Learning to Fall Safely Is a Key Benefit of Learning Judo

judo falling safely

Judo Classes Practice Falling down every class

In Judo the practice of falling is called Ukemi. Ukemi, is the Japanese word for breakfall. The idea is to literally break your fall in a practiced skillful way which allow people to fall without injury. Judo is, of course a Martial Art that focuses on throwing your opponent to the ground. With this in mind, repetitive falling practice is a key part of the study of judo and is practiced nearly every class. We practice on specifically designed meatspace that is made to provide solid footing but have enough give to minimize the impact on the body as much as is possible.

The Philadelphia Judo Club has always made safety a primary goal

The Philadelphia Judo club was one of the first clubs on the East Coast to invest in a sprung floor. A sprung floor is a regular Judo mat but is placed on a plywood platform. The plywood platform is supported by hundreds of foam blocks which gives some cushion to make the falls as forgiving to the body as possible. We practice falling to make sure all the students can be as safe as possible, but we also want to do our best to minimize the cumulative effect of countless throws to protect our students and instructors. It seems like falling down should be pretty easy, and in fact, falling down is easy, but doing it safely so you can take lots of throws and being thrown competitively takes instruction, training and practice.

Falling Down safely is a skill that can be taught and learned through repetitive practice

Nearly every Judo practice begins with basic falling drills as part of the warm ups. The key to mastery of the skill is repetition. We will focus on drills to protect the head from hitting the ground (or the mat during Judo practice). The recent studies done on concussions have shown how critical protecting the head from violent, jarring impacts is, for the safety of athletes and non-athletes young and old.

What are the mechanics of falling safely

We practice controlling the fall as much as possible and rolling into them to minimize the impact on the body. The next focus of the practice of falling is to train the body to overcome its instinct to reach to catch yourself as you fall.

Bodies are much stronger and able to take an impact than most people believe. People typically have an instinct to protect their bodies by reaching for the ground to use their arms to break their fall. This is more often than not a bad idea. While the body is stronger than people realize, the small joints and bones in the hands, wrists, forearms, elbows and shoulders can breaks or dislocate surprisingly easily. We train our bodies to instinctively slap the mat a split second after the body hits the ground. This keeps smaller breakable bones and joints form taking the full weight of your own and possibly someone els’s body when you fall. slapping the mat (or ground) absorbs some of the impact of the fall and most critically, trains the body to avoid reaching for the ground, which risks serious injury to these small joints and bones.

Gravity definitely works and when you are thrown or fall you will hit the ground, the goal of ukemi is to make the falls survivable and as safe as they can be, both on the mat and in the real world setting.

Judo throwing practice is also Judo falling practice

What makes the training for falling in judo so effective is the practice and receptive falling that we do. The warmups which include drilling the safest way to fall is just part of the practice we get in Judo. The throwing in practice is also good training to teach your body to react the best way possible to a fall. Most of the teaching and practice time in judo is dedicated to learning to throw your opponent. The result is judo players throw over and over, nearly every practice. This also means we take a lot of falls. This acts as supplemental training and practice on falling skillfully and efficiently. Good execution is all about practice. Being thrown while your partner learns is great practice learning to fall efficiently.

Judo Randori leads to random throwing and falling - the final piece in mastering falling safely

The last part of the Judo practice that teaches safe falling is Randori. Randori translates as “free play” and it’s where partners do free takedown training. This is the core of Judo practice. All the throwing practice is put to the test when partners do randori. The resulting practice leads to falls that are unexpected, chaotic and random. This is when the instincts the body has for falling are really sharpened. The more randori we do the better our bodies learn to react and put all the falling practice into live fire training. We learn to tuck our chins on falls to avoid our heads contacting the ground. We turn and roll into falls to minimize the impact. We break our falls by slapping the ground, making the falls easier and protecting small joints and bones from high impact and dangerous landing.


Most importantly, this becomes second nature and happens with thinking even if the fall is unexpected. The translation to reality is critical. When forced to take an unexpected and unplanned fall, like slipping on the ice, tripping on the sidewalk, falling off of bikes or thousands of other possible reasons for falling an untrained person can have devastating life changing injuries. Judo practice isn’t by any means proof against injuries in all falls, but, the repetitive practice and training of proper falling techniques makes the likelihood of falling and avoiding serious injury much greater.

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The Philadelphia Judo Club is located within Osagame Martial Arts at 1168 S. Broad St. Philadelphia, PA 19146 (between Ellsworth St. & Federal St.).


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