How to Tweak Your Side Breakfall for Really Hard Throws

Some of my intermediate students are starting to deal with being thrown harder than they did when first started learning to be thrown with Judo style throws like major hip throws (O-goshi), shoulder throws (seioi nage), etc. Last night I took the time to emphasize a few tips that I have gleaned over the years through general experience, as well as a few that our Shorinji Kan brethren have shared with us. I’d like to share these tips with you in this blog.

1. Relax & breathe out as you fall. While we teach this point right from the beginning, you notice how important this becomes when you start getting thrown harder. Breathing out (similar to a heavy sigh) helps you to keep relaxed, which is better for dispersing the energy when you make impact. When you hold your breath or clench the muscles in your body, the energy stays contained in your body, making you feel the impact more.

2. Don’t grab the thrower. Everyone with a little experience knows they’re not supposed to do this, but when you start getting thrown harder, you sometimes revert back to an earlier state of learning, instinctively grabbing the thrower to minimize their speed of the throw. When you do this, it causes your legs to come around and hit the ground ahead of your body, preventing you from landing evenly so as to more fully distribute the impact. Rather than grabbing, you can add a little resistance by letting your arm drag subtlely across the thrower’s back, causing friction that can slow the throw down ever-so-slightly, giving you just that little extra bit of time to control your descent.

3. Keep your bottom leg straight. As you’re swung over someone’s body in a fast, powerful throw,the bottom knee can swing twist funny as you are swung through the air aggressively if you’re not careful. You can also tweak your knee on impact. This happens more often if you keep your bottom leg bent. By keeping your bottom leg straight, you engage all the muscles that stabilize the knee making it safer to take hard throws.

4. Keep your bottom foot engaged. Engaging your bottom foot serves to draw your ankle away from the ground while bulging out your outside calf muscle, which helps minimize the joint’s impact when you hit the ground. There are a couple of ways you can do this. Curl your toes back turning your foot away from the ground (like the foot position used in a side kick – see below). If you have bulbous ankles that tend to stick out more, however, you might find this method makes it worse. In this case, curl your toes back and stick out your heel (like the foot position used in a back kick).

5. Keep your bent knee pointing straight up on impact. If you are swung around hard in a throw and your knee is not pointing up, your knee will have a tendency to twist across your bottom leg, twisting your back and potentially crush your testicles (if you train without a cup). Keeping the knee straight up on impact reduces the chance of this. If you have a tendency of slamming your legs together when thrown, this technique will also help reduce the risk of that.

6. Catch more of your impact with your bent leg. By curling your toes back and pointing your foot with your bent leg (like the foot position used in a front kick), your bent leg can serve as a spring to “catch” more of the impact of the throw. As the ball of your foot touches down, it can be used to subtlely cut down the impact of the rest of your body. It can take time to develop this skill but it can make a big difference with practice.


7. Keep track of the ground.Β Keeping track of the ground as you’re thrown doesn’t make much difference when you’re thrown correctly, but it makes a huge difference you take a bad throw. By knowing where the ground is, you give yourself a chance to orient your body to it. If you’re in the midst of a bad throw, you can make adjustments in the air so you hit the ground the best way possible. It can take time for your body to learn to do this intuitively, but keeping an eye on the ground gives your body a reference point from which it can learn and adapt.

8. “Hit” the ground! As you gain more experience, you should strive to become more and more active in your breakfalling technique, rather than just letting yourself be thrown. Attack the ground with your body, aligning all of the above principles. Actively slap the ground with your breakfall arm with gusto. When doing side breakfalls (the ones used when being thrown from hip throws, shoulder throws, etc), this action helps to rotate the body in the air causing you to land more on your side rather than your back. This is an important aspect of honing your breakfalls for hard throws, because if you don’t “hit” the ground, the ground hits you.


In addition to these tips, be sure to let your instructor know if you are noticing any pain when you’re being thrown. It’s not supposed to hurt so don’t just grit your teeth and bear it. By letting your instructor know where it hurts they can give you feedback to fix your breakfall so you need not endure any pain. Got any further breakfall tips of your own? Please feel free to share in the comments. πŸ™‚
Comments (9)

9 thoughts on “How to Tweak Your Side Breakfall for Really Hard Throws

  1. A mistake many beginners make is not tucking their head in when thrown (quite dangerous), another good tip would be to cross your legs as you fall so as not to hurt yourself by clashing the legs together. This may seem obvious but I actually hurt my ankle a few times by neglecting this very simple rule.

    The advice about not grabbing your partner is sound of course, except in countering a throw when you'd grab their lower sleeves and pull them over you in a sacrifice throw. You will generally take more impact when doing this but at least you're not staying passive as the position you'll end up in after a throw is very vulnerable and the attacker can easily take you out.

    I'm not sure about slapping the ground hard when you fall: in the dojo on soft mats this may be a good idea but not out there on the concrete where you could actually damage your arm if you slap too hard.

    Good work,


  2. These tips were more designed for intermediate to advanced students of course who would already know about how to support their head, but it is important to remember the basics of course.

    By keeping the bent knee pointed up, you prevent your legs from crossing and slamming together as well as preventing the twisting of your back and crushing of testicles.

    Slapping the ground with your arm is more of a tool to get your body into when learning. As students are getting comfortable with their breakfalls it really helps them get their bodies into alignment properly. You can still translate this movement into a body rotation without actually slapping the arm when being thrown on hard surfaces, something that is trained at higher levels, but students learn this body movement much easier when they focus on slapping the ground hard in training.

    Even if a student were to be thrown on the ground hard on the street before having learned the technique for landing on hard surfaces, they are much better off slapping the ground with their arm and getting the proper body rotation (even if they end up damaging the arm in the process) than if they were to miss the crucial body rotation and get slammed on their back or hip.

    Thanks for your comments as always. πŸ™‚

  3. Of course turning the body is the most crucial aspect of breakfalling (falling on one's back or even head is pretty much a recepy for injury), it's just that my sensei teaches to slap without too much noise since this'll still get the job done (reducing impact) without the risk of damage. I remember from my judo days (way, way back, lol) there was a lot of hard slapping involved but then again they don't train to fall safely on hard surfaces.

    How are the escrima classes going? I'm meeting up with my sensei tomorrow-evening for some kenpo training. Afterwards we'll probably go to a music festival in town and down a few beers so that should be fun. Beer and martial arts: two of my favourite hobby's, lol.

    A while back I attended a jujutsu seminar where we were taught double arm throws/joint locks: it is very possible to fall properly without having the option of slapping but this does make it harder, especially if your partner isn't very adept at throwing… I trained with a green belt and apparantly he wasn't taught to pull up a little when throwing so as to give the uke the chance to align the body better. Plus he was fairly little so that didn't exactly help things…


  4. I must say I was somewhat impressed with what I've seen in kenpo, I've done some research online and found a good resource on youtube. The style my sensei practices is different from American kenpo (see below) but the basic principles remain the same. Some techniques do worry me a bit though: strikes as blocks are nice of course but sometimes there's too little attention payed to the other hand.

    What do you think of this video: The actual technique starts at about 1:50. In my view it's fairly dangerous to just block and then kick (owing to the other hand): following the JKD-principle of simultaneous attack & defense we block and hit at the same time, then the kick and the shuto to the neck would be fine. I must say I like their striking combinations but no art is perfect and in the end you just take what you can use and discard the rest.

    What's your favourite entry/defence to a hook?


  5. I find looking forward until the last second is better for keeping your posture through out the throw.
    It also enables me to know where I am oriented. Where as looking at the ground, I have less of a frame of reference for orientation.


  6. I suppose everyone has different methods they prefer when it comes to where to look. Stu Cooke Sensei had taught looking to the floor as well when he did a course when he was out here in BC. It's always good to have different options though! Thanks for your comment. πŸ™‚

  7. Zara, I've practiced breakfalls both with and without the slap, and taught them that way too. From a teaching perspective I think it's much easier to teach proper breakfall structure to less experienced students with the slap and then teach them to make the adjustments for hard surfaces, but to each their own. There is more than one way to do it! πŸ™‚

    Escrima is going well. It's good fun.

    As for the technique you referenced, I prefer to block and strike at the same time, closing in to get out of the line of attack. There are a variety of ways to do this, but I like the principle in general.

    Thanks again for your thoughts! πŸ™‚

  8. We practiced that move yesterday (delayed sword)and I talked to him about it: he says in shingitai kenpo the block & hit are indeed simultaneous, which of course makes much more sense. We went through the whole curriculum for yellow belt and I must say it's very good stuff: crisp, effective striking combo's with good body mechanics and sound principles. Plus it's a good addition to our curriculum since it's muce more striking orientated, it's different from the boxing we sometimes practice and some of the exercices and training methods are new to us.

    Of course there are many ways of solving a problem: that's the beauty of the different arts although many principles remain the same. Aslong as it works who's to say what is wrong and what is right?


  9. Ah, sounds like they use very similar principles to us then in terms of punch defense. Seems like the cross-training will be very beneficial for you. Great to keep an open mind and to see/consider new and different ways of approaching defense. πŸ™‚

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