Why Do You Slap The Floor in Judo? [Explained]

Judo, the ancient Japanese martial art, is not just about throws and pins; it’s also about safety. One of the fundamental techniques in judo, known as “breakfalls,” plays a crucial role in preventing injuries during training and competitions.

In this article, we’ll delve into the world of judo breakfalls, exploring what they are, why they’re called breakfalls, the different types, and why you hear that distinctive sound of the mat being slapped when a judoka takes a fall.

What are Breakfalls in Judo?

Breakfalls, as the name suggests, are techniques used by judo practitioners to break their fall safely when they are thrown or taken down by their opponent. These techniques are designed to minimize the impact of the fall and reduce the risk of injury. In essence, breakfalls are a way for judo practitioners to hit the mat without getting hurt.

judo breakfall ukemi
Judo breakfalls; Google Images caption

What is the Name for Breakfalls in Judo?

In the world of judo, breakfalls are commonly referred to as “Ukemi” (pronounced oo-keh-mee). The term “Ukemi” encompasses various falling techniques and is a fundamental part of judo training.

It’s important to note that ukemi is not just about slapping the mat; it involves a combination of movements and techniques to ensure a safe landing.

What are the Different Types of Breakfalls in Judo?

Judo offers several types of breakfalls, each suited for different situations. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ones:

Judo Breakfalls Names

1. Zempo Kaiten Ukemi (Forward Roll Fall):

  • This breakfall is used when a judoka is thrown forward.
  • The practitioner rolls diagonally across their shoulder to disperse the force and prevent injury.

2. Koho Kaiten Ukemi (Backward Roll Fall):

  • When thrown backward, judoka employ this breakfall.
  • Similar to the forward roll fall, but executed backward to minimize impact.

3. Yoko Ukemi (Side Fall): Which type of breakfall is yoko ukemi?

  • Used for falls to the side, this breakfall involves slapping the mat with the arm on the side of the fall.
  • The goal is to distribute the force and protect the head and body.

4. Mae Ukemi (Front Fall):

  • This technique is utilized when judoka are pushed or pulled forward.
  • It involves slapping the mat with both hands while tucking the chin to protect the head.

Mae-Ukemi Front Fall Demonstration

These breakfalls are essential skills for judo practitioners, allowing them to fall safely and continue training without fear of injury.

How Do You Break a Fall in Judo?

The art of breaking a fall in judo involves precise timing and technique.

In Judo, breaking a fall is an essential skill to minimize the risk of injury when thrown or taken down by your opponent. Here’s how you can break a fall in Judo:

  1. Relaxation: Stay relaxed and loose when you sense that you are about to be thrown or taken down. Tensing up can increase the risk of injury.
  2. Maintain Balance: Try to maintain your balance for as long as possible, but if you are being thrown, don’t resist the throw as it can lead to more severe injuries. Instead, focus on the following steps.
  3. Roll into the Fall:
    • Tuck your chin to your chest to protect your head and neck.
    • Turn your body sideways to the direction of the throw.
    • Extend one arm diagonally in the direction of the throw, palm down, and reach out as if you were trying to touch your opponent’s foot.
    • As you fall, start a rolling motion diagonally across your back, using your extended arm and the opposite shoulder as pivot points.
  4. Slap the Mat: As you roll, use your free hand to slap the mat or ground. This helps to disperse the impact and reduce the force of the fall.
  5. Continue the Roll: Keep rolling until you come to a stop or are in a position to get up safely.
  6. Breathe: Remember to breathe throughout the fall. Holding your breath can increase the risk of injury.
  7. Practice: Ukemi is a skill that requires practice to master. Work with a trained partner or instructor to practice different types of falls and throws.

Proper ukemi not only reduces the risk of injury but also allows you to quickly recover and continue the match or training session. It’s an integral part of Judo training and should be practiced regularly to ensure your safety on the mat.

Why Do You Slap the Ground When You Fall in Judo?

Now, let’s address the question that may have crossed your mind: why do judo practitioners slap the ground when they fall?

This distinctive sound is not just for show; it serves a practical purpose.

When a judoka slaps the mat during a breakfall, it accomplishes several things:

  1. Sound Cue/Safety Protocol:: The sound alerts the referee, judges, and fellow competitors that a controlled fall is taking place. This is particularly important in a competitive setting, as it signals that the throw was effective but not dangerous.
  2. Force Distribution: Slapping the mat helps distribute the force of impact across a larger surface area, reducing the risk of injury to the arm, shoulder, and head. It’s like spreading the force of the fall over a wider canvas, rather than concentrating it on a single point.
  3. Maintaining Balance: The act of slapping the mat can help judoka maintain balance and control during the fall, preventing them from rolling too far or hitting the mat at an awkward angle.

Why Do You Slap the Floor in Judo? Reddit Opinions

To get a broader perspective on this intriguing aspect of judo, I delved into Reddit, where fellow judo enthusiasts share their thoughts and experiences. Here’s a summary of some Reddit opinions on why judo practitioners slap the floor:

Main Points
Slapping the ground in Judo helps disperse the impact of a fall. It serves as a form of triage to minimize injuries, including avoiding wrist or arm injuries. Slapping the ground spreads the energy of impact, protects the head and torso, and extends the timeline of impact. A competent breakfaller rolls through the fall, using the kinetic energy to reduce the force of the throw.
Judo and wrestling have different goals, with Judo focusing on throws and slams as the primary goal. Wrestling may use takedowns as a means to an end, and pins are a victory condition. The type of mats used in Judo (tatami mats) may also play a role in the need for breakfalls. Wrestlers avoid voluntarily putting their backs on the mat due to pinning rules.
Slapping the ground in Judo helps dissipate force and puts the practitioner in the correct position to take a hard fall. Wrestling mats tend to be softer and have different goals in terms of takedowns.
Slapping the ground in Judo serves multiple purposes, including reducing rotation, slowing down the spin, preventing over-rotation, and avoiding landing on top of the shoulder and arm, which could cause injury. It also helps prevent head whipping and keeps the chin tucked.
Slapping the ground in Judo has been scientifically shown to reduce the impact force on the rest of the body by 40-50%. It helps spread the force across a larger surface area and is done just before the rest of the body hits the ground.
Slapping the floor also helps prevent sliding and redirects the energy of the fall away from the body.

These insights from Reddit highlight that slapping the floor in judo is not just tradition; it’s a safety measure and a way for judoka to communicate their control and skill.

Does Slapping the Ground Reduce the Impact of a Judo Throw?

Absolutely, and here’s why. When you’re thrown in judo, you’re subjected to a rapid change in momentum, which can result in a high-impact fall. Slapping the ground acts as a cushion that absorbs some of this impact, dispersing it across your arm and shoulder.

Imagine the difference between falling on a soft mattress and falling on a hard floor. The mattress absorbs some of the force, making the fall less jarring. In judo, slapping the mat serves a similar purpose – it softens the landing.

Furthermore, it allows for controlled redirection of the energy from the throw. Instead of being thrown like a ragdoll, the judoka can use the energy from the throw to guide their fall and maintain some semblance of control.

How Do You Fall Safely in Judo?

Falling safely in judo is a skill that every judoka must master. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  1. Stay Relaxed: Tensing up during a fall increases the risk of injury. Try to stay as relaxed as possible.
  2. Maintain Awareness: Be aware of your surroundings and the direction of the throw.
  3. Choose the Right Ukemi: Select the appropriate breakfall technique based on the type of throw you’re experiencing.
  4. Slap the Mat: When executing the breakfall, ensure that you slap the mat with the open hand or arm on the side of the fall.
  5. Tuck Your Chin: Protect your head by tucking your chin in, preventing it from hitting the mat.
  6. Practice: Falling safely takes practice. Spend time in your judo training sessions working on your Ukemi techniques.
  7. Ask for Feedback: Don’t hesitate to ask your instructor for feedback on your falling techniques. They can provide valuable guidance for improvement.

How to breakfall correctly in judo?

Judo breakfall ukemi

Zenpo Kaiten Ukemi (Forward rolling)

Is Slapping the Mat a Required Technique in Judo, or Is It Optional?

Slapping the mat is generally considered a required technique in judo, especially in competitions. It’s an integral part of demonstrating control during a throw and ensuring the safety of both the judoka executing the throw and the one being thrown.

In judo dojos (training facilities), instructors emphasize the importance of slapping the mat as part of proper ukemi. It’s taught from the beginning to ensure that judoka learn to fall safely and responsibly.


The practice of slapping the floor in judo, also known as breakfalls or ukemi, is far more than just tradition or showmanship. It’s a crucial safety measure, a communication tool, and a means of demonstrating control and skill in the world of judo.

Understanding the significance of this seemingly simple act enhances our appreciation for the art of judo and its commitment to safety, making it a martial art that truly puts people first.

Remember, mastering the art of judo takes time, dedication, and continuous learning. Whether you’re a seasoned judoka or a newcomer to the sport, practicing breakfalls and proper ukemi is essential for your safety and growth in judo.

So, the next time you hear the unmistakable sound of the mat being slapped in a judo dojo, you’ll know it’s not just a noise – it’s a symbol of skill, safety, and respect for the art.

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