The movie The Karate Kid was always one of my favorites growing up so it was a pleasure to watch it again, but this time, through the eyes of a writer. The main theme really wasn’t hard to identify in this film; trust. Mr. Miyagi and Daniel had to form a relationship of trust, from complete and utterly awkward strangers to an almost father-son relationship toward the end of the movie. Both characters had to learn to trust each other, not only the trust that a Sensei earns from his student from his teachings but also the trust a student earns from the teacher as a dear friend. Here are some examples of the trust that forms between the two characters.
As it is with any trusting relationship, both parties have to begin by offering small gestures of kindness and/or expose themselves to a little vulnerability. When Daniel is forced down the hill by Johnny and his friends and his bicycle is badly damaged, Mr. Miyagi takes it out of the dumpster and leaves it fixed by Daniel’s doorstep as a surprise. It’s a very kind gesture that opens the door to what will become a great friendship. When Daniel comes to thank Miyagi for fixing his bike, he is invited to see Miyagi’s Bonsai trees and is even allowed to trim one of the beloved trees. This vulnerability (allowing Danny to sculpt the precious tree) is a baby step for Miyagi to feel out Daniel’s character and begin to develop trust. This is a great start to their journey together!
This next example of trust is perhaps the most obvious one and also the most humorous throughout the movie. To begin his “training”, Daniel is asked to do these incredibly mundane and tiresome tasks around Miyagi’s house. He agrees beforehand that he will not question any of Miyagi’s training techniques as part of their agreement and he probably regrets this immediately when he is told to wash and wax all of Miyagi’s cars. And to sand the floor. Paint the fence. Paint the house … you get it. Anyone who sees this movie for the first time probably commiserates with Daniel and asks the same question: “Why is this crazy old man making me do his house chores?” Nonetheless, Daniel trusts his Sensei (although he almost loses it at the end of the house chores), and his reward is learning several block moves with instinctive accuracy. Three cheers for sandpaper and paintbrushes.
This last example is not chronological with the other examples, but I saved it for last as it is the deepest form of trust; leaving someone’s very life in your hands while endangering your own. When Daniel is beaten within an inch of his life, Miyagi runs to his aid without hesitation, defeating all the Cobra Kai thugs single-handedly, and takes it upon himself to protect Daniel and heal his wounds. These acts have now gone beyond small gestures of kindness. Miyagi is now “in deep” as he is fully committed to Daniel’s safety and his livelihood. He takes Daniel under his wing as a father figure that Daniel never had (as far as we know). Miyagi also has a son he never had as he lost his biological son and his wife at childbirth. Daniel makes the point that Miyagi is now “involved” and they must trust each other through and through.
I think this movie does a great job implementing its theme as it parallels the development of trust in real-life relationships. I love the development of the characters, specifically, Mr. Miyagi and Daniel as their once informal acquaintance with each other becomes a lifelong friendship. Their ability to trust each other is what makes the movie. Daniel trusts his Sensei whole-heartedly to help him find his balance in all of life’s angles. Miyagi has to trust that Daniel will follow his lead and take his teachings to heart as he lets his “son” go into the real world.