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Old 04-29-2008, 06:05 PM   #1
Don_Modesto
Dojo: Messores Sensei (Largo, Fl.)
Location: Florida
Join Date: Mar 2001
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Popkin Roppokai DRAJJ in South Florida 4.22-23

Roppokai Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu 4 DAN Howard Popkin* conducted a seminar Tuesday and Wednesday of last week in Boca Raton, Florida.

Originally Okamoto Seigo, founder and headmaster of the Roppokai, was to teach, but as he fell ill over the weekend, Howard and his partner, Joe Brogna (3 DAN), taught in his stead. As there were never more than 20 people on the mat over the two days, everyone had ample personal attention and opportunity to ask questions and take UKEMI from Howard and Joe. This is my fourth or fifth seminar with Howard, and he has been consistently excellent. With compelling technique, a concern for everyone's safety, clear explanations, a careful eye, and a very approachable demeanor, Howard has provided me some of the most rewarding time on the mat that I've experienced.

CLASS ORGANIZATION

The structure of Roppokai classes differs somewhat from that of aikido which most of us are probably familiar with. Warm up is left to individuals, and class begins with Howard demonstrating technique. He does it first at normal speed, difficult to parse in my experience, and then repeats it more slowly making bigger motions and drawing attention to key points. Sometimes he has everyone line up to take the UKEMI, sometimes he just gestures vaguely for folks to attack. In any event, everyone on the mat gets to experience the technique as it should be executed before pairing off with less talented individuals who are still working out the mechanics. After that, class continues in line or in partners, with Howard and Joe circulating to offer corrections.

TECHNICAL SIMILARITIES TO/DIFFERENCES WITH AIKIDO

I have under 100 hours training in Roppokai DRAJJ, so the reader must register what follows as personal impression rather than any learned analysis. As always, caveat emptor.

Howard has warned us, and I'm discovering, that it will probably take years to undo aikido habits of movement, and the differences can be striking. In schematic, some things I've noticed:

AIKIDO-RDRAJJ

HANMI-SHIZENTAI
large steps-small steps
throw UKE-drop UKE
watch NAGE's feet to understand WAZA- watch UKE's head to understand WAZA
elbows in-elbows out (then in)
full/some/no eye contact-intense eye contact
knees bent-knees straight
TENKAN-no TENKAN
IRIMI goes to side-IRIMI goes straight in
fingers splayed-fingers together

A well-executed aikido technique makes you feel as if you've fallen into a vortex, and you may travel around for a while before being thrown. A Roppokai technique shudders your body, snaps your head back, and collapses you onto the floor. The feel is like grabbing onto a jackhammer.

With a typical Roppokai technique, UKE will approach with a two hand grab. NAGE's task is to anticipate the grasp and lead UKE ever so slightly off his balance forward, pop UKE's shoulder up with a wave motion beginning at his ankles and pulsing through his knees, hips, and arms (AIKI AGE, "AIKI rising), direct UKE's weight off his support with a short step-step into UKE, and drop him. It happens very quickly and took many iterations before I began to break down what happens in the technique. The subtlety is astounding.

For one demonstration, Howard held out a BOKKEN in SEIGAN and directed UKE to grab his right arm. With no discernable movement, he dropped UKE right in place. Having established the ideal of the technique, he then repeated it in broader circles so we could see what he had done. I had a chance to take this UKEMI--I was buckled right to the mat--it still astounds me.

Unfortunately, Roppokai technique looks entirely fake (and thus my mantra for all things MA: "I want to take the UKEMI.") Watching a Roppokai technique executed, you'll probably laugh. I did. (Still do sometimes, it's so fanciful.) You'll swear UKE is simply tanking for NAGE; choreographed complicity, rather than UKEMI. I had that uneasy sensation watching Okamoto on YouTube** before trying it. "Uneasy" because none other than Stanley Pranin*** had vouched for his ability, but it looked so obviously fake. If you're lucky, as I have been, you'll have an opportunity to train with a senior RDRAJJ player and feel the sensation for yourself. It removed my doubts. And Howard is wonderful this way. He has the ability to modulate his technique to demonstrate the principal and the feeling against an uncooperative UKE without tearing up joints--a definite possibility with these techniques.

While some AJJ posters on the various internet aikido forums have claimed that "aiki" is exclusively the provenance of AJJ, I have felt similar sensations training with aikido SHIHAN. What I haven't seen is high level aikido SHIHAN pass on these exquisite subtleties to their students. Not to slight the students here, but you just don't see the same power generated so effortlessly, so invisibly.

Howard says that Okamoto has been anything but coy in his teaching, happily showing how to do what he can do himself. Howard, too, is quite open in this way, and quite gifted as a teacher. A senior American aikido practitioner wrote of Howard to me: "I am absolutely convinced that this "steal the technique" idea is total bull****. Aiki is not "magic" but it can be magical. It is explainable and teachable. You should not have people training for 30 years and still have no clue. Howard is excellent and his teaching is organized and precise... none of this ‘steal the technique' b****... I intend to have a very long term relationship with him."

My sentiments exactly.

*http://www.popkinbrognaselfdefense.com/

(I have to laugh here. I sent this link with my high praise to an aikido buddy who dismissed it out of hand: "Look at the shape he's in!" My unsent response, "Take the UKEMI, dummy." It relates, actually, to how Howard got into martial arts: "My father sat me down when I was 9 or 10 and says, ‘Howie, you're pudgy, short, and Jewish. You've GOT to do martial arts.'" Classic Howard.)

** http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvPEU9mAX5Y

***http://www.aikidojournal.com/article...ueID=0&lang=en

Don J. Modesto
St. Petersburg, Florida
------------------------
http://www.theaikidodojo.com/
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Old 04-29-2008, 06:50 PM   #2
JW
 
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Re: Popkin Roppokai DRAJJ in South Florida 4.22-23

Thanks for the review! The chart of differences in movement between the 2 arts was especially nice. Do you feel that any of these differences (or any other specific differences) might be actively preventing or slowing down aikidoka in their growth toward the kind of ability that you describe as being common in Roppokai but rare in aikido? That is, the ability to crumple uke seemingly from inside his own body?
As you said, many aikido shihans seem to have this ability, but it seems like something about the way we practice may be preventing us from easily learning it. Or is it simply because aikido teachers don't focus on this?
--JW
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Old 04-29-2008, 06:52 PM   #3
MM
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Re: Popkin Roppokai DRAJJ in South Florida 4.22-23

Quote:
Don J. Modesto wrote: View Post
Roppokai Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu 4 DAN Howard Popkin* conducted a seminar Tuesday and Wednesday of last week in Boca Raton, Florida.

Originally Okamoto Seigo, founder and headmaster of the Roppokai, was to teach, but as he fell ill over the weekend, Howard and his partner, Joe Brogna (3 DAN), taught in his stead. As there were
I'm sorry to hear that Okamoto sensei is ill. I hope that he gets better soon.

Beyond that, I would definitely echo your post.

Mark
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Old 04-29-2008, 08:35 PM   #4
Don_Modesto
Dojo: Messores Sensei (Largo, Fl.)
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Re: Popkin Roppokai DRAJJ in South Florida 4.22-23

Quote:
Jonathan Wong wrote: View Post
The chart of differences in movement between the 2 arts...Do you feel that any of these differences (or any other specific differences) might be actively preventing or slowing down aikidoka in their growth toward the kind of ability that you describe as being common in Roppokai but rare in aikido?That is, the ability to crumple uke seemingly from inside his own body?
In general, I believe that previous MA training helps in new arts more than it hurts.

Quote:
As you said, many aikido shihans seem to have this ability, but it seems like something about the way we practice may be preventing us from easily learning it. Or is it simply because aikido teachers don't focus on this?
--JW
I'd go with the latter.

Don J. Modesto
St. Petersburg, Florida
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http://www.theaikidodojo.com/
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Old 04-29-2008, 09:37 PM   #5
Jorge Garcia
Dojo: Shudokan School of Aikido
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Re: Popkin Roppokai DRAJJ in South Florida 4.22-23

Quote:
Don J. Modesto wrote: View Post
In general, I believe that previous MA training helps in new arts more than it hurts.

I'd go with the latter.
My feeling is that the general goals of Roppokai aikijujutsu and Aikido are different. In Aikido, we are generally trying to control their whole body with our whole body (center to center) by establishing a connection (union) in receiving the energy. I found that generally, in Roppokai Aikijujutsu, they are attacking the center of the opponent using small powerful circles. It was their stance that troubled me sometimes because always starting in Shizentai said to me that they weren't necessarily practicing a complete martial science as much as they were practicing a portion of a martial science. I admit my time with them was limited (two years) and that my limited perspective disqualifies me from any real weight on my opinion. I did find that their perspective was very helpful to my aikido but I really don't believe that the average Aikikai shihan uses their principles. My shihan does and I would say Gozo Shioda certainly did but the modern guys don't do anything like what we studied in the Roppokai. I certainly liked their stuff and thought every Aikidoist I knew would love it too.
Jorge

"It is the philosophy that gives meaning to the method of training."
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Old 04-30-2008, 02:51 PM   #6
Don_Modesto
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Re: Popkin Roppokai DRAJJ in South Florida 4.22-23

Quote:
Jorge Garcia wrote: View Post
My feeling is that the general goals of Roppokai aikijujutsu and Aikido are different. In Aikido, we are generally trying to control their whole body with our whole body (center to center) by establishing a connection (union) in receiving the energy. I found that generally, in Roppokai Aikijujutsu, they are attacking the center of the opponent using small powerful circles.
Not sure that's a contradiction. Ikeda Hiroshi always says that big movements are for beginners. I know he'll put you on your face with just twist of his wrist...

Quote:
It was their stance that troubled me sometimes because always starting in Shizentai said to me that they weren't necessarily practicing a complete martial science as much as they were practicing a portion of a martial science.
I'm of two minds on this. I like a fighting stance when training. But the SHIZENTAI is pretty realistic for the beginning of most aggressive engagements. Remember that YouTube vid of some notoriety where one high school kid squares off against a bully by falling into a kung fu stance? My first reaction was laughter. (Scared the bully's shorts brown, though) Though I find it uncomfortable, I find beginning in SHIZENTAI eminently reasonable. (Don't like walking into an UKE falling backward right in front of me, though. Maybe I ought to start wearing a cup...)

Quote:
...I really don't believe that the average Aikikai shihan uses their principles. My shihan does and I would say Gozo Shioda certainly did but the modern guys don't do anything like what we studied in the Roppokai. I certainly liked their stuff and thought every Aikidoist I knew would love it too.
The average SHIHAN, no, probably not. I agree. I've felt it with Ikeda and Saotome, though, and it sure looks like Shioda and Sunadomari have it, too.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Don J. Modesto
St. Petersburg, Florida
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http://www.theaikidodojo.com/
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Old 04-30-2008, 03:02 PM   #7
gregstec
Dojo: Aiki Kurabu
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Re: Popkin Roppokai DRAJJ in South Florida 4.22-23

Quote:
Don J. Modesto wrote: View Post
Not sure that's a contradiction. Ikeda Hiroshi always says that big movements are for beginners. I know he'll put you on your face with just twist of his wrist...
Yup, been there from him...his focus is on the small circle that goes right through you...

Greg Steckel
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Old 05-01-2008, 02:16 PM   #8
Yamazaru
Dojo: Florida Aikikai
Location: Fort Lauderdale
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Re: Popkin Roppokai DRAJJ in South Florida 4.22-23

Quote:
Don J. Modesto wrote: View Post
A Roppokai technique shudders your body, snaps your head back, and collapses you onto the floor. The feel is like grabbing onto a jackhammer.
...a jackhammer that runs exclusively on Newcastle Brown Ale

As for the rest of the review, I concur with you Don and I would recommend attending a DR Roppokai seminar to any aikidoka looking to take their practice to the next level. Howard is approachable and he's got skills (like his teacher, actually!). Plus he makes a mean maguro sashimi...

The Florida seminar was great, despite missing Okamoto-sensei...and Jun, nice to finally meet ya!

Rob

Rob MacPherson
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Old 05-01-2008, 08:27 PM   #9
Howard Popkin
Dojo: Popkin-Brogna 大東流合気柔術銀柔会
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Re: Popkin Roppokai DRAJJ in South Florida 4.22-23

Quote:
Rob MacPherson wrote: View Post
...a jackhammer that runs exclusively on Newcastle Brown Ale

As for the rest of the review, I concur with you Don and I would recommend attending a DR Roppokai seminar to any aikidoka looking to take their practice to the next level. Howard is approachable and he's got skills (like his teacher, actually!). Plus he makes a mean maguro sashimi...

The Florida seminar was great, despite missing Okamoto-sensei...and Jun, nice to finally meet ya!

Rob
Response:
1) Newcaslte - Great
2) My sashimi, some of the freshest anywhere, but not pretty
3) Comparing my skills to Okamoto ???????????

Thanks for the compliments, but actually I find that sort of embarrassing. I hope to one day I have a bit of what Okamoto has, but thanks

See you soon,

Howard
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Old 05-01-2008, 10:32 PM   #10
Yamazaru
Dojo: Florida Aikikai
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Re: Popkin Roppokai DRAJJ in South Florida 4.22-23

Quote:
Howard Popkin wrote: View Post
Response:
1) Newcaslte - Great
2) My sashimi, some of the freshest anywhere, but not pretty
3) Comparing my skills to Okamoto ???????????

Thanks for the compliments, but actually I find that sort of embarrassing. I hope to one day I have a bit of what Okamoto has, but thanks

See you soon,

Howard
Sure, Howard, but from my perspective...Where in any given technique you might have to (perceptively) move your arm, and Sensei has to move his pinky finger, I'm still at the stage where I have to use a baseball bat to get the same effect!

Fine, ya want criticism of the seminar? I didn't like it, since "I didn't get to feel ribs break!"

Rob MacPherson
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Old 05-02-2008, 11:59 AM   #11
dekodo
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Re: Popkin Roppokai DRAJJ in South Florida 4.22-23

Quote:
Jorge Garcia wrote: View Post
My feeling is that the general goals of Roppokai aikijujutsu and Aikido are different.
I have to agree with what Jorge has said in regards to the goals being different. When discussing method / technique / waza / structure, the discussion inevitably, and rightfully, boils down to how one method compares to another in achieving a particular goal. Not, what is better or worse, just how things are approached and what are the benefits / drawback of each method. If the goals are different, however, this dialogue becomes moot. If we are looking to achieve different goals, it stands to reason our approaches are also different.

Although DRAJJ obviously fills volumes when writing the history of Aikido; Today they are very different arts whose goals may not be the same.
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Old 05-02-2008, 02:16 PM   #12
Al Gutierrez
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Re: Popkin Roppokai DRAJJ in South Florida 4.22-23

The goals of practitioners are also going to be a very different factor.
Who can say definitively what the "goal(s)" of aikido or DR are besides their founders and/or current head masters?
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Old 05-02-2008, 05:47 PM   #13
Howard Popkin
Dojo: Popkin-Brogna 大東流合気柔術銀柔会
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Re: Popkin Roppokai DRAJJ in South Florida 4.22-23

That's why I ask him all the time

Be well,

Howard
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