Martial Arts Movies

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.]

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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.…

Cynthia Rothrock: Best Advice for Beginners in the Martial Arts

“I was nervous as anything,” Cynthia Rothrock said of her first tournament, after which she started to laugh.

“I was an orange belt competing against black belts in forms. I was doing the most basic forms, and they were so advanced.”

She ended up placing second in that event. It was but the first in a string of victories, for she went on to win the world forms championships from 1981 to 1985. In 1982 she became the weapons champion in the men’s division, as well.

She has also succeeded in other areas. She was one of the first women to appear on the cover of national martial arts magazines, and she was one of the few female martial artists to become a star in the action movie genre.

Beginning the Martial Arts

“I started at 13 years old,” Cynthia Rothrock said. “I had some friends in tang soo do, so I gave it a try. When I was younger, I tried everything — piano, music lessons, other sports — but the martial arts were the first thing I really stuck with.”

Since that time, she’s earned a black belt in tang soo do and taekwondo. She also holds instructor-level rank in three Chinese arts: northern Shaolin kung fu, wushu and eagle-claw kung fu. It seems she definitely found something she could stick with.

Cynthia Rothrock on the cover of the February/March 2017 issue, on sale now!

Despite all her experience, however, she still gets fidgety before performing in front of groups. “I always get nervous,” she said. “It is sort of a nervous energy starting the form — but then I tune right in.”

Joining a Competition

Cynthia Rothrock offers beginners some simple advice for dealing with butterflies in the stomach before kata competition: Make sure you know your form 100 percent. When you compete, don’t perform any kata you’re still working to perfect. Always do one you know well.

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Although forms competition is great for kids, she believes youngsters should avoid full-contact sparring events. “Point sparring is good for kids as long as the tournament [officials are] in control and looking out for the children’s safety,” she said.

If you decide to get involved in tournaments, she added, always remember that competition is just one small part of the martial arts. If you lose, ask yourself why. Nine times out of 10, the answer will be that you weren’t fully prepared.

Picking a School

Back in 1973 when Cynthia Rothrock started in the martial arts, choosing a style was tough enough. These days, with the hundreds of schools operating in large cities, it’s even tougher. So how does a person choose?

“Find a couple of styles you are interested in,” she said. “Watch the instructors. [Watch] how discipline is handled. Talk with the instructors. See if you can take a couple of classes for free. Check out a couple of different places before you start at one.”

Martial arts training is never easy, she said. You’ll feel uncoordinated at first, but you shouldn’t give up. If you practice, you’ll get better, and the results will be extreme, she promised. You’ll get stronger and stay in shape — and one day the training may save your life.

“When you take a martial art, try to learn the true art and keep the tradition,” she said. “Each style has something different to offer.”

Finding a Role Model

Having a mentor or a martial artist you look up to can help you through the tough times in your training, Cynthia Rothrock said. For many years, her favorite was Jackie Chan.

“When I was taking classes in New York, we had a Chinese instructor who taught on Sundays,” she said. “After the workout, he’d take everyone to Chinatown to see kung fu movies. I’ve always looked up to Jackie Chan and still respect him very much.”

Rothrock is also a big fan of Chuck Norris: “He is a great martial artist who has made it big in film and television,” she said. “He is the most friendly person out there.”

Starring in Movies

Cynthia Rothrock’s own acting career blossomed for many years — despite obstacles posed by on-again-off-again complaints about violence in movies and the fact that studios are reluctant to invest money in projects with female martial artists.

“There are far fewer [roles] for women in action movies,” she said.

But she never let that hold her back. In fact, she viewed it as just one more challenge. In much the same way …

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