Rolling...The most important fundamental move you will learn in your parkour and free running journey. It may not be the fanciest or coolest looking trick, but dang, when its pulled off right it looks smooth. More then just aesthetics the roll is the very safety net for almost any parkour move you will do. It can be used as a method to break and disperse the impact of a large drop, or it can save your tail when falling, tripping and even over rotating...
Always incorporate the roll into your training, even if you feel like you have it mastered. Much of the effectiveness of the roll relies upon your muscle memory to quickly react when it is most needed. If you haven't practiced it in a while, you can lose the quick muscle reaction, and when you are about to face plant you won't be able to recover as effectively as you could, had you been training it recently. You want to drill the roll so much that it no longer becomes another move at the end of your tricks, but it becomes an instinct. Here are the first 3 principles to understand when striving to master the roll.
Point of Contact - The first part of your body to touch the ground (normally your feet unless doing a dive roll) No matter what angle or position you hit the ground it will be up to the part of your body that first touches the ground to be able to initiate the roll. As soon as your feet touch the ground they should spring you into the initial forward roll motion. At this stage it is critical to begin the transfer of momentum. Avoid bending your knees past 90 degrees or they will have taken the bulk of the impact defeating the purpose of the roll.
Body position - The method your body uses to execute the roll. After the initial impact this is the moment you begin moving in the direction you want to roll. Normally you begin going into a tuck position and can also use your hands to help control the direction of the momentum. Be sure to roll over your should and diagonal across your back to avoid rolling directly over your spine. Also turn your head towards your opposite shoulder to avoiding bumping it on the ground.
Dispersion of Impact - The impact of the drop or fall is distributed through the momentum of the roll. Be sure to hold your roll tight through the roll and allowing it to relax as you open and come up on your feet. Most of the time I roll up onto one side of my leg, as my other foot comes down, but it can also be done rolling directly onto your feet.
There are 3 different types of rolls I will expound upon; The roll for drops, the recovery roll, and the dive roll. The fundamental of the basic roll apply to all of these but each one has a different purpose.
The Drop Roll - Dispersing Energy From Height
Almost always you will attempt to roll forward when doing a drop, occasionally you may roll different directions like sideways or backwards especially if you are doing flips. When doing rolls from drops it is also beneficial to have forward momentum from your jump, as that will help aid in your ability to transfer the momentum. When you initially hit the ground with your feet you don't want to collapse at your legs going into the roll, but rebound into the roll. Timing plays a big part to make sure you are going into the roll at the correct time when you hit the ground. Do not practice these rolls from drops to you feel confident with the basic roll. Begin by starting low and slowly working your way up to higher things, always checking your technique and form. As soon as your form starts breaking you know you are going to high for your ability to roll.
The Recovery Roll - When you're about to eat ****
It happens to the best. Whether it was from an unforeseen circumstance or it was just from being careless, accidents can happen. Having the roll trained to an instinct will prepare you for those unexpected moments. The roll has saved me countless of times. Over rotating a front flip from a 10 ft roof I should have belly flopped onto the ground. Because the roll was so ingrained in me as soon as a part of my body touched I was able to force my way into a roll preventing me from receiving any injury. Or maybe you are just walking down the street and trip. While most would stumble and look foolish, you will naturally react and roll right back up onto your feet, impressing any onlookers nearby.
The Dive Roll - Gracefully Flying Over Objects
This roll can actually be more dangerous in some accounts because instead of using your feet to distribute impact, you are relying on your arms while up side down to do that for you. The best way to learn dive rolling is in steps like everything else. Starting from the basic roll, begin to go taller and higher each time you roll until your are eventually jumping. Over time you can begin to add speed from a jog to a full fledged sprint. With enough practice you can learn to roll over or under anything at any speed and variable heights. Just remember to practice regularly!