Mentoring and the Karate Kid

Everybody learns in different ways. Some of us are more auditory, or visual or kinesthetic. I love to use media clips to demonstrate learning points. I find it is a great way to keep people awake (a prerequisite to learning anything!) and employs another modality of learning.

I recommend watching the original Karate Kid movie for some great themes related to mentoring success strategies. Here’s an example:

In the movie, the Karate Master has the protégé perform a series of laborious tasks and chores seemingly unrelated to karate. The protégé gets pretty fed up and really can’t see why he is doing things like sanding the floor, painting the fence, or waxing the car. Until finally the mentor helps him put it all together and basically shows him that he had a master plan and was helping the protégé to develop important muscles so that these skills would become automatic for the protégé when he needed to use him. It would be fun and useful to watch this movie and discuss it with your mentoring partner.

Here are some questions to consider:

1) Have you ever had an experience like this that you can relate to where a mentor, boss, or teacher required that you do some tasks that seemed trivial but later on you realized were actually part of your development?

2) Recall the last time you had to teach someone something- did you ever use the building block approach like the Karate Master does?

3) What else worked about the relationship between the karate kid and his teacher?

4) What didn’t work or made you uncomfortable?

5) What other movies have themes related to mentoring?


About Ellen Ensher

Ellen A. Ensher, Ph.D. is a Professor of Management at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California, USA. Dr. Ensher has an established expertise in mentoring programs and career advice, and is a frequent key note speaker and workshop leader for conferences and public and private organizations around the world. Google +
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4 Responses to Mentoring and the Karate Kid

  1. Emil Zatikyan says:

    I’ve had an experience like this where my professor told me to do some tasks that I believed had nothing to do with the final result. It was a piano class, and the hardest part in learning how to play piano is making both your hands play separately but together at the same time, so same fingers on both hands hit different keys. I had a lot of trouble putting my hands together to play a composition. Then my professor advised me to play one hand at a time alone. I could not understand why because playing with one hand gave me a whole different result. Eventually I perfected playing a composition with only one hand at a time. However, putting hands together is like learning a whole new composition, because the rhythm and timing of the keystrokes is different. Somehow, after playing so much with only a hand at a time, my muscle memory was strong enough to not even have a need to focus on the notes, my hands just started playing the composition by themselves. I was amazed, I did not know it could be that easy because all the previous compositions I started learning with both hands together which took much longer and harder to do. My professor knew the power of muscle memory that I was unaware of.

  2. Edwin Tanta says:

    Karate Kid is one of my favorite movie as well. The film does not only show us an example of a good mentoring but also great life’s values. I have had an experience like the movie before. It was during my soccer class in my high school. My coach asked me to dribble a ball in a small square for 5 minute non-stop. At that time, I was thinking what is the purpose of dribbling the ball in a small square for a long time. Then, after my coach explained it to me, I realized that in soccer we do not need to dribble the ball the whole game. As a player in my position, a middle player, I need to know when to dribble and when to pass the ball. Thus, after that tiring session, I just realized how easy to play the soccer by passing with teammates instead of trying to dribble the ball for the whole game. However, I think that sometime we can feel annoying when someone asked us to do something without explaining the reason at first. It is just the same with the movie, which the student had ask to stop the training because he did not know the purpose of his weird training. However, the other aspect that makes the mentoring in the Karate Kid movie success is the relation built between the mentor and his student. We can see on the movie that the old man is really close and care with the young boy and vice verse. Thus, I think it helps them to create a good atmosphere for mentoring. Another good movie that related to mentoring is Facing The Giants. The Movie is about a football coach who starts to build his youth team and faces lots of problems. Yet, in the end, he is success to built a strong team consist of good players physically and personally.

  3. Edwin Tanta says:

    Karate Kid is one of my favorite movie as well. The film does not only show us an example of a good mentoring but also great life’s values. I have had an experience like the movie before. It was during my soccer class in my high school. My coach asked me to dribble a ball in a small square for 5 minute non-stop. At that time, I was thinking what is the purpose of dribbling the ball in a small square for a long time. Then, after my coach explained it to me, I realized that in soccer we do not need to dribble the ball the whole game. As a player in my position, a middle player, I need to know when to dribble and when to pass the ball. Thus, after that tiring session, I just realized how easy to play the soccer by passing with teammates instead of trying to dribble the ball for the whole game. However, I think that sometime we can feel annoying when someone asked us to do something without explaining the reason at first. It is just the same with the movie, which the student had ask to stop the training because he did not know the purpose of his weird training. However, the other aspect that makes the mentoring in the Karate Kid movie success is the relation built between the mentor and his student. We can see on the movie that the old man is really close and care with the young boy and vice versa. Thus, I think it helps them to create a good atmosphere for mentoring. Another good movie that related to mentoring is Facing The Giants. The Movie is about a football coach who starts to build his youth team and faces lots of problems. Yet, in the end, he is success to built a strong team consist of good players physically and personally.

  4. I believe the Karate Kid demonstrates the necessity of learning the fundamentals of your field fully in order to master it. Thanks to Mr. Miyagi’s training plan for Daniel, he learned some basic karate motions and defenses so well that they became second nature to him. It was this base of the simple beginnings of the art that allowed him to easily grasp the more complicated fighting styles he would go on to learn. Repetition is the key to mastering the basics. Mr. Miyagi’s training plan relies on repetition to improve Daniel’s skills, just like the Shaoilin Monks that inspired it, who will punch walls for hours a day to strengthen their hands and master Kung Fu.

    A great mentor makes all the difference. A mentor is a coach, and coaches know that the fundamentals are greatly important. If you repeat the fundamentals until they become instinctual, you will always have a solid base from which to grow. In the ESPN film, Guru of Go, former Lakers and LMU head basketball coach, Paul Westhead is highlighted for brilliance as a coach in the late eighties and early nineties. Westhead’s philosophy was simple, master the basics of basketball; running, passing, and shooting, and do those things better and faster than any other team and you will win. Westhead’s training for his team members relied heavily on repetition to drive home the skills they learned. This mastery of the basics allowed his teams to act instinctual on the court and perform at a high level for longer than other teams.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxHGK9LKpfM (ESPN 30 for 30, Guru of Go)

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