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Rolling and falling are very important aspects of Systema training, for a number of reasons:

1. overcoming the fear of falling allows the body and mind to become more free and adaptable - there will be less tendency to freeze or tense

2. If you never get into a fight in your life, chances are at some time you may slip on ice, trip and fall, etc

3. Anyone can go to the ground in a fight, so it is important to know both how to get there safely and also how to operate when you are on the deck

4. Falling and rolling exercises give us good conditioning for the body and help us to relax.

It’s probably true to say that, for people with no previous experience, rolling and falling are the least popular aspects of class! So what can we do to ease the transition into this new method of movement?

The first point to make is that this isn’t a new method of movement - in fact it’s the method we first use as babies! A baby or toddler quite happily moves around on the floor and has little or no fear of falling. Of course a baby is very soft and relaxed, so there is our first pointer:


With some drills and exercises you can kid yourself as to how relaxed you are. Rolling immediately pinpoints any tension in the body - especially if you are working on a floor rather than mats. So if you need to do a little stretching and breathing before you start the rolls. Loosen yourself up a bit.

Let’s start with a basic front roll. Take a position on all fours. See how your hands and knees form the corners of a square. Now lift your right hand - take your arm across under you towards the left knee. You now have to replace that missing point of the square with another support - in this case your right shoulder. Now tuck your head in, as though your are trying to touch your forehead to your left knee. It is very important that your head does not contact the ground. Push off with the feet and roll forward on your shoulders.

Always remember - roll slowly and as you roll exhale, slowly again, in time with the movement. Get back into the start position and repeat on the opposite shoulder.

Rolling back is a similar procedure. You can start from a kneeling position. Relax the hips and let them slip out to the side. Sit down onto your backside, then slowly roll back, tucking the head into one side and keeping an arm outstretched for balance. Remember again - breathe.

There is no shortcut to mastery, simply practice as much as you can. Move the furniture aside in the front room and spend 10 minutes a day rolling slowly back in forth, you will find you soon become comfortable with it.

Once you can do the basic rolls you can start getting more adventurous. Link rolls together - left and right forward rolls three times, then stretch the body out and roll sideways, then roll backwards to the start point and so on.

Next try rolling forward from a kneeling position. If you feel confident try rolling whilst keeping your arms outstretched at shoulder height.


Falling methods should be practiced alongside rolls. The main principle here is to limit the impact of body with floor. So again we must be very relaxed and soft. Also think about how you can decelerate the body so you hit the floor as slowly as possible. Imagine that every joint in the body acts as a brake. So if we take the basic backward fall, start in standing position, then slowly buckle each joint one at a time - ankle, knee, hip, back. This way you slowly collapse rather than drop. For safety one hand cups the back of the head and the elbows and arms stay away from the ground (no slapping breakfalls please!). As you drop twist slightly to land on the side rather than full on the back. Exhale, of course and keep relaxed. Every part of the body should contact the floor so you “merge” with the ground rather than hit it.

The falling forward method is similar, though you go into a roll at the end of it. Let the body collapse joint by joint again, bend forward and into the front roll. You can also practice “diving” into the roll. Launch yourself forward and “stretch” your body out. the hands will naturally lift above the head. Remember the collapse principle again, so that as the arms connect with the ground they fold to absorb the impact. The head tucks to one side, then follow through with the roll.

If you are worried about falling forward here is another nice drill. Have your training partner position themselves in all fours. You then stand at their side, push your hips forward and let yourself fall over them. Keep your arms back, just bow the body forward, let gravity take over. Once you have gone past the balance point and are falling forward, the arms ill again naturally come above the head, then you can drop and roll as in the diving exercise.

You can try a nother version of this exercise too, very good for overcoming fear of falling. Take a high kneeling position, with your hands behind your back. Arch your body again and let yourself fall forward (I’d recommend working on a mat at first!). Make sure you turn your head to one side (especially if you have a big nose) and keep the back arched,. when you get it right there is very little impact and the body kind of rocks into place. If you can do this, then try going straight into a forward roll from this position too.

Once you are OK with diving rolls, add in variations. Dive over a chair or a partner. Try holding the hands behind the back. Try falling backwards, then twisting into a forward roll halfway through.

Another method of falling forward is to drop in place. this is done by bringing your hands down beside the feet and pushing the feet back, so you end up in a press up position on the floor.

Once you are OK with falls and roll s there are a wide range of drills you can work with a partner. You can work offensive rolls (taking your partner down with a roll or kicking him as you roll), defensive rolls - to escape from pushes, punches, kicks, locks, the stick - and of course anything else that you can come up with.

Always remember to train safely and bear in mind the two words relax and breathe!

Incidentally, just one point to finish: people sometimes question how it is that we should roll in Systema, when we are always being exhorted to “maintain form” - ie keep an upright posture. The answer is that sometimes it is necessary to break form to escape or evade. It has also been said that you can maintain form in two ways, either as a board or as a ball.

I hope the above has given those of you who may be nervous of rolls and falls some encouragement and ideas. They really are a key to getting the sort of uninhibited body mechanics that we see from the real movement experts - take a look at Sergei’s clip on the footage of last year’s Moscow trip for further inspiration!


by Robert Poyton