Taking a Fall


That’s a hole in the ceiling to the attic. The kind of hole made when you fall through to the room below. Always a hazard when searching attics for suspects.

We were up there for a secreted domestic violence suspect. Various warnings and challenges went unanswered. So, ultimately, you have to go up and clear it. A K-9 was with us, and made first contact. Then, a lot of directions given under harried circumstances, but our quarry was eventually controlled, searched for weapons, and not cuffed due to his needing to wend his way out of the attic as well. I had just released him with strict directions to make his way to the exit (under the watchful eye of others), I shifted weight to let him go on, and could tell something was wrong. My weight had shifted off where the joists and beams came together, and suddenly the “floor” gave out from under me. I reached up to grab something but too late, my fingers slid off wood as I was enveloped in a cloud of insulation.

I fell at least ten feet to the floor in the room below, right onto my back. Then I got up, and we continued with our arrest of the suspect. In a way falling through made a much larger hole, making it easier to get him out and take him into custody, and to treatment for his dog bite.

Several people were very surprised. “You were there, and then all of a sudden, you weren’t!”

And, in the room below: “all of sudden a big cloud of dust and insulation just fell out of the ceiling. I saw you fall, but then it was just ‘white.’ And then you popped up out of the pile on the floor.” People asked me and texted me for the rest of the shift if I was sure I was alright.

I am, first because I was lucky. I landed between a bed and a rocking chair, in a clear spot on the floor. If my legs had hit the bed and my upper body continued to the floor, or if I’d hit that chair in the center of my back, or with my head, things would most likely have been far different. Never discount the role luck plays in tactical environments.

Then again, luck favors the prepared. I know how to fall. I’ve been doing ukemi (Japanese for “receiving body,” often translated as “break falls” in Judo and jiujitsu arts) for more than 30 years now. I’ve taken some very hard falls, even onto my head. Even when I got shot, my body equated it to taking hard ukemi. It was in an odd way familiar. Or at least that was how I “familiarized” it in the moment.

It’s a reason I continue to practice, and find benefits across a spectrum of tactical needs never really addressed in most training.  I know that over the years I have fallen head-over-heels in a complete somersault over the handlebars of a bike – onto the street – and done ukemi and  had but a small scratch on my hand. It was smooth enough that my wife thought I had done it on purpose to show off. Yeah, ummm, no.

I’ve done a slapping roll out of a headlong fall down a short flight of stairs, when running down them to get to a fight in progress in the lounge at the hotel where I worked security. I took a fall when I was sprinting on wet ground to the firing line during a training drill, gun in hand, and without violating muzzle discipline engaged the target from the ground. That wasn’t the intended course of fire, but that’s where I ended up. It worked.

I’ve learned some things too – to this day I wear nothing on my back – not even a small piece of gear. I see others with cuffs, tourniquets (really? there?), pouches, flashlights, you-name-it at the small of their backs. Once I watched an eager  Young Bull officer running into an active shooter drill slip and fall backward square onto the full-size mag light he was slinging in a ring on his duty belt at the small of his back. He was unable to continue training that day, and I think missed the day after. This was a powerfully muscled and freakishly strong guy – taken out by bad ukemi. Had I been wearing something on my back, and fallen from that ceiling onto it, I wouldn’t have needed to hit that rocking chair to injure myself. If you wear gear at work and are reading this, get the crap off of your back!

Afterwards, I texted my teacher and he responded that he had just finished teaching a lesson on ukemi, explaining how it was probably the most useful of all self defense skills for most people. And yet…I know many do not practice them diligently enough.

Another friend I texted replied with the insightful “Dude! When are you going to finally realize that you are TOO OLD FOR THIS SH*T!”

He’s not wrong. But, here I am, unhurt, after taking that fall. I hazard that most of my younger colleagues (I’m of an age now when most of my colleagues are younger than I am, by a significant gap….) would not be able to take that fall without being hurt.

They don’t train like I do, and more importantly perhaps, they don’t think this way.

This was the first time in more than 20 years clearing attics – most often in full tactical gear, that I’ve ever fallen through – though I’ve seen it happen to several others and even a few K-9s. It is a recognized hazard, and in my case could have been far more serious. It wasn’t, partly due to luck,  partly preparation. I came to the call late. I didn’t have to go up there. But I knew that our K-9 handler preferred to have me go up with him, and frankly, I felt more prepared than any of the others for the various things that I knew could happen. It’s an odd double-edged sword for me – I admit to sometimes feeling a little irritated that many of my fellow professionals aren’t as prepared because of their personal mindsets, choices and lifestyles, but at the same time I feel a bit protective because I know they don’t train and think that way.

I don’t know how or why they don’t, I just know that they don’t.

At any rate, the lesson for the tactician here is: train your breakfalls, and be prepared for when the floor disappears beneath you!


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