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How ‘The Karate Kid’ Ruined The Modern World

This is an article that has been sent to us.
A cleaned up version (the curse words are <REDACTED>) of a great article that speaks to many of the issues we face when our Honors students, AP students, bottom 25% or athletes don’t reach what people expect their potential to be.
How ‘The Karate Kid’ Ruined The Modern World
By David Wong
I think The Karate Kid ruined the modern world.
Not just that movie, but all of the movies like it (you certainly can’t let the Rocky sequels escape blame). Basically any movie with a training montage.
You know what I’m talking about; the main character is very bad at something, then there is a sequence in the middle of the film set to upbeat music that shows him practicing. When it’s done, he’s an expert.
When I am fired as the Editor of Cracked and run out of ideas for <REDACTED>-based horror novels, I want to write this up as a self-help book, probably titled <REDACTED> The Karate Kid: Why Life is So Much Harder Than We Think, by Dr. David Wong. I also have to become a doctor at some point.
It seems so obvious that it actually feels insulting to point it out. But it’s not obvious. Every adult I know—or at least the ones who are depressed—continually suffers from something like sticker shock (that is, when you go shopping for something for the first time and are shocked to find it costs way, way more than you thought). Only it’s with effort. It’s Effort Shock.
We have a vague idea in our head of the “price” of certain accomplishments, how difficult it should be to get a degree, or succeed at a job, or stay in shape, or raise a kid, or build a house. And that vague idea is almost always catastrophically wrong.
Accomplishing worthwhile things isn’t just a little harder than people think; it’s 10 or 20 times harder. Like losing weight. You make yourself miserable for six months and find yourself down a whopping four pounds. Let yourself go at a single all-you-can-eat buffet and you’ve gained it all back.
So, people bail on diets. Not just because they’re harder than they expected, but because they’re so much harder it seems unfair, almost criminally unjust. You can’t shake the bitter thought that, “This amount of effort should result in me looking like a panty model.”
It applies to everything. America is full of frustrated, broken, baffled people because so many of us think, “If I work this hard, this many hours a week, I should have (a great job, a nice house, a nice car, etc). I don’t have that thing, therefore something has corrupted the system and kept me from getting what I deserve, and that something must be (the government, illegal immigrants, my wife, my boss, my bad luck, etc).”
I really think Effort Shock has been one of the major drivers of world events. Think about the whole economic collapse and the bad credit bubble. You can imagine millions of working types saying, “All right, I have NO free time. I work every day, all day. I come home and take care of the kids. We live in a tiny house, with two <REDACTED> cars. And we are still deeper in debt every single month.”
So they borrow and buy on credit because they have this unspoken assumption that, <REDACTED>, the universe will surely right itself at some point and the amount of money we should have been making all along (according to our level of effort) will come raining down.
All of it comes back to having those massively skewed expectations of the world.
Even the people you think of as pessimists, they got their pessimism by continually seeing the world fail to live up to their expectations, which only happened because their expectations were grossly inaccurate in the first place.
You know that TV show where Gordon Ramsay tours various failing restaurants and swears at the owners until everything is fine again? Every episode is a great example. They all involve some haggard restaurant owner, a half a million dollars in debt, looking exhausted into the camera and saying, “How can we be losing money? I work 90 hours a week!”
The world demands more. So, so much more. How have we gotten to adulthood and failed to realize this? Why would our expectations of the world be so off?
I blame the montages. Five breezy minutes, from sucking at karate to being great at karate, from morbid obesity to trim, from geeky girl to prom queen, from terrible garage band to awesome rock band.
In the real world, the winners of the All Valley Karate Championship in The Karate Kid would be the kids who had been at it since they were in elementary school. The kids who act like douchebags because their parents made them skip video games and days out with their friends and birthday parties so they could practice, practice, practice. And that’s just what it takes to get “pretty good” at it. Want to know how long it takes to become an expert at something? About 10,000 hours, according to research.
That’s practicing two hours a day, every day, for almost 14 years.
Don’t let me act like I’m some kind of guru here, either. I write <REDACTED> jokes for a living now, but I’m three years removed from looking at the Classifieds and seriously considering making ends meet with night jobs that would have had me cleaning toilets.
I walked out of college at 22 thinking I was going to be king of the world within a few years. Ten years later I had failed at one career, then failed at another, tried to go back to school twice, accumulated $15,000 in credit card debt, and was working at a job where I was one promotion above high school kids.
I felt like I was working myself to death. Year after year. And even then, so many things had to break my way to get what I have now. A company happened to get sold to the right people, a guy happened to quit his job. Another dude died. If those dominoes hadn’t fallen in just the right way, instead of Editor of Cracked I’d be behind the counter at Denny’s, getting wrestled to the ground by cops because I don’t actually work there. Before this happened to come along I had lost hope and lowered my expectations over and over and over and nothing that had happened in my life up to that point prepared me for it. Nobody told me how hard this was going to be.
All I had was <REDACTED> Karate Kid.

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Kids in karate

For parents considering enrolling their child in karate, we believe this is an important topic. As Karate instructors, this is a topic that comes before us quite often. We are often asked if it’s good for kids to be in Karate? What is the best age for kids to join a Dojo? What training methods are applied to teaching Karate to kids? What benefits will my child derive from Martial Arts training? Different parents, same questions.

If you take the time to look at the many, many dojos on the web with regards to kids in the martial arts, you will see them highlight such terms as; Honor, respect, focus, goal setting, self-discipline, self control, self improvement, self esteem, physical fitness, flexibility, improved communications, awareness, anti-bullying, confidence, better health, and on and on. What do all these wonderful promises really mean?

Well, first let me say very honestly: kids are difficult to train! Their attention spans are short, and the only true knowledge of martial art they may have is what they have seen in the movies, TV or video games they play. Personally, if I had suitable options, I would teach only adults. But that’s just me. And, that said, we have an excellent kids program regardless of my personal thoughts on this.

The promises made in today’s karate kids programs are mostly intended to get your interest and get kids into the dojo. Not to say that some of those promises may not be met, but each child is different. On the positive side, a good school will indeed focus on the honor, respect, discipline as outlined above because that’s part of the general training method. Most true ‘traditional’ martial arts styles have a long heritage of those attributes within the dojo and it should be a very obvious way of life in the school.

When you consider taking a four year old to train in martial arts, consider that less than three years ago they were just testing out their walking skills, and now you’re asking for them to be taught to kick and punch. Both fairly complicated skills for most toddlers. Not to mention, the very limited attention span we mentioned earlier. A funny story; the other day we were at class and one of the kids started crying…for no apparent reason. Just moments before, he was laughing and carrying on with his fellow dojo mates. When I asked him what was the matter he sobbed and said his mom had just left the dojo and she had left him there alone. He wouldn’t stop crying, so we had to stop class and walk him to the parent waiting area to show him that mom had just stepped into the ladies room. The crying stopped and we resumed class. And this was a 5 year old, and this was not an extraordinary event when teaching kids.

We recently lowered our training ‘start’ age to 4 years old to accommodate the many calls we have received for this age group. We even get calls from parents for three year olds, claiming that their child is much advanced for his/her age. Unfortunately, this is mostly pride on the part of the ill advised parent. Karate training for kids less than 6 years of age is mostly an expensive form of babysitting, while wearing a karate Gi.

In my opinion, a better way to spend the time with your 3, 4 or 5 year old, is to take them on nature walks or do something else together. Then when they are 6, find a school where you can both train. That would be excellent for the child and parent. After all, you have to be there anyway, so why not reward yourself and your body with an excellent workout at the same time? You will both enjoy the experience and the long term benefits.

However, if you insist on starting a toddler early in the martial arts, understand that they are probably not going to be the next Bruce Lee. Don’t anticipate more than that they will hopefully be able to retain and do some skills after 6 months or so and the spinning wheel kicks as seen on TV and the big screen are light years away. If they are just enjoying being with the other kids and are comfortable with the routines of the dojo, then you’re way ahead of the pack.

A word about what to watch for regarding Instructors: Instructors should conduct and present themselves as such; just simply and humbly, as an instructor. Instructors are not Gods or super heroes. They should be neat, clean and obviously capable. Their concerns should be about the students under their supervision, not how good they are or were as advanced Black Belts. A flashy Gi, jewelry, multi colored belt, patches all over their Gi, etc. just says – ‘Hey, look at me”! Take a look at any photo of any of the ‘Father’s’ of our sport, and what do you see? Just mature instructors wearing a simple white Gi and a black belt, nothing more. Only their actions and way of life spoke for them.

If you have any questions about this point, look at the Jim Carey video we have provided for you and imagine leaving your child…or you, under his care. If you see behavior like that at your prospective dojo…run quickly, don’t look back.

So what is the bottom line? When considering Karate for your child, ask yourself honestly what you want him or her to take away from the training. If you just want a place where they can spend an hour at a time and have a good time with other kids, then there are many schools out there that will provide that. If a child is mature enough (5-6 years old) and really has an interest in martial arts, then look around at the many schools and styles available out there and find one that suits your child the best. Some kids love the flashiness of an eclectic school that focuses on competition and athletics in their training methods. Others are more comfortable with the less flashy traditional style training that focuses on basic principles and competition is an option, not goal of the school.

Either way, you as the parents have to put a bit of time and effort into the final choice. Once that choice is made, then be prepared and committed to spend the time with your child at the school, showing interest in their training and providing encouragement. If you have any questions regarding the various styles you may encounter, drop us a comment and we’ll do the best to answer your question.


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Karate is about respect

From the onset of our blog, we have stressed that there are many facets to our art, the most important being respect and courtesy. Last week my associate had an experience on the mat that he feels epitomizes respect, courtesy, honor and spirit on the karate floor. The story involves two highly trained Black Belts. He has expressed his thoughts in his own words, following:

‘There is never an end to what we learn practicing our beautiful discipline. I would like to share an episode that I believe can teach everyone a lot. For those of you who are just starting on the journey of Karate, please understand that what I am about to share with you is an extreme situation that we can use to understand how much karate is in our souls and runs in our veins.

 During a “kumite” (sparring) practice last week, in spite of the high precautions we try to keep in order not to invoke injuries to our opponents (or to be injured ourselves), accidents can happen. Karate being a highly physical sport, this may occur from time to time. This is about what happened last week during a good sparring match with a very capable and expert Sensei. Towards the end of our match, I was admittedly tired but seeing an opening I just threw a punch to the face. I lost control of the punch and hit the intended target, failing to pull the punch in time to avoid contact. It resulted in an injury to my opponent, who is a dear friend, causing a fractured and collapsed cheekbone. This injury required surgery and several days of pain and convalescing at home for Sensei.

 Even after 25 years training in karate these episodes always leave you with many thoughts. Predominant is the feeling of responsibility in causing harm to someone else, a fact that is in every way opposite of karate teachings. Since that day I just think how this could have been avoided. Probably if I wasn’t as tired as I was I could have controlled the punch strength better and just “touched” sensei’s face, which is something we don’t do in any regards. A bunch of thoughts overlap and give me uncomfortable vibes regarding this unfortunate accident.

 What lesson can we take from all of this? What is the teaching value? The answer to this came from Sensei, who from the moment of impact and from the onset, in terrible pain, tried to reassure me that it was an accident and that he was blaming himself, not me, because he failed to block my punch! Incredible!! In what other world (sport or life) can people reach this kind of faithful consciousness? This huge, unwavering sense of mutual respect that never put in doubt that his being hit was not my mistake, but his, and holding me unaccountable for it? I believe that there is no other place with such a high sense of respect among practitioners or each other, where the acceptance of accidents is done with such a trustful confidence that the other’s act was totally fair (regardless of the outcome).

 All I can do is just bow to him and his kindness with huge respect in this person and to his capability of facing this painful accident in this way’.

 Thank you Sensei!

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Jim Carey – Karate Instructor

I remember watching this video one evening…way back when, and I recall that while it was funny, at the time I also thought it was a bit insulting to the Karate that I was involved in. The satire made karate look bad. Or so I thought then.

Well, that was then. I was relatively young and proud of the Karate that we practiced and taught. But ‘our’ karate world was caught up in one dojo and under one instructor. Thank God he was (is) an extremely proficient instructor and extremely traditional in his ways.

Fast forward and with over a 30 years worth or perspective, we’re now posting the video as an aide to future, and in some cases I hope, existing students who are either considering taking up the Art or find themselves in a Dojo where the instructor resembles Mr. Carey in his ways. And it’s quite common, unfortunately.

What’s wrong, you ask? Excellent question, Grasshopper! Karate instructors (Sensei) are supposed to be humble. Their job is to teach karate, not to build up their own ego by their accomplishments, whether real, contrived or set upon them. Instructors, Yudansha and Karateka who are indeed great, rarely show it outwardly. Their greatness is just….there.

OK, here’s something from left field as an example, for thought. In William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night he wrote; “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them” (Quote Act II, Scene V). I can just as easily quote some of karate’s great Masters, but this one works just fine. I love that quote. You see, great karate instructors don’t have to ‘look’ great, or ‘act’ great. Their greatness is reflected in the way they conduct themselves and in their students. They take a back seat to their own ‘greatness’, if any. That accolade, will be given by future generations.

So what’s wrong with the Video?….nothing, really. It’s hilarious. It’s everything a karate instructor is NOT supposed to be. We are not invincible. We cannot shift our body organs (or maybe I missed that class). We cannot catch a bullet in our teeth (remember that one?). Our bones do break, like anyone else’s, and we do suffer from pain. And very, very few of us are ‘World Champions’. Maybe, just maybe, I’m champion of my block. So much for the fantasies.

So if you do visit a dojo, as a prospective student, and see an instructor who is ‘Jim Carey like’, run away quickly! If you are a student of one already, and truly enjoy your style and the art of Karate, you may want to take a look at who else is out there to teach you.

The Karate journey is a life time journey. It is a long one, and your foundation has to be solid so you can overcome all of the obstacles you will encounter. Build that foundation on a good instructor. So, how do you choose an instructor? Another good question, Grasshopper! We’ll try to figure that one out in our next posting.

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The purpose of this blog is to take a broad, sometimes light hearted, look at Karate. We hope to enlighten those who are seriously thinking about starting the long walk into Karate and Karate-do, and also to highlight some of the lighter do’s and don’ts of our Art/Sport. Together we have over 50 years of martial arts training and teaching and we think we know just enough to get ourselves in serious trouble with our students and peers. For that reason we will never use any real identities or specific locations (including our own, of course) unless asked to do so by those making editorial contributions.  

With regards to contributions, let us make this one time disclosure: Many, If not most, of the things you will find here are not necessarily in any way original from our heads. Surely we would like to take credit for them but let’s get serious; we’re the dummies writing this Blog, so…..

We welcome any and all comments and will post them if appropriate, meaning that they are clean of profanity or questionable content. We don’t mind posting negative comments, which we are certain there will be many. We know that many will take exception to some of the things we say or some of our views. That’s OK. That’s the way it is with our Art/Sport. If you really take exception, there are options: Don’t read the blog, make comments to us so we can respond, and lastly…start your own blog so we can read it and send YOU some enlightening comments. You see, we know that when we talk about Karate for Dummies, we accept that we are probably at the front of the line. Welcome on board!

Thanks for visiting our blog.

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