When you talk about rolls and falling one must first consider their many aspects and applications. A roll or fall can be done by choice, but usually results from a reaction to something. They can also be used as an offensive move but are more commonly a defensive one.
A typical urban street is a hard, uneven surface with lots of little stones or debris. It is not a place you would want to land. On a conscious level this would explain why most people hate going to the ground. On an unconscious level people love or hate the ground because of their training. A wrestler loves this area while a boxer may not, this comes from their training and the psychology around their particular sports.
In SYSTEMA rolling or falling is just another skill that you can call upon when you need. Just like a punch, kick or grab, it is a movement like any other. You don't need to love or hate the ground, just become friends with it. If you need to go there go, if not don't. Your situation will dictate more what is possible.
As I often mention to my students, your chances of falling, slipping or tripping on something during the course of the year are more likely then you getting into a fight. Hospitals are full of people having hurt themselves by falling. Injuries are common to the hands, arms, back and head. Practicing this aspect has an application beyond the martial art.
Training on hard surfaces is preferable to mats. An old Russian saying is "a hard floor is like a good friend, a soft one is like a bad one". Your focus should be on blanketing the ground, not slamming into it. Contact is made only on the soft tissue, not the bones. A good indicator would be the amount of noise from your roll or fall. No noise is excellent. Banging would indicate bones are contacting the ground and could possibly be damaged.
You begin a roll with your hands stretched out in front of you. This is an instinctual position for your hands. They come forward to brace or stop a fall - this is the body's way of trying to protect itself, so start from here. Rotate the arm from the hand so that your shoulder rolls forward. You will be rolling through the shoulder and the back, on the soft tissue and muscles, not on any bones. The legs will come around and land carefully, not slamming into the ground. Using the momentum of the roll and not fighting it is essential.
Now that we can get to the ground safely let's talk about ground fighting. There are two main perspectives - survival or competition based. You must make decisions when you train about which path you will follow. A lot depends on your personal goals, aspirations and wants from martial arts.
I have done both in my years and can safely say that survival based training is much more practical, efficient and safe. By focusing on survival you more easily build creativity and awareness skills. These two attributes are vital for any real life applications.
SYSTEMA starts by having students simply move on the ground - crawling, sliding, shuffling and rolling. No negative stimulus is initially applied. This gives a student room to discover and learn his or her movements. Following this you can start to progress and have someone walk towards you while you're on the ground. Your objective is to simply move out of the way safely. This simple drill can get very interesting when your training partner starts to run at you and you are forced to move quickly. Add to this the many other students surrounding you in class doing the same thing and the person running is just half the problem. The progress has no limits, you can have your partner start to step or kick you while you are on the ground or have them use a stick or knife to strike you with, the objective is still the same - just move out of the way. The offensive applications come from the movement chosen by each student. Anything is possible, the only limit is the students creativity.
Time is also spent in the more traditional forms of wrestling - where two people are locked or engaged physically. Students are shown how to use the ground to their advantage and how to work with their movements. They learn first hand what works and what does not work for them.
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