Martial Arts

TGJ: The Bridge of Responsibility by Marty Callahan

Tiger’s Great Journey Continued…

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

The reason became clear as to why Tiger and Blake had to stay on the path they were on.
There was an enormous river in front of them, blocking their path and extending as far as the eye could see in both directions. The water was running fast and deep. The boys knew that if they tried to swim across it, they would surely drown. But here was a bridge that spanned the water. They had done the right thing by staying on the path. This appeared to be the only way to leave the Plains of Endeavor and reach the Chasm of Cooperation, the next leg in their journey.

Tiger and Blake started crossing the bridge. When they were halfway across, they suddenly stopped. A section of the bridge was missing. One of the supporting beams had broken off, and the planks were missing. The remaining beam extended to the other side. Tiger and Blake looked down at the rushing water below and then looked at each other. They wonder whether they would be able to cross the remaining beam. But it was the only way to the other side.

Tiger thought back to the day when he first asked his parents if he could take karate. They wanted him to be more responsible. They said they needed him to do his chores and his homework, practice, and go to class without complaining. And Sensei had said that responsibility was “the ability to respond” or to act in the way the situation required. Tiger had promised his parents that he would be responsible. So he asked himself now how best to respond. What skills did this situation require?

He knew the answer to his own question: balance.

Tiger remembered Sensei telling the class that karate required great balance and control. He had said that balance was a key ingredient for any endeavor to succeed, and that great balance was the balance of mind, body, and spirit.

Sensei said, “To balance your mind requires you to empty it of all negative thoughts and emotions and see clearly what you want to do and how you are going to do it.”

“To balance your body requires you to take all the necessary steps that are needed to prepare your body for the endeavor.”

“And to balance your spirit,” Sensei had said, “it is necessary to get your emotions in balance and to reaffirm your commitment to carry out your plan.”

While looking down at the rushing water far below, Tiger again heard in his head the voice of the Old Man who had given him the Book of the Empty Mind. He still didn’t know who this old man was, but he knew that what he said was important. “Empty your mind of all
negative thoughts and emotions,” the voice said to him now. “See only what you want to have happen. Prepare yourself and bolster your spirit.”

Tiger turned and said to Blake, “I know what we have to do. In our minds, we must block out the river and what could happen if we fell in. The log is what’s important, not what could happen. We have walked on many logs that were on the ground and never fallen off. This log is just another log on the ground to walk across. Blake, do you know the story of the Boastful Champion?”

Blake said he hadn’t.

Tiger said, “There was a young, boastful archer who could not calm his mind. He challenged an old master to an archery contest and made two incredible shots. The old master then brought him up to a mountaintop, walked out onto a shaky log over a deep canyon, and made a clean shot by hitting a tree on the other side of the ravine. The young man, who thought he was the better archer, couldn’t calm himself enough to do the same. We have to calm our minds and be at peace inside. Then we will have the balance we need to cross.”

“Ok,” Blake agreed. “What’s your plan, Tiger?”

Tiger then described how he would go first, because he had better balance. But just in case, the rope would be tied to Tiger’s waist and anchored to the bridge. If he fell, the two of them could work together to get Tiger back up. Blake was strong and could hoist Tiger up, and Tiger could climb the rope and pull himself back up. He’d done it many times in the past when climbing into his cousin’s tree house. Then when Tiger got across the bridge, he would anchor the rope and Blake would cross.

Tiger proceeded carefully, placing one foot in front of the other. He heard the rushing water below but was not distracted by it. As he reached the middle of the log, a gust of wind picked up. He clenched the log with his feet and bent his knees and just barely avoided being tossed into the rushing water far below. He continued on, and when he was a few feet from the other side, he saw that the log was wet and mossy. Just as he noticed this, his foot slipped, and he fell down into the river below.

Now came the moment of truth: Would the rope hold? It did! Tiger’s fall was stopped.
He swung from the end of the rope about fifteen feet under the bridge. Both boys went into
action. Blake lay on his stomach and began to pull Tiger up. Meanwhile, Tiger climbed up the rope using his hands and feet. It was not easy, but together they made progress. Tiger got close enough to grab the bridge post and, with Blake’s help, pulled himself back onto the bridge.

They both rested for another try. When it was time to start again, Tiger decided that the safer way was to shimmy across the log rather than walk.

Tiger lowered himself down onto the beam and slowly inched his way along. In a few minutes he got across the broken part of the bridge and stood up. He then found a good place to anchor the rope and tied it off. Now it was Blake’s turn. He looked scared. Tiger knew that he was responsible for his friend. He brought him along on this journey and didn’t want anything bad to happen to him.

“I’ll catch you, Blake, if you fall—just like you caught me.”

Blake took his first step onto the log and started to lose his balance. He caught himself and stepped back onto the safe part of the bridge. He looked at Tiger.

“Blake, why don’t you shimmy across like I just did?” Tiger suggested.

Blake didn’t want to do this, because he thought it was the coward’s way out. Tiger knew his friend well and figured that this was what he was thinking.

“Blake, be humble. Admit that you have weaknesses. I’m not going to think any less of you.”

Blake looked over at Tiger. He realized that his friend was right, that he could trust him with his weaknesses. He also knew that this was an important part of teamwork—to be honest with each other about what you can and cannot do. Only then could the team function well. Without saying a word, Blake sat down on the log and easily shimmied his way across.

When he got to the other side, he pulled himself off the log, smiled, and said, “That was easy.”

They high-fived each other and whooped with joy.

They continued across the remaining portion of the bridge. It was a lot longer than it appeared, but they finally approached the far bank of the river where the bridge came to an end.

Looking ahead they saw that the trail entered a large, deep, U-shaped valley that traveled up and away from the river.

Tiger felt good. He had a better understanding of what it meant to be responsible. He knew that Blake had depended on him to get across the bridge, and he had depended on Blake.

He took out the map and saw the word RESPONSIBILITY with the image of a belt tied in a square knot. He had expected to see something. He just didn’t know what. Taking care of your uniform and making sure that your belt was tied correctly was one of the first
responsibilities of a Black Belt Shoka Leader.

It started to get dark. The two boys were exhausted, but they found a good spot to camp, set up their tent, and crawled inside. They ate a little of what was left of their food and fell asleep happy that they were another day closer to their goal.


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.