The Karate Kid Personal Essay
Mutual Benefits in a Teacher & Student Relationship
In society, we often acknowledge how students benefit from teachers. Students can arguably not approach their full potential in an area without the instruction and guidance of one who comprehends more than they do — students need teachers. Does it work the other way around? I assert that yes, teaching brings both students and teachers closer to their full potentials in a subject, or even in life. Even though I have a background in education, the depth of this position came to me as somewhat of an epiphany to me while watching the classic 1980s film, The Karate Kid. When Danny LaRusso moved to a new part of the country, he fell into high school bullying trouble, so a benevolent handyman and karate expert took him under his wing to help him learn to defend himself. Danny depended on his Sensei, Mr. Miyagi, so that he could work towards achieving his full potential as an excellent self-defense student. However, interestingly enough, Mr. Miyagi also unknowingly benefitted from his student, Danny, who helped him move through a time of solitude, sadness, and stagnance in his life and realize a greater sense of purpose.
Consider Mr. Miyagi’s solitary introduction in the story. He fixed apartments, fished, tended bonsai plants, meditated, and repaired old cars. No other mention was made of him having other friends or family. As he was a kind soul with much to give, Mr. Miyagi agreed to give up much of his time to train Danny so as to stop him from getting beat up at school. My heart warmed seeing the progression of Mr. Miyagi’s sense of humor throughout his sessions with Danny. He began with small chuckles, but later sported all-encompassing belly laughs when they were practicing in the rowboat and Danny fell in the water. His unplanned venture into teaching was solely responsible for bringing about this joy in his life.
Furthermore, when Mr. Miyagi became a Sensai to Danny, he was able to present gifts to another human that he was growing closer to. This act of giving brought a beautiful light into Mr. Miyagi’s life. When he first met Danny, he took great pleasure in surprising Danny with a repaired bike and giving a bonsai tree to Mrs. LaRusso. However, further along in the movie, we see how Mr. Miyagi grew to experience all-encompassing joy in giving Danny — his now student and close friend — a birthday cake, a karate suit, and a car. The relationship that he built with his student clearly became more rewarding than he had ever imagined when he first stumbled upon his accidental teaching opportunity.
Perhaps the most powerful example of Mr. Miyagi’s transformative journey as a teacher was the heartwrenching scene where he, supported by his relationship with Danny, worked through the loss of his wife. When Mr. Miyagi gave his student his one and only karate uniform stitched by his deceased wife, he displayed a freeing severance with his past hurts as he gave up something dear to him made by his lost-but-not-forgotten spouse. Danny innocently brought about a sense of closure to this painful chapter of Mr. Miyagi’s life that the old teacher had not addressed in some time, as shown by his box of medals and letters. The Sensei’s relationship with his student became more valuable to him than holding onto relics from an unrevivable past; his role as a teacher carried him over the previously unsurmountable hurdle that had been such a painful detour in his life.
Needless to say, I did not expect to find such deep meaning in a movie such as The Karate Kid when I began watching. The beautiful illustration of a student and a teacher who find each other and experience greatness in such individually powerful ways is truly inspiring. Yes, of course, a student benefits from a teacher, but I believe a teacher benefits — sometimes exponentially more — from the connection with a student. This is especially so in the case of Mr. Miyagi, who gains and transforms even more than his unexpected student.