12 December 2010

The Front Breakfall and Back Breakfall

It is unfortunate that very few Taekwon-Doist are aware that breakfalls are part of Taekwon-Do. Although the ITF Encyclopaedia doesn't go into detail to describe the different breakfalls, it does provide the principles for breakfalling in Volume 5 (p. 341). Breakfalls are crucial fundamental techniques for any martial artist. I'm a strong believer that Taekwon-Do practitioners should start learning correct ways of falling as soon as possible. It is especially the beginner students--who are usually less coordinated and lose their balance more easily--that benefits most from breakfalling.

In this post we will look at two important breakfalling techniques, the front breakfall and the back breakfall.

The following is an edited extract from Taekwon-Do and Ground Fighting: Basic Breakfalls and Rolls ("Nak Beop") which I wrote with the help of the Potchefstroom Dojang for the 2008 edition of the eZine The Sidekick.

Front Breakfall

 Khatija causes Franco to fall using a foot trap technique from the ground. 

A more advanced, although less technical, breakfall technique than the Side Breakfall (Cheuk Bang Nak Beop), is the Front Breakfall (Jeon Bang Nak Beop). When falling forward people often fall on their knees, elbows or wrists which can cause serious injuries to these joints.

Franco demonstrates the front breakfall in the series of photos below. He starts by jumping and shooting out his legs backwards so to get his body horizontally in the air. As Franco approaches the floor he slaps down with both palms, landing on his palms and forearms (palms making contact slightly before the forearms) and the balls of his feet. The feet should be shoulder width apart and the elbows pointing outward at an approximate 45° angle.

Cautions: Since the hips are the body's centre of gravity, people often slam their hips into the floor which can cause injury. It is therefore crucial to keep your hips raised when you land. Also turn your face to the side so that you do not accidentally fall with the front of your face into the floor and break your nose. Do not fall directly onto the elbows.

If you feel too intimidated to start practising the technique from the standing position you can start out from a squatted position or standing on your knees.

Back Breakfall

Having grabbed Gerhard’s kick, Khatija unbalances him with a counter-kick throw. To land safely Gerhard needs to perform a proper back fall.

When falling backwards one should always try to fall on one's side and do a Side Breakfall. The ITF Encyclopaedia admonishes us to fall "to the side rather than the flat of the back" (p. 341). While this is definitely the ideal, it is not always possible and sometimes you may find yourself having to fall on your back. If this is the case your priority should be to expose as little of your spine to the impact as possible. The impact should therefore to spread onto your upper back and shoulders instead.

To perform the Back Breakfall (Hoo Bang Nak Beop) Gerhard, in the series of photos below, starts by crossing his arms in front of his chest. He lowers his centre of gravity by bending his knees and falls backwards, landing on his upper back and shoulders (not the middle or lower back), slapping the ground with both hands and forearms. The back should be kept curved when falling so that the motion is performed in a rocking motion. Raising the legs helps to shift the weight away from the lower back.

Cautions: The angle of the arms from the body shouldn’t be more than 45° as it puts strain on the shoulders. Also remember to keep your chin pulled towards your chest to prevent whiplash of the head.

Beginners should start practising the Back Fall from a sitting or squatting position and use a cushioned surface.


Breakfalls should always be practised by beginners under the supervision of a qualified instructor and on cushioned floors. You can work your way up to harder surfaces over time.

Hapkido: Traditions, Philosophy, TechniqueChoi Hong-Hi, ITF Encyclopaedia, Volume 5.
Marc Tedeschi. 2004. Hapiko: Tradition, Philosophy, Technique.
Myung Kwang-Sik. Hapkido Special Self Protection Techniques.
Phong Thong Dang & Lynn Seiser. 2006. Advanced Aikido.
Sanko Lewis. 2006. Soo Shim Kwan Colour Belt Handbook.

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