Interview with Christopher Mulligan: Generative Aikido
Christopher Mulligan began training Aikido in 1972. Along with his wife Okamoto Yoko, he established the Portland Aikikai under the tutelage of Yamada Yoshimitsu Shihan. The couple later moved to Japan and founded Aikido Kyoto, where they both teach children and adult classes. Through the years, they have made Aikido Kyoto one of the most popular destinations for foreign aikidoka travelling to Japan. Mulligan currently holds the rank of 6th dan from the Aikikai. This interview was conducted by Ty Barker, a senior student of the Portland Aikikai who took over some of the teaching upon the departure of his teachers.
Ty Barker: How did you get into Aikido?
Christopher Mulligan: I was in a search to improve myself and I started looking for a martial art to do. The karate and kung fu places were too expensive and very commercial, but a friend turned me on to Aikido.
Ty Barker: How old were you then?
Christopher Mulligan: I was about 22 when I started.
Ty Barker: Who was your first teacher?
Christopher Mulligan: My first teacher was Ariff Mehter. He had started Aikido in Burma and was working as an engineer or student in Syracuse. He had joined Yamada and Kanai Sensei’s group when he opened his dojo. His Aikido was very precise and fast. He was smaller, so he relied on his quickness to execute the technique.
Ty Barker: What was the dojo like?
Chris Mulligan: I remember the mat being sawdust with a canvas tarp over it; mountains and valleys. It had absolutely no consistency. I trained almost every class at first and would venture down to New York Aikikai from time to time.
Ty Barker: Where did you go from there?
Christopher Mulligan: I moved to California in 1976. When I got there, I visited several dojos, but Frank Doran sensei was the most normal, straight up. I mean, you could train in his class, and he didn’t do all the new age fluffy stuff. The Bay Area is interesting. You had the harder Iwama style with Bill Witt, and then you had the New Age stuff with lots of talking. At that time, Frank was pretty grounded. It’s when he started following Saotome Sensei and Ikeda Sensei that his Aikido and teaching approach changed.
Ty Barker: How long were you with Doran Sensei?
Christopher Mulligan: I trained with Frank Doran Sensei for two years in the Stanford Aikido Club.
Ty Barker: As a former Marine I can imagine Doran Sensei would have a very practical core.
Christopher Mulligan: Frank was technically proficient, having actually been to Japan for a year training with Tohei Koichi Sensei at Hombu. He had come into Aikido from Judo, but had many influences along the way, Saito Sensei, Saotome Sensei, and Hikitsuchi Sensei. Frank seemed to change his allegiance regularly but had an uncanny ability to always maintain his core style.
Ty Barker: How did you get from California to Japan?
Christopher Mulligan: While I was training with Doran Sensei, Hikitsuchi Sensei from Shingu taught a seminar. I took some of his ukemi, and he invited me to his dojo. So for the next six months, I saved my pennies and went to Shingu.
With Hikitsuchi Sensei in Shingu, 1978
Ty Barker: Did you visit Hombu?
Christopher Mulligan: I stopped at Hombu on the way. I got my ass kicked by Miyamoto Tsuruzo Sensei in Doshu’s class. The same day, I went to Chiba Sensei’s class and got my ass kick some more by the uchi deshi. As an American 1st kyu, I could do nothing with these guys, yet they had their way with me. It was truly an eye-opener.
Ty Barker: You didn’t stay at Hombu and continued to Shingu. What was the training like there?
Christopher Mulligan: The Shingu style is very different. You are supposed to execute the technique without having any openings, sometimes to the point of absurdity. They apply atemi often, thinking that it helps eliminate any opening that may occur. I think, often times, in the motion or on the offensive, the opening is naturally eliminated.
Hikitsuchi Sensei was very much into the Omoto-kyo Shinto that influenced O Sensei. He would chant the kotodama every morning. I trained every class, sometimes three times a day. Lots of suwari waza. Their weapons work was very different and instead of jo, we did bo kata. We never did any kumi jo or ken. Personally, I was not very impressed with his Aikido, although he liked to call himself a 10th dan, which was controversial. If you look at videos of Shingu teachers, you can make your own deductions.
Tea ceremony in Shingu (1978)
Ty Barker: Looking back – since the Shingu style wasn’t your ultimate path why did you go there?
Christopher Mulligan: Remember, my visa was sponsored by Hikitsuchi Sensei, so I was obligated to go there, even though the training at Hombu was much better.
Ty Barker: What were the key elements of training that you were looking for at that time?
Christopher Mulligan: When I arrived in Japan, I was still in my 20s, had been a marathon runner, and so was full of stamina. The training in Shingu was vigorous but lacked the resistance that you may get at Hombu or even Iwama. The only real quality training was when senior shihan or senior students showed up and that was occasional. Otherwise, you were stuck with one of the many foreigners.
Ty Barker: How did you come to leave Shingu?
Christopher Mulligan: While at Shingu, I started teaching a young lady English, we eventually became romantically involved, and unbeknown to me, her mother had some shady affiliation, she was a money lender. This created a major rift with Hikitsuchi sensei, and I was asked to leave, which also compromised my relationship with Doran sensei. We fled to Osaka, but now I was without a sponsor or a dojo to train in. I had to look around for a place to train, finally ending up at Tenshin dojo with Steven Seagal Sensei. Actually, his name at that time was Seigel; a nice Jewish boy from LA.
Ty Barker: What was Steven Seagal like?
Christopher Mulligan: He was a charming guy and persuaded me to train there. I was basically an uchi deshi, training in most of the classes. He was very strong and fast; some of his ukemi is very demanding. He also comes from a karate background. The overall level of training was not that good, especially on a technical level. From time to time, he would have these special classes, where you had to get your partner to tap out in some way. They usually degenerated into a brawl. On the tests, I recall the basics for sankyo, nikkyo to be very poor. I eventually took my 1st black belt with him; I think Mastuoka-san was my partner. Seagal’s tests are tough: blood and guts. You can see some of them online. He is not so concerned about technique but rather your ability to defend yourself, hold your ground. If I learned anything from him and training at his dojo, it was this.
Chris Mulligan at Steven Seagal’s Tenshin Dojo in Osaka (1980)
Ty Barker: After the Tenshin dojo you went to Hombu – how did that transition go?
Christopher Mulligan: When I finally went up to Hombu, I may not have been as technically proficient as others but I could hold my own. In one of my first classes, I trained with an American guy. He was big, strong and looked like an ex-marine who loved to challenge new people coming in. I gave him no ground and it degenerated into a real brawl. Subsequently, I became good friends with him, and we trained together often. Shibata sensei was teaching the class, and I think he was impressed. After he asked me where I was from, giving me a kind of nod of approval.
Hatake, Shizuoka prefecture (1980). From left to right: Okuyama Tsuyoshi, Shibata Ichiro, Christopher Mulligan, Luda Mathias, Didier Boyet, Chiba Kazuo, Carmine Cozzolino. The child is now the Buddhist abbot officiating at the Kannami Chōgen-ji temple where Chiba Sensei is buried.
Ty Barker: Hombu Dojo then is where you began to refine your Aikido technically?
Christopher Mulligan: Seagal has a very specific style, suited more for a taller person. At Hombu, I basically had to unlearn and redefine my Aikido. Hombu is a great place to train as you know, but not the greatest place to learn. The ukemi at Hombu is also much better, but you mostly learned implicitly by being thrown.
At Hombu, there are so many good people to train with, but sometimes you have to be selective, considering you don’t change partners throughout the class. I would usually sit next to or chat up someone, mostly the foreigners, and then end up training together. I was not very popular among some people.
All the Shihan are so different especially at that time. I understand now why the French, for example, choose teachers that are alike, Yamaguchi, Yasuno, and Endo sensei in order to gain a certain consistency. I floundered there for a year or so, until Didier Boyet started giving me some guidance, and starting a private class with Shibata Sensei.
Christopher Mulligan taking ukemi for Shibata Ichiro at the Hombu Dojo (1987)
Ty Barker: So the technical refinement was primarily due to private lessons with Shibata Sensei. How did that work?
Christopher Mulligan: I think in early 80’s, then we agreed to form a private class with Shibata sensei. We usually were five people, the core being Yoko, Didier and myself, the other two would change according to who was there. This is when I really began to learn. The classes were brutal. Didier and Shibata sensei had already had years of weapons experience. Yoko and I were thrown into the deep end: move your ass or die. That seemed to be the emphasis at first; learn to react, hold your ground, then the refinement came. Obviously in those classes we were training with Shibata and Didier all the time. We would start off with some taijutsu, then weapons which would alternate from jo to ken and sometimes take away techniques. At night, he would turn off the lights and have us do the kumitachi in the dark, real ninja stuff. Shibata sensei had two private classes at that time and, occasionally, he would combine the two, which became very competitive.
In front of Hombu Dojo with Shibata Sensei
Ty Barker: How was the training level at that time?
Christopher Mulligan: The average level at Hombu at that time appears to have been higher than it is today. There were so many people that you usually could find someone good to train with unlike a small dojo like Shingu. While at Hombu, I ventured up to Iwama. Saito sensei’s son-in law would come to the 3:00 classes. We would train together; he invited me up. I was not terribly enthralled with the level of training, there were not a lot of good people on the mat. It may have been a down time, inundated with foreigners. I always found that style to be a bit lumbering, stylized. They did do a lot of tanren (鍛錬, reinforcement) work as opposed to the nagare (流れ, flow) form, which on some level I think is very important.
At Hombu, because of the breadth of teachers and styles, there was more flexibility in your growth. Interestingly, considering the differences, you can still see that a solidified Hombu style has emerged. I always found it curious that the direct students of O sensei were all so different (Osawa, Yamaguchi, Saito, Nishio, Arikawa, Tada, Shirata Sensei), yet the farther they are from this direct lineage, the more similar they have become. I think O sensei or the organic development of an art that had yet to be standardized gave these earlier students more freedom to develop their own Aikido.
Christopher Mulligan with Yasuno Masatoshi in 1999
Ty Barker: It does seem that the Hombu Aikikai “style” – despite different teachers and emphasis – coalesced into a relatively cohesive form.
Christopher Mulligan: Yes, it was Kisshomaru Doshu who actually categorized and stylized the Aikido forms into a comprehensive syllabus. The older teachers often bristle at the notion of omote/ura. Yamaguchi sensei never made a distinction. This was something established by Kisshomaru Doshu. Thus the morning class being the vehicle to maintain the Hombu Aikikai style even today. The present Doshu doesn’t have the luxury that other senseis do in going off in a different, sometimes unorthodox direction. He has to be the standard bearer.
Ty Barker: You also studied iaido while in Japan and have a deep appreciation for weapon work, but it is not typically taught.
Christopher Mulligan: At Hombu, there are no weapon’s classes, not even weapon take away, which ironically are required on the tests. Didier introduced me to Mitsuzuka sensei and I studied iaido formally with him for several years. Yes, to further our study of the Aiki ken/jo we started the private class with Shibata sensei, which was kind of a continuation of the stuff they had learned from Chiba sensei in the late 70s.
Iaido class with Mitsuka Takeshi
Ty Barker: You met Yoko while training at Hombu of course – and eventually married and had two boys. You moved back to Portland to raise a family. But you also wanted to train. As I recall you really started teaching of necessity – you were both 4th dan when you arrived, but had to teach to find people to train with. How was the transition from student to teacher?
Christopher Mulligan: By the time we came to Portland, I had implicitly internalized the style, but I hadn’t articulated it to the point where I could teach it in a comprehensible fashion. Yoko and I would argue about whether something was ai hanmi or gyaku hanmi, which handwork was correct. As you remember, in the first dojo we taught, I would often argue about form with the other instructors. Even Yamada Sensei and Kanai Sensei had different ways of doing things, or even called the same thing by different names. By teaching, and trying to standardize both of our approaches (Yoko and I), we were able to formulate a Portland Aikikai style. Of course allowing for certain individual interpretations. I think you get to a point in your training, when the only way to grow or understand the art better is to teach it. It has to make sense not only to the practitioner, but also to the people you are trying to impart the information to.
Personally, as a teacher, you either have it or you don’t. Without it, it is possible to be good, but you will never be exceptional. It’s in your blood, kind of a vocation. But with any body art, the body is the mode of expression, if you haven’t mastered the art you can’t express it effectively. Your body has to be able to express the concepts that you are trying to impart!
Ty Barker: When did you start teaching English professionally?
Christopher Mulligan: I started teaching English in Shingu; there are not many ways a foreigner can make money there. In Osaka and Tokyo, I taught in language schools and high schools. When I met Yoko, and she became pregnant, I had to decide on a serious profession, so I entered Temple University Japan’s applied linguistics program. That was a tough time; working full time in a high school, training almost every day and going to school at night with another baby on the way. When I graduated, Temple hired me into their English language program. I taught there until we moved back to the states where I taught at Pacific’s University’s English Language Program for 12 years. Upon returning g to Japan in 2002, I was an assistant and then associate professor at two universities.
Okamoto Yoko and Chris Mulligan in front of Hombu Dojo
Ty Barker: How were the logistics handled when you opened your own dojo?
Christopher Mulligan: I was ready to start our own place way before we did, but Yoko’s main concern was the children, family. If she did it, she wanted to do it as a professional—is it possible to have a dojo and a family at the same time when your spouse is also working full time? Fortunately, it fitted perfectly into our lifestyle. The classes were scheduled so one of us could be home when the kids went to school and when they came back. When they started training, we would all go together. It became a family affair, and the students of the dojo became their big brothers and sisters. My job also gave me a lot of flexibility—lots of vacation time, and no set 9 to 5 hours. Also, having a spouse who also does the same art and is not jealous of the time you spend away from home doing it, is crucial. Still, working full time at Pacific University, raising two boys and teaching three times a week (adults) plus all the children’s classes at first was very demanding schedule.
Children’s class in Portland (1993)
Ty Barker: You were at Portland Aikikai for 12 years (from 1991 to 2003) and have now been in Kyoto for 14 years.
Christopher Mulligan: Yes, that is true.
Ty Barker: Looking back what are your impressions of how Aikido has changed over the last 26 years since you began teaching full time?
Christopher Mulligan: How has Aikido changed over the years? I don’t think Aikido has changed. What has changed is what I can do compared to when I was younger. Injuries, 4 operations, still two herniated discs a knee that will need replacing soon, all contribute to readjusting, modifying, adapting your waza to compensate for your limitations. Maybe it creates different possibilities. There is a greater need to truly find the path of least resistance–or utilizing an approach that doesn’t require a lot of muscles. One of the reasons, I go for the face on tenshin nage or irimi is because I’m not going to load some huge guy on my bad back; if they don’t want to fall then boom in the face.
Seminar with Shibata Sensei at the Portland Aikikai in 1997
I really dislike this discussion on what martial arts are effective and what are not. I find them so ludicrous. In an era when everyone has guns, nothing works. Hey MMA guy, boom you’re dead. I love the opportunity to have an object (uke) that I need to move, manipulate, immobilize in the most efficacious way possible, without inflicting undue harm, and have the opportunity to play with the various or even unlimited possibilities to do that. Aikido like grammar is generative. How many times can you do the same thing the same way until you are bored senseless?
Ty Barker: Aikido Kyoto has become a true destination for Aikidoists from around the world. Okamoto Sensei has truly become an inspiration to many.
Christopher Mulligan: Aikido Kyoto is her baby. I help teach a few times a week, both children and adult and fill in when she is traveling, but she runs the show, sometimes teaching 3 classes a day. I may be skilled at pedagogy, but Yoko has a great ability to see each individual student and know what they need to develop.
Okamoto Yoko in Kyoto
Yes, she has really come into her own. It has been an interesting process to observe. I can’t seem to pinpoint when it happened, but she has become very popular, maybe one of the most influential Aikidoist in the world today. She has come into it rather reluctantly though. I think she finally realized, as a woman, if she doesn’t step up, then who will? She has an amazing ability to sustain herself and minimize injuries. She is put together rather well. In 6th grade, she received the “most healthy child” award from Kanagawa prefecture. In terms of her Aikido, it is always evolving. It is so sad to see these teachers who are getting old and still doing the same thing they were doing 30 years ago. I would go mad.
At Aikido Kyoto, Yoko Sensei has really been able to develop a community, and international community at that. Twenty percent of our enrollment is foreigners, and from a variety of countries. We have students who range in age from 4 to 75. The trick is how to maintain a high standard of training and be able to assimilate and accommodate such a wide range. I think she has been extremely successful in that regard.
Okamoto Yoko with Ty Barker
Ty Barker: The Aikido population seems to be receding, what is your take on it?
Christopher Mulligan: I just had a discussion of Aikido and teaching with Malory Graham sensei, and we were discussing some of the reasons that Aikido membership in the States is indeed declining. She seems to think, and I agree, that it is mainly bad teaching. To be a good teacher, you first have to have a mastery of your art, and that doesn’t happen until around 4th dan. In many cases, especially in the past you had people teaching at 1st dan, with limited expertise, or older people who hadn’t gained the proficiency, and were physically out of shape. What kind of impression does this create? How can you attract students this way? Moreover, what kind of pedagogical training is provided? People receive their fukushidoin and shidoin certificate, but it doesn’t mean they can teach. How about classroom management?
Ty Barker: This is similar to the ideas Tissier sensei has eloquently described.
Christopher Mulligan: Yes, I agree with Christian, Aikido is in the midst of an identity crisis, it needs to redefine what it actually is. And he also points out that there are many more choices today to compete with. However, there are places, even in the US, where growth or numbers have been sustained.
Ty Barker: What do you feel creates that difference in success?
Christopher Mulligan: The common ingredient to their success seems to be: a competence in the art; clear pedagogical, sometimes dogmatic, approach; accessibility to quality weapons training; an integration of the spiritual elements (zen, misogi) and a solid sense of community. These dojos have created the whole package.
Ty Barker: There is a great deal to unpack: in your list what is the single most important ingredient to foster a successful dojo?
Christopher Mulligan: For me, the most important ingredient is teaching. You have to know your art and be able to transmit the principles in a clear and comprehensive fashion.
Ty Barker: Tissier sensei suggested that the art needs to provide younger practitioners the opportunity to be the primary instruction staff. But providing the opportunity doesn’t necessarily make for quality instruction. So the crux of the problem: what constitutes good instruction and how does one create an effective teacher?
Christopher Mulligan: As Christian emphasized, if all you teachers are old, and can’t move well, then the students will be the same. It is important to also provide younger more vigorous models for the students to emulate.
Ty Barker: So the physical presentation of the art is key.
Christopher Mulligan: Yes, but students need to also be stimulated on three levels: the physical/technical; mental and spiritual. A lot of teachers do well in some areas but lack in others. Most importantly, does your approach reap results; are you producing quality students?
Ty Barker: It’s a bit of a circular logic challenge – you need a good teacher to produce quality students to create the next pool of good teachers. First be able to do, but importantly know how to teach. How do you view the traditional uchi-deshi method to create a teaching pool?
Christopher Mulligan: I’m not sure that an uchi-deshi program, especially in the past, explicitly taught how to teach or how to manage a classroom. It was all learned through experience, which can be hit or miss, often just mirroring what their teachers had taught. Adherence to a traditional model can be the death of innovation.
Ty Barker: It also seems that an uchi-deshi program requires a great time commitment from both students and teacher. That requires a personal connection – adapting to the needs of the student in the moment. A tailor-made experience that may create a good practitioner but if the student learns via this method then is that the only method they know how to transmit the art.
Christopher Mulligan: If you look at the classic Japanese approach to teaching martial arts, especially Aikido, it demonstrates and then says “Let’s go,” and then the teacher goes around and throws people, basically using an deductive approach to learning. It is up to the student to steal as much from the teacher as they can. If you look back at your time at Hombu, it was pretty much the same.
Chris Mulligan at the Kyoto Butokuden
Ty Barker: So what constitutes good teaching?
Christopher Mulligan: As I stated before, the two main ways we learn Aikido is from the visual input from the teacher. If the input is flawed or bastardized, then the students will be affected in that way. The other way is interaction, or being thrown by the teacher. This way we notice how the technique should be done, compare it to our present understanding, and make adjustments to our waza. Based on the feedback we get from our partner, we make, further, adjustment, gradually moving closer and closer to a mastery competence. In language learning, this is what Chomsky refers to as hypothesis testing. This can be either a conscious or an unconscious process.
Ty Barker: You said earlier that Aikido is generative, could you elaborate?
Christopher Mulligan: Well as Chomsky stated, grammar/language is generative—there are unlimited possibilities once the acquisition process has started because it is an internalized cognitive process. Language is not something that is memorized. Aikido should be the same. Once you have acquired the foundation anything is possible.
Teaching of language and body arts is very similar. There has to be comprehensible input, at just the right level. In Aikido the input is visual, not verbal like language, so the image the students get is very important; it cannot be bastardized. The teacher needs to have a command or proficiency when demonstrating, just as the input an English learner hears, needs to be almost native.
In language, interaction is important; this usually occurs in discourse, but in Aikido it occurs when you throw each other. The teacher throwing the student gives them a feel of how the technique should work, then by comparing your present approach, you make adjustments and go to a higher level. This is what Chomsky would refer to as “hypothesis testing”.
The way I take a difficult technique or idea and make it accessible to lower level students is through scaffolding. Breaking it down into it’s logical parts or deconstructing it like you would an essay, then providing the pre skills necessary to execute the technique and then grade the movements from simple to more complex until you have the whole. This is the same way I teach language.
Ty Barker: Deep structure to the rescue! Could you please outline the key components of creating effective pedagogy in your experience?
Christopher Mulligan: First, curriculum development: do you have a plan. What is it you want your students to know? How do you want them to achieve these goals, what exercises, techniques, principles are necessary to achieve your objectives? How this is executed depends on the teacher. Yoko is more visceral, organic in her approach; she may have a general idea of what she is going to do, but the specifics gradually emerge in the process of teaching. That being said, she also has long-term goals and objective, sometimes focusing just on ikkyo for one month. I, on the other, tend to be more cerebral. I need a clear road map, but may alter or tinker with it during the class based on overall understanding. If students are not getting it, you have to backtrack, pedagogy has to be adaptive, it should not be set in stone.
Second, just like in language acquisition you need to develop and distinguish between fluency vs. accuracy. Deconstruction (accuracy): breaking a waza down into its logical parts and then reconstructing it. Remember the Asian approach is extremely holistic. On the other hand, the deconstructive approach allows students to see the discrete parts and how they connect to make a whole (the trees vs. the forest approach). Taking a difficult technic and grading movement from simple to more complex is a manageable way to lead students from discrete forms to a whole movement. But over-reliance on this creates students who are not smooth and fluid–it is just one end of the spectrum. The need for fluency. Getting students to move in a smooth and fluid way, able to improvise and generate various possibilities. Here jiyu waza (free movement) practice can be effective. Where you are on the spectrum, often depends on the level of the students. In my basic class, I lean more toward the accuracy end, and in my advanced class, more towards the fluency end.
Third, cluster elements into a logical provocative flow: Are you just taking 5 technics from one attack, or are you using the input to teach a certain principle–where is the point of disengagement from a grab, or using the triangle as a tool for destabilization. This is a much richer approach.
Fourth, consciousness-raising activities: Creating junctures or points of comparisons on how two technics from two attacks can be very different or showing the similarity of certain patterns that seem different. Students have to be also stimulated on an intellectual level.
Weapons class in Aikido Kyoto
Ty Barker: That is a concise framework – but it deserves elaboration to make clear what you mean. Can you give us an example of a class plan?
Christopher Mulligan: Here is an example of class plan: Previously, I had noticed students having a difficult time discerning omote and ura in kokyu nage forms. These are not only important distinction in the execution of a technique, but also students are expected to know this while being tested.
First, I begin with omote form. The first application is ryote dori kokyu nage direct. The grab helps accentuate the articulation of the hand and foot work on a deeper level. It enhances the tanren process of forging or tempering the body to move in a certain way.
Next, I move to aihanmi extended hand (connection) prelude to shomen uchi kokyu nage direct. This allows students to gradually move to a more difficult place in a graded fashion.
Then full shomenuchi kokyu nage. Emphasizing the hand change and the specific extension and corners that need to be manipulated.
Next, we go to jodan tsuki kokyu nage direct. This gives students a more realistic application of the technic and also helps reinforce the whole entry process. Remember boredom destroys everything in its path. Varying the attack stimulates students also on an intellectual level by creating a process of noticing and comparing, even if very subtle.
Finally, in the direct form, I introduce it from yokomen uchi. Here the dynamics of the technique change a bit, because the handwork is different, giving students an opportunity to see how the technique functions in a slightly different environment (process of noticing and comparing).
Now we move to the ura version. Once again we begin with ryote dori kokyu nage ura. The grab helps facilitate the forging of the correct hand and footwork. This should be the first step before introducing a striking attack. This is something many people outside the art often do not understand (why can’t you just let go). It is a necessary forging precursor to a higher-level attack.
Next, extended hand connection—emphasizing the hand change and the need go for the back arm to eliminate the possibility of a punch.
Next full shomen uchi attack—followed by, attack from jodan tsuki. Certain points are emphasized—the extension of the front hand and the need to take the persons center or space from them.
Finally, once again, using yokomen uchi attack for the ura form.
To finish students are ask to use either omote or ura from jodan tsuki, giving them an opportunity to execute either one, hopefully, in a spontaneous fashion.
Because our mat is crowded—7 minutes before the class ends. Line work from shomen uchi using either omote or ura forms. This helps engrain the movement without thinking, and creating a certain amount of muscle memory.
What principles have been employed in this example?
- Addressing a perceived weakness or misunderstanding. This should be the goal of a teacher. Are students getting what you are trying to teach?
- Process of Grading—leading students from simple to gradually more complex forms. This enhances comprehension and allows you to teach to a wider range in levels.
- Consciousness raising and comparing. Helping students not only to notice the difference between omote and ura, but also to help them executed it in an effective manner. Also, by using the same movement from different attracts, students (maybe unconsciously) are further forced into a state of noticing—then comparing—moving them to a higher level of understanding.
The learning process should look something like this: input – noticing – comparing – feedback – adjusting – moving to a higher level
Once again the input can be visual (teacher demonstration of the waza) or interactive (being thrown by a teacher).
Ty Barker: With the traditional class structure there is usually a large variety of student skill levels – how do you keep everyone engaged?
Christopher Mulligan: You mean, how do you accommodate a mixed level class? Task-based learning offers an alternative for language teachers. In a task-based lesson, the teacher doesn’t pre-determine what language will be studied, the lesson is based on the completion of a central task and the language studied is determined by what happens as the students complete it. The lesson follows certain stages. The same approach can be applied to Aikido teaching. I want to teach a difficult sword form, but I have less experienced students in the class who have not gone through the same linear process of learning. Do I separate them, or provide the specific scaffolding necessary for them to complete a specific task successfully? So a linear time-consuming learning process is not necessary, the ingredients needed to complete this task successfully are isolated and presented in a comprehensible manner.
Christopher Mulligan teaching weapons in august 2016
Ty Barker: Classroom management – in the academic world there is a good amount of time with in the field coaching – a practicum before a fledgling teacher is released. How could that be better accomplished in the martial arts?
Christopher Mulligan: In most teacher training programs this crucial issue is not even addressed. How do you run a class? How many technics per class; how long do you spend on each? If the class is too crowded (as it always is in Kyoto), how do you maximize space: line-work, techniques that don’t take up much space, or have half the class train while the other half watches? Do you keep the same partner, or change? How often? How do you pair people? How do you deal with problematic students? How do you teach a split-level class? How do you maximize learning in a lower level class? Beginners, working together with older or more experienced students, can achieve an understanding of something that may normally be out of their ranges of development.
Buki class in Portland
This is what Vygotsky termed “The Zone of Proximal Development.” Peer learning is a way that you can accommodate a range of levels in one class by pairing less experience students with their seniors. In its pure form, this should be the goal of the sempai/kohai relationship, and not as a form of control and power. The less experience students are able to accomplish something they normally could not have achieved on their own or with a student at the same level, and the more experienced peer gains a deeper understanding of the skill by transmitting it. We learn the most when we teach something! Therefore, having black belts and more experienced students attend beginner classes accelerates the learning process.
Ty Barker: We have talked about the need for a stage presence in the past – how does that play into teaching?
Christopher Mulligan: Presence and command: for input or information to stick it needs a charge. The presence of the teacher is crucial here. A student once observed that once I changed into my dogi and got on the mat, I seemed bigger. Assuming the role of the teacher or getting into character, using your force of character to makes what you do believable is paramount—it gives it credibility. Without commanding respect no one will follow or believe in you.