The Great Journey Podcast: Confessions of a Whacker

Sensei Marty Callahan shares with us a story from his childhood and how it relates to the true meaning of the martial arts.

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.

TGJ: Ascent to Ryoku Mountain and the Temple of the Clouds

Tiger’s Great Journey Continued…

An Adventure Story for Youth Who Want to Make the World a Better Place

Tiger was walking alone along the ridge of the mountain. Blake had wanted to come
along, but Tiger had to tell him that he needed to do the last leg of this journey alone. “Blake, you’re a good friend, and you’ve been a great companion, but I need to do this on my own.”

Blake was a little put off at first, but then he came around. “I understand, Tiger. I will be with you in spirit. I’m honored to have shared this much of your great journey with you.”

Tiger thanked him and then started off.

He had taken one last look at the parchment map he had found when he and Blake started
this great journey. It was now complete. Creativity, the last of the twelve leadership traits,
represented as a book with empty pages, had appeared on the map. He was now on the last leg of his Great Journey to Ryoku Mountain and the Temple of the Clouds.

The air was crisp and mild, and the sun felt good on his face. He let his mind rest on thoughts and images as they came and went, keeping him company. He knew where he was
going this time, as he walked purposefully without hurrying.

In the distance, the temple sat on the mountain peak. White clouds bumped into the towers reaching up from the solid stone structure. Tiger wasn’t sure how far the walk was, as distance could be deceiving here, but he was content to enjoy the fresh air and beautiful vistas that surrounded him.

After about an hour, the path turned away from the edge of the ridge into the end of a broad meadow. Tiger could hear sheep bleating up ahead. After a few minutes, he saw them in the meadow grazing on grass. The herd looked to be well-fed and well-cared for. He saw tents a
little farther ahead along the path he was following.

As Tiger approached the encampment, one of the shepherds saw him and waved to him. Tiger waved back, and the man walked toward him.

“Good afternoon,” the man said.

“Good day to you, sir,” Tiger replied while extending his hand. “My name is Tiger.”

“My name is Kai,” the man said. “Where are you from?”

Tiger thought for a moment, as this wasn’t as easy to answer as one might think. “I’m
from California.”

“Is this far away?” Kai asked. “I have not heard of this place.”

“Yes, it is far away.”

“Then you must join us for tea. It is time for all of us to gather for a break from our work.”

Tiger smiled and said that he would be delighted to do so. Tiger knew that many of the people in this area would take a refusal of hospitality as an insult, and he didn’t want to be
impolite.

Kai guided Tiger to the center of the campsite, where many of the shepherds and their families had gathered for tea and a break from work. Kai introduced him to the group who were sitting on blankets and small folding chairs. His presence caused quite a stir, as they were not used to visitors, especially from far away.

Tiger’s hosts were curious about where he came from and marveled at his gi. Tiger thought about how he should answer them and decided to tell them the Story of Shotokan Karate
Leadership Schools.

He told them how karate was a system of self-defense that gave its practitioners enormous energy, confidence, and freedom. He told them about the great and humble leader, Gichin Funakoshi, and how he had a dream to see karate practiced by people from all around the
world. And he told them how Shotokan Karate Leadership Schools had created a system that used karate as a platform to train young people to be leaders so that they could transform their world.

The shepherds were very attentive and asked Tiger many questions. When he had finished, Kai asked Tiger if he would like to stay for dinner. But Tiger told him he had to move on and excused himself. Kai asked him where he was headed, and Tiger told him that he was going to the top of Ryoku Mountain and the Temple of the Clouds.

Kai looked at Tiger very seriously and nodded. He said, “Many times members of our community sought to visit the Temple that lives in the clouds. They would journey for many
days without ever coming closer. After many more days, they would return. I am afraid that
perhaps Ryoku Mountain and the Temple of the Clouds is only a mirage.”

Tiger smiled at Kai and thanked him for his hospitality. He turned away and continued his journey. Tiger suspected that the Temple of the Clouds was only to be found by those few who knew the way.

In the middle of the afternoon, when the sun was at its warmest, Tiger gazed at the distant
Temple; it appeared to him that it had moved a bit closer.

As he walked, Tiger thought about the many adventures he had embarked on through the
Book of the Empty Mind. He remembered the day at the beach when he met the Old Man, and how important he had become to him. With each leg of his journey, Tiger’s grasp of what he had said evolved. “Tiger, what you see with your eyes is merely the surface of all that there is to see” was his admonition. Tiger had come to realize how this applied to leadership, karate, and the relationships he shared with all the people in his life.

The trail that Tiger was following had returned to the ridge. The Temple of the Clouds
was only visible at certain times, as rocks and boulders obscured the view.

The daylight was failing now; the air became crisp, but Tiger was comfortable in his gi as he walked on. Tiger saw that he was no longer on a trail. He was now walking on a path made of the rock, which had been worn smooth by the passing of generations of feet. He felt proud to share this path that so many had walked on before. He thought about how many passages it had taken to polish the stones. It occurred to him that Sensei had polished and honed his character and skills through years of training.

As the dusk slipped into darkness, Tiger had reached a great staircase. Every twenty steps, a torch flickered at either side to light the way up, with the towers of the Temple beckoning in the distance.

Tiger put his foot on the first step and began his ascent. They were taller and longer than normal, and it took extra effort to ascend them. A test of my resolve, Tiger mused. He arrived at the first pool of light after twenty steps. The next step was twice as high and had the figure of a bowing karate-ka carved into it. This time a figure in seiza was carved into the stone. On the next step there was a carving of a karate student in forward stance; then came the step with a student doing a front kick, followed by another one with a carving of a student sword-hand blocking in back stance, which was followed by a step with a student who was roundhouse kicking. Continuing his arduous climb, Tiger saw another step with a student performing sideelbow strike in side stance, then one with a student performing a step-in-punch middle-body, another one with a student side-snap kicking; followed by one with a student side-thrust kicking, and yet another one with a student performing a pressing block and spear-hand thrust in forward stance.

As he climbed the steps and saw the different carvings, Tiger came to understand the meaning of it all. The carvings represented the basic karate skills, and the steps stood for
repetition, which was necessary to master these skills. When Tiger reached the top of the
staircase, the final carving was the same as the first: a figure bowing. Tiger looked back down the staircase and realized that he hadn’t even thought about how many steps he had taken to get here.

Tiger took one last look at the flickering staircase, turned, and moved on. The path had
changed into an avenue wide enough for five men to walk down. He charged ahead and saw that the path turned to the right.

As he arrived at the turn, Tiger came to an abrupt stop. The path ahead was paved with stone and lined with twelve free-standing granite columns, six on each side about five yards
apart. Much farther ahead, Tiger could see there was a stairway leading to the Temple of the
Clouds. He was awestruck by the strength and immensity of the structure. It stood alone on an open field atop Ryoku Mountain. It appeared to be about a hundred feet high and twice as wide and long, and made of thick sturdy timbers.

Tiger stood up a little straighter and walked on. As he approached the first of the columns, he looked up and saw the symbol for the Black Belt Shoka Leadership Trait of Courage—a small child standing up to a large man. The next column displayed Courtesy—a figure bowing. Then came Integrity—a handshake; Humility—a child sitting in seiza; Self Control—a closed fist in an open hand; Trust—two figures sparring; Endeavor—a figure in side stance; Responsibility—a belt tied in a square knot; Cooperation—two figures stretching each other simultaneously; Justice—a dove with the Scales of Justice in its beak; Compassion—a hand reaching up and another hand reaching down to give a hand up; Creativity—an open book with blank pages.

These pillars were the Traits of the Black Belt Shoka Leader, the foundation upon which a leader stood. Tiger passed the last column and ventured into the darkness beyond.
After he had walked about fifty steps, he saw a circle of light. As he approached it, he saw a man sitting cross-legged at a table with a teapot and two cups.

“Sit, Tiger, and let us speak,” he said.

Tiger sat down as the man poured a cup of tea for both of them. The man was trim and in
excellent health, and he gave the impression of being a lot older than he looked.

“The journey of a Black Belt Shoka Leader is a long one,” the man said. “What wisdom
do you have to share with me?” Tiger thought for a moment about all of his experiences in the dojo, in his life, and with the Book of the Empty Mind.

“I have come to realize that for me to be able to receive all that I could from my journey; I had to release my mind. The first time I opened the Book of the Empty Mind I did not know
what to expect; it was new, exhilarating, and mysterious. I learned a lesson but perhaps missed its deeper meanings. As I practiced Heian Shodan as a Team Member, I just wanted to put all the moves in the right spot. When I practice Heian Shodan as an Assistant School Leader, I am still learning new things about the kata that I have performed thousands of times. Releasing my mind allows me to be able to receive whatever lesson or insight there is for me that day, because I am in a receptive state. By letting go, releasing, I can hold on to so much more that is important.”

The man picked up his cup and sipped. “Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Tiger. Your
insight will help you in your journey. You may proceed.”

“Thank you, sir,” Tiger said as he stood up. And as he did, the light faded and the man
was gone.

Tiger looked toward the Temple of the Clouds and began walking again when torches
started to rise up along the sides of the avenue. As the light grew brighter, he saw that he had walked into an area that was perfectly flat, and along the sides stood many students in karate-gis.

A powerful male voice shouted, “Kihon!”

Immediately Tiger was surrounded on all sides by dozens of karate students who lined up
along with him.

Then the voice commanded, “Yamae, make forward stance, now step-in-punch upperbody, twice middle-body. Ich, ni, san, shi, go, rok.”

Tiger kiaied at the end of each combination, as the voice put him and the other students
through the basics at a blistering pace. “Step-back rising block, reverse-punch middle-body. Ich, ni, san, shi, go, rok. Return. Step-in outside-forearm block, side-stance side-elbow strike, downward-back-fist strike. Ichi, ni, san, shi, go. Step-back, back-stance sword-hand block, frontleg front-kick, forward-stance spear-hand thrust, ichi, ni, san, shi, go.” The voice continued to take the students through their basics at a relentless pace. The students had run through all of the basics except for the last.

In front of each student there appeared a light, much like a firefly hovering in the air. The
voice said, “Punch ten times at the small moving target, and stop your fist within a quarter of an inch without hitting it.” The light jerked to the right of Tiger and stopped. “Ich.” Tiger punched and kiaied, his punch stopping a quarter inch from the target. Again the target moved, down to the center. “Ni.” Tiger punched and kiaied. Now the target shot up to the left. “San.” The target moved; “shi,” the target moved; “go.” This continued until the final time, “ju.” Tiger punched again with kime, stopped a quarter inch from the target and kiaied.

Everything turned silent as the students stood, and the lights hung in the air. “Yame,” the
voice said. Tiger returned to the ready stance. He was still flanked on all side by students. “You may proceed,” the voice said. As rapidly as they had appeared, the students shot out into the fading torch light, leaving the Temple as a beacon for Tiger to Follow.

Tiger continued on his path toward the Temple of the Clouds. He was now halfway there.
The light again arose around him, but this time he found himself in a large square. Tiger stopped and stood at the ready, waiting for his instructions. He could see hundreds of students surrounding him on the edge of the darkness.

“Kata!” this time the powerful voice was female. “Yame” Tiger stood ready. “Rei” Tiger bowed. “Heian Godan.”

“Heian Godan,” Tiger said clearly in loud, firm voice.

“Hajime!”

All of his training had come down to this day. As he performed the kata, Tiger realized
that each movement came from a place deep inside him, flowing out of him like water. When he finished the last movement he stood ready and watching for more imaginary attackers.

“Yamae,” replied the voice.

He then returned to natural stance and bowed.

“Bassai Dai!” said the voice.

“Bassai Dai!” Tiger thundered.

“Hajime!”

Tiger was still for a moment, as his surroundings melted away. He performed the first
move. In his mind he saw and heard each attacker. The fluidity and kime of his movements made his performance memorable. To all who were watching, there was no doubt that he was stopping the many imaginary opponents who were attacking him. Each technique was crisp and smooth, and his kiais were loud and powerful. When the last one rang out, it reverberated back from the adjacent peaks like an answer to his cry. He held his attention.

“Yamae,” said the voice. “Proceed.”

With that, the light faded, and Tiger walked toward the Temple. As he moved closer, he
could see the temple’s features. Carved on the beam above the open doors was a tiger enclosed in a circle—the symbol of Shotokan Karate. Below that were the carved images of the Twelve Traits of a Black Belt Shoka Leader. Tiger walked into the temple and stood in the center. As he did, a spotlight arose that highlighted the center arena.

Tiger prepared himself for what lay ahead. Another voice spoke this time, “Kumite.”

Tiger surveyed his surroundings and saw that there were again many students surrounding him.

One stepped out and walked over to face him.

“Rei,” Came the command. Tiger and this unknown opponent bowed to each other.

“Hajime” The sparring match began.

Tiger kept his mind empty, as his opponent closed the distance and attacked his head. Tiger stepped back, blocked the punch, and then front kicked to the middle-body, while stepping-in and punching to the upper-body. His kick was blocked, his punch ducked, and his
opponent countered with a side-thrust kick to Tiger’s mid-section.

Tiger moved quickly to close the distance, but his opponent moved just as quickly back. Tiger stopped as if to retreat and his opponent moved back toward him; then Tiger sprung the trap. He stepped-back and quickly stepped-forward, firing a punch to conceal the front kick he unleashed at his opponent’s mid-section: it was a solid blow. His opponent drew back, and then shot-in at Tiger. Tiger reacted smoothly, stepping to the left and blocking his opponent’s punch with an upper-level inside-forearm block. His opponent spun and Tiger stepped-in and caught him with a perfectly timed punch to his throat. Tiger’s control was excellent as the punch stopped a quarter of an inch from the target.

“Yamae,” the voice said, and Tiger moved back to his starting position.

“Bow; and step back.” Tiger bowed and backed up to the edge of the room.

Light suddenly illuminated his surroundings. Tiger now had a clear view of the platform at the front of the room. It was an open stage and as wide as the room. He could see figures
standing on the steps that led from the center arena up onto the platform. Then he heard Sensei’s voice calling him to come forward.

As he walked forward, the students who had been sitting in the darkness all stood up. When Tiger approached the stairs, he began to make out the others who were on the stage. They were the instructors he knew from the dojo, and in the center stood Sensei. A little off to the side was the Old Man who had given him the Book of the Empty Mind. Just then Tiger recognized him. It was Master Funakoshi himself. He smiled at Tiger, and Tiger smiled back.

Sensei gestured to Tiger to come join them. When Tiger reached the top step, he bowed
first to Sensei and then bowed even more deeply to Master Funakoshi. He turned around and looked back over the many Black Belt Shoka Leaders who had come out onto the floor and begun training as single group of well-coordinated teams. They were performing basics and doing what good Shoka Leaders do everywhere, demonstrating the Twelve Traits of a Black Belt Shoka Leaders: courage, courtesy, integrity, humility, self-control, trust, endeavor, responsibility, cooperation, justice, compassion, and creativity.

Tiger blinked his eyes and heard Sensei say his name, “Tiger.”

He was back in the dojo, and Sensei was at the front of the room holding a black belt and
calling his name.

He had lived this great journey in the mountains in his imagination—and for real in the
dojo. It had transformed him. He was no longer the scrawny nine-year-old kid he was when he started. Now he was thirteen, a strapping young man, a fine leader, and a force to be reckoned with. He was now a Black Belt Shoka Leader, and he was here to receive the symbol of that rank—the Black Belt.

The one thing he had learned from this journey was that it was not enough just to be a
leader; he had to be a true leader: a hero. This great journey was not just for him; it was for all the people of the world. He knew that this was not the end, but rather the beginning. He had mastered the basics, but he still had so much more to learn. Now, his great journey would take him on a spiritual quest that would result in self-mastery, not for his own benefit, but to give him the opportunity to do as much as possible for the greatest number of people.

With that, Tiger stepped forward to receive what he had worked so hard for over so many
years.