Ukemi (literally: “receiving body”), or breakfalls, are techniques used to safely absorb the impact of a fall. Pay attention, as this is probably the most important lesson that we will ever teach. Not only will this keep you safe when your are thrown, tripped, reaped or swept by an attacker, but this techniques will protect you from any bad fall (e.g., like slipping on ice, falling off of a ladder, or being catapulted off of a trampoline.) The Centers for Disease Control data tables show that Americans are 60% more likely to die from falls than from assaults and murders.
When too much pressure is applied to a bone, it will break. To avoid harm, we must find ways to relieve this pressure. Recall from physics class, that pressure is defined as the force acting upon a given area, P = F ÷ A. There are then two ways to lower the pressure being exerted upon one’s skeleton:
- To fall lightly, and reduce the force of the impact; and
- To increase one’s surface area, and dissipate the force.
The first choice is rarely a viable option -- but the second option is realizable by landing in a way that maximizes your surface area (i.e., by taking up as much floor space as possible), so that there is no one point of impact. Recall the classic magic trick of laying on a bed of nails. The magician’s weight is distributed evenly over the entire bed of nails; since his weight never presses down on any one nail, none of them pierce him. If the magician were to try this on a small bed, or one with few nails -- it would be his last trick. You can play with this concept by holding a pushpin lightly between your thumb and forefinger -- which side feels more pressure?
Practice each breakfall until they become instinctive, and only then move on to the next one. Each breakfall follows a progression, to make learning easier. These ukemi techniques will be called upon many times in our lessons to prevent injuries, so get them right. We do not expect anyone to master these in one day. Rushing through this section is a poor life choice.
In that same vein, you must practice these on some sort of mat or other yielding surface. Anyone who says that they are tougher for training without mats is either lying or crippled. Martial arts mats are interesting, in that they are not soft, yet they absorb impact -- but they are expensive. Old wrestling mats work in a pinch, but your feet will sink into them, and stick to them, which can cause twisted ankles and knees. If one can’t afford mats, find a place that has them, or practice on the beach. Don’t go without mats, and don’t just rely on a combination of couch cushions and hope.
Please study the breakfalls listed below, in order. The authors assume no responsibility for the reader’s actions.