Judo courses in Quebec are teaching older people how to fall safely | CBC News

Keep your head tucked in, form your body into a ball and roll.

It's what Monique Laroche, 93, did last year when she fell on the bus. 

"The driver took off too fast and I didn't have time to sit so I let myself slide and I was careful about my head, like how we practised," said Laroche. 

Laroche walked away without any serious injury thanks to judo courses she's been taking in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que. They taught her how to prevent an injury when falling.

Judo Quebec started the initiative, which now includes three judo schools around the province in Saint-Georges, Saint-Hyacinthe and Sherbrooke.

Judo Témis in Témiscamingue, Que., is one of the latest clubs which will start offering lessons on how to fall for people 60 and older.

"We are experts in falling," said Ambroise Lycke, co-owner of Judo Témis.

Lycke says the first thing a judoka — a person who practises judo — has to learn is "how to fall without injuring yourself."

Monique Laroche, 93, was one of the previous participants of the judo courses. She says she used those skills to prevent injury twice. (Submitted by Jean-François Marceau)

Lycke says it's all about teaching people to fight their natural reflexes, such as putting a hand out to break a fall.

"What happens is all your weight goes to your hand and that's the place where you'll have [a] fracture," said Lycke.

"Same thing for your head. Your head will go back and so you'll hurt your head and you will snap your head on the ground."

He notes judo techniques on falling could help prevent serious injuries like breaks that can severely affect an elderly person's health and independence.

Quebec seniors across the province can start the new year by learning how to fall like judo black belts. Ambroise Lycke is a Judo teacher and owner of Judo Témis in Saint-Bruno-de-Guigues in the Témiscamingue region. He tells Quebec AM host Julia Caron why it is a valuable skill for people of all ages, but especially seniors.

Most courses for seniors teach you not to fall, says Benoit Séguin, the founder of the program.

Part of what inspired him to develop this kind of course was his time in university when he initially taught the course to people with multiple sclerosis.

"Once I gave it to those people with multiple sclerosis I knew right there and then that it would be very important and very useful," said Séguin.

From there he began putting together a book on how to fall without injuring yourself. That's when Judo Quebec became interested and implemented a few courses around the province.

Séguin held courses in Sherbrooke before retiring. He says he hears a lot of positive feedback from former students, some of whom used the techniques successfully.

"One of the women I taught, she was in her late 70s and she fell in the gym and she said 'everybody was just around me [saying] what happened? what happened?' She said 'I didn't even hurt. And what was funny about it is this big fellow, the next week, he fell the same way as I did, but they had to take him out on the stretcher,'" recalled Séguin.

"So it's not a question of age, it's a question of knowing how."

Participants of the judo courses learn techniques to prevent injury. (Submitted by Jean-François Marceau)

One of the principal lessons is to encourage suppleness and to teach students to not be afraid of falling, says Jean-François Marceau, executive director of Judo Quebec.

As part of the courses, students are taught the basics of how to drop down to — and then get up from — the floor.

"When you go back to that basic thing then you become less afraid of the floor," said Marceau. "Of course you don't learn to fall in one lesson and then it's acquired for life. You have to practise for several weeks … It keeps the reflex on your body and your mind."

Participants of the judo courses are put through various balance and mobility exercises. (Submitted by Jean-François Marceau)

That's what happened for 78-year-old Louise d'Anjou. Her husband, Bruno Janssen, helps run the judo courses in St-Hyacinthe with Louis Graveline. She started taking the course in 2016.

"I'm getting older, I'm already old now, I told myself why not take this course? So I started and I'm going to do my 11th session this year," said d'Anjou.

Over the years she noticed that the people with the least mobility are often the ones who make the most progress in the course.

For her, it began to quell her fear of falling.

"[At first] even going from a seated position onto my back scared me. My reflex was to put my hands in back of me, but that's the worst thing to do," said d'Anjou.

"By the second session, because I already did it and I knew I could do it, the fear wasn't there."

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