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Does the Karate Kid Movie Teach Good Life Lessons?

12 January 2023

It’s a classic movie, and it’s the epitome of the “kung-fu” craze of the 80s, but The Karate Kid is about more than just jazzy fights, strong characters and a fist-pumping finale. Contained within it are some great life lessons.

It’s OK to be afraid

Sometimes movies lead us to think that the brave hero feels no fear. The Karate Kid teaches children that it’s fine to feel fear, in fact it’s a good thing. Recognising our fear is what leads to our bravery and, ultimately, our successes. Mr Miyagi admits to Daniel that he’s often scared to fight but shows him that it’s important to recognise and overcome that fear. In the film’s climax, Daniel uses this understanding to step back into the ring, even when he knows his opponent might hurt him. This lesson is also reflected in the way that the students of the rival Cobra Kai club are too afraid to stand up to their own sensei, even though they know what he’s asking them to do is wrong.

Learning is a journey

Daniel wants to master that famous crane-kick after just a couple of lessons. That’s not going to happen! As Mr Miyagi famously says, “First learn stand, then learn fly.” Over the course of the movie Daniel comes to realise that his mastery of karate will take time. As he is initially frustrated to be repeating the same moves again and again (leading to the memorable “wax on, wax off” line), he soon sees the value in taking the time to get things right. This philosophy is true for all skills and is a great lesson for children to learn. The payoff of this mentality is proven nicely in the final scene, in which Daniel uses his now-mastered crane-kick to win the tournament.

Focus on yourself

One of the first things Daniel asks Mr Miyagi is which belt grade his sensei has. Mr Miyagi replies that he doesn’t really know, which shocks Daniel. This highlights another great life lesson the film teaches children. Mr Miyagi isn’t bothered about signalling his achievements and abilities to others. He studies karate for his own benefit and enjoyment. Similarly, it’s good for children to recognise their own reasons for doing things, and to understand when their motivations might not be healthy.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

Mr Miyagi is the apartment handyman; a short, mild mannered old man. Looks can be deceiving, however, as we find out he’s actually a karate master and a decorated war hero. Equally, we learn that karate isn’t about beating people up and having a fight. It’s about finding balance, gaining confidence and learning to understand the self. The film shows us that there are hidden depths to all things, and we shouldn’t take everything - including the people we meet - at face value. Again, this is a great lesson for children to understand, especially as they navigate increasingly complex social situations.

Photo by cottonbro studio

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