How “The Karate Kid” Single-handedly Effed-up the Martial Arts Industry

Hey, don’t get me wrong. I loved Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita’s “The Karate Kid”. If you recall, I’ve made plenty of references to the movie series on this blog. But there was a downside to it all. Some of us remember a time that martial arts study was a serious adult thing;  you only got involved if you were hard-core and regardless of who your teacher was, you did the damned thing. After “The Karate Kid”? Well, our classes swelled with 13-year old wannabes, until the Adult class became two time slots at 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, because Sensei needed Monday – Thursday early times for the little ones so they could get home, dinner, homework and bed at a decent hour.

One of the things that you may remember about the movie:  How quickly Daniel-san was able to defeat serious martial arts students in a few months. Wasn’t that amazing? They didn’t even go through an entire winter before Daniel-san was whuppin’ em. He had the same haircut through the whole movie, the same muscular build (okay, so they didn’t have CGI back then, but at least have him do some body-building for the film! Cover it up with geek clothes until the later scenes, when he reveals his “new” body. I should have been a movie director!) and if you ask me, the message sent was “inside of two hours, you could go from nerd to Karate fighter-badass and smack around big boys who have been training for years. After all, Cobra-Kai Sensei didn’t seem the type to award a 2 year McDojo Black Belt. I could just hear kids all across the nation, pestering their Masters (real masters, I must add), “when do I get the next belt???”  And to talk of completely fucking up the martial arts (excuse the lingo, but I never promised that this was a family-oriented Blog), the true, hard-core martial arts teacher (a redundancy, if you ask me—“true” and “hard-core”, that is) became the bad guy. Guys teaching fighting are supposedly got it all wrong. After all, in the words of the late, great Mr. Miyagi:  “Karate for defense only.” Oh yeah, since when? You mean to tell me that the farmers of Okinawa who trained this art, weren’t endeavoring to crack a sternum with their reverse punch? Or that they waited until they could see through a black eye before using their “self-defense”? And I am sure, that it took a lot longer than a 2 hours movie to get them beating up Black Belts. Kids learned to be impatient, teachers learned to become neutered Boy Scout leaders who put down those who taught ass-whipping for a living. And those kids are now the Masters and school owners of today, several generations over. Today, you can have a Si Gung (grandteacher) who have been in the art fewer than 10 years. I know of a man, not to far from me (won’t say his name, but he reads this blog; we’ve talked about it a few times) who got his Black Sash (whatever that is, sorry!) in 3 years, then he gave them in 30 – 36 months, and some of his students are now giving it in two years. He’s not too happy about it, but to me, there is very little difference between a Black Belt given in 2 years and one given in 3 years, unless one is studying 5 days a week…

Was it me, or did Daniel-san spend a concerning amount of time with a drunk single guy, even speaking to him affectionately and putting him to bed at one point? Didn’t Michael Jackson get in trouble for some stuff like that?

Okay, I’m sorry for that one. I’m wrong… strike that.

The point is that the while the movie was good for business, there was a huge price we paid for the commercialization of the arts. No, we didn’t have to play with Daniel-san or Miyagi-san dolls. I don’t even think we had to endure “The Karate Kid” video games (actually, I don’t know how that would have worked with just dashes and circles… I think that’s all that video games did back then), but the interest generated by the movie brought money and corruption into the arts. It turned the game from a life-changing study into a kid’s after-school activity—or worse, into a hobby—or worse than that… a multilevel marketing alternative.

I love Jackie Chan. I love Will Smith, so I guess I’d probably love his kid. Considering that his mom is one of my favorite actresses, and how their marriage is a great example to us all, I should love everything about this movie. But I’m hoping that this version, which I have yet to see, so don’t tell me about it, will bring back some truths about the martial arts, where the first movie (God forgive me for this martial arts blasphemy!) failed:

  • Martial arts is very hard work. You won’t be able to study for a few months and outdo those who have done it for a lifetime. Even if your Sifu is the great Jackie Chan
  • Karate and Kung Fu are NOT the same. Period. (But The Kung Fu Kid has already been made, and it’s very violent)
  • You don’t get to strap on a Black Belt in a few years
  • Fighting teachers are just as much qualified as the “other” martial arts teachers who use fighting as a side dish to philosophical study
  • Sometimes, you can work your tushie off, and still lose. There is such a thing called being outclassed. And no matter how good of a person you are, no matter how much you desire to win, the better prepared man will beat you every time. Daniel-san certainly gave us that false impression. A man can’t win on desire and heart alone
  • Courage is not just getting in the game, but using the tools God gave you properly. And sometimes, you can defeat the superior fighter off of courage. But you still need the tools to get the job done

Either way, I am pushing for this movie. I loved the first movie, and I definitely love the actors in this one, so I’ll probably love this one too. I just know that the first movie overhauled the entire industry, and perhaps this version will bring it back.

 Don’t hold your breath.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

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