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How judo techniques could keep us safe as we age

Published: 10 September 2021 at 00:01

Judo action

Hands-on judo workshop will demonstrate ‘ukemi’, the principle of falling safely

Sports and Exercise scientist Katrina McDonald will explain how judo skills could be used to help prevent injuries amongst older people, at a hands-on British Science Festival event on Friday, 10 September.

During the practical workshop at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in Chelmsford, McDonald will demonstrate “ukemi”, which is the judo technique of falling safely.

After road accidents, the World Health Organisation has identified falls as being the second biggest cause of unintentional injury death worldwide.  Around 684,000 people die from falls each year with the over 60s being the most at-risk group.

The European Judo Union is now carrying out research with universities looking at whether the techniques used in the sport can be adapted and taught to the wider population to help reduce injuries and fatalities. And recent academic research has shown the success of a 10-week judo-inspired programme in Sweden, which involved teaching safe falling techniques.

McDonald, Senior Lecturer in Sport Coaching and PE at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), and a qualified judo coach, said:

“Judo is taught as part of the school curriculum in Japan and it’s great to learn ukemi at a young age, so it becomes instinctive, but it can be learnt by anyone of any age.

“In judo we teach ‘breakfalls’ and we practice these in four different directions. The principles of ukemi, or falling safely, are key to this. In each breakfall, care is taken to tuck in the chin to protect the head from impact with the floor, and a large surface area is created with the body, which becomes flat. 

“With correct timing, these factors help to eliminate injuries.  In judo this is when you are thrown to the ground, but it would be the same if you were to fall in everyday life.

“As we age, a simple stumble can become dangerous, so learning how to break your fall should be seen as a critical skill. When practiced regularly and through understanding the principles of ukemi and breakfall techniques, a participant can learn to fall safely after a stumble, as it would become instinctive.  

“Understanding the benefits of ukemi could have important implications for society as it could help older people to continue to enjoy healthy lives.”

The British Science Festival 2021 is organised by the British Science Association, in partnership with Anglia Ruskin University (ARU).  Judo And The Art Of Falling will take place in Dome 2 at ARU’s Chelmsford campus on Friday, 10 September (4pm).

The event is suitable for all, but participants will need to remove their shoes and socks to take part in the workshop. To join the waiting list for this free event, visit https://britishsciencefestival.seetickets.com/event/judo-and-the-art-of-falling/dome-2/1986144