TGJ: Something Out of Nothing by Marty Callahan
Tiger’s Great Journey Continued…
An Adventure Story for Youth Who Want to Make the World a Better Place
Tiger sat quietly on the bench waiting for training to begin. He was observing the class
that was in session and watching how Sensei worked with the different students. Tiger’s next rank was Assistant School Leader I; a few months ago, he had reached the level of Assistant School Leader II. To proceed, he would need to demonstrate the Black Belt Shoka Leadership Trait of Creativity.
Creativity, Tiger had come to understand, was used when he faced opponents and got to
decide what would be the best way to defend himself when they attacked. Creativity was used in writing stories and in making those stories more interesting. Creativity was also vital to motivating students and keeping them engaged and interested in their training; for example, new drills and games improved students’ skills and got them thinking about how to be a Black Belt Shoka Leader. Leadership, Tiger realized, took creative thinking.
Kai, the Class Leader for this class, called the students to line up. The five teams that
were training assembled on the floor, and the team leaders performed their inspections. When they were ready, Kai knocked on Sensei’s door. It was Kai’s responsibility as the Class Leader to call the students to order, have them assemble in teams, have the team leaders perform inspections, and when all that was done to alert Sensei to the fact that the students were ready. Sometimes Sensei was there watching all of this happen, but on this day he had used the time to finish some paperwork in his office.
A moment later, Sensei came out and walked over to the center of the training floor facing the students. Kai gave the command to turn, face the guests, and bow. This was a practice
that had only been started a few years before but had made a big impact on the school. The
guests were primarily the parents or relatives of the students who were training in the classes, and the bowing was a constant reminder to those students to respect their parents. It also served to have the guests be more respectful while the class was going on. Sensei then turned and sat down in seiza, facing the front of the room. Kai gave the command “seiza,” and all the students sat down, more or less, at the same time.
After the bow-in ceremony, Sensei called the students to their feet. Kai stepped forward and faced Sensei. They bowed, and Sensei walked off the floor. Kai moved to the front of the room to begin the warm-up exercises. The students spread out and arranged themselves by
teams. Tiger was senior to Kai and was practicing in the class, but Kai was the Class Leader for this class, so he was the one leading.
Kai began by giving the command: “over to your right side.” The students moved through the warm-up exercises with intention, and when they were finished, Sensei came back
out. He and Kai bowed to each other, and then Kai stepped back.
Sensei began by asking the students if they had checked the Great Journey to Ryoku Mountain Adventure Map to see where they were and what they needed to do to reach their next level. Most of the students had remembered to do that, but a few hadn’t. Sensei then asked Kai to have the teams look at the Adventure Map, discuss their goals, and start working on the skills they needed.
Tiger was teamed up with Hiro, Charlie, and Mason. The team talked about what they
needed to learn and decided that it would be best for Tiger and Hiro to pair up, and for Charlie and Mason to pair up. The students agreed to work for ten minutes in pairs, then demonstrate to each other what they had worked on, and critique each other’s performances.
Tiger needed to work on creativity, and one of his requirements was to tell a story and lead a discussion about teamwork. Hiro also needed to work on storytelling, but he needed to tell
the story of the Shotokan Karate Leadership Schools to a group of ten students. Tiger had decided that he would tell a story based on his adventure when they were climbing the giant
staircase and had to create a plan and team up to get through the challenge. Hiro and Tiger began by discussing their ideas.
Tiger said, “I’m going to tell a story about a group that has to climb a series of rock faces to achieve their goal. They will need to create a plan to get all of their members to the top. It will require them to work together.”
“And I’m going to review the story of Shotokan Karate Leadership Schools, because I have to tell it in class today,” said Hiro.
The two boys went to work. After a few minutes, Sensei called the class together and asked for the students to sit in a semi-circle. Then he called on Jennifer, an Assistant Class Leader. Jennifer had chosen to work on the class commands requirement. She would have to be
able to give those commands before she could become a Class Leader.
Jennifer gave the commands, and then Sensei asked her if she could tell the students what the difference was between criticism and a critique.
She told them, “Criticism is used to hurt you, while a critique is a way to point out to you
“Correct, Jennifer,” said Sensei, who had asked Jennifer this question, because she was overly sensitive when anyone said anything to her about her weaknesses.
“Now, Jennifer, I would like Kai, our Class Leader, to critique your performance of the class commands. Is that okay?”
Jennifer hesitated for a moment, and then answered, “Osu.”
“Good,” replied Sensei.
Sensei had a soft spot in his heart for kids with physical and interpersonal challenges. Having experienced this with his own family, he knew firsthand how difficult these challenges can be to a child, especially when that child didn’t have the adult support that they needed. From when he first began training others in karate, Sensei saw it as a way to empower kids to overcome the challenges they faced in their life.
Kai stood up and told Jennifer that she got all the commands right but that her voice was
a little weak.
Jennifer looked at Kai and responded again with a low but powerful, “Osu.”
Kai smiled and Sensei replied, “Great, Jennifer, you’re going to be a fine leader
“Thank you, Sensei,” replied Jennifer.
Now it was Hiro’s turn. He stood up and looked at the class. He felt himself starting to become nervous so he stood straight and tall and made sure his weight was evenly balanced on both legs and that his feet were in firm contact with the floor. He looked around the room at the other students and found a friendly face in Tiger. He looked at him, took a breath, and began to speak.
“The Story of Shotokan Karate Leadership Schools begins with a man named Gichin Funakoshi. Funakoshi was born in the mid-nineteenth century in Okinawa. He was a sickly child who was not expected to live long. His family was very poor. His parents started him training in karate at an early age, because they believed that it would strengthen him. When he grew up, he became a school teacher and taught elementary school in the backwoods of Okinawa, a third world country at the time.” Hiro paused briefly when a young child, who was in the dojo with his mother, started to fuss.
“Not only did karate training strengthen him, but it inspired him. He felt empowered by his training and wanted to share this with other people. He had a dream. His dream was to see
karate practiced by people all around the world. So he devoted the rest of his life making this a reality.
“Before Funakoshi, karate was practiced in secret with its principles, techniques, and essence passed down from teacher to student by word of mouth. In the pursuit of his dream,
Funakoshi organized karate’s techniques and training methods into a written system, and
established an organizational structure and instructor training program that spread karate around the world.”
Hiro was feeling good about how he was doing. He had memorized this story and spent a
lot of time rehearsing.
He continued, “Where others taught martial arts with the emphasis on fighting, Funakoshi
emphasized karate’s spiritual essence and the refinement of character. Having been a school
teacher, scholar of Chinese classics, calligrapher, and poet, Funakoshi encouraged study and the practice of the more genteel arts to balance karate. His dream, and the strength and refinement of his character, drew people to him; once drawn, he engaged them in his mission and energized them to take action. Shotokan Karate stands out, because Gichin Funakoshi was a leader of the highest order.
“Early in his training, the founder of Shotokan Karate Leadership Schools, Marty Callahan, recognized karate’s potential to change ordinary people into leaders. He began taking karate, because he wanted to learn how to fight. But, after becoming good at it, he realized that if he used a little bit of common sense, he probably wouldn’t have to fight. And he realized that he was changing as a person. People were looking to him for guidance in ways that had never happened before. From this experience, he concluded that the major contribution the martial arts could make in our day and age was to transform the person who practiced karate into someone greater than who they are, and inspire them to change their world as Gichin Funakoshi had.
“This is how Shotokan Karate Leadership Schools got started.”
When Hiro had finished, the students burst into applause. Sensei congratulated Hiro on doing such a nice job and then shifted the conversation to the topic of kata. He began with a
“When you practice kata, do you see the attackers?” Several students raised their hands, but Sensei signaled for them to wait. “If you answered yes, you are at the beginning of a wonderful experience. If you answered no, then perhaps you should look more deeply into the practice of kata. I would like you each to tell me why kata is so important to our training.”
Hands shot up.
Charlie said, “It’s fun.”
“Good exercise,” Stacy added.
Greg ventured, “I think it’s hard.” The younger kids giggled.
Sensei said, “It can be hard, hard to learn some of the moves, hard work. But why do we
“Coordination and timing,” Hiro said.
“To learn how to use our techniques in motion,” Tiger responded.
“What about creativity? Our ability to create is our most important asset. We learn how to be creative from practicing kata,” Sensei continued. “What else do we learn from kata?”
Stacy answered, “It exposes our weaknesses and strengths.”
Anna added, “It can be relaxing, or a really tough work out.”
Sensei smiled. “Kata is what you make of it. If you allow yourself, kata can be an adventure, a battle against many opponents, a meditation, or a story. The possibilities are infinitely variable.
“And in the past, there were two branches of karate: shorin and shorei. The shorin branch
was typified by light, quick movements, and the shorei branch was typified by heavy, powerful movements.”
Sensei continued, “Each person has a body type which lends itself to one of the branches. Solid, powerful people are more suited to shorei style, and slender, quick people to the shorin style. Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate, had the good fortune to have both a shorin instructor and a shorei instructor. But after practicing with both of them, he came to the belief that both styles should be together as one. He reasoned that a small, light person would benefit from practicing movements designed for someone who was heavy and powerful. And that a heavy, powerful person would benefit from practicing movements designed for someone who was light and quick. And this is what he did in creating the Shotokan style of “karate”.
Sensei looked around at the students. “Alex, you are a brown belt now, and it is time for me to assign you your personal kata. What type of kata do you think would suit you best?”
Alex thought for a moment. “I think I am a combination of the two types, shorin and shorei, but I think I am more shorin.”
Sensei nodded, “Yes, I agree. There are three shorin kata that we will choose from, Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai, or Empi. Have you been shown all of these?”
“Yes, I really liked Empi,” he replied.
Sensei took a moment to consider and then replied, “Well, I believe that Bassai Dai would be a better fit for you. Let’s have you begin with Bassai Dai as your personal kata. In six months we’ll see how you’re doing with it, and if we need to make a change we will, alright?”
Alex said, “Osu.”
Sensei looked at Hiro now. “What type of kata do you think would work for you, Hiro?”
Hiro spoke without hesitation, “I would be shorei, because I am solid and powerful.”
“That’s right. Jion is the shorei kata that will be a good fit for you,” Sensei said. “Now, spread out and start practicing your katas.”
The class went to work.
A few days later, Tiger was standing before a group of students. Since he was working on attaining the Assistant School Leader I rank, he was required to create a lesson plan and then teach it to three different three-person teams. There were nine students in class this day, so Tiger had everyone he needed. They listened attentively as he spoke.
“Today we will be working on two different combinations. The purpose is to understand
how to connect the basic techniques together. One combination will be an attack combination, and the other will be a defense combination. When we finish practicing the combinations separately, we’ll practice applying them one against the other. This is how you will learn how to use the combinations.”
In his study of creativity, Tiger had learned that human beings had the miraculous ability
to create something out of nothing. We could be faced with a problem, and, from nothing, create a solution to that problem. In this case, Tiger was confronted with the problem of how to teach three teams to use a complex sequence of basic techniques. He had taken several techniques and put them together in an attack sequence and then created a corresponding sequence of techniques for a defender to use to stop these attacks. And he had done this out of nothing. He had imagined it all in his mind and put it down in a lesson plan that he was now going to present to this class. He could hardly stop marveling at the miracle of this.
“Charles, Rex, and Cash, you will be the first team performing this exercise. Bella,
Angelina, and Kameron, you will be the second team. And Sammie, Kabir, and Maxwell, you
will be the third team. First, spread out and we’ll practice the combinations.”
Tiger started with the first combination. He explained the movements, demonstrated them, and then counted as the students performed. As he was did this, he walked around correcting mistakes and fixing techniques.
When he had the sense that the students could do the techniques properly, he then explained the rhythm of the combination and reminded them that rhythm will make the
combination flow easily from one technique to the next.
Tiger observed the students working. He saw that some of them were being lazy. After a few moments, Tiger spoke, “I see that some of you are not taking this very seriously. This is not
the way to practice. You must make an effort to give every moment your complete attention.”
Tiger realized that he was beginning to sound a lot like Sensei.
“Look around you. What do you see?” Tiger said rhetorically.
“You are three teams. As a team, the team members have to work together or you won’t be successful. Together your three teams make up a class. For the class to be successful, the teams have to work together. And this class is only one of many classes that make up the school. So, for the school to be successful, the classes must work together. Does this make sense?”
“Osu,” replied the students.
Tiger knew that this would be a good time to review the importance of teamwork, so he directed the teams to briefly discuss what it takes for a team to work together effectively.
The students held their discussions; after a few minutes, Tiger called them back.
“People need to have a common purpose,” said Charles, the spokesperson for the first
“Open communication,” said Angelina for the second team.
“The team members need to have a strong bond,” said Kabir, the Team Leader for the third team.
“Tell us more about that, Kabir,” said Tiger.
“People who understand and respect each other will work together better than people who don’t.”
“That makes sense,” said Tiger. “Thank you for that, Kabir. So, we must first work together as teams, then as a class, and finally as a school. This is how we become leaders, and not just any kind of leaders, but extraordinary leaders. This is what it means to be a Black Belt
With that, Tiger brought the class back to practicing the combinations. The teams were ready to perform the first combination at full speed. Tiger explained that this meant going all out but still executing the techniques with precision and rhythm.
He counted in a powerful voice. “Ich, ni, san, shi, go, rok, shich, hach, ku, and ju.” And with the final count, the class kiaied with unmistakable power.
Tiger then took the teams through the second combination in the same way. When they were finished, he brought them together facing each other. Because there was a single attack combination and a single defense combination, and the teams consisted of three people, one of the team members observed while the other two practiced. After practicing back and forth for a few minutes, a lively discussion was held about what was being done and how to do it better. When the discussion was complete, one of the team members stepped out and the observer stepped in to practice. In this way the team members kept rotating in and out—first participating and then observing.
Tiger was pleased to see how the students were working together.
“You’re looking good,” Tiger told them.
“Osu!” responded the teams.
When they were ready, Tiger took them through the drill, letting one side attack ten times and then the other and then the observer.
When it was over, Sensei, who had been observing from the side, stepped forward. Tiger turned towards him and stopped.
“Very nicely done, Tiger, thank you,” said Sensei.
With that, they bowed to each other, and Tiger stepped back, feeling good about the lesson he had just presented to the class.
“You’ve heard me say many times: ‘Practice the basics.’ Why?” asked Sensei rhetorically. “Because the basics set a foundation for all that you do. Just like a bicycle must have wheels or a house must be built on solid ground, our techniques must come from a place of strength, beginning with a firm connection to the ground.
“As a white belt, one of the first things we learn is to stand in place with our feet firmly on the ground. Then we learn to stand in a forward stance or a side stance, both of which require us to root ourselves to the floor. These exercises are intended to help us become strong, develop balance, and remind us of our connection to the ground. This is the foundation for our technique.”
“When we start learning the first kata, Heian Shodan, we are practicing basics. For example, the first movement is a down block in forward stance. The seventh movement is a rising block in forward stance. And the eighteenth movement is a sword-hand block in back stance. From a technical perspective, katas are basics combined in a sequence. At first we are unsteady, but as we practice, we get better and can do more complex sequences of movements.”
Sensei knew that he was giving a lot of information, so to help keep the students’
attention, he moved slowly from right to left in front of the teams, making eye contact with each student.
“Using your hips is another important skill that you learn as you practice basics. Vibration is the quick, sharp movement of the hips forward and back. Rotation is the forward and back turning of the hips. And thrusting is using the legs to drive the hips forward, back, or to the
side. When you add to this kime—the full contraction of all the muscles of your body—you will feel a flow of energy from head to toe. This will give you an enormous power that you must learn how to control. While working your way up to the rank of Black Belt Shoka Leader, orFirst-Degree Black Belt, mastering the basics is what you must focus on. First-Degree Black Belt means that you have mastered the basics, and that you are now ready to learn advanced material.
“Be mindful, there is no point when you know it all. Your own personal journey has no end point. There are a thousand lessons in a simple punch, which is perhaps not so simple after all.”
“Now, at this point in your great journey, you need to renew your resolve to become a Black Belt Shoka Leader. Take a moment to review your target date and discuss it with your Assistant School Leader or School Leader. Listen to what your leaders have to say. Their insight will help you on your path.
“And lastly, make a training plan and remember to master the basics.”
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 over 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.