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Aikido and Learning to Fall

Updated on June 30, 2011

Learning how to fall in Aikido is very important. You learn how to avoid being seriously injured and also how to be a good uke. Why do I have to learn how to fall you ask? Anyone can fall down when they trip or slip on a patch of ice, but can you get back up from those falls with little pain? When we are toddlers we fall all the time learning to walk and it is not big deal. As we grow older though we are taught to be afraid of falling because we do not want to get hurt so we avoid it as much as possible. When you begin training in Aikido it is almost like learning to walk again or fall in this case. Seeing other students performing forward rolls, backwards rolls, break falls or back break falls can be intimidating at first.

Will falling hurt? It might hurt a little the first couple times. Depending on the surface your mats are on and what you are attempting. Forward rolls are often taught beginning down on your knees and you work up to standing rolls and then break falls. Nothing actually is broken in a break fall by the way. If you have never attempted rolling before as you do in Aikido you will roll like a spare tire the first time you try it, don’t worry you will straighten out. When you move up to standing it can be intimidating to see the mats coming for you. This is where that little bit of pain might come in. A lot of people (including myself) throw themselves over the first time while standing instead of letting gravity do its job. You panic, stiffen up and just throw yourself hitting the mats with some pain waiting for you. After the first time you will remember to relax. Remember everyone started as a beginner and learns this lesson in some form.

The first standing roll begins in kamae (remember kamae is everything) you extend out towards the next mat not right in front of you. As you feel yourself moving off balance relax and breathe and let gravity do its job. Use your leading arm as a wheel and keep in connected to the mats. Finish the roll by coming back up into kamae. If you pull your arm in and only use your shoulder as you roll, it is going to hurt after a while. The second standing roll is just like the first except you are hitting the mats with your bottom hand (left hand if you are in right side kamae) as you roll through and you still end in kamae.

Break falls are important to learn to keep yourself safe and eventually will be the only forward rolls you practice. Instead of rolling and coming back up into kamae, you land with your back leg straight after you go over, slightly on your side, and you hit the mat. You are hitting the mat with your forearm not you palm. This helps to dissipate the energy from your fall by spreading it out. This way the force of the fall is not focused on one part of your body. The break fall will become second nature after you practice it and it quite fun. Kote Gaeshi , Kaiten Nage, and many more techniques will end in a break fall on your part.

Backwards break falls are often taught in place of backwards rolls to avoid neck injuries. A backwards break fall involves choosing what side to fall on first. If you are starting on the right side step diagonally back with your right foot, cross your right hand to the left side of your face. Shift your weight back and sit down hitting the mats while swinging your hips and legs to the side. You will end in that beautiful break fall position. This requires a lot of practice as uke during techniques so we are not moving ahead of shite. You swing you’re your hips and legs when you fall so your feet are not in shite’s face after you are thrown.

So learning how to fall is not as odd as it sounds. After you train for a while it becomes second nature and you might be surprised how useful learning to fall is. More than once I have avoided serious injury on ice. Each time I had to remind myself I wasn’t in the dojo and my sensei was not there to see it. I was a little disappointed they were not there but very thankful for my training I received. Keep practicing and have fun falling. Osu!


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    • NicholasA profile image

      NicholasA 5 years ago from Midwest

      What was it about Ukemi that scared you? Were you taught how to fall or just thrown out there? If you were scared I bet you tensed up when you rolled, that can cause an injury easily. Were you given any pointers on rolling with a bokken in your hand? I know how intimidating that is. They should demonstrate how to do that safely and let you start down on the ground. Since you can't change your injured shoulder all you can do is move forward. I suggest going to a Y or any place you can use mats and just practice rolling. Start down on the floor and relax and do small rolls. Remember to extend out and roll on your arm. I too hit my shoulder quite a bit when I started training, especially when we were told not to use our arms.

    • primpo profile image

      Primpo 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York

      so glad you went over Ukemi, because I am 45 and started training again after almost 15 years of not training, I found a very traditional dojo and they train Bujikan Ninjutsu which I love.. I trained with them for a year , always being wary of Ukemi, not really grabbing it and immersing myself, always being afraid. I did however stick with it and advanced to my next rank. until last january. we were doing front rolls with a bokken and I rolled the wrong way and came straight down on my shoulder,. I've been out of training since them and more and more feel like such a part of me is missing.. like I lost a limb or something. The dojo held me together and made everything in perspective. since, I've gained weight and have problems now with my blood pressure and thyroid. I don't want to be on medication I don't want to just give up, I wont' go back to the dojo until I conquer Ukemi and lose at least 60 pounds.. any suggestions?

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 6 years ago from Midwest

      your training also kept our young child from being seriously injured on the ice last year - I think that Aikido is very useful for daily life - not just as a martial art.

      I loved watching you demonstrate the techniques at various events and really am in awe of it - and how genuinely nice the other people are who seem to be drawn to practice it.

      I think most people think "martial arts" and they expect to see a room full of extremely competitive hard edged "machismo" etc. and Aikido is pleasantly not like that - but still very effective! ;)

      I love your hubs so far :)