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I've always been afraid of breakfalls particularly from shihonage. So in our last Friday small class, our instructor took the whole class through breakfalls 101.
Turned out to be quite easy and not too painful even if one forgets to slap the mat first. What made it easy was that he asked that nage drop to his/her knee and simply allow the uke to fall out at her/her own pace. This reduced the distance to the mat considerably and therefore the impact and scariness factor.
We then did breakfalls from kotaegaishi which I've always found very elegant when done slowly, so it's more like a roll since nage leads with his hand very close to ground. Uke tips over very slowly and unfolds into a breakfall rather than a roll. Easy-peasy when done at this nice relaxed pace.
Our instructor then called up the shodan guy to do it at a much higher speed to demonstrate that the technique is exactly the same when done at higher heights and speeds. But fortunately we didn't have to do that yet .
So I've finally learned how to do them...at least at a slow pace.