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3 Life Lessons from "The Karate Kid" and Mr. Miyagi

Wax on. Wax off. It's an 80's icon. It spawned an awesome trilogy, a spin-off movie, and a continuation series "Cobra Kai" now on Netflix with season 4 coming soon.

"The Karate Kid," released in 1984, is a story about two characters. The first is a teenage boy named Daniel who moves clear across the country from New Jersey to California. In his new school, Daniel has trouble making friends being bullied by a group of kids from the same karate dojo, the Cobra Kais. The second character is a handyman martial arts master named Mr. Miyagi who agrees to teach Karate to Daniel. While teaching Karate, Miyagi demonstrates that there is more to the martial art than fighting. He taught Daniel three concepts for better living: perception, commitment, and balance.

When Miyagi agrees to teach Daniel Karate, he agrees with one stipulation, what he says, Daniel does, no questions. The first day of training, Miyagi has Daniel wax about six cars. The next day, Daniel has to sand all of the wooden walkways at Miyagi’s house. He follows that up with painting the fence and the house. Daniel is frustrated at the end of the fourth day as his muscles are sore and he has learned zero Karate.

Human instinct is to believe what we see. Daniel sees himself being used for manual labor. When confronted, Miyagi tells Daniel, “not everything is as seems.” Miyagi had Daniel do each chore with a specific technique while focusing on his breathing. The chores built Daniel’s muscles. The techniques were each a Karate blocking technique. When Miyagi demonstrates what he was teaching, Daniel is dumbfounded. He completely missed the lesson because he had preconceived notions of what the chores were.

Humans will interpret what we think we see and what we expect to see, because of preconceived notions. Perception plays a part in forming our views and opinions, as well, but we can’t always so the whole picture. Try this story out:

There is a story about six blind men who were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant's body.

The first blind man feels a leg and says, “it’s is like a pillar”; the next feels the tail and says, “it’s like a rope”; the third feels the trunk and says, “it’s like a giant snake”; the fourth feels the belly and says, “it’s like a wall”; the fifth one feels the tusk and says, “it’s like a solid pipe”. The sixth one approach the elephant from behind and reached out with his hand, just missing the tail and… is still recovering.

The point of the story is that each is only experiencing a piece of the puzzle. Together, their perceptions can complete the puzzle. To expand our perception we can think about how others might see something like the saying “put yourself in their shoes.” We can solve some problems by looking for multiple applications of our tools. You can use a hammer to hammer a nail, but what if you didn’t have a hammer? Or what if your only tool was a hammer and you had to cut or measure?

Changing our perception can help us solve problems, resolve conflicts, and overcome obstacles.

After Miyagi asks Daniel to do an exercise, Daniel says, “I’ll give it a shot.” Miyagi, not happy with Daniel’s mentality, takes him aside and explains “Man walk on road. Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk down middle, sooner or later, get squished just like grape. Here, Karate same thing. You karate do "yes," or karate do "no." You karate do "guess so," just like grape.” What Miyagi is telling Daniel is that Karate is not something you try. It is not an odd looking potato salad that your friend brought to your Super Bowl party. Karate is something you need to commit fully to. It is something you DO.

Life should be lived in a similar manner. It is fine to sample parts of life, but if you want to succeed in an area, then you have to commit to it.

In my karate dojo, our first creed is about making a promise to ourselves and our dojo. When I joined Toastmasters, I agreed to The Toastmasters Promise written out on the application. Both these were about committing to certain values and expectations, committing to improving myself, and committing to supporting others. This commitment is put first, because in order to be successful in the organizations, you need to commit to it. School, career, parenting, and other activities are not any different. Even without a creed or application, you personally still need to make the promise to yourself to commit to it for success.

After Daniel learns to block, his next lesson is to learn to balance his body. Daniel is eager to learn to punch, but to quell Daniel’s eagerness; Miyagi dispatches this wisdom, “Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home.” Later, Miyagi helps Daniel see the bigger picture by saying, “Remember lesson about balance? Lesson not just karate only. Lesson for whole life. Whole life have a balance. Everything be better.”

Balance is the key for everyday living. For diet, you have your balanced breakfast and three square meals a day. Over eating and drinking can land you with a myriad of problems. Moderation is another word for balance.

Your workday and home life needs to be balanced to keep your employer and family happy. If you bring your work stress home, then it will effect your attitude with your family and friends. If you bring your home life to work, then it can be a distraction from being productive. Participation in Toastmasters should have a balance. There are several different roles, each with their own specific lessons. Prepared speeches teach you how to prepare and formulate a speech. Table Topics teaches you to think on your feet. Speech evaluator teaches you to give encouraging feedback. Each one builds confidence in a different area. To get the full benefits from Toastmasters you need to experience each role. Your Toastmasters experience needs to have a balance. Your whole life needs to have a balance.

Mr. Miyagi was not only an excellent Karate instructor, but a life coach for Daniel. He taught Daniel that everything is not always as it seems, commitment is the road to success, and balance is the key for everything in life. Take these three lessons and apply them to your life.

And in memory of the actor who portrayed Mr Miyagi, the late Pat Morita. BANZIA!



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