Art, Olympic Sport, Self Defence
(Protective Behavior)

All About Breakfalls

You can't do Judo without them but what exaclty are breakfalls and what do they do?

Stand Tall: Respect and Affect

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Welcome To All Sessions

What Are Break Falls?

How Do Break Falls Work?

Why Learn to Fall?

How Can You Fall and Not Get Hurt?

How I Teach Break Falls

Break Fall Games

An Integral part of Judo is knowing how to fall. Being a full contact martial art and sport and one that concentrates on throwing you opponent to the ground, knowing how to fall is essential. Especially if you want you and your partner to be able to get up again to continue the fight.

Few martial arts teach falling and most of those that do usually wait until the student has reached a more advanced level. This is an incredible over site in my mind.

Why Learn to Fall?

Knowing how to fall can save your life
Knowing how to fall can protect your limbs

I have many breakfall stories of former students having used their knowledge of falling to save life and limb. One of the most impressive was when a young mother came bounding up to me in the supermarket. The woman had attended around 4 of my classes originally to get her daughter involved.

The daughter was not really interested and the mother continued for 2 weeks after her daughter had left, in the hope that her daughter would change her mind. When she saw me at the supermarket a month or so after she had stopped she came was very excited. "I sorry I haven't been back to Judo. You know how it is." she said. I said I do. "I just have to tell you what happened though" she continued.

"I Spend a lot of time riding horses and the other week I was thrown. I was heading head first for the ground. I felt sure I was in for a serious injury. Suddenly I thought of the rolls you taught me. So I rolled and got up without hardly a scratch. Your teaching me to fall saved my life."

Knowing how to fall means the difference between disaster and winning in a fight
Knowing how to fall will protect you in a contest even many non judo contests

If you fall badly in a fight you risk disabling injury. If you are disabled in simple terms you loose or worse.

What Are Break Falls?

Simply put a break fall (Ukemi) is a fall that allows you to hit the ground with any kind of reasonable impact and recover without injury, particularly the disabling kind.

How Do Break Falls Work?

Break falls work by using the laws of physics. Basically if you spread the impact of a fall over the widest area possible you disperse that force over that area. It's rather like how a ladies stiletto heal easily makes a whole in new asphalt whereas a car tyre hardly makes a dent. The weight is distributed over a much wider area.

How Can You Fall and Not Get Hurt?

By learning how to place your body correctly and thereby learning to relax as you fall you disperse the force thus reducing the chance of injury. Not only this, as you learn to be more and more comfortable with falling you become more relaxed.

The more relaxed you are the less chance of you putting limbs in the worst position to be injured. In some ways its like a drunk falling or very young children.

Incidentally most young children naturally fall correctly. I learned this from watching my own children and now my grand children growing up. Strangely enough mostly it is learning how to falling incorrectly that is the learned behavior, not falling correctly.

The most important thing to protect is you head. That's why judoka end up with very strong necks. All the break falls they do.

How I Teach Break Falls (ukemi)

There are several types of break falls:

  • Back Break Falls
  • Side Break Falls
  • Front Break Falls
  • Forward Rolls
  • Rear Rolls

There are all sorts of theories out what is the best way to teach Break Falls. One of the most radical is to simply support a new student as they are thrown by using particular throws such as Tai O toshi. Personally I find this to be a bit too radical as I have many students come to me with co-ordination issues and I'm concerned that they will be hurt.

Back break falls (ushiro ukemi)


  1. Cross their arms across their chest
  2. Put their chin on their chest
  3. Squats down on the mat
  4. Rocks backwards
  5. Staying on their back hits the mat with both hands

As the student gets faster at this they reach a point where they can execute a standing back break fall.

Side Break Falls (yoko ukemi)

For the beginner I use the same as the Back break fall except the student only hits the mat with one hand. As the progress I get the to put one foot out in front of them (right foot for a right fall and left for a left fall) so as to cause them to fall more one one side.

Again as the student gets faster at this they reach a point where they can execute a standing side break fall.

With this fall it is important that the student falls with their legs apart as partularly with boys it can be rather painful for your legs to slap together.

Front Break Falls (mae ukemi)

For a while many a Sensei stopped teaching these as they are rarely used in contest however with the advents of judoka turning to their front whilst being thrown in order to minimize scores they have again become popular. Beside they are quite useful in self defense.

The beginner starts from a kneeling position. They are then asked to lay down completely with their elbows and hands completely flat on the mat and their heads turned to the side( to protect their nose). This they are told is the position they are wanting to end up in.

Kneeling again the Judoka is told to try and fall into the position they were laying in. Most student end in a crouched position when they first try so they are told that they have to begin with land on their stomach.

The next step is to get them not to land on their stomach but purely on their hand and elbows (both at the same time). In doing this they need to make sure they turn their heads to avoid hitting their nose.

As the student gets faster at this they reach a point where they can execute a standing forward break fall.

Forward Rolls (mae-mawari ukemi or zenpo kaiten ukemi)

A Judo Roll is basically a forward roll or somersault with slight differences. More accurately it's a shoulder roll, where you avoid touching your head on the mat. The main objective is to protect your head and to distribute the impact of the fall over the widest possible area.

Because it is so closely related to a somersault it seems logical to start learning a judo Roll with a standard somersault. I've found That there are so many new students that can't do a basic somersault and many that are just plain terrified at the prospect, that trying to teach them anything more advanced until they grasp the basics is asking for complications.

Forward Rolls Video

Because in some cases the Judo forward roll is the most difficult of all break falls to teach and I have had to use many different techniques to try and correct different faults I intend in the near future to create a video series to try and show the different methods.

In the mean time this is a well done video that gives an excelent outline of how to do Basic Breakfalls

Rear Rolls

Not used in judo at lest they are not seen to have any use in competition because if you end up on your back as you would by doing a backward roll you would almost certainly generate a score for your opponent.

But rear rolls can be useful for self defense. If you are pushed over backwards and you can do a backward roll you may be able to get to your feet more readily than with a standard back, forward or side break fall so that you can fight or run.

They are also simple to teach. Just lay on you back put your feet over your head with a little bit of force, turn your head and with a bit of practice you will roll.

Break Fall Games
Caterpillar Race : Start with the Judoka on their knees. On Hajima the students commence by doing a front break fall. The student then crawls to the point where their hands land and does another front break fall. This is repeated to the end of the mat.

Break fall tiggy: Standard tiggy game. One person starts off as "IT" everybody runs away from "IT" and whoever gets tagged becomes "IT". The only way to avoid being tagged is to do a break fall. All break falls are allowed but they must be performed safely (i.e. don't land on or in front of anybody). You are also caught if you fail to do a break fall when approached, Stay on the ground too long or do a poorly performed break fall. The game is time limited.

Over peoples backs: This one is particularly good for developing back and Side break falls. Every body gets in pairs. One partner goes on their hands and knees. The other person sits over their back (note not on their back there is too much temptation to sit down hard on someone back and hurt them) and falls backwards into either a side break fall or a back break fall. The game is time limited.

Chris Cross Rolls: This is an alternate way of practicing rolls. Judoka form groups at each corner of the mat. The first judoka from two of the corners of the same side of the mat, leaves their corner and rolls diagonally across to the mat to the corner that is diagonally across from them, avoiding the other player who is doing the same thing from a different corner. Upon reaching the other corner they must tag a player from that group who then leaves their corner and repeats the process. The game is time limited