The Karate Kid (Or A Path of the Initiate)

They did it like this in my day. – The Past Master

A few weeks ago (or maybe a month), there was much discussion about Pat Morita and whether he was or was not a Brother. Now, we do know that he was very much involved with Shriners, as he was a Shriners kid himself, however, I have not seen confirmation that he took the degrees of Freemasonry. Around that same time, I saw a Facebook post from a Brother that asked how to explain to a non-Mason why one could not just become a Mason by learning from what can be found online or in books, since everything is online anyway. I explained that Freemasonry was experiential, similarly one does not become a Karate master by reading a book. I provided an example from The Karate Kid where Daniel LaRusso gets his butt-handed to him at the beach.

After writing that post, I got to thinking about how The Karate Kid might be an allegory for the path of the initiate. It may not be about Freemasonry in general, but there are some things that made me feel a connection might exist, even if just allegorically, illusory, and speculatively. I decided to read the script for the film by Robert Mark Kamen and write an allegorical analysis. So, here it is in all it’s glory [and there will be SPOILERS]!

In the beginning of the film, Daniel and his mother have traveled from the Northeast to the West Coast, moving from the cold, winters to the year-round warmth of the California sun. Daniel says, “I like winters,” harkening back to the comfortableness of the dark and unknown. He has begun his journey, but it is not yet of his own freewill and accord. His mother describes their new digs as the “Garden of Eden… and we’re in apartment Two-D.” Two D could refer to the two dimensional plane that one travels until they discover the Light of Freemasonry and move into a three dimensional outlook by drawing upon all the implements of Masonry (for a description of the .gif).

Daniel may be reluctant to take the first steps of his journey, but when he approaches the door to his new home or (the West Gate), he hauls back and kicks, “kiaiing loudly.” This sound is familiar to those already studying karate (or the Craft), so this may indicate that either Daniel is interested, but has yet to make that move to join, or he is a Cowan. He encounters Freddy on the other side of the door, who questions him: “Where you from?” and “Whatcha doin’ here?” He enters this new path and right away finds his first trial, an Old Woman telling him he should go back to the North from Whence He Came, “This place is a dump. You should go back to New Jersey.”

Daniel passes the trial easily, forcing Freddy to have to continue questioning the initiate.

FREDDY

Hey, was that? Karate?

DANIEL

Yeah.

FREDDY

Been doin’ it long?

DANIEL

            (evasive)

A while.

FREDDY

Ever use it?

DANIEL

Coupla times.

FREDDY

Bet you can kick some ass, huh?

As they reach his new apartment, Daniel shrugs with false modesty, implying that indeed he has and can.

FREDDY

I’d like to learn some of that. Maybe you can teach me sometime.

DANIEL

            (gallant)

Sure.

Now Daniel is caught. He is saying he is a Master that can teach others. Freddy decides he needs further testing and invites him to the beach party where he can be further interrogated.

Before this happens though, Daniel is faced with another trial, “The Broken Faucet.” He must find the “fixit-guy.” He finds the smallish, older man tracking a fly with chopsticks. This is an obvious trial to determine Daniel’s character. We often see the would-be apprentice discovering the would-be master in a situation where the apprentice would never expect that individual to be the master. Remember Empire Strikes Back? This is the old Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover test that one must pass before they can move further in any mystery, as the mysteries move beyond the literal and into allegorical territory.

At the beach, Daniel meets the mysterious Ali. Ali represents the infatuation Daniel has with the mysteries. Daniel thinks he’s able to proceed, but he is stopped by Johnny, who guards the inner gate. Johnny is obviously protective of the mysteries and should have access to them. He forces Daniel to prove himself with his knowledge. It is apparent that book-learning alone does not make for a successful Karate master or Master Mason for that matter (see first video above). Johnny easily deters Daniel’s entrance into the mysteries. Freddy encourages Daniel, “Drop him. Karate him.” He has vouched for Daniel up to this point, but he discovers Daniel is no master, “Hey man, he told me he knew the stuff.”

Daniel unable to gain entrance into the mysteries, retreats inward, seeking solitude. Now blocked from entrance into the mysteries as he is seen to be a cowan, he is now ridiculed, “Hey, Karate Kid. Let’s see them moves!” “The only move he knows is how to get his ass kicked.” Even so, he has not given up on his interest in the mysteries, hence the next scene when he talks to Ali.

The ridicule continues as he is elbowed by Tommy and side-tackled by Bobby while playing soccer. Daniel wrestles Bobby and is subsequently removed from the game, because he is an outsider. Later, we see him practicing Karate on his own. He hasn’t learned his lesson, but he is still determined to be a Master. “Learn from book?” asks Master Miyagi, placing a seed of doubt into Daniel’s mind about his abilities and whether he is going about things in the right way.

This leads Daniel to try to gain entrance into a Dojo (or Lodge) and discovers those who have ridiculed him also attend it. Even so, he does not look down on Karate in general, but only on this Dojo in particular. These brothers are not acting on their best behavior, as one would expect of brothers. A few scenes later, they chase him, causing Daniel to wreck his bike. Daniel knows that he has done wrong by insisting he was a master and now knows he needs the experiential part to become a true master. He tells his mother, “I got to take karate.”

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. – Zen Proverb

The true Master introduces himself, showing how the truth of good living is through brotherly love and relief, as he fixes Daniel’s bike. Daniel doesn’t realize the training begins when the Master teaches him the art of Bonsai, which requires much patience. He later helps him to make a Halloween costume so that he can meet Ali (i.e., he is clad in a particular way to start the mysteries). He re-enters the West Gate and this time those brothers try to blackball him again, following on their bikes and trying to beat him, but Master Miyagi, whispering wise council with his fists and feet, stops them.

Notice the skeleton costumes representing mortality? Is this the chamber of reflection?

Daniel discovers the mastery of Miyagi and asks him to teach him the mysteries. Miyagi will only do so, if Daniel is doing it for the right reasons. We now see Daniel has come of his own free will and accord. Master Miyagi explains that the brothers who ridiculed him have just been taught wrong, “No such thing bad student, only bad teacher. Teacher say, student do.”

The first thing he teaches Daniel is that symbols don’t mean what people think they mean.

MIYAGI

In Okinawa, belt mean “don’t need rope hold up pants.” Karate here.

            (taps his head)

Here.

            (taps his heart)

Not here.

            (he pulls on his belt)

Understand?

Daniel has now been initiated into the mysteries and Master Miyagi will be his master on this journey, and the tournament/challenge against Cobra Kai foreshadows the third degree that Daniel will ultimately go through. All that he learns, builds toward that. In the next scenes, we see Miyagi teaching Daniel through allegories.

MIYAGI

Danielsan. Walk on road. Walk left side. Safe. Walk right side. Safe. Walk middle, sooner or later get squished like grape. Same thing here. Either karate do, or karate do no. Karate do guess so you looking get squished. Understand?

DANIEL

Yes.

            (beat)

I’m ready.

MIYAGI

Good. First step. Sacred deal. I teach karate, that my part. You learn. I say,

You do, no question. That your part. Deal?

Daniel goes to shake hands. Miyagi unceremoniously slaps the soapy sponge into it.

MIYAGI

First wash. Then wax. Like this. Wax on right. Breath in. Out.

Miyagi makes small circles, clockwise, on the fender with his right hand.

MIYAGI

Wax off left. Breath in. Out.

He repeats the motion with his left hand, counter-clockwise.

MIYAGI

Very important, breath in out.

Daniel learns all the basics, all the literal movements that he needs to understand before he can move on to the next stage of learning, the next degree. When he catches the fly with the chopsticks, Miyagi tells him, “Beginner’s luck,” because he shows skill, but he hasn’t passed to the next stage yet. He must still paint the fence, “Up… down… up… down… Whole fence. Don’t forget breathe.”

Daniel now gets to go on a date with Ali, which is to say, he is becoming invested with some of the mysteries. He realizes that there is still a lot of mystery left to learn. He grows upset with his training, becoming impatient, thinking he hasn’t learned anything. Miyagi challenges him and they go through the catechism of this initiatory degree, “Show me wax on, wax off… Show. Left right. Left right… Sand floor. Paint fence. Side Side.”

The next phase, Daniel is applying what he has learned to other aspects of his life. We see him at the beach in a montage of ocean fighting. He also spies the Master doing the Crane move, which is a Master level maneuver. Later, Daniel sees Johnny dancing with Ali and thinks that mysteries are out of his reach. He seeks mentorship from Master Miyagi and discovers that he is human too. Daniel must be there for his master when he discovers that he had lost his wife and child years before. Daniel must then become humble and see other people’s perspectives before he can pass to the next phase.

Finally, the tournament arrives, and we see Daniel begin the journey of his third degree. He has a black belt wrapped around his waist (maybe a cable-tow) and wears a bandana (maybe a hoodwink). He then must face several opponents, which he easily passes by unscathed. He then faces Bobby, who takes out his knee, and lays him out, ending his career. Except, he is magically raised from the career-ending defeat by Master Miyagi’s special hands. He returns to the ring to defeat Johnny and win the day. With this triumph, he has been raised to the Sublime degree of Master Karate Kid.

Obviously, I took much liberty in the interpretation here. I don’t really think a mystery religions allegory was meant by the story, but when you look at this film or really anything through such lenses, you can find some similarities. This was for fun, so I hope you enjoyed it.

5 comments

  1. Excellent. I have a story that I sometimes tell about how the process of initiation takes place in the movie Groundhog Day. Perhaps I should write it up, although I am not sure how to post it.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s