Karate Kid and Its Life Lessons Turn 30

Here’s a post that originally appeared on Lefty Pop back in June.  Given the life lessons to be learned from 80s gems such as Karate Kid, I thought it prudent to post it here as well.  So read on and remember, “You’re the best around.  Nothing’s ever gonna keep you down.”

In a continuing effort to shove me into old age, time insists on marching on.  Everyday some relic of my childhood hits a milestone and I’m forced to think, “Holy shit, I guess that was X years ago.”  Today’s ‘aha moment’ of aging is brought to me courtesy of LaRusso and Miyage.  That’s right, Karate Kid just turned 30.

Released in 1984, Karate Kid was a commercial success.  It even earned Noriyuki “Pat’ Morita an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  It spawned a franchise that resulted in two sequels; unfortunately leading to a spin-off (The Next Karate Kid, 1994, with Hillary Swank) and then an unoriginal reboot (The Karate Kid, 2010, with Jaden “I’m only famous cause of my dad” Smith).  But the most important impact it made wasn’t at the box office, it was in the living rooms of 80s kids across the country.  While Daniel-san was learning karate, we were learning some important life lessons.

Sometimes assholes learn their lessons and change.

Johnny and his Cobra Kai chums really made Daniel’s experience as the new kid on the block a living hell. I mean, Daniel did kind of put the moves on his ex-girlfriend, but kicking his ass in front of the entire dojo and chasing him dressed as a skeleton seems a little harsh.  Johnny is a world-class bully.  But eventually, after receiving a crane kick to the chin, he admits defeat and declares ” “You’re all right, LaRusso! Good match!”  Even he wasn’t buying the no mercy bit at this point.

Manual labor builds character.

Having obligated him to a karate tournament against Cobra Kai in two months, Daniel assumes Mr. Miyagi is going to instantly jump into teaching him all of his awesome karate secrets.  Nope.  Apparently the secret to kicking-ass is doing all of Miyagi’s chores.  Wax-on, wax-off.  Wax-on, wax-off.  Bam, muscle memory!  While I don’t buy that Daniel’s YMCA level skills were instantly transformed by his Miyagi slavedom, the message of hard-work preceding success is a great lesson.

Do or do not.  There is no try.

Technically, Yoda taught us this lesson.  But Miyagi echoes it.  You must commit to something to be great. “Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later [squish gesture] get squish just like grape.”

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

“Get him a body bag! Yeah!”   It’s always embarrassing to lose after talking smack.  You look like an idiot Tommy.

Never let fear keep you from trying.

Don’t let fear of the unknown stop you from trying.  “It’s okay to lose to an opponent.  It’s never okay to lose to fear.”

Never, ever give up.

During the tournament finals, Johnny is delivering a major beating upon Daniel.  It seems that all hope is lost.  Clearly he is outmatched.  When we hear sensei scream, “Sweep the leg!”, we hang our heads confident that LaRusso has failed.  But we’d forgotten about the crane.  Daniel musters his last bit of strength, somehow hypnotizes Johnny in his attempts to balance, and delivers a tournament ending, Cobra Kai face kick.  After witnessing this moment, I proceeded to don my USA Gold Medal replica (found in a box of Wheates) and perform karate moves all over the house.  He did it!  He won!

A theme song can make everything better.

Oh, the 80s and their theme songs.  You can’t present a montage without one.  And Karate Kid had one of the best….around.  Thanks Joe Esposito.

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