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Revisit the First Two Karate Kid Movies to Better Enjoy the New Cobra Kai Series, Part 2

Read Part 1 of this post about the Karate Kid movies here.

Confidence in Intuition

In The Karate Kid movie, Mr. Miyagi gives Daniel LaRusso the chance to trim a bonsai tree. Daniel wants to try but is reluctant for fear of ruining the tree. Miyagi tells him to close his eyes and trust himself. Concentrate on the tree and form a mental picture of it, Miyagi explains. Then just trust in the picture, and everything will be all right.

Antithesis of Budo Philosophy in the Karate Kid Movies

It’s often helpful to contrast what we want to show by viewing its opposite. The philosophy of the Cobra Kai teacher clearly is the antithesis of budo principles. This is vividly shown by the training creed recited by Cobra Kai students and their instructor, which states, in part, that fear, pain and defeat do not exist in the school.

Karate Kid movie

The Cobra Kai students study the “way of the fist,” which stresses striking first, striking hard and showing no mercy.

Value of Friendship in the Karate Kid Movies

One of the major problems in life is keeping things in the proper perspective. Daniel shows a beautiful sense of perspective in the touching scene at the airport in The Karate Kid Part II when he shows up unexpectedly and explains why he wants to accompany Miyagi to Okinawa. When Miyagi asks where he got the money for the ticket, Daniel says he took it out of his savings.

Weren’t his savings supposed to be for college, Miyagi asks. Daniel doesn’t care. He explains that Miyagi is more important than college and is always there when Daniel needs him. The master continues to try to dissuade him, but Daniel persists, and the old man finally gives in. When Daniel thanks him, Miyagi says, “No, Daniel-san, thank you.”

Rules of Miyagi Family Dojo

A delicious blend of serious thought and humor is evident in Karate Kid Part II when Miyagi translates the two rules of his family dojo. The first rule is that karate is for defense only. Rule No. 2 is to first learn rule No. 1.

Direct Avoidance of Fighting in the Karate Kid Movies

The old idea that prevention is better than a cure applies well to self-defense. Conscientious instructors frequently remind students to avoid trouble by simply staying away from trouble spots or walking away from needless confrontations.

Direct avoidance of fighting is dramatized in Karate Kid Part II when Sato tries to set up a midnight battle with his rival. Miyagi tells Sato that the latter will lose sleep because “I no be there.”

On at least two other occasions, Miyagi avoids fighting by simply not responding physically. Once is when Chozen calls him a coward in public. In response to this insult, Miyagi just walks away. It reminds us of the old saying that the mailman would never get the mail delivered if he stopped to kick at every barking dog.

Karate Kid

Another time in Karate Kid Part II, Chozen and his cohorts destroy a garden in an effort to provoke Miyagi. Daniel is ready to fight but is restrained by his wise teacher once he puts an end to the mayhem.

Indirect Avoidance of Fighting

This theme is well-developed in both Karate Kid movies. The first example is when Miyagi accompanies Daniel in the first film to the Cobra Kai dojo in an effort to stop the attacks on Daniel. Although a permanent truce isn’t possible, Miyagi succeeds in getting a postponement of any more confrontations until the upcoming tournament.

A novel way to avoid trouble is seen in Karate Kid Part II when a couple of troublemakers won’t take their beer bottles off the fender of Miyagi’s pickup truck. They lose all desire to fight when Miyagi breaks the necks of the bottles with a single knifehand strike.

Real life is not without parallel examples. The story is told of shotokan karate’s Hirokazu Kanazawa, who was challenged to a street fight. He consented but asked his antagonist if he might first warm up a bit. The troublemaker agreed, so Kanazawa began punching and kicking in the air. The challenger lost heart once he saw the speed and power of this extraordinary karateka. The fight never took place.

Not How to Fight, But When

Some law-enforcement programs use a text titled Not How to Shoot, But When. The parallel with the martial arts is clear. Although we should try to avoid physical confrontations, there are times when our skills should be brought into action. A careful review of the Karate Kid movies shows a distinct pattern in this regard.

Although Daniel needlessly gets involved in several fights, the character of Miyagi serves as a shining example of when to fight and when not to. In every case, …

Revisit the First Two Karate Kid Movies to Better Enjoy the New Cobra Kai Series, Part 1

It’s long been a complaint of serious martial artists that the film industry presents a distorted view of the arts. By capitalizing on flamboyant aspects and then pushing them to the bizarre, moviemakers give the public little chance to learn what the arts are really about. In most cases, the true purpose of budo is either glossed over or simply absent. A welcome change came in 1984 with the release of The Karate Kid.

Not only was the movie a box-office smash, but it also was a big hit among the proponents of budo. In addition to doing much to educate the public, it was directly responsible for many people signing up for martial arts lessons.

Enter the Karate Kid Sequel

Martial artists were in for another treat in 1986 with the release of The Karate Kid Part II. In some ways, this movie surpassed the first one because sport karate — which the public had long mistaken for real karate — was entirely absent. Full play was given to the traditional values of self-discipline, kindness and understanding. Not only was the second film a financial success, but many instructors also noted another surge in enrollment.

Ralph Macchio

Daniel LaRusso in the All-Valley Karate Tournament.

The usefulness of the first two Karate Kid movies goes far beyond what’s been pointed out thus far. Appropriate references to the films during karate class can have a big impact on student attention, learning and even retention. The movies actually contain nothing new to the martial arts, but what they present is in such dynamic form that students can relate to it, and believe it, much more than if an instructor just talks philosophically.

Karate Kid Recap

Let’s begin with a synopsis of the films since there are people who missed one or both of them. In The Karate Kid, we see the trials and tribulations of a high-school boy named Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) as he moves to a different state and tries to adjust. His major trouble is with Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), student leader of the Cobra Kai, a group of sport-karate students whose teacher has a win-at-any-cost attitude.

Daniel is befriended by an older master named Miyagi (Pat Morita), who not only trains Daniel in the physical side of karate but also shows him the real purpose of the martial art.

In The Karate Kid Part II, Daniel goes to Okinawa with Miyagi, who returns to his homeland to visit his dying father. After a 40-year absence, Miyagi also must face the consequences of his youthful action of speaking out against marriage by arrangement. He had wanted to marry Yukie, but she had been promised to Sato, his best friend and fellow karate student.

Pat Morita

Miyagi and Sato in The Karate Kid Part II.

Because of Miyagi’s public outburst, Sato had felt dishonored. A fight to the death was averted only by Miyagi’s departure for the United States. On his return, Miyagi is challenged by Sato.

A conflict also develops between Daniel and Sato’s best student Chozen. The plot centers on how Miyagi and Daniel deal with these problems as followers of budo philosophy.

Let’s now examine the concepts that give the two movies their lasting significance.

Reasons for Studying Karate

People take up the study of martial arts for self-defense, self-improvement, exercise or any of a hundred reasons, all of which may be positive. But Daniel has a reason that is at least questionable — to get even for the beatings he’s taken from Cobra Kai students. When he asks Miyagi to teach him karate so he can avenge himself, the latter explains that fighting should be used only as a last resort. This confuses Daniel, who believes karate and fighting are one and the same.

When he asks Miyagi why he trains if not to learn how to fight, Miyagi says, “So I won’t have to fight.” A smile comes over the old man’s face as he realizes that Daniel is starting to see what karate is all about.

Importance of Belt Ranks

Beginners in the martial arts often ask about the rank held by their instructor. They tend to be disappointed if he or she is only a first-degree black belt but impressed if the teacher holds a higher rank. Novices seldom realize that there’s no uniformity in ranking from one organization to another. They’re usually confused and sometimes dismayed when told that there are no legal restrictions on ranking and that anyone can declare himself a 10th-degree grandmaster and distribute belts as he chooses.

Karate Kid

Daniel and Miyagi work on a bonsai tree.

True to form, Daniel asks Miyagi about his rank. Miyagi explains that karate comes from the head and the heart, not belt rank. Daniel’s understanding is still superficial at this point, but at least he’s …

How to Use Martial Arts to Break Into Movie Stunt Work

As the theme song to the 1978 Burt Reynolds movie Hooper noted, “There ain’t nothing like the life of a Hollywood stuntman.” A lot of martial artists take those words to heart.

There’s an army of skilled — and not-so-skilled — practitioners of karate, taekwondo, kung fu and other martial arts trying to break into the motion-picture industry by making use of their ability to kick and punch, but how realistic is this? What do martial artists interested in stunt work need to know?

Judo Gene LeBell

Stunt pro and judo legend Gene LeBell. (photo by Rick Hustead)

“Learn to wait tables, clean bathrooms and walk the neighbor’s dog,” offered “Judo” Gene LeBell, one of only two people (the other is Jackie Chan) to be inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame. LeBell doesn’t mince words about the difficulties of doing fights and falls in films. He says with all the would-be stunt people out there, breaking into the field can be next to impossible.

“When I started in the business, there were about 40 stuntmen in Hollywood,” Gene LeBell said. “Now there’s over 10,000. I highly recommend getting a second job with a future and a retirement.”

But he adds that if you possess exceptional athletic ability and a burning desire to work in stunts no matter how difficult the path, you just might pull it off.

Female Perspective

Jessie Graff is a prime example of Gene LeBell’s guarded optimism. A skilled gymnast and track athlete, she knew from the time she was in college that she wanted to get into stunts. “It takes a lot of effort, but for me, it never felt like work because I loved it,” she said.

Graff began training in martial arts at the same time she moved to Hollywood to break into the stunt biz. She signed up at various gyms to learn anything that might help her, including taekwondo, northern eagle-claw kung fu and boxing. She says having a diverse martial arts background is essential because you could be called on to do virtually anything in a film fight.

Cheryl Wheeler

Cheryl Wheeler-Sanders competed in kickboxing under the name Cheryl Wheeler. (courtesy of CWS)

Former kickboxing champ and stunt pro Cheryl Wheeler-Sanders believes martial arts provide perhaps the best background for movie work. “Anything that’s an intense physical sport like gymnastics is good, but I think martial arts, with its emphasis on physical and mental toughness, lends itself in the best way,” she said.

Although she doesn’t believe the particular martial art you practice makes a great difference, she said you should be able to execute flashy moves like high kicks. She noted, however, that being able to perform such techniques in class or at a tournament doesn’t necessarily mean you can translate your skills to the screen.

Jessie Graff agreed. You often have to perform for the camera in ways that are the opposite of how you’d execute techniques in self-defense, she said. “In a real fight, you try to hide your motions and not telegraph them, but on camera, you’re trying to tell a story the audience can follow, so you specifically exaggerate your movements. For example, you’re taught to throw a hook punch as a short, tight technique. But on camera, you’d make it a very wide punch for everyone to see.”

Cheryl Wheeler-Sanders added that stunt performers must always be aware of the camera placement when doing action scenes. That enables them to keep their face hidden so the audience won’t know the star isn’t doing the fighting.

Reality Check

So if you have the “cinema fu” skills and heed all the advice listed above, will you have a decent shot at earning a living from stunts? Not necessarily, Gene LeBell said. “I know great martial arts champions who only occasionally get stunt work because they don’t have any other skills.

“Martial arts is one of just many skills you need if you want to make it in this business. Don’t think about getting into stunt work unless you can drive cars — and by that I mean turn them over safely — as well as drive motorcycles; do rappelling, scuba diving and high falls; deal with fire; and a bunch of other stuff.”

Klingon

Gene LeBell in Klingon makeup for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. (photo courtesy of Gene LeBell)

While that may sound daunting, it’s not impossible to pick up skills along the way, Cheryl Wheeler-Sanders said. She entered the stunt world almost by accident when she got a role in a film and the stunt people, impressed with her martial arts ability, encouraged her to pursue their line of work.

“I shouldn’t say this, but when I started out, we’d rent cars and take them out to …

Donnie Yen: The Martial Artist Who Brought a Wing Chun Legend to Life in 3 Ip Man Movies

Donnie Yen first appeared on my radar 25 years ago, when his name often graced the pages of martial arts periodicals. I learned that Donnie Yen, the son of Boston-based wushu pioneer and Black Belt Hall of Famer Bow Sim Mark, stood out from his peers because of his strong stances and aesthetic postures, which helped him dominate the competition at martial arts tournaments.

In part because he longed to follow in the footsteps of Bruce Lee, Donnie Yen decided to try his hand at action films. Like Bruce Lee, he opted to return to southern China, where he found work as a stuntman in Hong Kong. Donnie Yen quickly leveled up to starring roles, commanding the screen opposite Jet Li in Once Upon a Time in China II (1992) and as hung gar kung fu master Wong Kei-Ying in Iron Monkey (1993). (The movie found U.S. distribution in 2001 thanks to Quentin Tarantino and Miramax.)

With hit after hit under his belt, Donnie Yen built himself into one of Asia’s most bankable actors. In 2008 he landed what would be his heaviest role to date: playing wing chun grandmaster Yip Man in Ip Man. (The Chinese family name Yip can be Romanized as Yip or Ip. In this article, I will use “Ip Man” to refer to the movie and “Yip Man” to refer to the man.)

Portraying the martial artist who was Bruce Lee’s master didn’t come without immense pressure and criticism, but the movie’s box-office performance and the rabid following it generated online proved the naysayers wrong — and set the stage for two sequels.

When the publicity tour for the latest film, Ip Man 3, brought Donnie Yen and co-star Mike Tyson to Los Angeles, I got an opportunity to interview Yen and hear about the struggles, triumphs, insights and visions that make up his life. Bearing a gift from my teacher, Black Belt Hall of Fame member Dan Inosanto, I entered the room, hoping for a good conversation. What I got was a great interview with a man who’s humble, hardworking and still hungry for higher achievements.

***

It’s an honor to finally meet you. I have a gift for you from someone you might have heard of: Dan Inosanto.

Donnie Yen: Wow! Thank you so much. I’ve heard so much about him and followed his career for years, but I never had the opportunity to meet him in person. Please thank him for me.

I spoke to him just before coming here, and he’s a huge fan of yours. Not only does he love your movies, but he also had high praise, saying that Bruce Lee would’ve been pleased with your work had he lived to see it.

Donnie Yen: That’s overwhelming. Please thank sifu Inosanto for me. [He tells his wife and his manager excitedly in Cantonese that Dan Inosanto was the training partner, best friend and top student of Bruce Lee.]

Go to Amazon now to get your copy of the Bruce Lee classic Tao of Jeet Kune Do: New Expanded Edition!

I always wanted to study Filipino kali from him. I’ve been a Bruce Lee fan ever since I was a kid, and as you probably know, I did an homage to him by reprising the role of Chen Zhen (whom Lee portrayed in Fist of Fury) in a TV series and feature film.

Absolutely. Your performance in Legend of the Fist is one of my favorites.

Donnie Yen: It’s funny … people asked me whether I knew that Bruce Lee had already done that role. The whole point of me doing those movies and playing those roles was out of respect to Bruce Lee — as a way of showing how much he inspired me in my career.

I could never be Bruce Lee. Nobody can. Nor could I imitate him in a way that would do him or the role justice. But just paying tribute to him with those roles was huge for me. I’ve always said that if Bruce was still alive, I’d have become his most devoted student.

How did that weigh on you when you were offered a chance to portray Yip Man?

Donnie Yen: The pressure was huge, and it came from a variety of angles, too. Let me share a bit of background with you. The first time I got a call to play the role of Yip Man was a couple of decades ago, but that movie never got made due to problems with the film’s backers. Years later, I was at a press conference in Beijing and got another call from a producer, saying that they’d spoken to grandmaster Yip’s family, gotten their blessing, were going to make a movie on him and wanted to cast me in the lead.…

Enter the Mind of Master Ken, the Martial Artist Behind Enter the Dojo, Part 2

Caution: You’re about to read comments from a real martial artist (Matt Page) interspersed with comments from a fictional character (Master Ken). To make it easier to distinguish the two, we’ve italicized the words of Master Ken.

Go here to read Part 1.

BLACK BELT: WHEN A PERSON TEACHES AN ART AS DEADLY AS AMERI-DO-TE, IS IT ESSENTIAL TO COUNSEL STUDENTS ON HOW NOT TO WIND UP IN JAIL?

Master Ken: Absolutely. Some of the moves I’ve invented simply cannot be taught for liability reasons. For example, recently I created an inescapable hold where you trap your opponent’s arms and legs, then you sit on their head and release a lethal barrage of flatulence to suffocate them. It’s called the “gas chamber.” I can’t send civilians out in public with that kind of knowledge. It’s just too dangerous.

Years ago I took an invaluable class called Introduction to Business Law at the Central New Mexico Community College, and my instructor, a one-legged veteran named Jim Hooker, gave me the most important piece of legal advice I’ve ever heard: “Dead men don’t sue.” And he was right. Because a year later, he died in a freak accident at a meat-processing plant and ended up being served as ground beef at three Albuquerque public schools. Nobody even noticed until some cheerleader bit into a sloppy Joe and broke her tooth on what turned out to be a piece of his catheter. But the point is he never pressed charges because he was deceased at the time of the accidental ingestion.

BLACK BELT: WHERE DID THE CONCEPT FOR MASTER KEN AND ENTER THE DOJO COME FROM?

Matt Page: In creating Master Ken, I was influenced by something I noticed: Some instructors, no matter how skilled or intelligent, tend to bad-mouth other styles. They see a move from some other martial art and say, “That’s not bad, but in our style, it’s better because we do it like this.”

Each time something weird happened in any dojo, I would take a mental note and say, “Someday I’m gonna do something creative with all this.” Eventually, I found my way to New Mexico and went to College of Santa Fe, now Santa Fe University. Once I received my bachelor’s degree in moving-image arts, I saw that everyone was making their own Web series. At the time, I’d become obsessed with Ricky Gervais’ original version of The Office on the BBC, and I decided I wanted to try that but in a world I understood. So I chose martial arts.

The newest release from combatives authority Kelly McCann and Black Belt is titled Kelly McCann Combatives 2: Stick & Ground Combat. It’s a streaming-video course you can watch on your digital device. Click here to watch the trailer and then sign up.

BLACK BELT: WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH WITH ENTER THE DOJO? IS IT PURE ENTERTAINMENT?

Matt Page: The goal now is really the same as when we created the first episode: I want to entertain people while making a commentary on things that are important to me. It’s not just about the jokes; it’s about pointing out the contradictions in various teachings and the commercialization and the issue of theory vs. practice in the martial arts world. But I want to address it all with humor. I’ve gotten emails from soldiers with PTSD, martial artists who struggle with depression and people from all walks of life who thank me for making them laugh and helping them forget their troubles for the moment. That’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever gotten out of what I do.

BLACK BELT: YOU’VE APPEARED AT THE MARTIAL ARTS SUPERSHOW IN LAS VEGAS TWO YEARS IN A ROW. HOW DID THAT GROUP OF EXPERIENCED, PROFESSIONAL MARTIAL ARTISTS FEEL ABOUT THE MESSAGE YOU PROPAGATE?

Master Ken: The first year, I was like a tsunami of truth that forced many so-called “masters” to re-evaluate their training and, quite frankly, their lives. I think that’s why they wouldn’t allow me to perform at the opening ceremony this year. They lost too much business on people closing their schools so they could take up Ameri-Do-Te. I’ve made a lot of enemies, but then again, so did Napoleon. And he was able to conquer most of South America despite the fact that he was shorter than a Shetland pony.

BLACK BELT: DO YOU HAVE FORMAL TRAINING IN ACTING?

Matt Page: I’ve been taking acting classes and performing in plays since I was a kid. My influences range from old episodes of Saturday Night Live to mockumentaries by Christopher Guest to more serious cinematic works like the films of Robert Zemeckis, David Fincher, etc. But I’ve loved comedic movies and television shows for as long as I can remember.

Wang Bo, formerly of Shaolin Temple,

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