Tiger’s Great Journey by Marty Callahan
An Adventure Story for Youth who Want to Make the World a Better Place
Believe in Yourself
Tiger pushed open the door and took in the sights and sounds of a place unlike any he’d
Located on an ordinary street in an ordinary town, this open room seemed anything but
ordinary. There were people of all ages, dressed in white uniforms, called gis, tied at the waist with belts of different colors: white, yellow, orange, green, purple, brown and black. They bowed to each other and moved with varying degrees of grace and power as they practiced kicks, punches, blocks, and leaps on a firm mat that covered most of the floor.
Tiger had made the decision to walk through this door because of what he had seen
happen after school a few days ago. Joey, a younger boy a grade down from him, had been on his way home when three bullies cornered him behind the Art Building. They were a few years older than Joey and loved to torment younger kids. They took his hat, spit in it, threw it on top of the building, and then laughed about it. A few other kids were around and they started laughing, too. Tiger had been walking across the basketball court about 100 feet away and saw it all. He could see the pain and humiliation on Joey’s face and wanted to do something, but felt powerless. This was the third time Tiger had seen these bullies in action and, now, he was determined to do something about it.
Before he died, Tiger’s grandfather had talked to him about karate. He had told him that,
when practiced properly, karate could be a force for good in the world and that it’s true purpose was to stop conflict by emptying the self of negativity. Tiger didn’t understand this at the time, but he loved and trusted his grandfather and knew him to be a wise man. His grandfather had practiced Shotokan Karate and recommended it to Tiger when they last spoke about it.
“Welcome to Shotokan Karate Leadership School,” said a man wearing a black belt. He
looked strong and kind and looked directly into Tiger’s eyes as he firmly shook the boy’s hand. Tiger’s heart leapt inside, he knew that he had come to the right place.
“I’m the teacher,” the man said. “You can call me Sensei, which means teacher in
Japanese. Many years ago, I too set out on the journey you are about to begin, the journey to learn the art of Shotokan karate and to become a force for peace in the world.”
The words surprised Tiger, who imagined great leaders—presidents, kings and queens,
generals, inventors, people of fame and power—and had trouble seeing how he could be like
them. “How will I become a leader?” he asked Sensei.
The man with the black belt replied, “You will be amazed by how the time you spend
here at Shotokan Karate Leadership School will change your life and allow you to serve the
world.” Sensei explained to Tiger that as he mastered the basics of karate, he would first learn how to follow and then how to lead. He would start by being a Team Member, and then rise in rank to Team Leader, Class Leader, and then School Leader. And as he was rising in rank, his belt color would change from white to yellow to orange to green to purple to brown and, finally, to black. This was the path of a Black Belt Shoka Leader. Sensei also explained to Tiger that Shotokan was the name given to the style of karate taught by Gichin Funakoshi, the man who is considered to be the Father of Modern Day Karate. Master Funakoshi was a poet and he used the pen name, Shoto, and kan meant a building. The first time the word shotokan was used was on the front of the first karate school in Japan – a school that Master Funakoshi’s students built for him. Later on the name was given to the style of karate that Funakoshi taught. And Sensei explained that Shoka was the term used at Shotokan Karate Leadership Schools for a student at the school who is training to be a leader.
“School members with more experience than you will guide and help you along,” Sensei
said. “What you learn here about Shotokan Karate, and about making good decisions, will make you the sort of person others will want to follow as you make the world a better place. Here is the list of leadership traits that you will develop.” Sensei read from a large sign prominently displayed on the wall: “Courage, Courtesy, Integrity, Humility, Self-Control, Trust, Endeavor, Responsibility, Cooperation, Justice, Compassion, and Creativity.”
Tiger felt a twinge of doubt. He was just a boy after all. Could he become the sort of
person who leads others? Could he possibly learn to perform the techniques of karate as well as the kids and adults he watched practicing on the mat? He saw that two boys bigger and older than him were training by pretending to fight. They came close to hitting and kicking each other! Tiger imagined himself out on the mat, and he felt the sting of fear, afraid that he would not be able to do what the other students were doing. He thought, what if I try, but fail?
Without Tiger noticing, Sensei, a forty-year-old man with kind eyes, who looked to be
thirty, had been observing Tiger quietly and had seen a special quality in him. He had trained hundreds of kids and knew that this was an important moment for the boy and sensed what he was feeling. Sensei invited Tiger to sit down with him on one of the benches along the back wall.
“Tiger,” Sensei began, “your journey to become a Black Belt Shoka Leader will involve a
series of adventures beyond the ordinary to discover what is missing in the world. This great
journey will test you to your limits. It is designed to determine if you have what it takes to
become a leader. Can you overcome the dangers? Do you have the knowledge, the skill, and the capacity to serve?” Sensei paused and looked into Tiger’s eyes before going on. “It is natural that you would doubt yourself, but don’t let that stop you. It takes a person of great courage to ask these questions and to search for the answers until they are found. The person who takes this journey must understand that, to succeed, he must become someone greater than who he is. He must overcome many obstacles, endure many failures, and stop powerful enemies. But despite this, he must continue on, because finding the answer is vital to his journey and to his life.
“I believe that you are such a person, Tiger. I believe that you can make a difference in
the world. But it won’t happen unless you believe that you can. Let me ask you, Tiger: Do you believe that you can make a difference in the world?”
Tiger didn’t say anything at first. He just sat there looking at Sensei for the longest time.
And Sensei didn’t say anything either; he waited patiently. Then Tiger opened his mouth to
speak. “Yes,” was the only word to come out, but it was clear, concise, and full of promise.
From the very first day, Tiger had felt at home in the dojo—the karate practice hall. He
couldn’t believe that one full month had already gone by; he felt as though he’d been doing
karate his whole life. Each day that he went to class, he wore his uniform and white belt and
joined his classmates. There were boys, girls, men, and women in a full assortment of belts. All of them had sincerely welcomed him into the school.
Tiger’s Home Class met on Tuesdays at 5 pm, and his Team was the Hornets. He had
found out that it was through his Team Leader, Class Leader, and Assistant Class Leader that he would learn much of what he needed to know in order to achieve each of the early Shoka Leader ranks.
Jerry, a tall thin boy who was a little younger than Tiger, was the Team Leader of the
Hornets. And Jacqui, a girl about his age with red hair, was the Assistant Team Leader, while Tim, a new student like Tiger, was the fourth member of the Hornets.
Wendy was the Class Leader for his Home Class. The Class Leader is responsible for
helping all the students in the class. The Class Leader assisted students with anything that might come up; for example, tying their belts, using the bathroom, removing a student who was creating a disturbance, and seeing that a guest who came into the school was taken care of.
She wore a purple belt and appeared to be quite capable. Since he had begun, Tiger had
always tried to show himself in the best way possible, because Wendy was an important person to him, especially now at the start of his training. Wendy had reassured Tiger that she would helphim with whatever she could. Tiger felt good about having all this support from students who had experiences that he didn’t have yet, and at the same time felt a little nervous about not knowing what was going to happen.
Tiger remembered on his first day how Jacqui had asked him, “Are you a little scared?”
As an Assistant Team Leader, she wore a yellow belt and more confidence than Tiger yet
possessed. Tiger had nodded. “Don’t worry,” Jacqui had said. “We all were scared at first. Just remember that we’re all learning, even the Black Belt Shoka Leaders. And we’re all here to help each other, so have fun!”
He remembered his first day like it was yesterday. . . . “Line up!” came that first
command from Wendy. All the students stepped onto the floor and quickly found their places in line. Tiger felt good about starting out. He found his place with his new classmates after the yellow belts, orange belts, green belts, purple belts, brown belts, and black belts. “Seiza!” said Wendy, who gave the commands as the Class Leader. Tiger sat in seiza, the sitting/kneeling position used in Japanese martial arts to clear the mind and maintain a state of readiness. He joined his teammates in reciting the Dojo Creed. He liked the sound and the feel of everyone promising together to:
Seek perfection of character.
Refrain from violent behavior.
Tiger felt his body become warm and his heartbeat quicken as he and his teammates
performed the warm-up exercises, which included leaning forward and back from a wide stance, stretching down and across, and stretching the legs, hips, arms, and torso from a variety of positions.
Then it was time to begin the training. “Empty your mind,” Sensei told the class. Tiger
had never been told to do that before! But he liked how it felt to stop thinking about school and chores and other things, and to focus on how his body felt as he practiced middle-body punches, rising blocks, outside-forearm blocks, and side-snap kicks.
Tiger tried to focus his attention on his imaginary opponent, but he couldn’t help but notice how crisply and strongly many of his teammates performed the techniques. How he
wanted to become as good as they were. “You may have to practice a technique as many as ten thousand times before you master it,” Sensei told the class. That number boggled Tiger’s mind. Sensei said, “The way to become a Black Belt Shoka Leader is to practice every day.”
“Osu!” the students said together. Osu is a Japanese martial arts word that, when used in
this way, shows the teacher that the students are listening and that they intend to do their best. That first day had been incredible and inspired Tiger to dream about the changes that karate would bring to his life.
At the end of Tiger’s first month in the dojo, Sensei called him into his office. Sensei
carefully slid a heavy book bound in worn leather off the shelf behind him. Then he sat down next to Tiger and opened the great book. Tiger gazed at it in wonder.
“This is the Book of the Empty Mind, Tiger. One day you will understand the significance of it. Right now all you see are blank pages, but some day in the not-too-distant future, the true meaning will become known to you.”
Tiger looked closely at Sensei. He knew that something important was being shown to
him, and he sensed that this strong but gentle man would continue to play an important role in his life.
“Use your imagination, Tiger. It is your most powerful weapon. It will cut through fog
and confusion and clear your mind. Then you can envision a better future.”
Later that night, before it was time to go to bed, Tiger closed his eyes and begin to slip
into an imaginary world.
To be continued…
Marty Callahan has spent his life understanding and improving the lives of students both young and old. His passion led to the founding of Shotokan Karate Leadership School in Santa Rosa, CA in 1981 with a dream to awaken the extraordinary leader in his students. Having inspired, taught, coached, supported, and trained over 15,000 students in 40,000 classes in Santa Rosa, Marty has become Sonoma County’s preeminent martial arts leadership instructor. His students, hundreds of whom have gone on to become leaders in their chosen fields, appreciate his engaging, student centered approach to teaching and they believe you will too.