I grew up in the 80s. If we wanted to watch a movie we had to walk to the video shop and rent it. If there was a new TV series we had to wait, painstakingly every week for the next episode. We had queue outside the cinema in order to get tickets for latest blockbuster. I remember like it was yesterday when The Karate Kid 3 was being being released on video. I called up the local video store everyday for a week to see when it was coming in. I put my name down to reserve a copy but I still called. When it finally turned up my Dad received the call from the shop and down he went. It was a Sunday night, a school night. He made me a deal; I could watch it tonight but tomorrow I had to go to school. Or have the day off tomorrow sick and watch it then. I chose to watch it now and brave school poorly. And it was worth it.
The Karate kid movies were a seminal part of my childhood and I am absolutely delighted to see its return in 2018 in the form of a 10 part TV series titled Cobra Kai. (I will be binge watching it if at all possible). I found myself sick this week and with time to kill, and after watching the Cobra Kai trailer a few times, I decided to re-watch The Karate Kid Pt1 and Pt2 along with the Jackie Chan remake (Which I enjoy). They were as enjoyable to watch today as they were back when I was a kid. But for very different reasons. Sure the fight scenes don’t hold up to modern day cinema and the music is awfully dated, but that just adds to the charm of the movies. When I watched them as a kid the movies were about the new kid who gets bullied so he learns Karate in order to put a stop to it. But watching it again there was much more to it, more than a 10yr old is willing or even able to see.
The Karate Kid is about parenthood. It’s about passing on life skills to your children. Picking them up when they fall and making sure no harm can befall them until they’re ready and able.
When we meet Daniel it’s just him and his mum, they move to California from New Jersey and if we assume the movie is a metaphor for life, Daniel is entering a new world , being born. (We learn in TKK Pt2 that Daniel’s father has died) The first man Daniel meets is Mr Miyagi and in the first real scene they have together, Miyagi has Daniel cut and prune his own Bonsai tree. The tree represents Daniel’s life and it’s up to Daniel to cut and shape it however he chooses. After a run in with the Cobra Kai’s Daniel throws his bike, which is beaten and broken, in the rubbish. Miyagi restores the bike and gives it back to Daniel. This isn’t just a gesture of goodwill because he feels bad, this is a lesson. A lesson we all teach our children. No matter what state something is in we can care for it, love it and hopefully return back to the way it was. The most pivotal scene for me is the Birthday scene when Miyagi gives Daniel his Karate suit (Gi) and on the back is a stitching of a Bonsai (Daniel’s life) tree that Miyagi’s wife made before she died. This symbolises Daniel as part of the Miyagi’s family. We also find out that Miyagi’s wife and son died because there were complications at birth and no doctor was able to come and help, which riddles Miyagi with guilt and grief which comes out during a drunken scene midway through the movie.
During the Halloween fight scene between Daniel and the Cobra’s, Miyagi comes to Daniels aid, but not as the Karate master defending a kid against bullies, he comes as the doctor rescuing his son from death. (The Cobra’s are dressed as skeletons, death…I mean come on) There are plenty of scenes throughout the movie where Miyagi imparts life lessons and I’d love to write about them all I will just urge you to rewatch it.
The scene that comes in for a fair amount of flack is the climax crane scene. Again this movie isn’t about Karate, it’s not about winning a tournament, it’s not even about standing up for yourself. To me it’s about parenting. The crane scene is all about the really fucking important lessons we teach our children when we’re not teaching them. When we think they’re not watching. Miyagi never intended to show or teach this to Daniel, and after seeing and hearing about it Daniel decides to teach it to himself and with great success (It’s Hollywood so it was always going to be that way).
The nod that Miyagi gives to Daniel as he raises his two arms and broken leg in his last ditched effort, to practise his final lesson, that seals it. The relationship between these two has been cemented. Father and Son
Since my visit back to these movies I have come to greatly appreciate the subtleties of The Karate Kid and the father/son relationship that exists between Daniel and Miyagi. My fear is that the new TV series will miss these hidden depths, much like the 2010 remake did, but I hope it pays homage to these two wonderful characters that I grew up with and who were such a big part of my childhood. I do look forward to the new chapter and I hope going forward is as much fun as going back.
“To all those whose progress remains hampered by ego-related distractions, let humility – the spiritual cornerstone upon which Karate rests – serve to remind one to place virtue before vice, values before vanity and principles before personalities.” – Sokon ‘Bushi’ Matsumura (legendary Karate grandmaster)