How can I improve teaching forward and flip (kote gaeshi and sumi otoshi for those that know what it looks like) breakfalls? I have been teaching those for a while and students do pick them up and end up being good (and safe) at doing them. However, I would like advise, suggestions and ways to make students more proficient in those break falls faster.

I am well aware that the best answer is going to be practice, practice,and more practice. However, there should be methods that make practising easier.

Edit: I am guessing that the same techniques could apply to judo and jui-jutsu as well.

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Check this video and other from the same author:

The method comes from Germany and France. It's pretty useful for overcoming fear at first.

(resulting falls are too soft for actual use with a shihan tori, but still a good start)

EDIT: you may notice that the ukes in the video actually strike the tatami in the wrong way. That has nothing to do with the teaching method, though.

  • Accepted as it is techniques that I did not know and where not the standard way of doing things. – Sardathrion Feb 8 '12 at 9:38

for rolling breakfalls with new students i have 2 different methods for making them less intimidating.

  1. start from a "high kneeling" position, IE: one knee down, and one knee up. then teach the roll from their. It tends to keep their posture more inline and stops them from freaking out about the floor being so far away.

the other technique i use, which tends to work better with smaller students (would be tricky to find a ball big enough for someone 6'+). is to use one of those big exercise balls, have them hug the ball with their arms in the right position, and roll over the ball. This makes the technique pretty much perfect, and they can learn the position without having to worry about crashing down.

  • +1 These is how I teach them already. I use as well a big crash matt to get them to throw themselves so they can focus on their technique instead of fearing injury. – Sardathrion Feb 1 '12 at 14:07

Break falls (especially those that require a student to turn over himself, as in kote gaeshi) are usually quite intimidating to new students... Most instructors take the approach of propping up mats for students to learn on, making it a nice, soft place to land. My background (I was a performing magician, specializing in applied psychology, hypnosis, and mind-control) led me to a rather different approach that has resulted in nearly no injuries during training and much better break-falls. The difference? I understand fear.

When you prop up a bunch of mats, or make the landing surface soft and inviting, you're psychologically cementing the idea of failure in their heads. You are, in fact, suggesting that they need this soft landing place because, if they do it wrong, they're going to get hurt.

Instead, take them outside. Go out on a lawn – someplace natural, but a bit forgiving. Don't make a big deal about it, don't differentiate between it and the sidewalk... Just explain that it's a big open space to perform the technique on. The ground (especially in the winter) is just as hard, if not harder, than dojo carpet with worn pad, but it's not dangerous, and they'll simply do what you tell them. Further, there are bio-chemical effect of training outside: playing in the dirt releases endorphins, which will help ease any soreness they may develop from wrong landings, and generally make them have more fun. They'll be, essentially, more relaxed.

Throw students into the deep end. Expect the best from them and they'll often surprise you by giving you just that. Coddle them, however, and they'll struggle.

  • +1 This is hard core but I like it... – Sardathrion Feb 1 '12 at 17:50
  • I myself had a lot of trouble with "negative suggestion" in my early training, so I came up with this as a way to combat that. There's a great example of this principle in action here – stslavik Feb 1 '12 at 19:04
  • I don't know, I am just starting with high falls and while I can do some of them, the feeling of impact is pretty real. It's not an injury but still unpleasant enough for me to not want to repeat it too often, especially if I'm doing it wrong (which, as a beginner, happens from time to time). I can overcome this reluctance, and do so, but suggestion that it is purely "in my head" and some trick can remove it doesn't really sound plausible to me. Maybe I'm missing the point here. – StasM Feb 2 '12 at 8:17
  • @StasM: It's about mentality; you're comfortable and safe in your idea of it, and won't change that. In training my students, they're not given a choice, instead having to trust me. I work a lot with what has been called here "subversive means". I'm not the most popular sort, but my methods do work. Again, I'm not taking them onto asphalt or concrete; I'm taking them onto grass. This has its own suggestion. – stslavik Feb 15 '12 at 20:49
  • "playing in the dirt releases endorphins" What do you mean? Playing inside doesn't? – Dave Liepmann May 8 '12 at 18:37

For forward break falls, we start from kneeling (both knees on the floor), then squating, then to standing. The kneeling is for minimal impact and meant for making sure technique is correct. I wouldn't imagine any are intimidated by this.

All the above are good and I agree. They seem to emphasize teaching absolute beginners.

Once they are able to fall, a couple of hints that I think are important to (re) emphasize.

1) Breathe. Don't hold your breath. For my own training, I purse my lips and "hiss" the breath out in order to ensure that I don't hold my breath. Every couple of years I forget this, take a fall while holding my breath, and regret it.

2) Tuck your head. Probably the most important safety feature. Worth reminding.

3) Watch your foot. As you commit to the roll, look at your opposite foot. This will ensure that you tuck your head and it helps to build the right structure, and to ensure that you're committed.

4) Do not cross your feet. Looks really cool, enables you to do a very pretty, very smooth roll. But sometimes (1 in 10,000? whatever, the proportion is too high for comfort) your upper heel will land on your lower shin and shatter it. I believe that this happened to a friend of a friend this past year. Make a habit of always landing with the "upper" leg in front.

Couple of other ways to reduce the intimidation for students who can do breakfalls, but need more.

1) Uke gets down on all fours, lifts one hand and extends it under his chest to the opposite site. Partner grasps hand and pulls (smoothly, sharply) upwards. Uke flips over and smacks the mat.

2) To transition from low falls to high, shake hands with your partner, who does a 180 pivot and then holds while you take the fall over. Start low, then work high.

And of courseArt of Ukemi (Other links invited)

When teaching the backward break-fall you can start from laying down position. Teach the students the rolling and getting up bit, and then move on to the falling down bit once they now how to handle them selves on the ground.

Gives them a bit of security before they dive into it from a standing position.

I trained in a variant of Hapkido. Some of the specifics may be different between our two styles, but this seems very similar. We learned falls this way:

  1. Crash Mat with pauses between as many steps as possible.
  2. Crash mat doing the whole technique, but doing it as slowly as possible.
  3. Crash mat putting everything together.
  4. Regular mats with pauses (maybe 1 or 2 reps)
  5. Regular mats, whole technique, slowly (again, 1 or 2 reps)
  6. regular mats, all put together.
  7. increment the technique. First you run up to the mat, stop, then do the roll. Then you run up to the mat and roll. Then you do a running jump roll, then you do the tornado fall (jump, do the somersault in the air and land on your side). As for standing falls, first you start on the knees, then standing, then jumping, finally a jump-kick-fall.

Crash Mat: It's about 4-6 inches thick and prevents injury no matter how badly you screw up the technique. I one time landed on my head, and did not get hurt (as opposed to a good chance of breaking my neck with that same mistake on a hard surface).

Regular mats: These are about an inch or two thick, very dense, and very similar to the mats used in Gym class in school. We do ALL of class on the regular mats.

My sensei has a unconventional tactic that basically helps in overcomming our fear of ukemi and doing correct ukemis.


At the beginning of the semester, we begin to learn the basics, as new students would enrol. Basics are breakfall, proper stance, conditioning, 5kyu techs and so on.

As we progress to the middle of the seminar, our sensei would stop using matts entirely for a couple of months. Thus students would have to do ukemis on the hard floor. Mind you these ukemi do not consist of high flips. We were ask to do it super slow, and avoid injuring our joints like knees and elbows. We were also taught alternative breakfalls, which are more suitable for the hard floor.

After that, our sensei will reintroduce the matts back and alternate the days with and without matts.

Here is the awesome part, during the 'matts' session, most of the students are doing the ukemi more confidently and enjoying it too. From my point of view, i am more scared of the hard floor than the soft and fluffy matts. I was already doing high flips at 4th Kyu.

For me, doing ukemi specially high flips are more of a confident thing. Hesitate and you most probably fall incorrectly and might injure yourself.

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