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Ukemi (break falling) is a vital skill when doing Aikido. Soon, my club is starting a children class (anyone between 8 to 17) and as instructors, we must teach the children how to break fall. Ideally, we would like to make a game of this as Aikido at that age should be fun. Well, it should always be fun but kids learn best when playing.

How can we amend teaching ukemi drills so children learn them safely and fast?

Note that while focused on Aikido, this is equally applicable to Judo or any other arts that do ukemi.

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Oh man...

I help teach (and teach if the head instructor is gone) a small group of kids every week and this has always been major question for me. Not specifically this, but just how to get the kids to want to learn Aikido at all!

Also, I just want to mention that to me (I could absolutely be wrong, but it's the way I learned it), 'ukemi' means all rolling, breakfalling, body-manouvering, etc. That is, 'ukemi' is the 'art of blending...with the mat'; haha.

The best way I've found for teaching kids ukemi (or techniques in general) is by getting the kids to want to learn. If they don't want to learn, nothing you do, games or otherwise, will force them to learn (sad but true). The best way - I've found - to do this is to have the instructors or other class members doing the same ukemi enthusiastically. Kids love a challenge (or rather, kids love completing a challenge; I suppose this goes for most people, but kids more easily accept meaningless challenges), and often it's as simple as saying, "Look! I'm having fun doing this - and you can too! Want to learn to do this with me?"

Basically, if you're having fun, the kids will want to have fun too. Show them how to have fun with ukemi, and most will follow suit.

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I agree, I remember my starts in judo ... and all we learn was to roll forward. we start at 1 end of the dojo, roll forward till the end ... run back and start over. was dull ... but well ... I enjoy it. – Thierry Savard Saucier Aug 6 '14 at 11:41


Haven't gotten really deep into ukemi, but it seems like if you made it a game like limbo, that would be pretty fun for kids. Hold a broom-stick pretty high at first, have them forward roll underneath it. Then lower it as they progress. Then start with it low and have them roll over it. Raise the bar as they progress. This could probably be done with other falls, but would work best with forward roll because you need a bit of momentum to clear the bar.

Leap Frog

Another thing you could do is leap-frog, but that requires a certain amount of skill with a forward roll. In case you don't know, leap frog is where kids take turns getting on all fours and jumping over each other's backs. Just have the kids on all fours line up laterally relative to the kid behind them and change the jump to a forward roll. How To Play Leap Frog

Pick Up Sticks

This is for kids who are quite comfortable with forward roll. Place an escrima stick or bokken or whatever on the ground. Kids have to roll, pick it up while rolling, and come out of the roll to a standing position. Once they're comfortable with this, divide into teams and do a relay race. Kids have to roll, grab stick, hand it off. Kid who gets it has to toss it (gently) on the ground, roll and get it. I'm actually not familiar with how well kids can grasp the body mechanics of ukemi, so this may not be for your younger kids, but for teens who have been doing it for a while.

Learning to Fall

For kids to learn to fall in the first place, you might start with using an exercise ball. You guys might already be doing this. The idea is to roll over the ball. It might help with kids who are afraid of losing control when going to the ground (ease the transition from standing to rolling). I couldn't find video of a forward roll with an ukemi ball, but here's one showing how to sprawl on one

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+1 if only for mentioning the companion ball (Portal reference) as it's an awesome way to learn forward rolls. – Sardathrion Jul 25 '14 at 6:45
As long as it's not a companion cube. That may... complicate matters. – The Wudang Kid Jul 25 '14 at 12:00
Your idea in learning to fall was how we did it at start. we also played a challenge game like this : put 1 ball (or yourself, or 1 small kid on his knees, head on the ground, hand over his head ), have kids roll over it/him. if they touch the ball/kid, they are out. when everyone is done, put a 2nd ball/kid next to it. have the surviver roll over, etc. – Thierry Savard Saucier Aug 6 '14 at 11:44

Suggest you review Patrick Parker's blog (I've linked to a post that is specific to teaching children; it references exercises & games to teach kids).

Specifically he mentions How to get kids to slap when they fall and Children's falling exercises, but there is a lot there, and Parker-Shihan is probably the best aikido blogger out there.

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At my taijutsu dojo, the instructors teach basic ukemi to kids as young as seven. The way they approach it is to start by showing it in action with an advanced technique -- like, they'll do a rear sweep on a guy, then point out how that would have hurt if he didn't fall on his back properly, then teach the rear hard fall.

So, just like teaching anything: start with an attention-getter, show how it's relevant to the class, then dive on in. Our kids enjoy the flips and rolls probably more than anything else we do in class except maybe breaking boards.

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