By Liliana Shymanska, Corporate Communications Officer at the British Science Association


Today (October 28) is World Judo Day.

Whilst we all know that exercising in any form is good for us, the prospect of attending a Judo class, for many of us, may seem out of the box and can be a bit daunting.

At this year’s British Science Festival, sports and exercise scientist and certified Judo coach Katrina McDonald (Anglia Ruskin University) led a fun-filled, practical Judo class – with a twist.

She revealed some of the surprising health benefits you can reap from this Martial Art and why we should all, regardless of experience, consider giving it a go…

Learning about judo culture

One of the differences Judo offers from other physical activities is the built-in aspect of discipline and respect.

Katrina kicked off the British Science Festival class with a Judo bow and explained its significance as a sign of respect and gratitude.

The group practised the bow and learned the following Japanese words, fundamental to the practice:

  • Bow “Rei”
  • Go “Hajime”
  • Stop “Matte”

The art of falling

Katrina then introduced the group to “Ukemi”. This is a Japanese word that means ‘safe falling’ and is the first thing you learn in Judo.

Katrina explained that, especially as we age, a simple stumble can very quickly turn into a dangerous disaster.

While many of us learn precautionary actions when exposed to risks, such as swimming in case we end up in deep waters, or medication to take in case we fall ill, almost nobody learns how to correctly break their fall, despite the inevitability of it happening.

“In Judo, the very first lesson we teach is how to fall because it’s so important”. Katrina explained that Judo “breakfalls” can be practised by tucking in your chin to protect your head from impact with the floor, and also to create the largest surface area possible when falling, to reduce the pressure on a single joint or area.

Ukemi is taught as part of the school curriculum in Japan, and over time, the practice becomes instinctive – able to be implemented by anyone at any age.

So, what’s all the fuss about ‘safe falling’?

Unfortunately, falls can be pretty serious. After road injuries, they’re the second leading cause of accidental injury deaths worldwide, with an estimate of 646,000 deaths annually.

Despite falls estimated to cost the NHS over £2.3 billion per year, they are overlooked when it comes to preventative health in the UK.

The European Judo Union is currently working with universities globally to assess how techniques such as ukemi can be adapted and taught to the wider population to reduce injuries and fatalities. Ukemi-inspired programmes, such as a 10-week course in Sweden have demonstrated successful initiatives of this kind too.

Stress relief

In addition to the impressive list of physical and disciplinary benefits, there are some great advantages for the mind too, such as stress relief.

Katrina mentioned that although any form of exercise is scientifically shown to relieve stress, being able to exercise with a supportive community can be equally as beneficial. The strong social component of Judo from putting trust into one another, to learning from each other and creating a sense of connectedness are just some of the ways Judo can reduce stress.


The art of Judo is reflected in the traditional Japanese saying, “seven times down, eight times up.” Even if Judo isn’t for you, this can be a valuable take-home for us all.  

Find out more about British Science Festival 2022