This is a semi-advanced variation of basic ukemi in the martial art Aikido. Where a regular fall involves either rolling forward and out of the center of energy or sitting backwards on your inside leg (that is, the leg closest to nage), a breakfall constitutes holding onto uke and virtually throwing oneself over the center of the technique.

When executed correctly, breakfalls can appear graceful and make nage look better than he/she really is. And, there is that satisfying WHACK as the uke's body slams into the mat. Very flamboyant, particularly when done out of shihonage.

When executed incorrectly, breakfalls really suck, and can really hurt. Don't try them unless you're ready to bash yourself around a little.

Tips on performing a successful breakfall:

- Throw yourself. If nage is forcing you to fall this way, you'll probably do it incorrectly. As it is, you'll probably land on unappealing body parts, and it'll be ten times worse if you're trying to avoid breaking a bone.

- Stay close to uke, and land on your side. The best breakfalls spread the impact of landing across your entire body, but landing too flat, either on your stomach or your back, will knock you breathless.

- Slap the mat with your arm when you go down. Keep in mind that this is just rolling with a lot of energy.

- Practice out of many variations of techniques for variety and experience. Breakfalls out of shihonage, as mentioned above, are drastically different than breakfalls out of kotegaishi.

A breakfall is exactly what it says it is, something to break your fall. There are two alternatives to breakfalling, firstly a roll and secondly to 'break'. A roll can be used when you have a lot of horizontal or circular momentum in your fall; this is often the falling technique of choice in Aikido. Rolling is almost always practised at the same time as breakfalling as the two are inter-linked.

To 'break' means you fell without a roll or breakfall, the results of which are imaginable by all.

A breakfall is designed to spread out the force of impact over a wide surface area and also to orientate yourself in to a position where injury possibilities are minimised.

Breakfalls are used extensively in Judo and most Jitsu/Jutsu based arts e.g. Jiu-Jitsu. There are four main types of breakfalls that luckily enough, correspond to the four directions you are likely to fall in. These are often practised from kneeling, latter moving on to standing which progresses to advanced Ukemi.

All descriptions on breakfalling theory/ practise is written from a Jiu-Jitsu point of view. Aikido exponents tend to have a slightly different approach.

1st Fall - Forwards breakfall
If you fall forwards there is only one body area really open to you (unless you have a particular dislike of your face or knees), this being your arms. It is important that you use as much arm as possible to distribute the impact i.e. from fingertips to elbow. The most common mistake here is trying to land on your palms, which leads to a nicely broken wrist (hence wearing wrist protection is important for roller bladers). The general form for the rest of the body varies from style to style however the face is always turned away from the floor and all of the body apart from the balls of your feet, is of the ground.
2nd Fall - Backwards breakfall
The principle is similar but this time you have the opportunity of using more of your arm i.e. fingertips to shoulder blades. Hopefully, moving your arms backwards on the moment of impact will cause your shoulder blades to come together, offering some protection to your spine. Things to avoid are: Don't land on the base of your spine, if you are going to fall backwards then backwards it shall be. Do not bash the back of your head on the floor, tuck your chin into your chest and keep it there.
3rd & 4th breakfall - Sideways breakfall
I have decided not to mearly pool left and right sided breakfalls in to the same title,(well I sort of have done really, but you get the point) even though they are using the same technique. Each side is given the same amount of time as forwards and backwards hence are two separate falls.

In these falls you can also use the full length of your arm i.e. fingertip to shoulder, but only one is used. If you could use both it wouldn’t be on your side, self-explanatory really. Again the chin is tucked in so the floor does not bash the side of the head and one leg is straightened to distribute surface area.

This is the most used breakfall (at least in Judo and Jiu-Jitsu) and leaves you in the position you are most likely to end up in. When on your side you use the two limbs not being used in the breakfall, these are to cover yourself from attack.

General Points about breakfalling
Arms should be at a 45° angle to your body, for back or side breakfalls. This allows versatility, since you won’t have to fall exactly at a right angle. More importantly it helps prevent shoulder damage caused by over extending the joint (there is a lot of force in a fall).

A breakfall should be loud! This is due to the energy conservation law “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed mearly converted from one form in to another”. When you land you have a wonderful oportunity to convert some of your momentum in to sound by hitting the floor really hard; this will also create a certain amount of upward momentum to lessen your fall.

Cup your hands, don’t let your fingers splay out. This prevents sore fingers, it also gives a more efficient breakfall as a pocket of air is trapped in your hand as it hits the floor and makes noise. This is one of the most common tips given and comes back to your body is more important than your arm. You cannot fight if you have fractured ribs. If however you are in the correct position your arm should not be injured, less so as you condition yourself to falling.

Always keep your chin on your chest! This is a rule that goes far beyond breakfalling as any striking practitioner will know. This will keep your head away from the floor and avoid concussion.

Personal Opinions

If you cooperate and breakfall properly not only are you minimising the danger to both of you, but you can actually control what happens to you and which direction you are thrown in much more effectively. Breakfalls should become a reflex, incorporated in to your daily life so you don’t have to think about it, as this will only slow your reflexes.

All other advanced breakfalls are based on these four directions. The techniques above are all part of Ukemi, therefore you can basic Ukemi as above as well as advanced Ukemi. This can be where you take breakfalling to a new and ‘stupid’ level. A good example of advanced Ukemi is standing on top of a table and leaping up and backwards of it to land flat on your back ‘safely’, and yes I have to do this for a grading – how sick is that?

This is all supposed to teach you a simple rule (leaping of tables to re-enforce this rule is in my opinion a little ‘overkill’ ) Don’t be afraid to fall! As I have seen far more injuries caused, not just by bad breakfalling but resisting and avoiding having to do one at all due to a lack of confidence. These include being landed on (due to grabbing hold), concussion (avoiding a full side landing) and broken ribs (attempting to ‘jump’ round the side of a hip throw, contorting his entire body in a weird shape to avoid hitting the mat).

Last point Don’t do any of this without proper instruction!!! If people can get injured with instruction then why risk it without? It is however not really as dangerous as it can seem and injuries I have seen are not frequent (listed ones I have witnessed through a period of about 11 years to give you an idea). If you do decide to learn, make sure the club you go to have a reputable instructor with patience, as when learning you don’t want a continuous ear bashing since you wont do it right first time.

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