TGJ: A Lack of Control by Marty Callahan

Tiger’s Great Journey Continued…

An Adventure Story for Youth Who Want to Change the World

Many different kids were attracted to karate, including rowdy kids who didn’t pay
attention, who thrashed their arms and legs, and who wouldn’t keep quiet. They posed a major problem for their parents, because they did not obey rules at home and they were constantly getting into trouble at school. Some of these students had even been expelled from their schools. Their concerned parents enrolled them at Shotokan Karate Leadership School, because they needed to learn Self-Control and their parents had heard this school was particularly good at teaching it.

Over the years, Sensei had learned that children who were attracted to Shotokan Karate
Leadership Schools fell into two broad categories: those who needed to develop confidence and those who needed to develop self-control. He had also learned to separate these two groups, putting the kids who needed to learn confidence together in their own class. He had found that the kids lacking confidence would often get pushed aside by the more aggressive kids, so to give them a better chance, he kept them by themselves until their self-confidence grew. He also knew that the aggressive kids needed a strict training regimen, one that would frighten the shy kids and even the parents of the shy kids. To Sensei they were all good kids; they just needed different methods to help them thrive.

Sensei had also learned about a long-term study that found that children who scored low
on measures of self-control (even at the early age of three) were more likely to have health
problems, substance-abuse issues, financial troubles, and a criminal record by the time they
reached age thirty-two. These were alarming statistics, and Sensei wanted to do all he could to help these students prevent a bad future.

To learn self-control, students were required to sit perfectly still in seiza, to stop their
punches within an inch of hitting a hard surface, and to move slowly but smoothly. They were also taught to walk a straight line, introduce themselves to adults, and hold eye contact for two minutes. But perhaps the most important way they learned self-control was by controlling their breath.

Tragic stories were also used to instill this trait. One story was about a young man in his
early twenties who became enraged over not getting his way, so he jumped in his car and drove off at a high speed. He drove straight through a major intersection and killed a four-year-old child who was crossing the street with his family. The child’s mother saw the car coming and screamed at her son to stop, but he didn’t. The car plowed right into him, killed him instantly. It could be argued that there were two people who were out of control in this tragedy: the young man who was driving and the child who didn’t stop when his mother told him to.

This story and others like it had a big impact on these students. They came to understand
that their behavior could cause grave harm to others. They also began to realize that their parents new more than they did, and that they would be smart to listen to them.

Self-control, Sensei explained, meant to be in control of your mind, body, and spirit.
Controlling your mind meant learning to empty it of negative thoughts and emotions and to focus it on the task at hand. Controlling your body meant knowing what your arms, legs, and all other body parts were doing at all times. And controlling your spirit meant not allowing your spirit to drop or get too high.

Sensei frequently said, “Control yourself, or someone else will control you.” He would
demonstrate this by taking control of a student and pinning him to the ground in such a way that the student could not get up, no matter how hard he tried. Then Sensei would ask him if he liked this. The student, of course, would say no. Sensei would reply, “Well, let this be a lesson for you.” The out-of-control kids would eventually get it, but often the message would have to be repeated several times.

Sensei believed that in some ways kids were like horses. There’s a Zen saying that states
that there are four types of horses. The first type of horse, when asked to run, will run. The
second type of horse, when shown the whip, will run. With the third type of horse, you have to crack the whip in the air to get it to run. And with the fourth type of horse, in order for it to run, you have to beat it with the whip.

Children are like this, too. Some kids will do whatever you ask them to do, as soon as
you ask them to do it. Other kids have to be told that there are consequences if they don’t do
what you ask. Some children have to be threatened with the consequences. And with other kids, you have to impose the consequences before they will do what is asked of them.

The self-control training went on day after day. The students wanted boundaries and
limitations. They just didn’t know how to do this for themselves, and their parents didn’t know how to help them with it. Despite the apparent harsh training methods, the results were encouraging. One formerly out-of-control child summed it up when he went over to Sensei, hugged him, and said, “Sensei, I love you, and I want to be just like you when I grow up.”


From the ridge, Tiger and Blake looked down and studied the terrain. They decided to
follow the course that would take them to where the mountainside leveled off into a broad, green meadow crossed by a winding stream. They started down eagerly. After hiking for so long in the mountains, they looked forward to taking a rest in the long grass.

Before long, they discovered a spring that bubbled up from the rocks and drank the cold,
clear water. “Let’s follow the stream,” Tiger said. Blake nodded. As Tiger continued down the flank of the mountain, he took in the beauty of the scene and thought about all he had learned on the journey and how much stronger he’d become. The creek the boys followed grew wider and deeper as smaller streams flowed into it. They watched it become a true river. Then they saw it disappear.

Rounding a bend, Tiger and Blake could see that the river vanished over a falls. They
walked cautiously to the edge and gazed over. Both gasped. The water threw up a great spray as it fell a scary distance into a pool that emptied into the meadow they’d seen from the ridge. Tiger could tell from the dark-blue color of the water that the pool was deep. He looked for a route that he and Blake might use to climb down the falls. But the rock face was slick and covered with moss—it would be a disaster to try to climb down.

“We’ve got to jump,” Tiger told Blake. Instantly, Blake’s head shook as though his hair
was on fire.

“No way!” he shouted. “We’ll hit rock on the way down. We’ll drown!” Blake’s face
turned red with panic as he gulped for air.

Tiger placed a hand on his shoulder. “Blake,” he said calmly, “we’re going to be OK.
We’re going to hold hands and jump out, away from the rock. We’ll stay vertical and hit the
water feet-first. Then we’ll swim up to the surface and ride the flow into the stream and right out into the meadow. But first, we have to control our breathing and our fear. Let’s take a deep breath, in our noses and out our mouths.”

Blake’s first breath was choppy, but his second was deeper and smoother. His third was
even better. Tiger could see that he was calming down.

The deep breathing was helping Tiger, too. He knew he was strong and athletic enough to
make the jump, but the idea of stepping off the edge and freefalling had made him jittery.

He recalled all the times Sensei told him that proper, even breathing was important for
control of his emotions and body. He remembered Sensei relating a story about the time when Miguel, one of the adult Black Belt Shoka Leaders who worked on a construction crew, was in a ten-foot-deep trench fixing a large pipe. One of the massive iron plates that held up the walls fell directly on him, pinning him face first in the dirt. Miguel couldn’t breathe. His body had instinctively tensed as a resistance to force. His fellow workers saw this and thought that the plate must have killed him. Then Miguel remembered what he had heard Sensei say many times in class, “Breath from your center.” He focused his breathing in an area of his body about three inches below his navel and took a breath. Meanwhile, his fellow workers scrabbled to get the iron plate off of him. It took about five minutes for them to do this, which must have felt like an eternity. To this day, Miguel swears that his breathing is what got him through. If it weren’t for his Shotokan Karate training, he would have perished.

As Tiger and Blake stood there on the edge of the waterfall, Tiger made sure he was
breathing in deeply and breathing out smoothly and evenly.

“Ready?” he asked Blake.

No longer panting and red-faced, Blake answered, “Whenever you are.”

“Good,” Tiger said, taking hold of Blake’s hand. “Take one more deep breath, hold it,
and when I give you a nod, jump.”

Both boys inhaled deeply. When their lungs were full, Tiger nodded.

As they jumped, neither boy screamed. Holding hands and holding their arms out to their
sides for balance, they remained in a fully standing position with their toes pointed downward until they sliced into the pool. They let go of each other as they plunged into the cold water; then both kicked their legs and rose quickly to the surface.

“Whoa! That was great!” Tiger shouted, after taking a big breath. “Pretty cool what a
little controlled breathing lets you do.”

Blake gazed up at the towering waterfall and remembered how afraid he’d been. Then he
said simply, “Awesome!”

The boys swam to where the pool emptied into a wide stream. As exciting as the jump
was, both looked forward to spending some time stretched out on the warm grass of the meadow.

After they had rested and dried off, Tiger pulled out the map. It didn’t surprise him to see
another image on it. This time it was a fist enclosed in another hand and the words SELFCONTROL.


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.