One of the things that I enjoyed over the years was taking break falls. I first started learning serious break falls as a freshman at Notre Dame, more specifically as a member of the Notre Dame Martial Arts Institute (NDMAI).

See my reminiscences of the Saturday morning practices during those years. 

I was introduced to break falls on these ugly mats.

We all took regular poundings on those mats in those Saturday morning slam and jam sessions. Additionally, we also practiced rolls and falls on the hard floor as well. If your break fall form was off, you paid for it.

After I graduated from the Notre Dame Law School in 1990 and moved to Columbus Ohio, I taught Vee Jiu Jitsu private lessons to a number of Notre Dame friends either living in the Columbus or attending nearby Ohio State University. These ranged from Laurie McNeilly, Stuart Tyner, Jennifer Kovass, Brendan Burns, Kate Noll, and Dan Westmeyer.

Columbus Years

In May of 1996, I bought a house that had a decent basement. I purchased some mats from Tiffin Mats and put them in the cellar. Through these private lessons, I continued to hone my break falls. There were quite a few rough workouts and some of the partners really tested my break falls, notably Stuart Tyner. Stuart played football at Notre Dame and was 6’5″ and 290 lbs during his playing days. He got into the martial arts through the NDMAI after his playing days came to an end. By the time he came to Columbus to attend graduate school (molecular biology), he had slimmed down to the 260 lb range but was still lifting regularly.

Stuart and I would meet at one of the facilities located on the Ohio State campus and use the wrestling room to work out. Now, at that time I was 5’8″ and 175 lbs to Stuart’s 6’5″ 260 pounds. I took some hellacious falls from Stuart and loved every bit of it. Fortunately, Stuart was particular about executing techniques correctly rather than relying on brute strength.

Moses Powell, the most famous student of Professor Vee, doing his stuff. The break falls depicted is typical of what I did at ND and in the years after.

Unfortunately, after one year at OSU, Stuart decided to finish his degree closer to home in Texas. I was looking forward to a few years of working with him. Still, I had a great experience working with a large guy like Stuart.

Make no mistake, though, other folks, while not the same size as Stuart, were just as brutal to me as he was. Laurie McNeilly comes to mind. She hailed from Circleville, approximately a half hour to 45 minutes south of Columbus. In the summers of 1991 and 1992, she came up twice a week to work out. I was living in an apartment complex at that time. So we would often work out in the backyard of the complex. During those hot summers, the ground was hard. We gave each other no quarter in slamming each other to the ground. Laurie was one of the best workout partners that I’ve ever had, and she turned out to be a hell of a martial artist and is still active in the Chicago area.

Modern Arnis Years

As I got into Modern Arnis and, once Master Chuck Gauss realized that I could take break falls, he used me as uke regularly, particularly for techniques that required a break fall. Master Chuck came from a Judo background before getting into Modern Arnis and so many of the throws and takedowns that he performed on over the years are familiar to me. Man, he threw me around like a rag doll many times. Fun times. 🙂

 Many times over the years. Full video here.

If you had asked me ten years ago when I would stop taking break falls, I would have answered “when my body can’t take it anymore” and refer to the pounding my body has taken over the years.

In the last few months, I had to retire from taking break falls but for reasons that I would not have expected a decade ago. Surprisingly, my body feels good and likely can take break falls for a few more years. 

Medical Issues

My cochlear implants and the tube shunt in my right eye are the reasons that I can no longer take break falls. Yes, I have hardware inside my right eyeball!


First, the cochlear implant. Many of you follow me on Facebook and have tracked my journey. Long story short, the surgeon drilled a hole in my skulland implanted a receiver just beneath my skull. My cochlear implant doctor wasn’t too crazy about my practice of martial arts. I assured him that I would stick to teaching.

 The bigger issue concerns the tube shunt implanted in my right eye to treat my glaucoma. I never knew of the existence of this particular medical technology until last October. I still have a hard time believing that there’s hardware INSIDE MY FREAKING EYEBALL. On top of this, I had a setback in January where a combination of inflammation, a tube shunt “sometimes working too well” and exercise-related stress caused the pressure in my eye to drop to zero, causing the retina to detach, resulting in severely distorted vision. I recovered quickly from it but still have some slight wavy distortion that will be permanent.


It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that, due to these two implants, my break fall days are over.

Don’t feel sorry for me, though. I haven’t dwelled on it for a single second.  The end of my break fall career, to me, is just one door closing. My medical experiences have humbled me and have reminded me never take a day for granted. I get out of bed every morning with a mission!

But man, I had some fun times slamming and jamming in the past!


So where do I go from here? Turns out that there’s much more that I can do. Teaching classes, private lessons, and seminars. Teaching all aspects of Modern Arnis including the ins and outs, nuances and subtleties of tapi tapi, anyos, joint locking, and positioning. Essentially, anything and everything except  break falls. There will be no problem helping Master Chuck demonstrate wicked tapi tapi material at a seminar or camp, so long as there is no break falls involved. I will seek to expand my martial horizons in any way that I can and pass along the knowledge to my students.

Bottom line, I’m more motivated than ever to make the most of my days.


4 thoughts on “The End of My Break Fall Career

  • April 6, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    Thank you for sharing your personal challenges, sir. It’s so easy to suffer injuries or setbacks and think you’re the only one facing difficulties, or that the universe is out to get you! But that’s not the case at all.

    We’ve all got issues that keep us from being 100%. I haven’t been at 100% since I was 23. And getting older is eventually going to tap all of us out! But that’s what martial arts is all about… persevering, problem-solving, and fighting to survive, even thrive.

    Your students are lucky to have you as a role model. Happy training!

    • April 6, 2015 at 1:50 pm

      You got it Sensei Ando! It’s more than persevering, problem-solving, and surviving….it’s about enjoying as well! Gotta keep on rocking and rolling! 🙂

  • May 1, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    Love this post. That’s the attitude of a true martial artist.

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