The Social Arts according to “The Karate Kid”: 3 Major Lessons

When I saw the remake of the cult classic, The Karate Kid, a couple weeks ago, I was reminded of why the original movie was so often mentioned in self-improvement circles and why that rake Nick Sparks was unashamed to pronounce that he is this movie’s number one fan, lol.

Both the original and the 2010 remake, starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith (son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith), hold a lot of lessons for guys who are learning the social arts. Why not use pop culture–stuff guys are already watching–to teach higher level principles, which are usually expressed in a recondite and overly abstract manner, and to present them in a more accessible format? Haha, this is a fun article I’ve been meaning to do for a while actually, even before the remake came out.

If you haven’t seen the 2010 remake yet, I highly recommend it. The portrayal of Beijing and the mountain monasteries in China is not as romanticized as most Hollywood depictions, though the most modernized and glitziest parts of Beijing never figured in any of the scenes.

The 2010 remake trailer:

Yes. Indulge me for a minute 😉

3 Lessons

1. Check Your Preconceptions at the Door, and Start from Scratch

Early in the movie, we see Jaden Smith’s character (I forgot the character’s name, so I’m just going to refer to him as Jaden) trying to learn martial arts from DVDs. Jackie Chan’s character (again, forgot the character’s name, so will refer to him as Chan) sees this while fixing something in Jaden’s apartment and realizes that there is very little chance Jaden will be able to learn martial arts from DVDs.

Well, ya gotta start somewhere. And as most guys out there, I too had my introduction from paperbacks, ebooks, audio programs, and DVDs. But I was fortunate enough to have real life mentors early on–guys like Christian Hudson and Sebastian Drake–guide me in person. Otherwise, I would have been stuck like Jaden or Daniel-san, trying to learn from a TV screen.

Later, when Jaden went to his first kung-fu lesson by Chan, the first thing Jaden did was to explain to Chan that he already knew some fighting moves and was naturally athletic, so he “wasn’t as bad as the average guy,” and that “it would be easier to teach him than to teach the average kid off the street.” Jaden proceeded to (try to) demonstrate some of what he could do and ended up making a mess, breaking Chan’s vase.

Instead of acknowledging any current abilities that Jaden might have already had, Chan ignored Jaden’s ego-protecting attempts at self-qualification and set for him the mundane task of having Jaden throw down and then hang up his jacket over and over and over for nights in a row. At the time, Jaden thought that Chan was trying to punish him for his bad attitude (related to an earlier scene involving Smith’s mother) and did not think Chan was teaching him anything about kung-fu.

As I recall, in the original movie, Mr. Miyagi had to ignore Daniel-san’s tendency to think he already knew what he was doing and to force Daniel to learn from the ground up, from scratch. He had to do this even when Daniel progressed to the level of punching with gloves and protective gear.

When it comes to working with an experienced personal coach on an individual basis, don’t worry about making sure the coach knows what you can already do. If he’s an experienced, competent coach, he will be able to figure out for himself pretty quickly how good you are. Master coaches and even some naturals can tell within a few minutes how good a guy is with women. And if he needs any further information, he will know the right questions to ask. You don’t have to offer any explanations. In fact, the guys who waste time continually telling the trainers how good they already are (or were) and relating lengthy stories that were unsolicited are usually guys whose attitudes make them unteachable.

Often, students have to spend an initial period UNLEARNING all the mish mash of jumbled misconceptions and misinterpretations before they can actually understand and apply the correct stuff.

So instead, approach the learning with an open mind, and leave your preconceived notions at the door. Try to do exactly as your trainer instructs you FIRST before you start trying to think of reasons why it won’t work or devising “what if” scenarios. Otherwise, you will just be wasting your and their time. Try out their suggestions first, and give them a fair try. Only then come back for reflection and refinement.

As Miyagi said, to Daniel: “We make sacred pact. I promise teach karate to you. You promise learn. I say. You do. No questions.”

2. Be Patient with Progress; the “Why” Will Become Clear over Time

Master teachers know that if the student’s mindset is just as, if not more, important than the technique. That’s why Chan didn’t tell Jaden why he had him throw down and hang up his jacket over and over, and why Mr. Miyagi did not first tell Daniel-san why he had him wax his car, paint his fence, and sand his floor.

When kids want to learn martial arts, it’s often because they want to know how to fight. But that’s not really what’s best for them in the long run. The bad teachers in The Karate Kid movies just give the kids what they want (partly because that’s what the instructors are after, too): violence and aggression. But the real masters know that true mastery of any skillful activity in life necessitates and generates a higher outlook and greater purpose.

In the social arts, a lot of guys start out just wanting to bed a lot of girls with perhaps a very distant long-term goal of settling down with one or many long-term relationships or a spouse. Their immediate focus is on getting more and more sex–same night lays, faster and faster seductions, models and bottles, orgies galore–and that’s what a lot of the PUA marketing sells them. But the true masters know that these short-term gratifications will never result in any kind of lasting happiness or even contentment.

But they also know that most students aren’t ready to understand this.

So instead of trying to persuade them, a good coach might mislead or keep the student guessing as to the exact reason or greater purpose behind the lesson, at least until the student is ready to understand.

Most guys don’t really understand just how important are Body Language, Tonality, Eye Contact, and Mental States. They are far more important than verbal material or lines. Students often don’t really understand why they have to spend over 80% of their time working on and monitoring their posture; the way they stand, sit, move, walk, chew, talk; how they look into other people’s eyes; and why they have to do Visualizations and Affirmations daily; and most importantly, that they should focus mainly only on 3 things when they’re socializing: Having Fun; Making Other People Have Fun; and Making Connections.

Instead, they keep thinking their problem is that they don’t know what to say. It’s like those guys who think their problem is they don’t know how to punch and keep wanting to learn how to punch.

Daniel: When do I learn how to punch?
Miyagi: Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home. Understand?

Daniel: [practicing blocks in Mr. Miyagi’s boat] When am I gonna learn how to punch?
Miyagi: Learn how punch, after you learn how keep dry! [rocks boat, throwing Daniel into the water]

For instance, sometimes, what a guy most needs is to conquer his approach anxiety. But because of his crippling fear, he can’t tackle the problem head on by doing a ton of cold approaches. So instead, the coach tricks him into thinking he’s doing something else other than approaching–doing social freedom exercises like small talk with harmless strangers or doing crazy stunts on the street–and then eases the student into raising the bar to small talk with cute girls, bypassing the anxiety triggers.

This is the “boiling the frog” method.

3. The Social Arts are in Everything; Start with What You Naturally Do

Probably the most obvious parallel between The Karate Kid and debates in the social arts is in the natural vs. canned issue.

I doubt I need to explain this. It should be obvious.

The bad karate teacher is all about ruthless technique and using artificial means to toughen his kids up and brainwash them into being bad monsters.

Miyagi and Chan, however, teach their students using everyday actions–the sort of things they would naturally have to do as part of their daily activities–chores around the house and even just something as mundane as hanging up a jacket.

The deeper principle is in Jackie Chan’s line: “Everything is Kung Fu.” Or, “Kung Fu is in everything you do.”

Similarly, the social arts aren’t just for attracting women, though many guys only think of it in that narrowest of scopes–“pick up.” The social arts are involved any time you are interacting with another person. Practicing the social arts requires and develops social intelligence and emotional intelligence, which many researchers and experts consider to be far more accurate an indicator of life success than one’s IQ.

Almost all the skills involved in flirting with women are implicated and crossover in the skills required for socializing PERIOD. They are just adapted to a specific context. So actually, if you get good at and continue to improve at socializing in general–which is actually easier for most guys–and in many different and diverse contexts, you will concurrently progress in attracting women. As most PUAs often forget, women are people, too, LOL. Get good with people, and you will naturally get good with women.

Moreover, you will be doing so in a much more sustainable, healthy (read: non-creepy), and effective manner.

This bit of dialogue in the original movie sums it up nicely. Substitute “picking up girls” for “fighting” and “the social arts” for “karate,” and you get the idea:

Let “fighting”=”picking up girls”

Let “karate”=”The Social Arts”

Daniel: Hey – you ever get into fights when you were a kid?
Miyagi: Huh – plenty.
Daniel: Yeah, but it wasn’t like the problem I have, right?
Miyagi: Why? Fighting fighting. Same same.
Daniel: Yeah, but you knew karate.
Miyagi: Someone always know more.
Daniel: You mean there were times when you were scared to fight?
Miyagi: Always scare. Miyagi hate fighting.
Daniel: Yeah, but you like karate.
Miyagi: So?
Daniel: So, karate’s fighting. You train to fight.
Miyagi: That what you think?
Daniel: [pondering] No.
Miyagi: Then why train?
Daniel: [thinks] So I won’t have to fight.
Miyagi: [laughs] Miyagi have hope for you.

Thanks for reading along on my whimsical reflections! David have hope for you 😉 LOL  Feedback appreciated.

Cheers, Asian Rake David.

The original trailer:

Leave a Comment:

Wayne says July 5, 2010

David, another awesome post! I enjoyed the new movie too, although not as much as the original.

Anonymous says July 7, 2010

Hey David,

Much appreciated. This post puts things into perspective


Asian Rake David says July 7, 2010

Hey Wayne and CM,
Thanks, guys. Glad you liked it!

johnny says July 9, 2010

Damn dude, karate kid??? Hahaha! Good points here though. Thanx again!

Vince says July 17, 2010

Beautiful!!! This post was so well put together, I really enjoyed you thoughts, David. I remember when I was in Kung fu a few years ago, I still remember what Kung fu meant. It meant a skill well learned or applied; my si sook, like Chan said that kund is in everything in life. So when I heard him say it in the movie, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic. =D

Anon says July 20, 2010

I like the way you drew a correlation between the movie’s philosophy of Kung Fu and the Social Arts.

I still re watch the original from time to time, and your post made me want to do it again soon. Only this time, I’ll be thinking about “Social Kung Fu”

Asian Rake David says July 20, 2010

Hey Johnny,
It’s my pleasure!

Thanks, dude. Yeah, the remake made me nostalgic, too 😉

Hey Anon,
Social kung fu? Haha, nice!

levelUp says January 27, 2011

This is an excellent post. Thank you for posting this.

Anonymous says September 3, 2013

Wow. You are good at what you do.

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