An Adventure Story for Youth Who Want to Make the World a Better Place
The Book of the Empty Mind
In his imagination, Tiger had just finished practicing karate on the beach and was
walking along the waterline with his parents. They had walked for about a half hour, combing the beach for whatever they could find, when he saw an old man sitting very still in seiza, Tiger wasn’t sure if he had seen the man before, but he looked vaguely familiar. And seeing someone at the beach sitting in seiza was unusual, so it attracted Tiger’s attention.
As they got closer, Tiger could not help but look at him. He was sitting perfectly still, like
a statue. When he was close enough to see the old man’s face, Tiger was surprised to see that he was Japanese.
“Hello,” said the old man, and with that Tiger jumped. He wasn’t expecting him to speak.
Tiger recovered and then answered, “Hello, how are you?”
“I’m fine,” said the old man, “and how are you and your parents?”
Tiger’s dad said, “Fine, thanks. Come along, Tiger, let’s leave the gentleman alone.”
The old man said, “It’s no bother. I’m just taking a break from reading my book.”
When he said this, Tiger noticed a large, very old looking book in his lap.
“My name’s Tiger. What’s your name?”
The old man didn’t answer for a moment and then said, “I once had a name, but now
people just call me the Old Man.”
Tiger found this odd, and he asked him what he was reading.
Tiger’s dad said, “Tiger, don’t wear out your welcome.” To the Old Man, he said, “Sir,
my son could talk to you all day. Is it all right if he spends some time with you?”
The Old Man looked at Tiger and then looked at his dad, “Yes, I’m sure we’ll have a
Tiger’s dad told Tiger they’d be leaving in twenty minutes. Tiger’s parents wandered
down the beach, laid out their blanket, and sat down. They were close enough to see, but not so close to hear the conversation Tiger was having with the Old Man.
Tiger asked the lingering question again, “What are you reading?”
“Why don’t you sit down,” replied the Old Man.
Tiger sat across from him.
“This book is quite old and very special. But first, tell me about your Shotokan Karate
Tiger looked at the Old Man with genuine surprise. “How do you know I practice
The Old Man didn’t answer at first. Then he turned his head towards Tiger and said, “I
This confused Tiger, because where he had been practicing was a good half-mile from
here, so the Old Man could not have possibly seen him.
“Tiger,” began the Old Man, “what we see with our eyes is merely the surface of all there
is to see. I am sure that your sensei has talked to you about the empty mind?”
“When you learn to empty your mind, you will see things that cannot be seen, you will
hear things that cannot be heard, you will smell things that cannot be smelled, you will taste
things that cannot be tasted, you will touch things that cannot be touched, and you will
experience things that others will never experience. You will come to know beauty and truth in a way that a common man cannot possibly know,” the Old Man said, as he continued to sit quietly.
“The teachers who told me this gave me this book. They knew that it would take a
lifetime to learn all there is from karate.”
Tiger was about to ask a question when the Old Man lifted his index finger as if to signal
“I began my journey over one hundred years ago, and my teachers began their journey
one hundred years before that and their teachers one hundred years before that. Our history
extends back thousands and millions of years to the dawn of man.”
Tiger could no longer contain himself. “I’m studying to be a Black Belt Shoka Leader,”
he blurted out.
“I know,” said the Old Man.
Tiger sat for a moment to let this new information sink in. He was full of questions, but
he remembered one of the first lessons Sensei had taught him about self-control. Sensei had said, “When you are full of questions, stop and wait until your thoughts have settled and then ask the right question.”
Tiger let his thoughts settle and then asked, “Did you come here to see me today?”
The Old Man replied, “Yes and no. I came today, because I felt in my heart that it was
important to be here, but I didn’t know that I would meet you.”
“Tiger, a few minutes ago we spoke of the empty mind. You will find, as you continue
with your training, that mastering this will be very important. As a youth who has just begun his journey to become a Black Belt Shoka Leader, you must realize that it is very difficult to clear away the thoughts in your head. But at the same time, it must be done.”
“Now,” said the Old Man “let’s talk about this book. It is called, The Book of the Empty
Mind. As I mentioned, it was given to me by my teachers, and it is a priceless resource for the person studying to become a Black Belt Shoka Leader. To use this book you must open your mind and become quiet inside. The experiences you will have will be quite vivid, so keep your spirit strong.”
Tiger asked, “What are the journeys you’ve taken? How do you know where you will go?
Will I take the same journeys you took?”
The Old Man smiled; he saw the same excitement and enthusiasm in Tiger, which he had
experienced when he first found out about the book.
“The journey one takes when reading the Book of the Empty Mind is different for every
person, Tiger. The book will show you things that will be important on your journey. Where you go will have a lot to do with where you are. Every student needs to learn different lessons to become a Black Belt Shoka Leader.
“And to answer your final question, yes, in the proper time you will be able to use the
Book of the Empty Mind. But first we must discuss the concepts you must learn to be able to use a powerful tool like this.”
The waves broke calmly and steadily on the shore, as the Old Man took a meaningful
“Responsibility,” the Old Man continued, “is an important lesson to be learned from this
book. I must impress upon you, Tiger, that it is irresponsible to misuse this book. So here are the rules.
“First, you must learn the lessons meant for you from this book. The lessons are for the
person to whom the book is given. This rule is drawn from the Dojo Creed, Seek Perfection of Character, and it will challenge you immensely. Second, when you are called to, and you will know when the time has come, you must pass the book along. If you refuse, you will have broken the faith of the Black Belt Shoka Leader. This rule is drawn from the Dojo Creed, Be Faithful. You must complete the circle. Third, you must continue on despite whatever obstacles you might face, and you must share what you have learned with others. This lesson is drawn from the Dojo Creed, Endeavor. Fourth, you must recognize others for the contributions they make to your life. This is drawn from the Dojo Creed, Respect Others.”
At about this time, a strong wind began to blow sand across the shore directly towards the
Old Man and Tiger, but it circled around them, as though an invisible barrier surrounded and protected them. “And fifth, to harm others on a journey is never allowed. As Black Belt Shoka Leaders, we train to stop conflict, and you must exercise this principle as you find your way back from your journeys. This rule is drawn from the Dojo Creed, Refrain from Violent Behavior, and so you must strive to control your mind, body, and spirit in all situations.”
The Old Man paused and looked deep into Tiger’s eyes. Tiger felt an enormous strength
and resolve coming from the Old Man, and it took a major effort on Tiger’s part to hold his gaze. Tiger knew, then and there, that he was in the company of a true Black Belt Shoka Leader. It made him want this for himself even more than before. He understood how important it was for him to take this journey and become someone greater than he was right now.
Tiger was pulled out of his encounter with the Old Man by his father’s voice in the distance. “Tiger, it’s time to go. Let the gentleman get back to his reading.”
“Okay, Dad,” Tiger called out.
As he turned back to the Old Man, Tiger noticed how serene he seemed. The Old Man
smiled and spoke, “Tiger, I must ask you two very important questions: First, are you prepared to take on the responsibility of being a Black Belt Shoka Leader?”
Tiger didn’t hesitate. “Yes!” he replied.
“And, second, are you ready to commit all that you have to become a Black Belt Shoka
Again, Tiger’s answer was “Yes!”
Tiger looked at the Old Man. Until this day Tiger had not completely understood the
commitment it would take to become a Black Belt Shoka Leader. But now he knew, and he made up his mind to make that commitment.
The Old Man picked the book up and held it in his hands. It had become a prized possession for him.
“Tiger, there is only one page in this book with writing on it. That page is inscribed with
the 12 Traits of a Black Belt Shoka Leader. They are Courage, Courtesy, Integrity, Humility,
Self-Control, Trust, Endeavor, Responsibility, Cooperation, Justice, Compassion, and
Creativity. These are the guideposts on your journey to become a Black Belt Shoka Leader; be mindful of them. The rest of the book is empty like the Empty Mind. It is your job to fill this book with the story of your journey as a Black Belt Shoka Leader. The book is large and thick to remind you to live a large, productive life and to make a difference in the world by bringing positive change through your leadership. The book is heavy to remind you of the weight of responsibility that comes with being a Black Belt Shoka Leader. Remind yourself of this every day as you use it as a vehicle for your Great Journey.”
The Old Man handed the Book of the Empty Mind to Tiger, who, upon accepting it,
became very much aware of the grave responsibility the Old Man had given him.
Tiger looked at the Old Man and bowed deeply.
Tiger said, “It’s time for me to go. Thank you very much for your words and this book.”
The Old Man nodded.
Tiger stood up, backed up two steps, and looked again at the Old Man who was smiling
at him. He was certain that he had seen him before, but he couldn’t place where or when. The Old Man then spoke for the last time. “Your sensei is a wise and capable man; listen to him carefully.”
Tiger smiled and turned and ran over to where his parents were waiting, somewhat
impatiently. As they started to walk in the direction of the car, he showed them the book the Old Man had given him.
They all turned back to wave at the Old Man, but he was nowhere in sight. “Where did he
go?” his mom said.
Tiger said nothing and felt the weight of the book as he held it tightly. He looked forward
to his Great Journey.
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.