This post includes a brief plot summary of The Karate Kid and five major life lessons to take away from the film. Directed by John G. Avildsen, the 1984 action drama stars Ralph Macchio as Daniel Larusso and Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi. Beware of spoilers.
Before jumping into the film’s life lessons, here’s a little recap for those who don’t remember the plot very well.
The Karate Kid (1984) – Plot Summary
Daniel LaRusso is a teenage boy who has just moved to a new city with his mother Lucille. At his new residence, Daniel meets the apartment’s handyman: a Japanese man named Miyagi.
One day, Daniel meets a girl named Ali Mills and the two quickly become friends. However, Ali’s ex-boyfriend (Johnny) is not too happy about it and decides to bully Daniel. Johnny is a black belt at Cobra Kai dojo.
During a Halloween party, Daniel decides to pull a prank on Johnny. Things escalate and Johnny decides to chase Daniel down the street to hurt him. Although Daniel tries his best to escape from his bullies, the Cobra Kai gang eventually traps him. All the members gang up on Daniel and beat him mercilessly. Meanwhile, Mr. Miyagi shows up and defeats the Cobra Kai gang all by himself.
Daniel asks Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate but he declines. Later on, Mr. Miyagi brings Daniel to the Cobra Kai dojo to hash things out. At the dojo, they meet Johnny’s sensei – John Kreese, a Special Forces veteran. Kreese decides to reject the peace offering. As a result, Mr. Miyagi suggests Daniel to enter the All-Valley Karate Championship. That way, Daniel will be able to compete against Johnny and other Cobra Kai student on equal terms. In addition, Mr. Miyagi asks for the bullying to stop during Daniel’s training period. Kreese agrees but warns the two that the harassment will continue, if Daniel fails to show up in the tournament.
Mr. Miyagi’s training is rather confusing to Daniel, because on a surface level, it seems that Mr. Miyagi is just asking the boy to perform mundane chores. A frustrated Daniel confronts Mr. Miyagi. However, the man explains to Daniel that repetition creates muscle memory. Having said that, the chores were a means for the boy to learn defence techniques.
After spending more time with Mr. Miyagi, Daniel learns that the man lost his wife and his child during WWII. During his training with Mr. Miyagi, Daniel learns about life balance and the importance of training the body and the spirit. On Daniel’s birthday, Mr. Miyagi gifts him a Karate gi for the tournament and one of his cars.
Daniel shows up at the karate competition and makes his way into the semi-finals. In order to stop Daniel from advancing to the finals, Kreese asks one his students (Bobby) to injury Daniel’s leg during their next fight. The illegal move gets Bobby disqualified from the competition.
Mr. Miyagi advises Daniel to quit due to his knee injury, but the boy refuses. Daniel wants to confront his bully and quitting means that Johnny and his gang got the best of him. Touched by Daniel’s will to fight, Mr. Miyagi uses a special technique to suppress Daniel’s knee pain.
When the announcer was about to declare Johnny as the winner by default, Daniel shows up in the ring. The two resume the competition and tie. During one the matches, Daniel uses a scissor-leg technique causing Johnny to fall and end up with a bleeding nose. Kreese intervenes and tells Johnny to sweep Daniel’s injured leg. After the unethical attack, Daniel struggles to stand on his feet. As a result, the boy adopts the Crane stance, a technique he saw Mr. Miyagi performing on a beach. Then, Daniel jumps and executes a front kick to Johnny’s face, which scored him the championship point.
After they announce Daniel as the winner, Johnny hands personally the trophy to him as a sign of respect and the excited crowd carries Daniel away.
5 Life Lessons From “The Karate Kid”
LESSON #1 – LEARN FROM ADVERSITY
Daniel was the new kid in town, which made him an easy target for people like Johnny and his gang. However, as awful as bullying is, the tough times that Daniel had to endure were also a great opportunity for him to learn something new.
Instead of viewing the bullying as a punishment, Daniel decided to do something about it. Having said that, one can also learn from their negative experiences. In a very strange way, adversity and growth tend to go often hand-in-hand.
LESSON #2 – THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS
Daniel did not win the karate competition because he was “lucky”. The boy had to work hard to get where he was. In other words, there are no shortcuts to excellence. That’s exactly why a great building cannot be based on a weak foundation.
When Mr. Miyagi was telling Daniel to “wax on, wax off” his car, he wasn’t taking advantage of the boy. No. Mr. Miyagi was teaching Daniel how to build a strong foundation.
LESSON #3 – LEARN FROM GOOD MENTORS
The film really shows the importance of having good mentors in your life. Take Mr. Miyagi as an example. Everything he teaches Daniel has a purpose. His teachings were all about spiritual growth.
The bully’s mentor was the total opposite of Mr. Miyagi. Kreese is also a mentor, but he’s using his knowledge to teach his students to hurt and take advantage of others. That’s why Daniel and Johnny turned out to be such different people.
LESSON #4 – COMMIT TO WHAT YOU WANT
Daniel really wanted Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate and he did. However, Mr. Miyagi’s unusual teaching methods almost led the boy to think that the man was wasting his time. Fortunately, Daniel stuck around long enough to see the reasoning behind Mr. Miyagi’s teaching style.
Had Daniel given up at his first hurdle, there would be no Karate Kid. Having said that, success doesn’t happen overnight. In order to become skilful at something, hard work / perseverance is a must. At this point, wanting is not enough, there needs to be a will to take action.
LESSON #5 – NEVER GIVE UP
Despite of his leg injury, Daniel continued to fight. However, he didn’t have to. In the end, Daniel made a choice and he chose not to give up. At that point, Daniel’s chances of winning the tournament were very slim. Nonetheless, the boy refused to give up.
It didn’t matter to Daniel that odds were not in his favour. The boy’s main goal was not to win the competition. Daniel’s main focus was to confront his bullies on equal terms and show them that he wasn’t afraid of them any more.
Can I let you know a little secret? I wasn’t a big fan of the film, when I watched it for the very first time. However, things changed. As I grew older, I began to like The Karate Kid more. Call it an acquire taste, if you want.
Now, as much as I enjoy watching The Karate Kid, I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece. The plot is predictable and the acting is average. Nonetheless, the film has a heart. You see, there are many visually stunning films with grand premises that fail to connect with the audience. They lack that warmth that’s necessary for the viewer to engage with the film. That does not happen with The Karate Kid.
As I said before, the film is not flawless. Nonetheless, it has a lot of noteworthy teachings. Personally, I believe The Karate Kid is a highly relatable film because we all have been in Daniel’s shoes (in some degree). However, most of us were not as lucky as Daniel to have a Mr. Miyagi to guide us.
By the way, there’s a remake of The Karate Kid. As always, I’m very hesitant about remakes. To be honest, the remake is not bad, but it’s not as good as the original film. Having said that, for those who haven’t watched the film I highly suggest watching the original first.