You should already know how to do Back Breakfalls before you try to learn your Side Breakfalls.
Side breakfalls are really just one-armed, one-sided Back Breakfalls.
You usually fall on your side because the person throwing you is still hanging on to one of your arms. In fact, your training partner probably twisted, pushed or pulled that arm to break your balance and make you fall down! That’s how it normally works…
For a side breakfall, you fall on your side. (Surprise, surprise!) And if you’re doing Ukemi (breakfalls) on a nice dojo mat, you’ll slap the ground with your hand.
Doing breakfalls on the street or on concrete, you might keep your free arm on your stomach as you fall. This should prevent it getting damaged, and leaves that arm ready to protect your face from a blow.
Remember, if you slap, your arm should be at about 45 degrees from your body when it hits the mat. Immediately after, you should withdraw your arm quickly and keep it protectively in front of your chest or face. You might need to block a punch or a kick.
To practise Side Breakfalls on your own, you first learn from lying flat on your back.
Lift your head and shoulders off the mat and curve your back as you rock back on your curved spine, and raise your legs high into the air.
Then drop your legs to your right side, and slap the ground with your right arm palm down at 45 degrees. That’s a side breakfall.
Check your side breakfalls positioning. Your right hip, knee and the whole side of your right leg and calf should be flat on the mat. Your left leg should be bent at the knee, with your left foot flat on the ground.
Correct your side breakfalls Ukemi posture, making sure your chin is “glued” to your chest. Then sit/rock backwards and raise your legs into the air again, straight up. Then come down on your left side.
Again, check your Ukemi … left hip, knee and the whole side of your left leg and calf should be flat on the mat. Your right leg should be bent at the knee, with your right foot flat on the ground.
Now switch to the right side again.
Do side breakfalls to your right, left, right, left … until you have done them twenty times. Ten on each side.
You need to practice these side breakfalls at least three times a week to make fast progress with your Ukemi.
But don’t rush the Ukemi exercises themselves. The slower you do them, the more correctly you learn, and the better you will be.
If you try to rush them your Ukemi techniques will be sloppy. And that will slow your progress later, as the breakfalls get harder.
Once you can do side breakfalls properly from on the mat, you should progress to doing them from a standing position. This is a whole new ball-game, and the trick is to get your body down to the mat (or ground) as smoothly, and as slowly, as possible.
From standing on two legs, bend your right leg at the knee and lift it off the ground in front of you (so it is bent at the knee and parallel to the ground). Then bend your left knee and start lowering your weight to the ground. Go as slowly as you can.
When your strength gives out in the left leg, allow your body to fall on its right side. Just as you practised on the mat, you should land on your right hip with your right leg bent. The impact gets taken all along your right side, and keeping your chin on your chest will keep your head from banging the ground.
Slap the mat if you have one with your right arm (at 45 degrees). Your left hand should rest safely out of the way on your stomach. Check your posture.
Now stand up and repeat the breakfall, so you land on your left side.
Raise your left leg bent at the knee and keep it in front of you, parallel to the ground. Bend your right knee and lower your body slowly. As your leg reaches the point where it can’t hold the weight any more, fall as gently as you can to your left side.
If you’re on a mat, slap it with your left arm (45 degrees) and check your posture. Your right hand should be on your belly. Your chin should be pressed hard to your chest.
Stand up and do it again on the other side. You must learn to do it well from either side.
You’ll find the breakfalls quite tiring at first, especially since you are dropping all your body weight to the ground, then raising it, then dropping it … again and again and again.
Do it twenty times for each session/day. You are building muscle groups you never had before, and your body is learning to relax and protect itself automatically as you fall. This skill is priceless.
Next, you will need to learn Rolling Breakfalls (sometimes called Forward Rolls).
Falling safely is essential, for breakfalls are the first survival skill you will learn in any martial art which emphasizes throws, such as Judo, Ju-Jitsu or Aikido.
Learning to breakfall is important because you can’t give and receive throws in class until you can fall safely and confidently yourself. Knowing breakfalls can also save you from serious damage on the street, in a real fight.