Sunday, June 13, 2010

Karate Kids

It has been said that there is nothing new under the sun. This is certainly true of martial arts and is practically a rule in Hollywood. When TV commercials first appeared for The Karate Kid, I was five years old. My mother saw the commercial one night at dinner and casually asked: “Do you wanna do that?” and I eagerly nodded my head. Five years later, I was enrolled at Golden Tiger Karate. Twenty years later, I continue to teach and train at the very same school and you know what? There is nothing new under the sun and that is exactly how it should be. In The Karate Kid, the fighting and authenticity both took a back seat to the relationship between teacher and student. The lifestyle passed from father to son, from Myagi to Daniel, was what charmed audiences and first planted the idea in parents’ heads that their daily efforts to raise their children to be good people could only be augmented by signing them up for karate lessons.

Through hard work and practice, Daniel La Russo transitioned from lost boy to young man. He was no Bruce Lee and there is no Crane Technique but he made it seem like any kid could do it. This weekend, the remake of The Karate Kid starring Will Smith’s son, Jaden Smith, was released to the sort of box office success Hollywood has been waiting for after a rather disappointing year in receipts. Set in China with Jackie Chan in the mentor role, Dre, the titular ‘Karate Kid’, is actually trained in kung fu. The goofy, fake but quaint style of action in the original is replaced by the sort of slick choreography kids today demand. The basic plot is followed rather faithfully. Most importantly, a displaced boy, younger than Daniel, is initially confused by the strange methods of his new teacher. Rather than waxing a car, painting a fence or sanding a floor, Dre puts his jacket on, takes it off, drops it and hangs it up. Sound silly? Just wait. Earlier in the film, Chan’s maintenance man, Mr. Han, witnesses a tense episode between the 12 year old Dre and his mother over his bad habit of leaving his jacket on the floor and failing to hang it properly. Of course, much like Daniel’s chores are later revealed to be karate “techniques”, the practice with the jacket turns out to be a kung fu lesson. At the same time, his mother is astonished when the same jacket is placed on its hook at home.

So, with this remake in a never-ending stream of remakes proving the aforementioned adage true many times over, what is there to take away from the experience? Might thousands of young boys and girls be begging for karate lessons after being taken to see the film? I certainly hope so. Will they be more likely to be impressed by a miniature Will Smith trading punches and kicks with bad boys and Jackie Chan? I’m sure. However, I am certain that each and every parent that takes their children to see this movie will come away with something different. They will have to identify with a mother’s frustration over the sort of mess a youngster can cause only to see or be reminded how the ancient arts of the East address the problem. Sure enough, at least one opportunistic karate franchise was stationed right inside the theater lobby offering free self defense classes, hoping to capitalize on moviegoers’ excitement. On the other hand, throughout my own personal history with the martial arts, the mission of shaping the character of young people has always been front and center. It could be learning to pick up after them selves or being more respectful to parents, both themes in this film. In a world where parents feel increasingly against all odds, allies in the war against harmful influences on their children cannot be more highly valued. Finding the right teacher may be as fateful as the encounters of Miyagi and Daniel or Mr. Han and Dre. In the end, I can guarantee that the truth of what you seek is right here, right now and certainly nothing new under the sun.

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