More than a Maintenance Man - The Enduring Wisdom of Mr. Miyagi
2nd January 2021
From subtle foreign language fairytales to big screen blockbusters, historical landscapes to imagined futures,
action adventure to heartwarming romance, movies transport us to new worlds from the comfort of an armchair,
delivering an abundance of magical moments and an endless stream of characters with whom we can identify and
champion. But more than that, the best movies provoke thought and inspire change, and the most memorable
characters are those with hidden depths and unexpected qualities; those who, through their own transformation,
force a change in our perception; those that surprise us.
More than thirty-five years after the release of the original Karate Kid, Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi remains - for me
at least - the perfect motion picture surprise package. Much more than a maintenance man, Miyagi is revealed to be
a master of martial arts and a wise counsel. His philosophical musings and wisdom serve up a series of life lessons
throughout the movie (and to a lesser degree, in the sequels), forging a path of growth and enlightenment for his
young students, whilst at the same time guiding us - the audience - towards a more ‘balanced’ life.
In this article I will explore some of the very best Miyagisms, from the famous one-liners that have secured their
place in the pop-culture hall of fame, to the lesser-known nuggets of wisdom whose meanings transcend the context
of the movie. So without further ado, here’s Brainy Cow’s top five morsels of Miyagi magic...
‘Man who catch fly with chopstick, accomplish anything’
Anyone who’s seen me eat a Chinese at close quarters will know that in my world, catching anything with chopsticks
is nothing short of a miracle! But joking aside, this quote from the original movie, serves as a lesson for all of
life’s successes. With focus, patience, commitment and precision, just about anything we can imagine is possible
to achieve. In the context of the movie, Daniel catches the fly on his first attempt, foreshadowing his victory
against the odds at the All Valley Championships.
‘First learn stand, then learn fly’
Before we can excel in any discipline, we must learn the basics; patience is paramount, without roots nothing can
grow. This is true for Daniel in his study of karate, but also for anyone attempting to learn a new skill or fine
tune an old one. We cannot run before we can walk, we cannot build a house before laying the foundations, we cannot
master calculus without first learning to count. But... with a steady, step by step approach we can gradually build
our knowledge and understanding, eventually mastering the skills we need to soar.
‘Walk on road. Walk right side, safe. Walk left side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later... get squish just like grape’
Possibly my personal favourite, this quote like so many, couples Miyagi’s wisdom with the humour that Pat Morita
is famous for. In the original movie, this line comes in reply to Daniel’s somewhat non-committed response of
‘guess so’ when asked if he’s ready to start his karate training. Rather like Yoda’s iconic ‘Do or do not, there
is no try’, this line reminds us that if we’re going to do something, best do it properly. A subtle scream at
anybody content with the slapdash or sloppy - commit, take a side, stand for something!
‘Ambition without knowledge is like a boat on dry land’
It doesn’t matter how good your boat is, it’s not going anywhere without water! This quote from the 1994 movie, The
Next Karate Kid (Pat Morita’s final appearance as Miyagi), has wide-ranging applications. Having a goal is one
thing; having a plan to achieve it is quite another. And having the motivation and commitment to acquire the skills
and knowledge we need to get there, is what really sets us free. Dreams without practical application remain dreams;
boats without water, don’t sail. Simple.
‘Wax on, wax off’
Perhaps the most famous of all Miyagi quotes, ‘Wax on, wax off’ has inspired a whole host of copycat videos, amateur
impressionists and memes. On the surface, this simple instruction has little depth, but in the context of the movies
- and the context of our lives, the advice to do something a certain way - the right way - repeatedly, even if it
takes longer than other methods, eventually leads to mastery. If we trust in the process, we shall reap the rewards,
just as Daniel discovers when the benefits of Miyagi’s unusual tutelage suddenly become apparent.
Though he may be fictional, there’s no denying that Mr. Miyagi’s words of wisdom are as relevant to our real lives
as they are to the characters he guides on screen. The beginning of a new year is a great time for reflection and
resolution, and hence a great time to make our lives a little bit more Miyagi. Here’s hoping that 2021 is a year of
happiness and enlightenment for all of us; a year when ‘whole life have a balance’ and ‘everything be better’!