Home > Drop in the Bucket > The Mat is a Lie

The Mat is a Lie

For not the first time that night, I was falling.

That was the point, of course. We were practicing break falls of the land-on-your-side, one arm up, one leg out variety and had been practicing for some time. I was tired. I was sweaty. My hair was coming out of the plait I’d put it in and getting into my eyes. My fetching new gi, one size too big for me (to allow for shrinkage), no longer looked quite as pristine and was trailing on the floor. And I hurt.

I find break falling, like everything on the first try, difficult, vaguely humiliating and painful. Rationally I know practice will take care of those complaints, but my body remembers how hard the floor is, and it’s hard to work up the desire to practice falling down again and again and again.

So I basically only practice my break falls in class, either when we practice hip throws, or when we practice falling. I mean, the downstairs neighbours would probably complain about the noise, I’d totally get carpet burn on my arms and knees, and I don’t have a crash mat a home anyway. So, I don’t practice much and, needless to say, the quality of my break falls shows the quantity of my practice.

Anyway, I was falling. And I was tired. Jogging, falling, climbing to my feet without my hands, kicking the bag and then jogging some more had worn me out. My gi was too long, the floor a bit damp from all that perspiration. I jogged up to the blue mat, and I slipped.

I’m falling, I realized, then, just before hitting the mat, thought, well, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing.

I fell, one arm up, one leg out, a decent break fall. Phew, I thought. Thank god for the mat. And then it hit me:

The mat is a lie.

Our blue mat (gotta love it) looks like it’s been through the wars. Maybe it has. I’ve only been coming to the dojo since, oh, say, 2003, and but the blue mat was all ready a little battered looking back then. If it was a student, I’d bow longer than it, if you see what I mean. In a way, it’s my senior.

That blue mat has been just about everything, as well as a crash mat. It has been the course of a river, the inert form of a loved one, it’s been the belly of the monster attacking my village, and the hedge behind which a ninja is lurking. And I’ve fallen on it. Lots. But here’s the thing I just realized:

In actuality, the mat isn’t any of these things. If you fail to jump it, you won’t drown. If you hesitate at the last moment, the madman won’t kill your husband, if you don’t use technique, the monster won’t eat your village, if you don’t make it over, no ninja’s going to shiv you in the eye. And it’s not a crash mat, either.

The mat, assuming it ever had stuffing, no longer does. Oh, it might represent a crash mat (or a stream or a whatever) but it’s not really a crash mat. In fact, it’s hardly a mat at all.

The mat, or “mat” as I like to think of it, is actually two strips of vinyl (now approaching 40% duct tape) with some Velcro on the side. Go on and lie on it, and you’ll see that it doesn’t cushion you. It doesn’t protect you. It doesn’t make the floor very much softer at all. But it does do something important, as I realized the other night.

As I was getting up from my slip-and-fall-for-real break fall, I realized I hadn’t landed on the mat at all. I’d missed by about two inches. Only my feet were really on the blue. I realized I didn’t need the mat to break fall. That hit me at the same moment I realized I never have fallen so calmly if I’d known I was going to miss the mat.

At that moment, I realized the crash mat, with all the attendant associations of big, plush crash mats of my elementary school days, was, in fact, a gigantic, flagrant and easily demonstrable lie. But I also realized I didn’t need to fall on a mat in order to get up and walk away. I realized the mat just made learning to fall a little easier.

Napoleon once famously said that people will die for pieces of cloth, not for the cloth, but because of what the cloth represents. Well, it seems we’ll fall on them too.  Not because they’re soft, but because they represent plush.  Who knew?

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Categories: Drop in the Bucket
  1. Mitch Holloway
    September 12, 2008 at 7:47 am

    Maybe you can help me design a warm-up/down based around the Break-fall and it’s connective techniques?
    yes-yes?

  2. tamarasheehan
    September 12, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    Sure! See you tonight!

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