The Necessity Of Ukemi
How many times have you fallen down in your life?
Now take those times and divide them into two categories- before martial arts training, and after. Is there a difference in the percentage of those falls that resulted in injury?
Whether you’re slipping on ice, tripping over tree roots, getting tackled playing football or falling off of your bike- we’ve all come crashing down before. The fall itself is no big deal, right? The impact is the part we have to worry about. This is where the use of “Ukemi” comes into play. This is a technique that allows a person to fall, roll, trip or to be thrown to the ground without injury.
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Practicing how to fall seems unusual at first, and is one of the most unnatural to learn. The benefits, however, are immense. Once a person is comfortable with hitting the ground, and confident that they will be able to get back up quickly and uninjured, their fighting arsenal grows exponentially. You’ve heard of trust falls, they’re a cliche team bonding activity we see in the movies. Essentially, a breakfall in jiu jitsu is a trust fall with yourself. You have to be confident that you are able to steer your body in the correct pathway to ensure the least amount of injury.
Not only does mastering the technique of ukemi boost grappling odds, but understanding the concept is just as helpful. In order to correctly break a fall, you have to be relaxed, precise, in control, and thinking ahead. Your body has to be trained in a particular manner, so that your muscle memory isn’t to tense and attempt to catch yourself with a posted arm or leg, likely resulting in a break or hyperextension.
The ability to stay calm, control breath and keep mental clarity can be applied to every aspect of martial arts training, not to mention everyday life. It’s common in car crashes, particularly those caused by someone driving under the influence, that the person that remains the most relaxed on impact walks away with the least amount of injury. In general, moving with the momentum of a fall allows your whole body to absorb the impact instead of one particular area. For example, if you try to stop falling by using an extended arm, the force will all go into that arm and up to your collarbone, probably resulting in a broken clavicle. Instead, if you train yourself to roll with the motion and let your entire side and shoulder absorb the shock, therefore less force is placed on any one area.
So what is the best way to improve how we break fall? Practice! Drilling takedowns is often something that isn’t done on a regular basis, mostly for space during classes. If drilling is something we don’t do enough of, actively starting a match from a standing position is even less common. Since this ends up being one of our least familiar feelings, it’s one that we feel the least comfortable in.
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Don’t worry, thankfully you don’t have to find a partner to hip toss you onto the mat on a regular basis to gain falling style points. Incorporate falls into warmups, practice breath control, be aware of where your body is in space. Repeating the motions will also allow you to find patterns on where you land after a certain sweep or takedown, as well as where your opponent generally ends up. This gives you the advantage of knowing what you want to do once you hit the ground, before you even get to that position.
Try incorporating ukemi into your training schedule and see if you see a difference in your approach to rolling. Happy falling!
Add these simple Judo takedown techniques from judo Olympian Matt D'aquino and make yourself a threat on the mats! Check it out here!
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