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

Revisit the First Two Karate Kid Movies to Better Enjoy the New Cobra Kai Series 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.

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.

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, he fights only when it's necessary to stop the physical abuse of someone. Mere words never draw him into action.

The only time Miyagi uses physical karate in Karate Kid is to rescue Daniel as he's being beaten by five Cobra Kai members. The start of Part II furnishes a second example: Miyagi intervenes to prevent the Cobra Kai instructor from seriously injuring one of his students. But even here, he uses only the minimum effort to accomplish the objective. After his return to Okinawa, Miyagi fights only once. As before, he has no choice but to fight to save Daniel from further physical harm. Although insults and threats never bring Miyagi into battle, a special set of circumstances does cause him to agree to fight his old rival Sato. Sato and some of his workers arrive at the village with several pieces of earth-moving equipment. They start to clear the land the village stands on, which is owned by Sato. He knows Miyagi will not allow the village to be destroyed; it's his way of forcing Miyagi to fight so he may avenge his honor. Miyagi sees no way to escape the situation. It he doesn't fight, the village will be destroyed. If he fights, Sato has agreed to pass the title to the land to the villagers. Miyagi accepts his fate and prepares for the worst by giving his last will and testament to his protégé. But Daniel doesn't fully understand his teacher's motivation and tries to talk him out of fighting. Miyagi explains that he's already won, however, because no matter what happens, the village will be safe. Even though Miyagi has lost in the sense of not avoiding a fight, he's accomplishing a greater good: ensuring the survival of the village.

Importance of Trying in the Karate Kid Movies

True sportsmen have long believed that how we play the game is more important than whether we win or lose. In The Karate Kid, Miyagi tries to convince Daniel of this before he faces a difficult tournament opponent. He tells Daniel that if he fights well, win or lose, he'll earn his opponent's respect and won't be picked on thereafter.

The opposite attitude is demonstrated by the Cobra Kai teacher in Karate Kid Part II when he reprimands his star student for losing to Daniel. Even though the student did his best and placed second in the tournament, the instructor calls him a loser. At this point, the student realizes his instructor isn't worthy of the devotion he's shown him. For the first time, he talks back to his teacher, telling him, “No, you're the loser, man!"


A popular misconception is that a person either knows karate or doesn't. And if he knows karate, it's believed that he can defend himself and do so without fear. When Daniel asks Miyagi if he was ever scared to fight as a kid, Miyagi assures him that he was always scared because there's always someone who knows more than you do. If we condense the two Karate Kid movies down to their most obvious theme, it's the one that Miyagi repeats often to Daniel: Fighting is always the last answer to a problem. This implies that the ultimate goal of karate training is not to do well inside the dojo, where we practice fighting, but to do well outside the dojo, where we need to behave as ladies and gentlemen. The bottom line is that karate is a means of self-improvement. This is the goal of all modern forms of budo, and it's the message that gives the Karate Kid movies their lasting significance.

Read Part 1 of this article here.

Text by Arthur Smith • Above Photos Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Ralph Macchio in the 2018 YouTube Red series Cobra Kai • Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures.

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