Instead of posting another story snippet today, I am going to discuss another story near and dear to my heart: The Karate Kid. Not the new one, I mean the original 80s version. The 80s gave us so very much…
Now, like Back to the Future which I have discussed before, The Karate Kid gets a lot of completely undeserved flak. Sure, it follows some classic 80s movie conventions that are stupid, such as dramatically over-the-top bullying, and the adults apparently being sociopaths.
But one of the main things the Karate Kid gave us was the gift of the training montage, and it has become the target of most of the ridicule the movie receives. Not because of The Karate kid, actually, but because every other movie that copied it did it horribly wrong.
Most the people taking cheap shots at 80s training montages use the point that it over-simplifies things. It makes it seem like every skill in life can be mastered with 30 seconds of jump-cuts, and leaves viewers with unrealistic expectations. One internet comedy writer who has clearly never seen the movie even went so far as to say “The Karate Kid ruined the modern world”.
But here’s the thing he, and others like him, clearly missed: The Karate Kid’s training montage only came AFTER Daniel spends roughly 1/3rd of the movie training brutally under Mr. Miyagi. We see him spending long hours in the hot sun washing Mr. Miyagi’s cars, sanding his deck, paining his house, painting his fence, punching waves, balancing on rowboats, and doing all sorts of menial labor. The implication is that this happens over the course of several weeks. The training montage only arrives after Daniel becomes fed up, and Miyagi reveals to him that all the labor has been an important part of the training. Now that he’s bulked up enough and the forms are all deeply ingrained mussel-memory, the real training can start. Cue the montage.
It should also be noted that Daniel did not become a master of Karate after all that; he learned basically enough to beat another 16-year-old kid. Keep in mind that he already had some basic training to begin with – Daniel first meets Mr. Miyagi when he comes into the apartment to fix Daniel’s sink, and sees the kid practicing karate out of a book. Daniel explains that he has taken some classes.
So basically, Mr. Miyagi took a kid who already knew some karate, made him work really hard, then taught him some more karate, and that was enough to make him as good as some kids his own age. Now, having taken martial arts lessons myself, I can tell you that learning the techniques is roughly 1/10th of the training; if you have a good memory you can pick up practically everything in an afternoon. The hard part is building the strength and ingraining the techniques to you can use them without thinking – exactly the sort of thing Daniel did by hand-washing six cars with the whole “wax on, wax off” thing.
The montage where he actually learns how to use all the techniques in combat? It’s implied that it took a few hours or a few days, after several weeks or even months of intensive training. That’s just not unreasonable.
What IS unreasonable is all of the movies that tried to copy The Karate Kid. All of the ones that ignored the whole weeks of intensive body-building and just slapped together a 90-second montage, thus implying that you CAN go from power-nerd to karate-master in a minute and a half.
So cut The Karate Kid some slack. It did it first, it did it right. Go after everyone else and blame them for screwing it up.
If they ever make a movie out of Author of the Gust, I’m sure it it’s bound to get a training montage somewhere, which means it’ll probably also get hit with the same flak. And that’s a shame, because in the book Ryo talks about her lifetime of intensive training. It’s in the same vein; Daniel trained hard, Ryo trained hard. The key difference being that poor Ryo didn’t have a teacher.