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Ukemi: Breakfalls & Rolling

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

Ukemi is a Japanese term that means to receive the ground, and this art is about deepening our relationship and trust with the earth and gravity. Ukemi teaches us how to break our fall, roll, and prevent the loss of balance in the first place. This skillset is also a cross-section between martial arts and MovNat, and a vital skill that everyone should become proficient in to prevent injuries in daily life and boost confidence in your movement. I feel like the combative nature of martial arts is an intimidating barrier of entry, preventing people from learning the skillset of falling and rolling, so I like to teach it on its own in a way that everyone can start learning.



The skills of Ukemi are as follows:


Breakfalls


Breakfalls are about transitioning quickly from a standing position to lying on the ground. When we learn this, we start by building a familiarity with the ending positions of lying on the ground, then we practice transitioning into these positions from a crawl, then from kneeling, then slowly from standing, and eventually dropping quickly from standing to complete to skill acquisition process. Working through progressions


Basic Breakfall Techniques

  1. Backward Breakfall

  2. Side Breakfall

  3. Forward Breakfall

  4. Downward Breakfall

  5. Advanced (more complex) Breakfall Variations


Rolling


Rolling is about taking control of a fall, and redirecting that downward momentum into forward momentum, as you allow the ground to pass diagonally across your back, returning you to your feet. Rolling is faster than a breakfall, and allows you to quickly continue locomotion afterward. Again, this is a skill that we build through progressions, starting from ground level and eventually working our way up to standing.


Basic Rolling Techniques:

  1. Forward Roll

  2. Backward Roll

  3. Sideways Roll

  4. Advanced Roll Variations

  5. Dive Roll


Leaping


Leaping involves jumping across flat ground. While running, you may need to jump over something, or jump to the side to evade something, jump over obstacles, or drop down into a squat very quickly. Leaping is something we don't often think about when we consider the skills of Ukemi, but it's a vital component.



Basic Leaping Techniques:

  1. Forward Leap

  2. Backward Leap

  3. Sideways Leap

  4. Upward Leap

  5. Downward Leap

  6. Spiral Leap


Skills Adjacent to Ukemi for Injury Prevention


There are other vital skills when we approach Ukemi for injury prevention. Preventing a fall is more about developing out balance, proprioception, and lower body stability and control. Ukemi happens once we have failed to prevent a fall.


Basic Movement Techniques Related to Injury Prevention:

  1. Balancing Walk

  2. Single Leg Strengthening Techniques

  3. Proper Gait & Walking Techniques

  4. Ground Vaulting

  5. Balancing

  6. An Assortment of Coordination Drills


In reality, Ukemi happens spontaneously and without warning, so we must be very proficient in these skills to be able to perform them "automatically" and without having to think about it. What I mean to say, is that just learning how to do these movements won't do you much good if you don't invest some serious time and consistency to really digest this skillset.


In martial arts, Ukemi is how we prevent injuring ourselves during training, but you don't have to be interested in martial arts to benefit from leaning this set of skills. Falling correctly, and breaking injurious movement habits is the most basic of basics.


To learn more about my approach to Ukemi in Injury Prevention, please check out the link below.



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