Valuable Lessons From the Karate Kid Movie Series
I guess everyone must be familiar with the storyline of the Karate Kid movies: The underdog struggling to deal with his bewildering new circumstances, facing multiple challenges, falling in love, gaining the support of his wise mentor, overcoming his fear, facing hate and violence head-on, growing his awareness and learning serious life lessons. Well, that's one perspective. The other perspective is that this series of movies is formulaic and cheesy bad. Well, I say it's cheesy good, and I'm a corny guy who likes sappy love ballads and love stories and inspiring stories in which the underdog wins. The Karate Kid offers valuable lessons in a package of simple storylines, action, and pretty good drama. I put forward here that the lessons taught in the Karate Kid series offer some things of deep value. Here we will explore the issues ventured and resolved in the Karate Kid stories.
The story's protagonist, Daniel LaRusso, has been moved to a new city by his mother and he immediately runs into trouble from the very beginning. Already bewildered by the adjustment to new circumstances, he runs into the local bullies. They, of course, torture and brutalize him. Meantime, his love interest is dating one of the bullies, only because the bully is favored by her rich parents. Daniel is not only the new guy and abused, he falls victim to class discrimination; Daniel is not Ali's parents' first choice for potential son-in-law. The bullies continue to terrorize Daniel, until the unassuming, Okinawan handyman at his apartments jumps to his rescue: Quite literally. The bullies chase Daniel all the way from a school Halloween dance party to his apartments and trap him at the fence. Handyman, Mr. Miyagi, climbs atop the fence and leaps into the scuffle, dropping every last one of the tormentors with expert Karate moves only a well-trained master could execute. Miyagi takes Daniel to his room and nurses him to health. Upon Daniel's pleas, Miyagi agrees to teach him Karate to handle his abusers.
See also, an exploration of the fear of loss in the movie Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
It comes down to Daniel facing the bullies at a local Karate tournament. One of the bullies, upon the request of his instructor, intentionally injures Daniel's knee, putting him out of commission and out of the tournament. In the locker room, Daniel again pleads with Miyagi, this time to fix his bad knee, with Miyagi's healing skills. Daniel reveals that he will have no peace with the bullies, with Ali, with anyone or anything including himself unless he can face this challenge. Initially, Miyagi feels that what Daniel had already done was enough, he had faced the bullies, overcame obstacles, and gave his heart to it. But he hears Daniel and understands his pleas; he fixes Daniel's leg and Daniel limps back out to the tournament floor to settle the issue with his tormentor.
In the sequel, Daniel and Miyagi venture to the mentor's homeland of Okinawa to see Miyagi's dying father. There, the pair are met by Miyagi's old nemesis Sato who holds a deep and abiding grudge against Miyagi for having "stolen" his girlfriend. Sato and Miyagi are both masters of Karate trained by the same man, Miyagi's father. Sato is determined to settle this feud with a fight to the death, his anger and hate totally overcoming him. Meantime, Sato's sadistic nephew harasses Daniel and his brand-new Okinawan love interest, Kumiko. Miyagi is also reunited with his old flame, Yuki. In the middle of a typhoon, Sato's Dojo is destroyed and he is trapped in the rubble; Miyagi and Daniel rescue him and bring him to a shelter where Daniel, Kumiko, Yuki, Miyagi, and villagers had taken refuge. Outside, a girl is trapped atop a tall structure in the storm. Daniel goes to the girl's rescue, and Sato's nephew, in spite of Sato's request for him to help Daniel rescue the girl, shows his underlying cowardice and unreasonable hate, and remains in the shelter, refusing to help Daniel and the girl. Meantime, Sato, touched with great feeling by Daniel and Miyagi's compassion, rushes to help the girl and Daniel. Returning to the shelter, Sato's nephew is furious and still overcome with fear. Sato, cleansed by the experience of care and compassion which he, Daniel, and Miyagi shared tells his nephew that he had been wrong, that it is wrong to hate.
One underlying current of all of these movies is the problem of violence. One rather poignant scene in "The Next Karate Kid", with Pat Morita returning as Mr. Miyagi and also starring Hilary Swank as Julie, the protagonist (Julie) takes up training at a Buddhist temple. While there, Julie scoffs at the extreme measures the monks take to avoid violence, calling their practice of avoiding killing even pesky bugs "stupid". Miyagi passionately chastises her for belittling the monks' avoidance of harm and violence. He says to Julie that it is stupid when nations go to war with each other, that it is stupid when street gangs kill each other, but having respect for all life is not stupid. The scene shows Miyagi's deep and passionate reverence for life and Julie's awakening to the true meaning of her training.
With great and well-developed characters, the viewer cannot help but be drawn into the protagonist's (whether Daniel from the original Karate Kid, Julie from The Next Karate Kid, or Dre, from the 2010 remake) plight and Miyagi's wisdom and care. At the same time, the movies explore and reveal deeper issues that everyone deals with and to which we all can relate. Cheesy musical montages aside, the movies offer up valuable lessons about deep issues common to all of us.