Discussion thread on ukemi

I came across this discussion over at bullshido.net: Falling: Judo vs. Wrestling. The thread was started by Tom Kagan, a fellow I've met at the dojo a few times but haven't seen in a while.

Questions are raised about how wrestlers fall as compared to judo players, about why both thrower and throwee are told to hold on to each other's gis, and about whether it really matters if you slap the mat.

Somebody who goes by "AFS" says:

There is a study where they measured Uke's impact on the ground when being thrown. They did that ( german sports science study if I remember correctly ) to investigate if it is the arm which absorbs most of the impact . The conclusion was that the impact is absorbed by the body's core with body tension being the most important factor.

This result was quite an eye-opener – cause when you learn your ukemi a lot of coaches teach the importance of that arm " 45 degrees to the body, a loud noise equalling a good breakfall"

Although I'm not familiar with the study, and I'm no expert in sports physiology, it makes sense to me that tensing your core in a slightly scrunched position, stabilizing the neck and spine, would be the most important factor in absorbing the total shock of the fall. Imagine falling the completely opposite way, with a loose upper body and the back slightly arched. Your head and tailbone would hit the floor first, and your spine could be whipped in a random direction. Tensing the torso also prepares you for the possibility of tori landing on you upon completing the throw.

That said, I feel like slapping the mat protects one particular point of impact, and that is the shoulder. I think it could cause some pain or injury to land hard on the corner of my shoulder or even flat on my scapula. Slapping the mat gives me some protection from that, even if the main brunt of the fall is absorbed by the rest of my body.

At one point in the discussion, Tom mentions he consulted Oishi Sensei on the subject, which makes sense, since Sensei was a national champion in both judo and wrestling. Tom passes along the answers he got. I thought these two were the most interesting:

  • Traditional Judo Tatame is not very forgiving. Falling safely was historically more significant.
  • Wrestling is an art historically meant for the young practitioner. Judo was meant to be practiced into old age when knowing how to fall properly becomes very important.

What do you think?

4 Responses to “Discussion thread on ukemi”

  1. Will Says:

    I think you make a good point about the shoulder–I dislocated my right shoulder by falling on it. . . .

  2. Yotam Says:

    I think Sensei Williams has said that part of the importance of the slapping arm is timing. Like an insect's feeler, the slapping arm hits the mat first and tells your body it's going to hit and when to tense.

  3. Yotam Says:

    that should have said "tells your body when it's going to hit and when to tense"

  4. Andy Says:




    Always great points from Sensei Williams! I hadn't thought of the kinesthetic feedback that could be coming from the arm. I suspect learning how to time the slap trains you to sense where you are in the air, how fast you're going, and when you're going to land — a useful sense to have independent of the slap itself.

    Oishi Sensei often reminds us to "hit mat." I think sometimes it takes a while for beginners to realize this means actively pounding the mat, with force, and not just extending the arm. This is why my favorite ukemi exercise is lying down and hitting the mat over and over, alternating sides. Besides training the arms in this unusual motion, it gets me in the habit of tensing my abs and neck, and it's good for practicing the final landing position too. Personally I would make every beginner start class by doing a hundred of those. It wouldn't kill the rest of us either to do 20 or 30.

    When I'm warming up, I sometimes do a standing variation of that exercise, swinging my arms hard backwards.

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