on an icy street, I still perform a textbook breakfall.
posted by freshwater at 11:45 AM on November 6, 2010

I am also a huge klutz and hopelessly graceless and have no balance and fall down all the time, so these skills should be well within your grasp.
posted by freshwater at 11:46 AM on November 6, 2010

I just got back from aikido practice for the day, so I'm obviously biased... but yes, there's a lot of practice in learning to fall safely from all kinds of starting positions, and around here in the frozen north it's common for people to (only half-jokingly) comment that the most use their aikido gets off the mat is protecting them from scary falls on the ice. I think the 4 year timeframe kalessin speculates about might be unnecessarily pessimistic -- taking >100 falls per class (a few every minute for 60-90 minutes), you very quickly learn to do what doesn't hurt.

In my dojo, anyway, there's also some focus on cultivating a sort of centered awareness of what's going on around you, which might also be beneficial if you fell because you were daydreaming and tripped on something.

As for injury, any good dojo should be willing to work with your limitations to help you train safely, and even in the harder styles no one should be pushing you through techniques you physically aren't ready for.
posted by dorque at 12:48 PM on November 6, 2010

Forget TKD, that's no what you're looking for at all. Daft advice, that is.

Worked for someone I know with related concerns.
posted by londongeezer at 1:07 PM on November 6, 2010

Check out Pilates. It has made me aware of how I hold my body, how I breathe and how I move, and has helped me strengthen the core (deep torso and abdomen) postural muscles that help keep the human body balanced and provide support for the spine.

I have mild scoliosis, and Pilates has helped me strengthen the weak muscles along the left side of my spine that have allowed my vertebrae to be pulled the wrong way by the dominant muscles on the other side. The exercises can be modified to accommodate a range of physical limitations, such as back pain, rotator cuff injuries, chronic fatigue, sciatica, and breast cancer recovery.

Five or six private sessions would be well worth it to get the form down. After that, you could either take a group class or buy a DVD and do it at home if that's more convenient. My instructor, who I like a lot, recommends the Classical series. And this site offers lots of good basic information about getting started, exercises, equipment, clothes, etc.: .
posted by virago at 2:07 PM on November 6, 2010

Er, this site is here.
posted by virago at 2:08 PM on November 6, 2010

Learning to ride a unicycle should really improve your balance. Find a class or a club or someone to teach you because it can be a difficult to learn on your own. But you have to learn to balance well to be able to ride.

Or maybe hiking would help you, learning to be stable and balanced while maneuvering across a varying landscape (changing slopes, unpredictable terrain, loose soil, rocks that slip, etc).

I'd second a doctor just to check if you've got anything serious going on, too, before starting whatever activities you choose.
posted by 6550 at 2:02 AM on November 7, 2010

Thank *all* of you, so much, for helping me focus on what I am going to do next. There may be some sort of underlying neurological nonsense going on here (in the past two or so years, I've noticed an increase in "dropping and breaking things," When I mentioned it to my GP a few months ago in the course of a general physical exam, he didn't seem to know where or how to start checking. It's all so freakin' vague. I'll run it by him again. I've also located an Aikido dojo not far from my house, and plan to give them a call tomorrow. Won't start anything until the current crop of abrasions and bruises have healed, though! ;)
posted by dorgla at 4:40 PM on November 7, 2010

Definitely see a neurologist. They'll do a basic neuro exam, which will check your balance, reflexes and a few other things that one doesn't necessarily associate with neurology. In my case the neurologist uncovered a very treatable problem related to falling, balance and reflexes. I'm 100% less clumsy now that I've got proper treatment for the underlying condition, and it makes physical activity much more rewarding. A GP should know to send you to a neurologist for your complaints. Who knows if that applies to you, but it is a good idea to see a specialist when one of your complaints is falling-- doctors always want to know about that one. Good luck.
posted by vincele at 10:14 AM on November 9, 2010

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