Training in the Dark – Judo Solo

If you are fortunate enough to be part of a family training in martial arts, you won’t have to do solo training. However, I recommend it as another way of understanding what we do in both the self defense and ‘art’ side of Yon Ch’uan (or whatever you practice).

Take solo training in Judo for example.

Grace Martial Arts Judo
Grace Martial Arts Judo

Gentle Art?

Judo is called the ‘Gentle Art.’ It was the first martial art I studied as a child. It didn’t take long before I learned that ‘gentle’ did not necessarily mean gentle.

Falling (ukemi waza) is the second thing I remember learning in Judo class. The first was how to put on a Judo uniform (gi) and tie a belt (obi). After that first lesson, we learned how to fall correctly in several directions: backward, forward, left side, right side, roll out and roll up. Knowing how to fall properly would be very important for what would come next in our Judo training.

Many people are afraid of falling. Babies fall a lot, but older children, teens and adults can develop a fear of falling. Older people are especially afraid of falling because of the danger of breaking bones.

Here are some basics about ukemi training:

  • Relax – tensing your muscles during a fall will make the landing harder and more painful .. relax your muscles and you’ll find that falling is easier and less painful
  • Don’t reach for the mat – don’t think about trying to reach the ground with your hand during a fall .. many people injure their hands, wrists, arms or shoulders during a fall because they reach for the ground and their hand/arm absorbs much of the weight of the body as it slams into the ground .. a good rule is to start slapping toward the ground as you fall rather than reaching for the ground .. that training will help you when someone throws you in class .. the timing for slapping almost always matches the time between the beginning of the throw and the landing .. you want your hand to slap the mat/ground a split second before your body land.
  • Don’t fall on bone as you train – this is a good time to learn not to fall on your head, neck, spine and other bony surfaces  .. focus on landing on fleshy areas, not bony
  • Spread the shock – work on landing evenly on fleshy areas of your body as you train .. rather than landing on one spot, work on spreading the landing over a wider area of your flesh
  • Slap hard – a good slapping technique will be similar to a whipping motion that hits the surface and bounces off .. be sure your arm is relaxed rather than tense as you slap the mat/ground .. a relaxed arm will bounce easily and help to absorb more of the fall
  • Slap near your body – a good slapping technique will help you absorb some of the shock from the fall .. slap at a 20-30 degree angle from the body .. slapping farther than 30 or 40 degrees from your body means your body will have to absorb more of the shock .. your slap on a mat or on the ground can mean the difference between a pleasant and unpleasant experience

We (Judoka) began learning how to throw and be thrown. We learned how to grab each other’s gi jacket and move through the basic steps of each throw: off-balancing (kuzushi), entering/setting up (tsukuri), and executing (kake). It was in the ‘being-thrown’ process that I learned Judo had a ‘not-gentle’ aspect. We hit the mat hard and often. The training in falling paid off because we were able to hit the mat at a high velocity without getting injured.

Solo Falling

Solo falling is easy to do, but it helps to have a soft surface for landing when you are new to ukemi. You can use an exercise mat (or two), an old mattress, or a gymnastics mat. We didn’t have mats when I started training about 60 years ago and the wood floors of the dojo were a bit hard. Because the floors were hard, we worked hard to improve our falling skill. For solo training away from the dojo we found thick grass or soft sand at the beach helpful. Whichever you choose, make sure you learn how to fall properly.

Here’s a good video to learn the basics of ukemi.

Solo Throwing

There are lots of ways to drill your Judo throws alone. You can use a combination of straight-line throwing, circle throwing, zig-zag throwing and box throwing to improve your throwing skills.

Line Drills

Solo throw in a straight line right side, then left side. Once you run out of room, turn around and do the same throw right and left again. When you finish the first line, turn around and do the same thing with a different throw. Run through all the throws you know, if you have time.

If you are limited on the amount of time to train, do as many different throws as you can each time until you’ve run through all the throws at least once or twice a week. It’s important to continue developing technique and muscle memory while you wait for in-person training to begin again.

You can also video yourself practicing, then watch the videos to see how your skills improve.

Circle Drills

Another way to practice is to do the same throw left and right around a directional clock.

One example is to do a throw toward 12 o’clock followed by the same throw toward 6 o’clock .. back to 12, followed by 6 again. Then move the same throw toward 2 o’clock followed by the same throw toward 8 o’clock and back. Then move the same throw to 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock twice. Next, do the same throw toward 4 o’clock and 10 o’clock twice. Then do the same throw toward 5 o’clock and 11 o’clock.

Once you’ve finished one throw around the clock (circle), repeat the directional drill with different throws. Going through all the throws you know is a great physical workout.

Another drill is to start at the top of a circle and perform the throw counterclockwise so you begin throwing it from the right side. Go all the way around the circle until you’re back to where you started. Then do the same throw clockwise. That way you’re throwing from the left side. When you finish the clockwise drill, start again with a new throw going counterclockwise .. rinse and repeat with as many throws as you want.

Another solo drill with a circle or line is to do a throw right side, left side .. then do a different throw right side, left side. Go through all the throws you know, then start again from the first throw.

Zig-Zag Drills

Zig-zagging is throwing to the left corner, followed by throwing to the right corner. That allows you to do the same throw right side, then left side.

Imagine being in the middle of a clock when you start your throw. Throw toward 10pm, which is the left corner. Then throw toward 2pm, which is the right corner.

If you are training in a large room, backyard or other outside location, you can continue zig-zagging for a good distance before you have to turn around. If you are training in a small room, then zig-zag throw until you have to turn around and go in the opposite direction.

Box Drills

Box throwing is line drill that includes hard turns to the left or right depending on the direction of the ‘box.’ It’s similar to a circle drill except the turns are 90 degrees at the edge of the box instead of the smooth turning of the circle.


The main thing is to have fun and hone your skills until you’re able to train with your instructor or fellow students again. Be safe and enjoy your training.

Copyright ® Grace Martial Arts  2020



  1. Very educative post learned a lot from this article. So glad I found your blog and was able to learn new things. Keep posting informative articles, it’s really helpful. Thank you for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s