It’s long been a complaint of serious martial artists that the film industry presents a distorted view of the arts. By capitalizing on flamboyant aspects and then pushing them to the bizarre, moviemakers give the public little chance to learn what the arts are really about. In most cases, the true purpose of budo is either glossed over or simply absent. A welcome change came in 1984 with the release of The Karate Kid.
Not only was the movie a box-office smash, but it also was a big hit among the proponents of budo. In addition to doing much to educate the public, it was directly responsible for many people signing up for martial arts lessons.
Enter the Karate Kid Sequel
Martial artists were in for another treat in 1986 with the release of The Karate Kid Part II. In some ways, this movie surpassed the first one because sport karate — which the public had long mistaken for real karate — was entirely absent. Full play was given to the traditional values of self-discipline, kindness and understanding. Not only was the second film a financial success, but many instructors also noted another surge in enrollment.
The usefulness of the first two Karate Kid movies goes far beyond what’s been pointed out thus far. Appropriate references to the films during karate class can have a big impact on student attention, learning and even retention. The movies actually contain nothing new to the martial arts, but what they present is in such dynamic form that students can relate to it, and believe it, much more than if an instructor just talks philosophically.
Karate Kid Recap
Let’s begin with a synopsis of the films since there are people who missed one or both of them. In The Karate Kid, we see the trials and tribulations of a high-school boy named Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) as he moves to a different state and tries to adjust. His major trouble is with Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), student leader of the Cobra Kai, a group of sport-karate students whose teacher has a win-at-any-cost attitude.
Daniel is befriended by an older master named Miyagi (Pat Morita), who not only trains Daniel in the physical side of karate but also shows him the real purpose of the martial art.
In The Karate Kid Part II, Daniel goes to Okinawa with Miyagi, who returns to his homeland to visit his dying father. After a 40-year absence, Miyagi also must face the consequences of his youthful action of speaking out against marriage by arrangement. He had wanted to marry Yukie, but she had been promised to Sato, his best friend and fellow karate student.
Because of Miyagi’s public outburst, Sato had felt dishonored. A fight to the death was averted only by Miyagi’s departure for the United States. On his return, Miyagi is challenged by Sato.
A conflict also develops between Daniel and Sato’s best student Chozen. The plot centers on how Miyagi and Daniel deal with these problems as followers of budo philosophy.
Let’s now examine the concepts that give the two movies their lasting significance.
Reasons for Studying Karate
People take up the study of martial arts for self-defense, self-improvement, exercise or any of a hundred reasons, all of which may be positive. But Daniel has a reason that is at least questionable — to get even for the beatings he’s taken from Cobra Kai students. When he asks Miyagi to teach him karate so he can avenge himself, the latter explains that fighting should be used only as a last resort. This confuses Daniel, who believes karate and fighting are one and the same.
When he asks Miyagi why he trains if not to learn how to fight, Miyagi says, “So I won’t have to fight.” A smile comes over the old man’s face as he realizes that Daniel is starting to see what karate is all about.
Importance of Belt Ranks
Beginners in the martial arts often ask about the rank held by their instructor. They tend to be disappointed if he or she is only a first-degree black belt but impressed if the teacher holds a higher rank. Novices seldom realize that there’s no uniformity in ranking from one organization to another. They’re usually confused and sometimes dismayed when told that there are no legal restrictions on ranking and that anyone can declare himself a 10th-degree grandmaster and distribute belts as he chooses.
True to form, Daniel asks Miyagi about his rank. Miyagi explains that karate comes from the head and the heart, not belt rank. Daniel’s understanding is still superficial at this point, but at least he’s …
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