The Karate Kid: The Ideal Leader
Aspire Learning Space
Jul 20, 2020

“We make sacred pact. I promise teach karate to you, you promise learn. I say, you do, no questions.” – mr. Miyagi

The Karate Kid franchise has spawned three sequels and a 2010-remake, spanning across four decades when you include the TV series that came about. It was one of the highest grossing films of 1984, amassing $100 million in the United States and Canada.

So, what’s the big fuss? Why was it so successful? And why is it still worth watching today, 36 years later?

Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, who plays Mr. Miyagi, was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his role in the movie. That tells you just how moving his performance was. It’s even more incredible when you consider how rare it was for Hollywood to nominations given to non-white actors.

The film was obviously praised for its action sequences and comedic aspect, but that’s not what has given it its cult status.
It was in fact the chemistry and the relationship between Daniel Larusso, played by Ralph Macchio, and Mr. Miyagi. It was so special that it was in fact mirrored in so many movies afterwards, sometimes to an extent of almost copying it like in Kickboxer in 1989, Iron Man and Spiderman, and many more.

“ – You’re the best friend I’ve ever had.

– You… pretty okay, too.”

Daniel Larusso
Mr. Miyagi

Leadership is a remarkable trait in mankind. It’s one of the most sought after features in the human race. It’s difficult to imagine the success of anything, literally anything you can think of without leadership. Nations, armies, companies and families all need leadership. The very fabric of history itself has been shaped by leaders in every field.

To earn the trust, respect and admiration of another person and to follow them is such an exceptional concept. Many can attest to the difficulty of trying to achieve it.
It’s not easy, at all.

Not everyone who wants to be a leader, can be.

And not everyone who can be a leader, becomes one.

You can be inspired by examples of leaders, but each one was unique in their own way, and if you imitate them, you fail at becoming the leader you were destined to be.

Mr. Miyagi presents his own model of leadership.

  1. He is short

Americans have been favoring taller presidential candidates for years. It is an unwritten rule that people with greater height often attract more attention. And when you want to be a leader, being heard and noticed is something you need. However, Mr. Miyagi doesn’t have an imposing figure. In fact, his pupil is taller than him.

  • He isn’t loud

Normally leaders are associated with loud calls and vibrant messages as well as powerful voices. Mr. Miyagi’s voice definitely doesn’t fit the bill of normally known vocal leaders. Some say that leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama had voices that helped them become influential.

  • He works as a maintenance man

He doesn’t hold an impressive occupation or any interesting college degrees.

  • He doesn’t speak English very well

It’s harder than you think trying to inspire someone who doesn’t speak your native tongue.

  • He doesn’t have an answer for everything

Usually when someone is given the position of a leader, as a sign of authority and power, they will try to gain their followers confidence by never leaving a question of theirs unanswered.

  • He exhibits his flaws

A standard view of a leader would normally be immaculate. A perfect image to able to able to inspire those who follow you.

And yet, not one of those points mattered to his pupil, Daniel.

Daniel needed more than all of that.

He needed a kind word of encouragement. A nice gesture where someone goes out of their way for him. A look that boosts him with energy and confidence. A warning that keeps him from mistakes.

Mr. Miyagi knew exactly what Daniel needed and he gave it to him. Daniel didn’t need someone who was loud, imposing and seemingly indestructible (Like his rival’s sensei). He needed a mentor, and a friend. Mr. Miyagi knew exactly when to push him, and when to go easy on him.

It could be said that Mr. Miyagi might not be suitable as a leader to someone else.

And yet, that’s exactly the point.

We’ve often valued the importance of leadership and then chosen certain examples as the standard, then when measuring up against them, we fall short.

Mr. Miyagi doesn’t fit any of the regular criteria of so-called leaders, yet he changed Daniel’s life.

Not everyone is meant to be or can be a Nelson Mandela. But anyone can be a Mr. Miaygi.

You can be a leader to millions, hundreds, or just one individual. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re actualizing the potential of your unique self as a leader. That uniqueness is desperately needed because we all need leaders, but not the same kind.

“ – Daniel: I don’t know if I know enough karate.
 – Miyagi: Feeling correct.
 – Daniel: You sure know how to make a guy feel confident.
 – Miyagi: You trust the quality of what you know, not quantity.”

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