Saturday, July 31, 2010

O Mae Ukemi aka Bridgefall

The grading system of the jujutsu taught by Jan de Jong is one of the most comprehensive I have ever seen (and which will be the subject of a future blog). One of the second dan gradings requires the candidate to put on a demonstration with their students being the participants. The demonstration is in two parts. The first part, 20 minutes long, is an explanation of the jujutsu taught by Jan de Jong, and the second part is 10 minutes fast action. The above Youtube posting is a small part of Greg Palmer's second dan demonstration presented in 1985. It is planned that future postings will include other excerpts of this demo.

Jan de Jong acknowledged that Greg's demo was the best of all those who had attempted the grading. I was fortunate to be asked by Greg to participate in his demo. We trained two to three times a week for six months. In the demonstration, Greg is explaining the progression of training o-mae-ukemi, literally major forwards breakfall or more popularly 'bridgefall.' I am the jujutsuka (jujutsu participant) at the end of the video who performs the 'no hands' bridgefall over a 'horse.'

I remember teaching a seminar with Jan de Jong in Stolkhom, Sweden. We were teaching a hip turn (goshi gaeshi) technique where the opponent is taken across the hips and falls to the ground. When demonstrating the technique I would always land in a bridgefall as per the video. I noticed that none of the seminar participants were using the same breakfalling technique and approached one of the participants who was also one of the people responsible for us being there and discovered they did not know this technique. I advised De Jong and suggested we teach this breakfalling technique, which, being open minded, he agreed to do. During the half-time break, the technique I was approached to teach the interested senior students and instructors was this breakfalling technique and not any of the other 'defensive' techniques taught during the seminar.

Hans de Jong, the son of Jan de Jong, has spoken of using this technique when falling from a height of the roof of a house while tree lopping. Falling into a bridgefall and only suffering some scuffs and bruises. Another of De Jong's former instructors, Mike Simpson, started some demonstrations for the public by running and jumping over the heads of spectators and landing in a bridgefall. I remember hearing of Mike's exploits in somersaulting over a card table and landing in a bridgefall. So, with a youthful bravado attitude of 'anything you can do I can do better,' I attempted to replicate this feat although the card table was a much sturdier metal structure which was about 1.5 metres long. I recall having no qualms until half-way through the somersault and seeing the card table while upside down in the air. I landed the technique ... and never attempted it again.

The bridgefall and the other breakfalling techniques are described and illustrated in my book. One rather unique breakfalling technique taught by Jan de Jong jujutsu is the sideways roll. Most jujutsu follow judo's breakfalling methods which include a forwards, backwards, and sideways breakfall (flat fall), and a forwards and backwards roll - no sideways rolls. I have seen some attempt to teach a sideways roll such as in Pat Harrington's The Principles of Ju Jutsu and Marc Tedeschi's Hapkido. In these cases the sideways roll is a barrel-type of roll, rolling from one side of the body to the other. The sideways roll taught by Jan de Jong jujutsu is a little more sophisticated than this.

In addition to describing and illustrating the breakfalling methods taught by Jan de Jong, the chapter will also apply injury science to facilitate the understanding and study these techniques. Injury science is a relatively new science which, as the name suggests, studies injury. This science is the subject of its own chapter in my book and is specifically applied to facilitate the understanding and study of breakfalling techniques and percussion techniques. Injury science will be the subject of a future blog.

Until next time.

John Coles


  1. My jujitsu/kobudo club does do a variation on the bridge fall, though they tend to put their clenched fists down on the ground before they flip themselves over into the bridge position. I have not yet been introduced to this fall (too junior and a kobudoka rather than a jujitsuka). I have been taught the basic breakfalls and no doubt my sensei will eventually decide I need to learn our variation of the bridge fall. It must take a lot of courage to flip over like that for the first time - not looking forward to it!

  2. Thanks for the comment SueC. The bridgefall does appear daunting at first but a graduated approach can ease the stress. One way to think of a bridgefall (a bit of a cheat really) is that it is a forwards roll terminating in a backwards flat (ushiro ukemi). The focus on the finish is hips thrusting toward the ceiling, on balls of feet (not heels), and chin on chest. Start from a squating position and roll forward but finish in this position. Use a horse (person on hands and knees) and wrap your arms underneath the person on the side your standing,put your head on the other side and then fall over their back keeping holding and land on the balls of your feet. The handstand you describe of course. And there is a host of other methods to learn and become comfortable with this breakfalling technique.

  3. Very informative article John. I am a relatively new student in jujitsu school and i'm very interested in learning more of the fall-breaking techniques and the science behind them. Do you have any good references (articles / books) that you could recommend for further readings ? Thanks !

    1. You might try Kano's Kodokan Judo for ukemi waza instruction, all except o mae ukemi and yoko kaiten ukemi. As to the science behind ukemi waza, just like all martial arts techniques, there is very little published on the subject until my book is published.


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