SCHOOL OF BREAKFALLS
Where Safety and Falling Meet
Óbuda Nursery and Primary School for Students
with Special Needs, Budapest, Hungary
Hungarian Deaf Sport
Statistics show that both children and adults with disabilities lead sedentary lifestyles, with very little physical activity incorporated into their daily routines (Johnson, 2008; Rimmer, 2002; Rimmer et al., 2004). This sedentary lifestyle results in a lack of movement experiences that build strength, coordination, and balance. Many early movement experiences include falling and get-ting back up. Without these experiences, children with disabilities do not have the opportunity to learn how to fall properly, which creates a lack of awareness and skill related to safe falling as an adult. The School of Breakfalls method intends to make up for this lack of early practice, teaching students the skills of safe falling, and in turn enabling them to avoid injuries resulting from a loss of balance. The Breakfalls method is based on breakfall techniques taught in the modern martial art of judo. These techniques have re-mained unchanged since the 19th century. The Breakfalls method, developed by Hungarian judo trainer Béla Dobrotka, is built on a string of simple everyday movements, organized into a teachable system. The primary aim of the method is to teach students of all ages the basic principles of falling, such as how to avoid hitting the head and how to use the arms to protect the body when falling.
Accidents happen to people every day and often result in per-sonal injury. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) (2011), the leading cause of nonfatal injuries for children aged 0–19 are falls. In addition, the CDC notes that falls are the leading cause of injury among adults aged 65 and older. As seen in these statistics, falls span the generations, from children to the elderly, and often have negative consequences. Learning safe falling skills prepares individuals to fall in a manner that prevents injury and protects the body.
Statistics show that both children and adults with disabilities lead sedentary lifestyles, with very little physical activity incorporated into their daily routines (Johnson, 2008; Rimmer, 2002; Rimmer et al., 2004). This sedentary lifestyle results in a lack of movement experiences that build strength, coordination, and bal-ance. Many early movement experiences include falling and getting back up. Without these experiences, children with disabilities do not have the opportunity to learn how to fall properly, which creates a lack of awareness and skill related to safe falling as an adult.
The School of Breakfalls method intends to make up for this lack of early practice, teaching students the skills of safe falling, and in turn enabling them to avoid injuries resulting from a loss of balance. The Breakfalls method is based on breakfall techniques taught in the modern martial art of judo. These techniques have remained unchanged since the 19th century. The Breakfalls method, developed by Hungarian judo trainer Béla Dobrotka, is built on a string of simple everyday movements, organized into a teachable system. The primary aim of the method is to teach students of all ages the basic principles of falling, such as how to avoid hitting the head and how to use the arms to protect the body when falling.
2 Target population
The Breakfalls method spans the generations and provides useful skills to a variety of ages and ability types. The first target group includes children who lead sedentary lifestyles, and in turn have very little opportunity to experience falling skills in their natural play environment. These children are especially in need of learning the breakfall techniques, since acquiring these skills can improve muscle tone and strength, physical coordination, and selfconfidence in their ability to take part in physical activities. The second target group includes teenagers and young adults who exercise on a daily basis, and therefore might experience falling accidents when taking part in physical activity. Activities ranging from ball games to track and field to martial arts are all under the constant potential threat of a falling accident.
By acquiring these breakfall techniques, active teenagers and young adults can avoid suffering major injuries as a result of falling.
The third target group includes older adults and the elderly. It is essential for this target group to remain physically active, as an active lifestyle can slow the aging process, both physically and intellectually. As individuals age, balance, coordination, and flexibility decrease, creating the likelihood that falling injuries will be more serious and will have a longer recovery time (EUNESE, 2007). Learning the breakfall techniques can help this target group avoid such serious injuries. The third target group includes older adults and the elderly. It is essential for this target group to remain physically active, as an active lifestyle can slow the aging process, both physically and intellectually. As individuals age, balance, coordination, and flexibility decrease, creating the likelihood that falling injuries will be more serious and will have a longer recovery time (EUNESE, 2007). Learning the breakfall techniques can help this target group avoid such serious injuries.
The fourth target group includes children with disabilities. Disabilities can include children with learning and intellectual disabilities, sensory impairments (i.e., hearing or visual impairments), and musculoskeletal or neuromuscular disabilities. For children with disabilities, the Breakfalls method can be considered a form of therapy. These children are slower in processing outside experiences, and the Breakfalls method allows children with disabilities to follow a step-by-step pattern that directly impacts their safety, creating opportunities for problem solving during activities of daily life. The Breakfalls method focuses on gaining skills and emphasizing the abilities of each student.
3 The Breakfalls Method
The Breakfalls method distinguishes between three types of breakfalls: (a) sliding breakfalls, (b) rolling breakfalls, and (c) somersault breakfalls.
The first type, sliding breakfalls, includes types of breakfalls during which you are in permanent contact with the ground. These are the simplest falls to learn, and students often build skills for these falls quickly. The sliding breakfall technique lays the foundation for students to build upon as they learn more complex skills and techniques. Sliding breakfalls can be performed forward, backward, and to both sides. By learning these techniques, one gets the basic principles for the rolling and somersault breakfalls, too. Such a basic principle, for instance, is the order in which the different parts of the lower arm touch the ground. First, the fingers, then the palm, followed by the muscular part of the lower arm. Sliding breakfalls performed backward, normally due to a loss of balance, teach people how to press the head to the sternum.
The basic principle in teaching sliding breakfalls is the “wall-to-floor” approach. First, each type of roll is practiced next to the wall, serving as a substitute for the floor. The positions of the hand and the arm are demonstrated and acquired there. Then, the acquisition follows an upward process: starting from a lower center of gravity position going on to higher center of gravity positions. For instance, the acquisition of how the palm should touch the ground starts in a sitting position, going on to a kneeling and then to a squat position, and finally performed from a standing position.
The second type, rolling breakfalls, involves movements similar to a forward roll, which are especially useful in falling accidents with more swing and momentum. Similarly to the sliding breakfalls, rolling breakfalls also form a base and are the next step to the acquisition and correct performance of more complex falling techniques. By learning the sliding breakfalls, one gets to know how the palm and the lower arm reach the ground and also practices the correct position of the head, both in the symmetric forward and backward falls and in the asymmetric falls to the side. This way, one gets an overall picture of the spatial, temporal, and dynamic components of the falls.
On the basis of these techniques, rolling breakfalls can be taught, starting with the most basic type, the forward roll. If someone is able to perform forward and backward rolls in general, and has learned to perform sliding breakfalls to the side, it should not be too difficult to learn how to perform the rolling breakfalls. A rolling breakfall consists of a forward roll followed by the final position of a sliding breakfall to the side.
Children with intellectual disabilities are sometimes unable to perform forward and backward rolls. In these cases, the instructor must start with practicing different palm positions and forward rolls on a slope. Once these children have mastered the roll itself, the instructor starts to practice the final position of the breakfall. Note that this final position is not a squat position as in normal forward rolls, but rather the sliding breakfall is to the side. After that, the instructor starts to teach how to perform the rolling breakfall from a standing, then a walking, and finally from a running starting position.
The third type, somersault breakfalls, include falls during which there are moments when there is no body contact with the ground. Somersault breakfalls require a great deal of courage and stami-na. Some somersault breakfalls can, of course, be performed with very little difficulty, having learned the sliding and rolling breakfall techniques. However, certain somersault breakfalls do try the performer’s courage. Due to the distance from the ground, in these types of falls, it is of utmost importance to be able to use the prin-ciples and positions of the sliding and rolling techniques.
To be able to acquire these complex techniques, children are trained using simpler introductory movements. As the movements are pieced together, more complex techniques are formed that add to the skills base. During the learning process, children are guided with the help of a special sign system. This sign system uses different parts and positions of the palm to represent the body and thus demonstrates the falling process. The sign system also facilitates error correction and understanding instructions. The palm repre sents the abdominal side of the body, whereas the backhand represents the backside. By turning the wrist into different directions, all types of falls can be imitated. Furthermore, possible errors in the final positions of the falls can also be corrected by using hand movements. When the students look at the instructor, they can follow the movement of the instructor’s hand, imitating the movement of their own body. This way, error correction can be done from a longer distance. Although at first sight, the hand-signal system can be strange and unusual, after a certain period of time, verbal instructions are not at all necessary. The instructors can give feedback by the sole use of their hand.
Verbal instructions indicating different types of breakfalls can also be accompanied by a hand signal system. Each type of breakfall has its own signal, referring to its most relevant feature. Furthermore, the hand as a signal is capable of getting the performer’s head in the correct position. The palm represents the face and the back of the hand represents the nape. By turning the hand in different directions the instructor is able to demonstrate the correct position of the head during the breakfall.
4 Organizing a Breakfalls Program: The Hungarian Example
In Hungary, the School of Breakfalls organizes trainings for several types of audiences. First of all, it aims to instruct younger generations in order for them to be able to perform the breakfalls in time to prevent later injuries due to falling accidents. The organization is in cooperation with several educational institutions, where extracurricular lessons are held. This way the organization can gain access to school gym rooms and other practice facilities. Another possible direction for the School of Breakfalls program is to hold inservice trainings for physical education teachers and other sports specialists. The program itself is now state accredited in Hungary, which means that it can be taken as part of the inservice training one has to do throughout their career. It is also planned to be incorporated into official teacher training programs of several colleges.
Contact with different sport clubs is essential for two reasons, so the School of Breakfalls can be part of the training of sportspeople in order for them to be able to fall properly, and so that training of future breakfalls instructors can also be achieved. Furthermore, the School of Breakfalls program also organizes sessions for the aged and retired in different institutions and retirement homes. As mentioned in the introduction, it also is very important for elder generations to acquire proper falling techniques, because for them a potential injury might have a longer or more serious effect. A breakfalls session is similar to a regular physical education lesson. First, there are general and specific warm-up activities in order to prevent injuries. When working with young children, the warm-up phase usually takes on a more playful style suitable for the participants’ age. The sessions are mostly organized in groups. With ablebodied students, the group size can vary from 15 to 30; however, with students with special needs, the size of the group is much smaller, such as 8 to 10 participants. Owing to the already described hand-signal system, sessions can be very efficient, even in larger groups. Sessions are usually held by one instructor, although in special cases it can be justifiable to use a helper or a coinstructor. Such a case can be a session focusing on a more complex breakfall technique or special needs and ablebodied students taking the lesson together. One session generally takes about 45 to 60 minutes, depending on the circumstances. In a school setting, sessions usually follow the normal 45-minute timetable. However, in a training camp, for instance, longer sessions are more practical, sometimes lasting as long as 90 minutes.
Students get feedback on a regular basis. First, every student receives personal feedback on actual classroom performance, which incorporates general aspects of classroom participation, such as at-tention and conduct, as well as the achievement of the breakfall techniques themselves. Students must demonstrate their newly acquired skills on a monthly basis to assess individual development and strong and weak points.
5 Other Benefits of Learning Breakfalls
One of the therapeutic benefits of the Breakfalls method is in connection with reflexes present in newborn babies. If a primitive reflex persists after the first 9 to 12 months, it impedes the development of more complex movements and equilibrium responses. The Breakfalls method intends to develop the sense of balance by placing emphasis on the constant coordination of the hands, arms, and the body. As a result, it helps to eliminate persisting abnormal primitive reflexes (Goddard, 2002). The Breakfalls method is also beneficial in the development of cognitive skills as well as the bodily sensation by using tasks aiming to synchronize the two hemispheres of the brain, such as midline crossing activities (Goddard, 2002). The Breakfalls method is full of such motions, helping to improve the cooperation between the two hemispheres, which leads to the improvement of the cognitive skills.
The School of Breakfalls program is suitable and useful across the lifespan and is especially significant when taught at an early age, as early acquisition of falling skills can prevent injuries throughout the lifetime. In addition, the program is suitable and useful for children with disabilities. It can be concluded that the Breakfalls method has a rightful place in the physical education curriculum, as reaching children in the formal school setting allows for early acquisition of skills.
In Hungary, the Breakfalls method is currently available to teachers through a state-accredited inservice training program. In addition, an instructor training course is being developed. Future plans are to include the method in the national core curriculum, as well as in the education requirements of pre-service physical education teachers. The School of Breakfalls program has the ability to help prevent the leading cause of nonfatal injuries (falls), and in turn has international significance. This article serves as one way to introduce the School of Breakfalls method to the International audience.
The program is available in the USA upon request. For further information, please contact Mr Béla Dobrotka at mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org
Center for Disease Control. (2011). Leading Causes of Nonfatal Injury.
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Sándor Molnár is a physical education teacher at the Óbuda Nursery and Primary School for Students with Special Needs in Budapest, Hungary. He also is a certified trainer in the Breakfalls program and runs a Breakfalls program for children with disabilities on the weekends at his school. He also teaches Hungarian folk dance for children and teenagers.
Béla Dobrotka works for the Hungarian Deaf Sport Federation and is member of the Hungarian Paralympic Committee. He is a master Judo instructor and the founder of the Breakfalls method. He has conducted Breakfalls programs and trained Breakfalls instructors throughout Hungary for the past 10 years.