Below is a selection of reviews from previous participants of seminars with our teachers, Howard Popkin and Joe Brogna. If you decide to come and train with them when they visit, you will not be disappointed.
I have been a committed budoka for some fifty years, first practising judo, then subsequently practising Tomiki Aikido, Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu iaido and Mugai Ryu Iaiheiho. Throughout my budo journey I have shared practice with jujutsu, jodo, kenjutsu, karate, Nihon Shorinji Kempo and Chinese tai chi teachers. This experience has made me wary and sceptical of what I ‘see’ and much more committed to judging technique by how they ‘feel’ and if they work. My criteria for ‘does it work’ being, does it destroy my kamae and prevent my retaliation? Recently, I have been revisiting the ‘Koryu no Kata’ of Tomiki Aikido, established largely by Hideo Ohba Shihan with the support of Kenji Tomiki, the founder of Aikido Kyogi, competitive aikido. Both Tomiki and Ohba, studied judo and then Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu with Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido before WW2. I say studied Daito Ryu rather than Aikido as modern research from budo historians, such as the late Stanley Pranin, has confirmed that certainly up to the 1940s, Ueshiba taught what has been described as Ueshiba-ha Daito Ryu. All of Ueshiba’s close pre-WW2 students were taught his evolving version of Daito Ryu Aikijutsu and that character can be seen in Yoshinkan, Yoseikan and Tomiki Aikido and in the interpretations of Aikikai teachers, such as Rinjiro Shirata Shihan.
My research has led me to believe that there is much in Ohba’s Koryu no Kata that we have ‘unseen’ over the years as we have come further from the source. So, rather than limit myself to academic study, I needed to gain some direct experience of Daito Ryu if I was ever going to really understand the ‘inside’ of Ohba’s choice of technique and the manner, in which he performed them, so very different from current interpretations of Tomiki Aikido technique. Ohba’s economical movement, often close ma-ai and soft aiki-age, started to make more sense when looked at again in comparison with Daito Ryu techniques.
Recently I took a trip down to train with the Ginjukai UK Daito Ryu Study Group in Dover led by Phil Eyers, and it did not disappoint. There I was able to test that the ‘magic’ of the ‘seeing’ was confirmed by the ‘feeling’, as I once again I seemed to have imprisoned myself and lost my posture, to small, barely felt movement, that led me in directions I did not wish to go.
The experience has me hooked as I believe it will help me improve, not only my own aikido but that of those I teach, as my understanding of what must have been in the minds Tomiki and Ohba becomes clearer. Although I considered studying Daito Ryu before, the lineage styles that I encountered failed to convince me that they would contribute greatly to my Tomiki Aikido practice. This is not the case with the lineage that Howard Popkin and Joe Brogna are transmitting from the late Okamoto Sensei of the Roppokai. Okamoto Sensei’s interpretation seems to exactly match the ‘inside’ that I am looking for and is realistically taught, without any claims of magic or mumbo jumbo.
Circumstances prevent me from attending the 2018 Aiki Connections seminar, but I recommend any budo practitioner who wants to demystify ‘ki’ and learn more about the application of soft power get themselves down to the Genryukan in Dover to experience the fearsome Howard and his partner Joe for themselves. I am reliably informed you will also have good ‘craic’.
Paul Wildish 7 Dan, Chairman, British Aikido Association
Training with Howard Popkin Sensei provides a unique insight into Daito Ryu and some of its elements which translate into Aikido. His techniques are are incredibly soft – almost effortless – and yet they are impossible to resist. Although this is infuriating at first, Howard’s detailed explanation and step-by-step demonstration make it feel attainable. Indeed, those few moments during practice when it all clicks and your Uke is suddenly picking himself up off the floor and you are both laughing as neither of you really know what happened are priceless and a window into a whole new approach to Aikido techniques. And even when it’s baffling (which is the rest of the time!) the seminar is relaxed and good humoured and Howard is on hand to give personal instruction and ensure everyone feels the technique for themselves.
I have always been interested in the predecessor arts to Aikido and yet some of the types of Daito Ryu weren’t really for me. I was fortunate enough to be at the Aiki expo in 2002 and saw Daito Ryu for the first time. I was disappointed. It was too physical and it lacked something. In fact I saw other arts there that were far more sophisticated and which piqued my interest. A couple of years later I became aware that the Daito Ryu Aikijutsu I saw in the Aiki Expo was just one variation. and there were others out there. More research showed a very “soft” and sophisticated form of Daito Ryu by Kodo Horikawa.
His foremost student is Okamoto Seigo Sensei.
There happened to train a small number of western students. One of which is the magnificent Howard Popkin Sensei. My good friend Phil Eyers invited Popkin Sensei over to teach in 2014 and then again in 2015. I went along to support Phil in the first instance but also to satisfy a curiousity. Did Howard have some of the skills of Kodo and Okamoto? Well both seminars were excellent and highly recommended. Why? Howard is a teacher by profession and has a great way of passing on and teaching what to do. Are you left trying to work it out? – well it wouldnt be a martial art if it wasn’t. On the other hand the instruction and explanations Howard provides are first class and will allow you to make great steps towards soft Aiki. Popkin Sensei provides this with a nice laid back style with a fantastic sense of humour. He will have you doing some great stuff and if you are from an Aikido background this seminar will definitely enhance your training. Does he have the skills of his teachers – well Popkin Sensei will say he isn’t near that level. For me it was clear he had fantastic Aiki skills and it was great to experience this first hand. I had a great time and learned so much from someone that had learned first hand from Okamoto Sensei. So Popkin Sensei and his Dojo partner Joe Brogna Sensei are coming to the UK in early June this year.
There is only one way to understand this level of Aiki and that is to feel it or to get “Hands on”. That way you understand what is happening in the videos that I have attached. Why haven’t I included one of Popkin Sensei – its simple there is a unique opportunity to experience this in the UK and thats by attending the seminar. If you are serious in this field contact Phil Eyers and register for the seminar. You will not regret it.
This was my second time attending a seminar with Howard Popkin and the only disappointment I came away with was that the time between each opportunity is as long as it is…
Howard has a confident yet quiet delivery and whilst he is friendly, open and safe in his delivery of the content I was left in no doubt of his martial prowess and technical capability.
The prime rules that we were given at the beginning were essentially “don’t hurt/get hurt” and “enjoy yourselves” – by the end of the weekend I think all in attendance would agree that the established goals were reached!
Hurting people is easy, damaging people is also easy, frighteningly so; the flip-side of this, being able to move/affect/unbalance someone with minimal effort and with such softness that the person is unbalanced before they register that it’s happened is very difficult to do well but Howard makes it seem effortless.
The class was pitched to a group with diverse experience levels and backgrounds with a perfect degree of complexity; never seeming to leave people so far out of their depth as to be completely bewildered, though difficult enough to keep everyone having to work at the material to make progress.
Whilst Howard is very open I get the distinct impression that, as fascinating and enlightening as a weekend seminar with him is, we merely scratched the surface of the quality teaching that Howard has to offer; I for one look forward to the next chance to train with him.
It was a great pleasure and very educational to attend this seminar with Howard, well organized by Phil Eyers.
As those who have met him know, Howard Popkin is a very approachable guy, and certainly doesn’t stand on ceremony, which can be refreshing. At the same time, he has an impressive skill set and is generous in teaching and sharing what he knows.
Unfortunately I was only able to attend one of the 2 days, but it gave me desire to learn more.
It was very educational to have hands on with him and feel what he is doing, and he was constantly circulating and working with people. It isn’t easy to describe what he does, and in spite of there being no language barrier (well hardly any!), light bulb moments occurred when he was explaining at the same time as I was feeling him apply it to me.
He was very clear about unbalancing people, typically moving them to one foot or the other, perhaps back on their heels, before “dropping” them. Can look a bit like magic, or an over-cooperative uke, but when you feel it yourself it is someone soft but powerful, playing with your balance and body. It was interesting to see him stop part way through techniques and ask the uke what had just happened: and they would reply something like “you’ve unbalanced me forwards”. In a way nothing magic in itself, but when done at normal speed, starts to look more so!
Another interesting point is being fluid and flexible – so not necessarily directly opposing a point of resistance but flowing around it. This the answer to some of the “so what would you do if I did this?”, which was typically resulted in something more painful being seamlessly applied.
The challenge is to take this back to the dojo and try and work on it. When starting out, you can be blocked by pretty much any uke – so it needs cooperation of the right sort.
During this brief but intense weekend with Howard Popkin of Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu Ginjukai
he introduced us to the Daito Ryu system as he learned from Okamoto Sensei founder
of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu Roppokai.
Howard is an amazing teacher, his method of teaching is based on techniques ( can be seen as paired exercises)
that allow people to study / learn some of the principles of Daito-Ryu: Principles of Aiki. During all his explanations
he would segment and explain the different movements involved in each of the techniques / exercises so that
all people attending the seminar can reproduce ( or try to at least ) the same effects ( each at their level )
…. no need of having to steal the techniques!! He explains things at primary school level ….. so you
get to also appreciate his other job at a public school
Through the segmentation of the exercises Howard goes into great detail to explain each of the principles
that apply to the specific movements. This reduced set of principles was re-caped by Howard time and time again
(specially when he would add more ) so that any person that attended the seminar would have a concise list of
principles and visual queues to look for when they train. Even if you are not going to practice any Daito-ryu or
have any time to add the exercises taught during the seminar to your normal practice I believe that all
attendants left the seminar with a very important tool to improve their skills with this list. The list IMHO
is a new lens under which you can review / study / experiment / practice you Martial Art of choice and thus improve
your understanding of it.
What Howard teaches is not about magic, its not about peace and love, its just: body mechanics, physics, psychology, etc…. being
applied in a very specific way: a way that works. He wants you to learn it. If you have the chance you should take it.
Regarding Howard: he is a fun person, he likes to joke around, he wants you to learn, he wants you to grab him hard … as
hard as you can … even harder … you might end up leaving the seminar thinking you suck at grabbing… he has no issues on being tested
( respectfully ) but be prepared to receive what you dish out. Go test him out 😉
My own martial arts training started with Shaolin kung fu, then jujitsu. So since starting training in Aikido, my biggest battle has been with acquiring softness and trying not to use brute strength in techniques. As one part of my early investigations into aikido I investigated the source of Aikido, – Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu. I read everything I could on the style, watched many clips and began to integrate some facets of what I saw into my own training. It was hard, brutal stuff. Right up my Jujitsu street!
I also learned of a totally “soft” style of Daito Ryu with direct lineage to Takeda and so I bought the video on ebay to investigate further.
When I finally viewed it, I was very disappointed. There was this “Master” who was throwing ukes all over the place with no effort at all. And with seemingly no noticeable body movement
To make it worse, it was obvious that for much of the time some of his ukes were completely “throwing” themselves. I immediately put it into the BS category and never viewed it again.
In the intervening years, I’ve tried to improve my aikido and met other Aikidoka out of my immediate training circle, at various seminars.
Last year, one of those Aikidoka, Phil Eyers, organised the first UK seminar by Howard Popkin. Howard teaches the very same style of soft aiki that I had seen in that video. In fact his teacher was the very “Master” that I had been so unimpressed by a few years earlier.
But – the feedback after that first seminar was terrific. People who I had trained with were genuinely impressed and mystified by the techniques and principles that they had been taught over that weekend.
Now, these were people that I had trained with on several occassions. I knew something of their training history and the Sensei that they had learned from were all the “real deal”.
So, when Howard Popkin’s second UK seminar was announced for June 2015 it was clearly time for me to put aside my bias and pre-conceptions and see what it was all about.
The seminar took place over two days in Dover at the Genryukan Dojo.
Seven of us made the long journey down from Cornwall on the Friday and by the time we entered the dojo on Saturday morning, we were not quite sure what to expect at all. There were about 30 on the mat, including ourselves. Dressed in black Gi, Howard Popkin looked to me like a typical Jujitsu guy. I’ve since learned that indeed that is where his roots lie, in Goshin Jujitsu, and by his own admission, has had only three “aikido” lessons. When he came to a plateau in his jujitsu training, he looked elsewhere for ways to improve and advance. And that is when his journey into the “soft” side of Daito Ryu began.
Howard is a teacher in New York and his educationalist training shows. Clear, succinct. Very structured throughout but never boring or overly repetitive.
He has a very friendly, informal attitude that made everyone feel at ease right from the start. The first techniques we were shown were from seiza. All very gentle. No bang-crash-wallop stuff here!
Howard demonstrated them clearly, not only the movements but the breathing, the “intent”, the real underlying key principles etc.
The moves seemed on one level to be very simple and basic. Of course they’re not. But with perseverance, most of us seemed to be grasping the beginnings of what was required and were making a fair first attempt. What was really impressive, and something that I have not personally experienced at any other seminar was the amount of time Howard spent letting everyone “feel it” from him.
The techniques he teaches are by nature sublimely subtle and I found that a key part was to give/receive feedback from my partner.
I always do this in my own training anyway – if a technique isn’t working on me, I’ll let my partner know and allow him to ‘play’ with me, adjusting his techniques, helping him to move my kuzushi more , or to inflict more pain on me, if that’s what’s required.
What Howard teaches requires this even more, requiring you to work perhaps even more closely than you would in an aikido setup. Less Tori/Uke perhaps?
More co-operative. But not compliant. Nobody gains that way, as we all know.
I dont intend to give a blow-by blow account of techniques covered during the weekend.
Howard covered a lot of ground throughout the two days. From seiza, from standing, hand grab, striking etc.
Most of what we were being taught was not unfamiliar to us all. In terms of basic moves.
But the way that Howard taught it was illuminating.
As a jujitsu man at heart, I’m used to quite big hand movements and adding my body movement (tai sabaki) in to add to the power, to try to minimise using arm muscle power.
Now, Howard says I must stand virtually still. Not use my hips, use my whole torso instead. Subtly and internally. Move my uke a large distance, outside of his kuzushi by the very subtlest of rotations of my own body. And drop him by not using any power. Do it right and he’ll just fall down! (Because by that point he is relying on you to hold him up).
It works. Oh, it really works!
Many of the attendees had been at Howard’s first seminar, and so were a little familiar with what was required.
But even us ‘newbies’ were doing quite well, I think, thanks to Howard’s ability to spot every tiny mistake we made, and to offer a useful correction every time.
Again, a key point was all being allowed to uke for Howard on every single technique. When you see it, it can look very compliant. (As I had incorrectly concluded from that video, idiot that I am!)
And when we were learning it, working with each other, of course it often was. That’s the nature of our training isn’t it? We sometimes take ukemi when we maybe shouldn’t. All part of helping tori progress, in a way. But when Howard takes you… He takes you.
He is able to take your balance literally at initial point of contact. It feels both gentle and immensely powerful at the same time.
As they always say – It has to be felt……
Personally, no other seminar has ever had such a huge impact on my training goals. Enjoyable as all the others were, this is the one that I could instantly see would apply to both my jujitsu and my aikido. And I hope it will begin to move me onto the next level. I intend to learn from Howard Popkin at every opportunity and if you ever have the chance to study under Popkin Sensei, do it!
It has to be felt……
When I was younger, I had a very good friend who I spent more hours training with than I can remember, and thanks to him I carry some of the injuries I do today and likewise for him I would imagine. We were stupid and probably pushed close to the edge more times than we should have, however I look back on those times with fond memories and don’t regret it for a second. As a result of this training, we became very good friends and I was best man at his wedding; therefore I trust him and his opinions. But I digress, he had started Aikido when he was a child, dragged to the dojo by his father and was fortunate enough to have been around some very solid practitioners of the art. One of the things he said to me which has always resonated with me is that “there are islands of good ‘Aiki’ out there but the problem is, is that you have to swim through a sea of crap to find them”.
I have always been open minded in my approach and this led me to attend seminars and small classes with high ranking teachers across the mainstream styles of Aikido and Daito Ryu, some famous and others not. As a result of this searching, I have been fortunate to have met the person who I consider to be my teacher (and thankfully he considers me to be his student) and have some association with some other respected Budoka who have helped me in my journey and fortunately friendships have developed. I have zero interest in adding names to real off with who I’ve ’trained’ with and then add them to my website to try to self promote myself, when in fact the reality is that there was little contact between the teacher and yourself.
I am focused, disciplined and consistent in my training, much to my wife’s dismay, and as a result my time is extremely precious. Consequently, I no longer attend seminars for the sake of it, generally I attend because the teacher has been recommended to me by someone I trust and respect. I feel that I have been fortunate that I have taken uke for lots of high ranking teachers across the ‘Aiki’ styles, some more than others, but one of the main points I have learnt is that you have to feel it to believe it. I’m a big believer that to have an informed opinion you have to feel it.
This leads me to the seminars that Howard Popkin Sensei has taught in the UK over the last couple of years. In my opinion, Popkin Sensei is an island of good ‘Aiki’! He has a unique ability to explain what he is doing and able to demonstrate it on anyone who wishes to feel it. This is a rare trait and one that in my opinion very few people have. Howard has a certain demeanour which is good to be around, which makes the time spent with him go extremely fast, which I have always found to be a positive sign.
Popkin Sensei is technically very able, he is soft/relaxed and when you grab him, you know your balance has been taken and there is nothing you can do about it. In my opinion, this is high level martial arts and great skill! I know that Popkin Sensei has helped me in my training and I’ve benefited greatly by attending his seminars. If you are interested in Japanese martial arts and in particular those which are ‘Aiki’ based, and by this I mean the high level stuff not the ‘jacket wrestling’ type that is common in a lot of so called ‘Aiki’ styles, then you should attend.
The whole point of the above really, is that my time is extremely precious, I have a young family and I work hard. The time I dedicate to my training has to be focused and I must get the most out of this time. Aikido has given more to me than I can ever give back to it and as a result I am very particular with whom I train and spend my time with. Consequently, I make the time and effort to see Popkin Sensei, I suggest you do, you really won’t regret it.
Friday 3rd June saw the first Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu event hosted by the Shogun Martial arts school in Herne Bay, Phil Eyers had offered me the chance to host this event as a taster for the Aiki Connections main event in Ashford.
Over 40 participants arrived, and it was great to see a cross section of Aikidoka and Karateka exploring the mysteries of Daito-ryu. I guess that if you hadn’t seen it before there is a good chance you would have written it off as pure bunkem, I have to admit I’m always pretty sceptical, but the warmth and eagerness to pass on the experience of their many years of training was apparent, Howard Popkin and Joe Brogna’s willingness to enlighten us meant that the 2 hr taster session was over in a flash. I think I spent most of the time trying to figure out why my arms couldn’t replicate what seemed to be simple movement – oh and with no power of course!!! The session had a real old school feel to it with no big egos on the mat, only a willingness to explore the techniques and learn from each other. I think I probably only really explored 1 or 2 techniques over the 2 hour session and getting my head round what was happening meant 1 or 2 was enough.
I was really pleased that a number of students have shown an interest in continuing to explore this fascinating side to our chosen art, and I’m sure the UK study group will grow. I’m looking forward to the next time in the bay with Howard and Joe… maybe I ‘ll have cracked a technique by then.
A two-day seminar with Howard Popkin and Joe Brogna
As martial artists we tend to walk a fairly similar path. We try out a style, find it is a good fit for where we are at that time and we either stick with it, or as our life and needs change or we look for something new. I started in Judo, passed through Karate and ended up at Jiu Jitsu so clearly I am not averse to trying something new or different. This meant that when a good friend and respected Aikidoka suggested (strongly) that I “must” attend a weekend seminar on Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu being given by Howard Popkin and Joe Brogna, I figured I “must”. For those who may be unfamiliar Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu it is the parent art to many of today’s popular arts. Its founder was the now legendary Takeda Sokaku who taught Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba. Other Daitō-ryū students went on to become the founders of Hakkoryu, Shorinji Kempo, Hapkido, and many other popular modern arts.
With my interest suitably piqued I signed up and began to wonder exactly what I had let myself in for. I had heard about the Aiki at the core of this system, it’s effectiveness making it possible to unbalance, redirect and control an attacker while using little or no muscular strength. This intrigued me.
The dojo, located in the Swan Centre in Ashford, Kent was a great location for the seminar. The dojo was a large, light and airy hall with great mats and enough room for the thirty or so participants to fit comfortably. Our host Phil Eyers of Genryukan Aikido (Dover) introduced our teachers for the weekend, Howard Popkin and Joe Brogna. Howard and Joe, both long time students of Okamoto Seigo the founder of Roppokai Daitō-ryū who was a student of Horikawa Kodo Sensei (the longest serving student of Takeda Sōkaku himself!) and both teachers of Daitō Ryū in Long Island, New York. This was to be the third annual visit by Howard and many of the participants were back for exactly that reason.
Howard and Joe spoke briefly on their background and then we were into it. Howard demonstrated a technique and explained with eloquence and humour exactly what was happening. He also acknowledged that from the outside it was very easy to misinterpret what was happening as, what I like to call, “uke acting” but with everyone getting a chance to feel the technique from either Howard or Joe you soon realise there is no acting just a hell of a lot of technique. This was softness taken to a whole new level. As someone who practices a fairly “street” form of Jiu Jitsu I am used to the idea that my kotegaeshi is going to put you on the floor because otherwise your wrist is going to come off. The lightness with which Howard and Joe executed the technique meant that on a number of occasions I found myself laughing as I fell to the floor a little unsure of quite how I had ended up there.
Mine was not a unique experience, as Howard and Joe mingled among us on the mat checking, correcting and congratulating. One Aikidoka performed a technique then exclaimed, “that was ridiculously easy” which Howard happened to hear and asked him to repeat to the room. “This”, Howard pointed out to us, “is the only flaw in the system, because when you do it right it feels like nothing”. I went back to my hotel that night desperate to retain what little of the “nothing” I felt I had been able to learn.The second day built on the lessons of the previous day and we added some Jo and Bokken to the mix attempting to apply our techniques with the same lightness we had experienced the day before. Always the lessons and demonstrations were fuelled by humour and clear concise descriptions of what was actually happening anatomically.
Howard and Joe were always open to questions and constantly watching as we practised.
Of course all too soon it was over and finally we sat down on the mats as a group to ask questions and take a final opportunity to steal a little knowledge. Howard and Joe gave us their insights willingly and without ever making anyone feel they had asked a “wrong” or “stupid” question. They treated everyone on the mat regardless of age, sex, colour or grade exactly the same way, and that speaks volumes about them both, not only as teachers but people. As I drove back to London, tired but very happy, I chatted with my fellow attendee, an Aikidoka of some years and we both agreed it had been a memorable event filled with friendly people and one that we were both looking forward to attending again next year.
I know this doesn’t directly relate to Tomiki Aikido, but I beg your indulgence to let me post this comment, please. I had the wonderful opportunity this past weekend to be a newbie again, a raw beginner, a student, and I took it. As usual in the world of aikido opportunities are connected in random but directed ways. For quite a while I had been seeing very interesting and somewhat incredible comments regarding the Daito Ryu skills of Sensei Howard Popkin and Joe Brogna posted in the aikido related internet world I often troll. In that same world I would often comment on many FB postings put up by Phil Eyers from the British side of the Tomiki Aikido world, and he had commented on some of mine. Through that connection Phil reached out, and though we had never met face to face, asked me to meet him at the Popkin Brogna Daito Ryu Jujitsu school in Long Island in January of 2017. It had been a while since I had stepped out of the Tomiki Aikido world and given myself the chance to be a rookie student again, the new guy on the mat. So I jumped at the chance. And i am so glad I did. Let me say, it was a first rate experience. Popkin and Brogna are very open, very funny and very straight forward, first off, making everyone feel welcomed and challenged to learn. Their lessons reinforced the direction, the understanding that my own aikido had been taking in the past years, especially my kihon no kuzushi (balance taking) work. This seminar sharpened my focus on how to further develop many skill sets I already had in place; and more importantly, it highlighted the weak points in my aikido mechanics. The biggest challenge for me, coming from a sport aikido environment, was to learn to be be soft, softer than I ever had, and maintain connection, just as good aikido should be. I will be working on that skill for the rest of my training and practice. I highly recommend taking an opportunity to challenge your own skills and grow your own aikido by attending a Popkin Brogna seminar!
We had a great time at the Aiki Connections weekend. The Daito Ryu people were uniformly welcoming and open. Some great principles taught in a fun and informative manner. They made two complete outsiders feel like part of the family. We would definitely hope to attend the next one
An excellent seminar, well organised and well attended. Sensei’s Popkin and Bogna demonstrated a comprehensive knowledge of Daito Ryu Aiki no Jutsu principles, and it was re-assuring to see them demonstrate techniques on any and all participants. It was a pleasure to train under their watchful guidance, and I will surely do so again when they next visit the uk.
I am reminded of the Japanese saying ‘On Ko Chi Shi’ – studying the old to better understand the new, as every time I get the opportunity to train in Daito Ryu I feel a deeper understanding of my own arts.
The reasons why I started practising Aikido, was due to its unusual philosophy, its dynamic movement, co-ordination and harmony between the partners as well as integration of mind and body for the practitioner.
As I had the tremendous luck to have found excellent teachers during my relatively few years of training, I was encouraged to search deeper into aikido’s philosophy as propounded by its founder, Morihei Ueshiba O Sensei. I therefore had to chance to delve into the founder’s writings and tried to understand how and what aikido means to us. I knew that O Sensei was a very spiritual person and that his writings were reputed to be obscure. However, the main theme of self-development, knowledge of self and the process of unification of the human being with nature, were evident throughout his writings. Although I found the entire canon challenging, with perseverance and careful study I was rewarded with some interesting insights.
As my understanding on the nature of aikido slowly increased, so did my curiosity of the martial art that preceded its development, namely Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu, naturally arise. How did the aikido techniques develop from Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu? What is Aiki? How can Aiki be applied? Can the knowledge of the predecessor help understand aikido better?
Last summer, through a contact of my teacher, Quentin Cooke, I was informed of a small Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu study group led by Phil Eyers that follows the Roppokai tradition and Seigo Okamoto sensei. This group has been inviting two American teachers, Howard Popkin and Joe Brogna sensei (personal students of the late Okamoto sensei), for the last few years and the interest for this martial art was increasing among the aikido population. I also found out that another great sensei, Hiroshi Ikeda, was interested in their teachings and so I immediately seized the chance and took part in the seminar.
The format of the seminar was unusual; Howard and Joe shared the teaching during the weekend of training, but it was done without much formality. It reminded me more of a workshop than a traditional training practice! The sensei were extremely friendly and very understanding. To comprehend even the basic principles took great effort from us and we needed time to gain even a modicum of understanding. Joe and Howard’s humour and teaching approach was exactly what was needed to provide us with encouragement. Their playful rudeness was also endearing, as it lightened our confusion and exasperation! Their exclamations “you suck!” made us laugh, felt chastened and also more determined than ever to prove them wrong! I was personally gifted with colourful language on more than a few occasions, especially after Joe and I realised we share a certain kinship!
Again and again Joe and Howard would approach us, give a hint or share an insight from their own training and then watched as we tried to copy their movements and develop a feel for the technique. Their approach to invite a pair at the end of a ¬practised technique in front of everyone and show it, while inviting positive criticism from all the participants, was also a masterstroke!
What Howard and Joe taught was not completely unknown to me, however their approach was! It was refreshing to realise how the body and mind work in unison in a variety of ways and utilising a few underlying principles, you are becoming capable of generating internal power and controlling the uke without injury (although the capability of an immediate switch to deadly technique did not pass unnoticed).
Speaking of different approaches, after the seminar I was compelled to search deeper about the intimate relationship between aikido and Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu. Thankfully there is enough information available on several websites that adequately describe their history, lineage and evolution. Although there are marked differences in their mechanistic approach in the way technique is applied and the outcome that is desired, both arts share underlying principles. At the highest levels of Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu, the application of Aiki is manifested in all movement and you can see (feel?) how aikido is similarly linked if practised appropriately. At the same time, both arts share the same spiritual background and indeed one can discover quotes from O Sensei that can be traced right back to Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu!
Ultimately, what I loved about both sensei was their passion for Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu and their willingness to share knowledge with those who were interested. I would encourage everyone with a healthy curiosity of the evolution of aikido to attend the seminar. The study of Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu will certainly enrich one’s aikido, help answer questions about the former’s efficacy, close possible gaps in one’s knowledge and above all, be among a thriving community that believes the same ideas and shares the same goals!
Book your place at the 2018 seminar today and although satisfaction is guaranteed, if you don’t like the seminar at the end, you are encouraged to throw me around aiki-style! ;-D
My brief time training with Popkin and Brogna Sensei radically altered my perspective on aiki. One of the first things you will notice with Popkin and Brogna Sensei is the confident effortlessness of their movement. Come in contact with one of them, and instantly you are attached to something you cannot see, taking you where you do not want to go. It is the kind of thing you cannot forget and will have you wanting to learn more.
Aikido folk often pay lip-service to the fact that their art derives from Daito-ryu, but not many get the chance to actually train in aikido’s parent art. I was fortunate enough to be able to share a mat with Howard Popkin and Joe Brogna at the Aiki Connections seminar recently, and the experience was eye-opening.
Here are two immensely skilled martial artists – masters of their craft – who can not only chuck you about effortlessly, but who will also explain to you exactly how you can achieve the same effects in your own techniques. Their zero-bullshit teaching (you won’t hear anything about how to focus your ki through your chakras here) shows you precisely how to move to affect your uke’s balance and posture with minimal effort, and the first time you get it half-right and chuck someone across the mat without really feeling like you did anything is immensely satisfying.
Combine their skill at teaching with their endearingly humble and open approach to their art (and the fact that they are, frankly, extremely funny guys) and you have a course which may well be the best experience I‘ve ever had on a mat. I will be studying the lessons from Aiki Connections for months to come, and will be counting the days until next year’s seminar. I really can’t recommend the experience highly enough.
An enlightening and enjoyable weekend with knowledgeable, skillful teachers who were keen for everyone to get what it is they’re teaching and make time for everyone there. Some six hours a day of training time could have been heavy going, but it really flew by, thanks to the great atmosphere on the mat amongst the practitioners of many different martial arts, all eager to understand what was being taught, as well as being willing to help and share their understanding where they had more experience. The ability of Howard Popkin Sensei to throw me with virtually no more than a twitch in his body and make it feel as if I had been hit by a wrecking ball is something I will remember, yet he and Joseph Brogna Sensei also lay out a clear and structured route for anyone to achieve the same level of softness and power.
Another great Daito Ryu weekend in Dover with the Aiki connections crowd, four years now and it’s not yet failed to deliver!
This is much more than just another martial arts seminar, enlightening, thought provoking, and frustratingly minimalist, it’s all about the ‘connections’. The application of Daito Ryu’s soft power to Aikido, the lineage, and the coming together of like minded individuals from a diversity of martial art styles creating a fantastic learning environment.
Howard and Joe are two of the most amenable, and humble guys I’ve had the pleasure to practise with. Generous, open, highly skilled, and with a depth of experiential knowledge of their art, their andragogy is uniquely engaging. They spent time with everyone to support individualised progress, explaining how they break your balance, seemingly without effort, they are an endearing double-act!
Like most, I’ve heard the history of Tomiki, and Obah being taught Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu by Ueshiba and considered ‘Tomiki Aikido’ to be a progressive style which had developed and improved on theses earlier teachings. Looking at this from a sports perspective efficiency, economy of movement, and dynamic application are the holy grail, but in our quest for this I believe we’re missing something fundamental. What Howard, and Joe bring is a forgotten past, a history and tradition, validating Aikido’s foundations in Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu with the opportunity to de-construct what we think we know, and to rebuild with focus on the micro, rather than the macro.
Unable to practise this year, I was able to spend time observing the practice of others, taking in the subtleties of movement demonstrated by Howard and Joe in their teaching, whilst making notes to help me in my own teaching and practice. One of my notes in particular stands out in referring to the practice of my peers in contrast to the demonstrations provided, ‘Too much movement!’ This captures what is at the heart of the teaching, the notion that, there is a point which, with time and focus, we can identify in our own movement and, in that of uke’s, when their balance is broken. The exploration of the tactile interrelationship between Tori and Uke, their physical connection through posture and position, and the effects of micro movement on this.
To watch others respond to this breaking balance experience with big smiles and laughter as they throw each other about is what the weekend is about, friendships, openness to learning, sharing and of course the inspiration to be able to do just some of what Howard and Joe do!
Massive thanks to Phil for once again arranging a great weekend……. dates for next year??
Tl;dr: It was good, join us next time.
So, it’s been a couple of weeks since the 2018 Aiki Connections Seminar and I’ve been using the time to try and organise my thoughts to offer some feedback.
Before we start, a bit of history…
I’ve been training Aikido for about 10 years in total – five years back in college (early 2000’s) and five years more recently, up to now. I started out Birankai, under Chiba Sensei, have tried a spot of Aikikai, Tomiki and ‘Ki’ Aikido and, most recently, Yoshinkan.
A chance conversation with Phil Eyers led to me attending one day of the 2017 Aiki Connections Seminar, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So much so, that I booked my place on the 2018 Seminar almost as soon as it was announced!
As already alluded to in other testimonials, the tuition over the weekend was really most excellent. Good humoured and informative, Howard and Joe are both more than willing to share their knowledge and expertise, but also their personal experiences as well.
The exercises were subtle, the kind of subtle that looks like “bullshit!” but isn’t. Moreover, they were practical and replicable (with practice) – no mystical ‘Ki’ or ‘Chi’, just practical applications of body mechanics – minimum effort to achieve maximum effect.
Feeling really is believing.
What started out as an opportunity to learn some neat tricks and interesting titbits about the roots of Aikido has led me to completely re-evaluate my Kihon Waza and the way I train. It has made basics enjoyable again because I’m looking at everything with fresh eyes.
I can’t wait to learn more.
I have been practising the art of Aikido for the last 30 years, and have had the good fortune to have trained with various Sensei and Shihan from both Europe and Japan. On meeting Sensei’s Popkin and Brogna, I was amazed at their technical ability, high level of understanding, good humour and subtle application of technique.
It is extremely rare to find Instructors that have a true understanding of their given art, and demonstrate their skills openly and genuinely. I found myself with a complete beginners mind, and was blown away by the dynamic, powerful but gentle application of technique. Their patience, understanding and ability to differentiate their tuition was a true breath of fresh air.
The course has helped me analyse the way in which I practise Aikido, and Budo and given me a new insight into my training, and coaching methods. The atmosphere within the dojo, and the focus of the students training was outstanding, and I felt welcome and encouraged in my practice. I look forward to training with Sensei’s Popkin and Brogna again next year, and wish to thank Phil and all his members who provided an excellent venue, and seminar.
John Shields 5th dan Aikido