Tiger’s Great Journey Continued…
An Adventure Story for Youth who Want to Make the World a Better Place
Tiger now wore a yellow belt and served his team members as an Assistant Team Leader.
He was working hard in class, and he was happy to have karate in his life. It felt good to be
getting better at punching, kicking, blocking, and striking. All parts of his life seemed to be
running more smoothly now that he was training and had the responsibility of making time for classes and for practicing at home. It surprised him to realize that he was buckling down to his homework and getting it done faster. His mother told him one day, “Son, you are getting better at a lot of things since you made the decision to become a Black Belt Shoka Leader. You’re better at taking care of your clothes, better at cleaning your room, better at getting your homework done, and you’re better at handling the problems your little sister makes for you! I’m proud of you.”
Tiger loved going to the dojo and breaking a sweat as he trained and practiced his new kata, Heian Nidan. But there was one thing he didn’t quite understand.
“Sensei,” he said after class one day, “Why do we do so much bowing?”
Sensei smiled and nodded. “We do bow a lot—for Americans,” he agreed. Sensei told
Tiger that in Japan, where the art of karate came into its own, a person bows to show his or her respect for another person or for an honored place, such as a temple.
“We bow when we walk into the dojo, because we appreciate this place and what happens here,” Sensei said. “When you bow at the door, and before stepping onto the mat, you
show that you respect the art of karate and also your teachers and the masters who passed down this tradition for thousands of years.”
Then Sensei asked Tiger, “Do you respect your home, and your school?”
“Yes, Sensei, very much,” Tiger replied.
“Do you bow before walking into your house or your classroom?” Sensei asked.
The question made Tiger laugh, “Of course not, Sensei.”
Sensei said, “But don’t you respect your home as the place where you find shelter and
love and food and a safety? And your school, for all the learning you get and the friendships you find there?”
“Yes, Sensei,” Tiger replied. “I respect those places, but I don’t bow. In America we express it differently. We wipe our feet, remove our hats and shoes, and don’t slam doors.”
Sensei nodded. “That is true. But to show your respect to your home, school, and other
important places in your life, you can pause before entering and leaving, and be aware of the
importance of these places in your life. You can do the same when you meet another person. You can make a mental bow.”
Tiger smiled. He liked the idea of making an imaginary bow to all of the people and places he honored in his life.
Sensei continued, “When we come into the dojo to practice the art of karate out of
Courtesy, we bow to show our respect. We are grateful to every person who shares this journey with us, so we bow also to our teachers and fellow students. And when we spar with another student and pretend he is an opponent, we are careful never to take our eyes off of him or her, because in a situation of danger out in the world, we want to respect the person who is posing a threat but also watch him carefully so he cannot catch us off guard.”
“Thank you, Sensei,” said Tiger with a bow. It felt good to show respect in this way.
“You’re welcome, Tiger,” Sensei said.
Tiger knew he was fortunate to have a wise man as his teacher. Tiger enjoyed for the first
time in his life being both a student and a teacher. He liked to welcome new students in their white belts and to help them learn the ways of the dojo and the first techniques of karate. And in every class, he learned something from his Class Leader and from watching and speaking to everyone in the school, even those who had less experience.
At the beginning of class one day, when a new student began doing the warm-up exercises, her belt fell to the ground. She had not tied it correctly. Tiger believed he was the only other student who noticed. What should he do?
He sensed that the other student needed help with her belt, so he stopped his warm-up
exercises, bowed to his Class Leader, stepped over to the new student, and asked if he could
show her how to tie her belt. She smiled in gratitude for his help. With her white belt properly tied, both resumed their warm-up exercises.
After the class, Sensei approached Tiger to talk to him about what he had done for the
new student. “To step forward to help another is a sign of leadership,” Sensei said. He told Tiger he’d also noticed Tiger was showing other signs of becoming a leader. Tiger had begun to ask questions at the proper times during class, and he was resisting the temptation to stand and talk with other students when they should be practicing.
“It’s clear to me you are making time to practice your techniques and katas at home, and
that is another sign of leadership,” Sensei said. “Also, one day I noticed that two younger
students were arguing over whose turn it was to run and jump over the stack of kicking pads, and you stepped up to help them resolve the disagreement. This is another sign that you are becoming a leader.”
Sensei looked Tiger in the eyes and then continued, “Even the greatest Indian chief began
as a child eager to learn from others about what it means to lead and be a force for good in the world. Leadership is important because a tribe or a community or a nation cannot thrive and live in peace if everyone is a follower, and no one will take action when things are going wrong. It takes courage to step forward and point out that a problem exists and then work with other likeminded people to solve that problem.
“It is our nature to complain when we are experiencing something unpleasant. This is one
way to point out to others that a problem exists. The baby cries to get his mother’s attention to the fact that his diapers are wet or he is hungry. If the mother can’t hear the baby or doesn’t respond, the baby cries louder. Once the baby gets the mother’s attention, the mother goes about figuring out what the baby needs.”
“Life works the same way. When a problem exists in the world, someone has to speak up
to attract attention to the fact that the problem exists. Then, like the mother who must figure out what the baby needs, someone or some group of people must figure out what solution is needed.”
Sensei paused and looked at Tiger to see if he was following his comments. Tiger was all
ears and felt that Sensei was telling him things that weren’t readily apparent but made a lot of sense.
“Now this is a simplification of a complex problem, but it gives us a basis for understanding,” Sensei went on to say. “In life many different people are involved, but until a leader comes forward and moves those involved to find a solution, the problem will not go away; it will become worse.”
“In solving bigger problems there can be many competing interests. An extraordinary
leader is one who can bring competing interests together and work with them to arrive at a
solution that everyone can live with.”
“There is an old Chinese proverb that states: if neither party likes the settlement, then it is
probably a good solution.”
Tiger thanked Sensei. He felt that he now knew what it meant to be an extraordinary
leader, and he wanted this for himself. He knew that a time would come when he could use these skills to serve the world.
One day soon after, things weren’t going well in class. After practicing basics and three-step sparring, Sensei asked Wendy, the Class Leader, to oversee three teams as they practiced
kata. But three students were standing and talking about something that had nothing to do with karate.
“Students!” Wendy said. “Can you tell me why you aren’t you practicing your kata?”
One student answered, “I’m tired because I stayed up late last night.”
The second one said, “I wanted to tell these guys about the movie I saw.”
And the third one explained, “I don’t know what to do.”
Wendy turned to Tiger, who’d been practicing his kata. “Tiger,” she said, “can you
suggest to these students what they can do help themselves become better at following
Tiger thought for a moment about what he’d learned about how to do well in karate and
in life. Then he spoke to the three students. “First,” he said, “You’ve got to remember how
important good manners are. Would you agree that it is not good manners to be talking while others are trying to concentrate on their kata?”
“Yes,” the students answered in unison.
One added, “When I practice my kata in class, I wouldn’t want anyone to do what we
Wendy smiled and continued. “Courtesy is one of the best tools a person has for
becoming successful and happy. Courtesy is what helps us to stay on the path and to do what we know we need to do. ”
She added, “Our class runs only about an hour. We need to put that time to good use and
not waste other students’ time by talking about movies. Would you agree?” All three students nodded. “Courtesy also gives us the spirit to keep doing what we need to do when others are giving into the urge to talk or goof off. Courtesy is remembering what’s important and telling ourselves ‘No’ when we’re tempted to swerve off the path of doing what we know is the right thing to do.”
“You’re right,” said one of the students.
Wendy looked into the eyes of the student who had quit practicing because she couldn’t
get the kata right. “Part of courtesy is controlling our emotions, and this isn’t easy,” Wendy said. “We’re all human, and sometimes we’re angry or sad or discouraged. But we have to keep on, don’t we? Just think of all the emotions the President must feel as he deals with so many problems, but if he’s not good at controlling emotions he can’t lead the country. We can’t ignore our emotions, but we also can’t let them control us. If your feelings are bothering you or making you want to quit try changing how you’re doing what you’re doing, but don’t quit.”
“Thank you,” the three students said one after the other. Tiger realized that this small
group of students had just been discussing some very important lessons on how to treat other people. He was reminded of what Sensei had said before, that good manners make friends and bad manners create enemies.
“Well, let’s get back to practicing kata,” Wendy said.
The students resumed their training, this time with more focus and concentration.
Tiger had been an Assistant Team Leader for about two months and wanted to advance to
the rank of Team Leader. He had looked at the list of requirements at the back of his copy of the Shoka Leader Handbook and had fulfilled them all except the last two: He had to test in front of the School Board of Review and schedule a time for him and his parents to meet with Sensei. Tiger had to get through the test first and then the meeting with Sensei would be to review his progress, decide on his new assignment, and set his next goal.
On exam day, Tiger’s chance to show the members of the School Board of Review what
he could do, Tiger arrived at the school about an hour ahead of time so that he would feel calm and prepared. When the exam began and his name was called, he rose quickly from seiza, and with a deep breath cleared his mind. Before he knew it, the test was over. He’d done well.
When Tiger got home, he pulled out the Book of the Empty Mind from under his bed and
turned to the next chapter. He laid back, closed his eyes, and in his imagination he continued on his journey to Ryoku Mountain and the Temple of the Clouds.
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.