by Shari Dyer
Quite a while ago, I wrote a few comments on extension for another student on the List and sent them to him privately. He wrote back that I helped him a lot. So maybe something in here will help you too.
1.) Extension. Just extending the arm is not enough. You need to make the arms long. Extend your arm out in front of you. No doubt there is good extension there. Now extend your fingers even more, as though your are trying push a button that's about a foot out of your reach. Notice that, without moving your body, your shoulder will advance forward and your arm will grow another three inches or so. That's correct extension. When you extend in this way, there is a space formed between your humerus (upper arm) and your shoulder. This is good. Now your energy is going out of the arm via the fingertips, and the shoulder is protected.
With simple extension, the humerus sits in the shoulder joint, and the energy flow is reversed. So when you roll, the shoulder feels the energy, and your arm collapses in an attempt to protect it. Of course, that makes it worse, but that's what happens. So try rolling as though you are trying to push yourself up away from the mat.
2.) It is common to think of a roll as going up the arm to the point of the shoulder. Not. The roll goes up the arm to the back of the shoulder - to the scapula, or wingbone, and then across or down the back. Energy follows attention. If you think shoulder, then that's where the problem is going to be in the roll. Aim for the back of the shoulder when you roll, but extend fully out the fingertips.
3.) What ever energy you give to your rolling arm, give to the other. If half of your body is slack, and the other half energized, you will collapse every time. To take ukemi well, your energy has to be evenly distributed throughout your body, even to your toes.
4.) Try rolling from extended fingertips to extended fingertips. It starts like this: Walk on the mat with the same foot and arm forward, alternating sides, of course, to walk. If looks and feels funny, but bear with me.
Extend your arms well out, as you do when you roll. Keep your palms facing back, with the blades of the arms facing out. The arms should be held a few inches further apart than your body width, but not extended completely out to each side. The inner frame of your extended arms should describe a very large circle. Keep the energy of the arms as though you are trying to push something away from each arm, or as though you are pushing against a door frame with your forearms. Got all that?
Keep walking side to side. As some point, keeping both arms energized and full of extension, turn and drop into the roll over one arm (same side foot should be forward) with the other arm still fully extended. Allow the roll to extend down one arm to the back of the shoulder, travel to the back of the other shoulder, and travel up the other extended arm to the fingertips. You should be standing again at that point.
This kind of roll gives you a better angle to the rolls themselves, and allows you to feel what it's like to roll on one arm without worrying about someone throwing you. Think LIGHT. Be a cloud. How you think directly affects the quality of the roll. Remember, you are floating up, not rolling down.
5.) Speaking of floating up - Think of a wheel, and put, in your mind, two marks on opposite rims, each one at a 45 degree angle from vertical (the lines start at the hub). Then mentally roll the wheel forward. Notice that while the forward mark goes down, the back mark goes up.
So it is with the hips. If you are rolling over your left arm, then the right hip must go up high. The spring up from the forward foot lifts the body, and gives energy to the roll. Add to that the energizing of your right hip, and you will have a decent, fairly light roll. Providing, of course, that 1.) center (your hub) is sideways to the roll of the arms (the rim), 2.) the rolling arm is fully extended and in the "unbendable arm" mode, 3.) you are rolling on the edge i.e. the blade side of the arm and 4.) that you have your head turned sideways so that the ear is down (toward the mat) on the same side as the rolling arm.