Shotokan Karate Changes Lives
The modern world in which we live is complicated and difficult to navigate, especially for our children. Young people today are besieged by messages of violence, greed, and consumerism at every turn. They are encouraged to conform and follow the false promise of pop culture rather than think critically and become leaders. For parents, the influence of pop culture can be difficult to overcome. How do we teach our children respect for themselves and others? How do we instill self-confidence and self-
determination? How do we give them the tools to become leaders?
For three decades Sonoma County Karate Master Marty Callahan, founder of The Shotokan Karate Leadership School, has been doing just that. With a firm but gentle hand, Marty has
guided thousands of young people toward achieving excellence in their lives through Shotokan Karate. As a young man, Marty attended seminary with the goal of
becoming a priest. Later he changed paths and attended University of California Riverside, earning a B.A. in psychology. “I feel what I do is similar to what a priest would do,” says
Marty, with a smile. “I act as counselor, psychologist, trainer, and mentor to my students.”
Marty first began studying karate while in college. Having grown up in an abusive home, he was an angry young man interested in learning to fight. The longer he trained, however,
the more his focus shifted from fighting to character building and leadership skills.
“Character development became the central focus of my training,” says Marty. “My teachers emphasized fighting, but I was more interested in becoming a better person. I realized that
my anger was doing me more harm than good. Karate gave me the confidence to let go of it. I used to be a human ‘doing.’ I became a human ‘being.’ I was, and am, being transformed.”
Marty earned his black belt in Shotokan Karate in 1972 and moved to Santa Rosa, California, in 1981 and opened the Shotokan Karate Leadership School, then called the Academy of Shotokan Karate.
“When I opened my school, I wanted to share what I had gotten from karate with other people, kids and adults,” says Marty.
The Shotokan Karate Leadership School’s name says it all: it’s not about becoming a fighter; it’s about becoming a leader.
Children don’t just put on a karate uniform and learn to fight, they learn respect for
themselves and others, and are shown the path to realizing the potential hero that
resides in us all. Together with like-minded board members (Shotokan Karate Leadership
School is a non-profit organization under the auspices of Shotokan Leadership
Institute), Marty has developed a unique and inspiring way to help kids find the
potential hero that resides in them all. Knowing that children love stories, they
wrote and published a short book that tells the epic story of a young boy named Tiger who suffers from a lack of self- confidence. He has seen other kids being bullied and tormented and it has left him feeling scared, angry and helpless and he wants to do something about it. Through Shotokan karate, Tiger embarks on a great journey encompassing 12 principles of
leadership. Along the way he is forced to test himself, overcoming hurdles and obstacles, each imparting more knowledge and wisdom, and each bringing him closer to becoming a hero.
At Shotokan Karate Leadership School, each student is given a copy of this book,
and each undertakes his or her own personal journey to becoming a hero. A huge map depicting Tiger’s mythical world hangs on the wall of the school, allowing each student to track their progress as they follow Tiger’s path toward becoming a hero themselves.
“By taking martial arts training and turning it into a story,” says Marty, “each
child can become personally invested in the quest. It captures their imaginations. Kids thrive on stories, games and play; this is a story of leadership and how to gain the qualities of a hero. The kids love becoming part of it. They love the idea of becoming heroes and gaining the respect of their friends and family, and most importantly, themselves.” He pauses, and adds, “Kids want to be heroes; we give them the opportunity to be the hero they
were meant to be.” The results speak for themselves.
Over three decades Marty has personally guided over 8,000 students to self-
confidence and leadership. According to Marty many have gone on to become
doctors, lawyers, teachers, contractors, engineers—community leaders.
“Through our program they freed themselves from the self-imposed bonds
that might have kept them from success,” says Marty. “We had a student once who
was completely out of control, bouncing off the wall. His parents said he had ADHD and could not control his behavior. He wanted to be a hero, and after eighteen
months of resisting the program he made the decision to change his behavior. He
became a model student, helping others and demonstrating respect and leadership.
We take kids who are so shy they won’t look you in the eye, and kids who are highly aggressive, and we transform them.”
The Shotokan Karate Leadership School currently has five instructors and around 80 students, including children and adults. The program typically takes three
to five years to complete, after which students have a new understanding of power and what it means to be a leader in their community, in addition to the confidence that comes from knowing they can defend themselves in a time of crisis. Ironically though, the karate skills
learned at the school are intended to prevent fights. A sign outside reads: It’s not about fighting; it’s about not fighting. Marty grins when he talks about watching his students’ attitudes transform as they move through their program.
“I love seeing them go from being kids who are distracted and out of control to young people who are confident, respectful, clear thinking, focused, and compassionate,” he says.
“It doesn’t get any better than that.”
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.