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Gavin J Poffley
Gavin J Poffley's picture
Worst ever depiction of how kata works?

I was watching the film "The karate kid 3" with my wife the other day and had to smile at perhaps the worst illustration ever of how kata is supposed to work as a training method. It is a hollywood film from the 80s and perhaps a realistic depiction is too much to expect but the sheer misguidedness of it was impressive.

We see Daniel, the hero of the film, practicing the opening line of the goju ryu kata seiyunchin at various points during the film, sometimes alone and sometimes synchronised with his teacher. He is also imparted with the dubious wisdom that when it comes to the crunch he should just trust his instincts to do what is needed.

In the final confrontation at a karate tournament (which has many other flaws as a scene but that is beside the point) after all his other tournament point-stop style techniques appear to have failed, Daniel starts performing the solo kata surprise moving towards his understandably confused opponent who then attacks and is countered with an aikido type technique, winning the match!!

This teaches us that repetition of the solo kata alone gives you unconcious fighting ability (and in methods you haven't even trained in no less!), and is deliberately contrasted with the "bad" karateka who actually spar in their training.  

Anyone got any other shockers?!

swdw's picture

You'll notice a distinct diference in the flavor of the first two movies and the 3rd one you mention.

I've met and trained and talked with the Goju teacher of the guy that wrote the first 2 Karate Kid movies. He had nothing to do with writing the 3rd one. Personally, I don't even like the 3rd one.

My undestanding is that Pat Johnson was the one that came up with the actual fight scenes.

Demura, who was the stand in for Pat Morita wasn't too happy with what they did with that portion either. He'd been asked to coach the actors on the opening to Seiunchin because of his Shito ryu background, but then when he saw how they used it, I've been told it irked him.

Oh, and as for the "crane technique" in the first movie, here's a quote from the person who came up with it

"...the crane technique, as depicted in the movie, isn't a real move in any karate or kung-fu. Pat Johnson told me what he wanted, and I basically said, "you mean something like this?" It is widely recongized, and I still hesistate when I tell my karate students that I made it up. But as you might have guessed, there is very little practical application to the technique." Daryl Vidal

Shocking, isn't it?winklaughcheeky

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Swdw,

That’s some fascinating background information! Thanks very much for sharing that!

All the best,


Jamie Clubb
Jamie Clubb's picture

Hi Swdw,

Being a movie buff (grown up in showbusiness), a history fan and a martial artist I really enjoyed your comments.

Actually the whole Karate Kid series of films seem to illustrate my point about the "byproduct myth". All three films perpetuate the idea that if one learns a series of movements without determining a clear objective somehow these techniques  will work for you in a combative context. Interestingly they get more abstract as they go on.

For all its very obvious flaws I have a soft spot for the third film. The villains seem nastier and their plan is more insidious. I love the whole seduction to the naughty side of karate thing. It is obvious trilogy formula, as depicted in the awful "Scream 3", as in the third film heavily connected to the first and supposedly ties up any loose ends. However, Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) steals the film for me! In addition to the original Cobra Kai slogans we now have the Quick Silver Method:

If a man can't stand he can't fight. If a man can't breath he can't fight. If a man can't see he can't fight." Plus there was the "Three Ds", which Silver explained as "Desire, Dedication and Discipline. The first two I cannot give you the  last one I can, but you have to be willing to accept it."

Anyway, sorry for going off track there. This is a nice idea for a thread!

miket's picture


I like your 'byproduct' concept.  Not to pick on karateka, but I have talked with thirty-year veterans who can't show me how to realistically steal milk money from a second-grader using the movements in their kata who tell me that they think "it will just come out in a fight" (that's a quote from one).  ***What*** specifically will come out, or how those motions will relate to what the situation calls for they can't tell me.  But they are sure "it" will come out.  That seems to fit your byproduct concept.

I think your 'byproduct' concept is related to a second idea, "buy product".  This is the idea, that people can sopmehow 'purchase' combative skill (let alone 'excellence' or 'expertise' WITH combative skill) without first inputting the sweat, self-discipline, and personal 'dues', simply by finding the 'right' ('supreme', 'ultimate') martial art, system, school, or teacher.  Some of these individuals are even willing to work very hard at getting good at what they have elected to study.  But the myth of the buy product is that 'THE SYSTEM (i.e. the product) is somehow the solution' that gets matched up to a perceived PERSONAL deficit, and that you can somehow "purchase" the "correct" system to solve all your combative needs. 

Reference the original post, I love the KK movies, all of them, although like most 'series' I agree that they tend to 'trend downward' the more an originally 'good' single idea was repeated and beaten into the ground...  (Rocky, Highlander, Star Wars, etc. etc.).  Almost singlehandedly, (along with VanDamme and Seagal) the KK movies pretty much kept the 'martial arts movie'  genre alive through the post-Norris, post-Ninja early 80's.  That fact alone probably brought a ton of people to the martial arts, karate in particular, and (I would assert) gave them an appreciation for 'traditional' arts in general (even while perpetuating both the original stereotype mentioned, as well as the subsequent steretype regarding the inherent superioriity of any 'authentic' [read 'east Asian'] combative tradition).

Edit PS:  Thinking about the originals just now, as well as their relationship to the new Jackie Chan version, I think anolther myth they make creative use of is the idea that the physical condiitioning learned by NON-SPECIFIC physical tasks (fence painting, jacket removong, car waxing, and the like) could translate to specific combative abilities.

In my class last night, I actually used a basketball pass to illustrate a wedging haymaker interception (ala BTS 'SPEAR' concept or the 'spear' block from silat).  The ball made a useful tool to illustarte what I wanted and for students to CONNECT ***roughly*** what I wanted with something they knew before (which point I believe is the important part in terms of expediting skill acquisition).  But then, illustration now made and practiced for a half a dozen reps by the students, they still needed to TRANSLATE that approximate skill to the tactical reality of someone striking them, i.e. it was still 'some assembly required', and it was this ADAPTATION of the mechanic within this 'phase' of their learning that was truly critical...  If the KK residual 'byproduct' myth really worked, theoretically I would not have had to 'teach' them anything--- since most of them already 'knew' how to pass a basketball, it should have just "come out" as a defensive response when I tried to punch them...   Not.

Like any good fiction, the wax on/ wax off, secret 'crane technique, eleventh-hour suck it from your gut "drum technique" myths (etc.) made for  good and entertaining stories, which was exactly what they were supposed to do.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi All,

With my moderator hat one, can I ask that discussions on the worst explanations concentrate on the theories and explanations themselves and that we avoid mentioning those who hold and purport those views by name? Not always easy to make such a separation I know, but I’m always very uncomfortable critically discussing individuals who are not here to defend themselves. Thanks!

All the best,