Advice & Help

The Upbeat Dad: Life Lessons from The Karate Kid Movie

For this week’s article , I’ll share with you a life lesson I learned from a movie I watched over the 2010 Christmas holidays – The Karate Kid. It’s a remake of the 1984 movie with Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita – this version features Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. If you haven’t watched it, it’s a movie I highly recommend. Smith’s character was a boy named Dre Parker and Chan played a maintenance man named Mr. Han. Parker’s father passed away and his mom got a job in China so the boy, who was about 10-13 years old, had to leave the United States for a new country where he had to learn of a new culture and a new language, among other things. Han worked in the apartment complex where Parker and his mother lived.

Parker had a hard time fitting in socially because he was new and very different. At school, he was ridiculed, bullied and beaten up by older boys. He complained to his mom that he wanted to go back home to the US because he didn’t like it in the new country. He had no father and though his mother loved him, he was a lonely boy who was a social misfit. “I wanna go home!” he cried to his mother.

Before I go any further, I wonder how many of us can relate to this part of the story in more than just a casual way. Perhaps when we were children we had the same plight. Or perhaps right now our kids are facing this same difficult situation. I know that this first part of the movie captured my attention immediately.
In many ways, I was like Parker – I left a small town in Jamaica at age 12 and moved to the big city, Houston, Texas. My first several years here in the US were horrible. I loved my life at home but at school I was a social misfit. I had very little friends. As a matter of fact, kids used to ridicule me and call me the Lone Ranger – because I was always alone. And for the first time in my life, I spoke with a weird accent. Go figure! All of those issues were tough on a growing child who just wanted to fit in and be like everyone else.

I’m so thankful that I had my parents and siblings because I don’t know how I would’ve made it without my wonderful home life to look forward to each day after a miserable time at school. I don’t regret those days at all – as a matter of fact, I embrace them now because they helped to shape and mold me into who I am today.

Now back to the story: Here’s the part of the Karate Kid that I want to highlight. Mr. Han stepped into Dre Parker’s life and not only taught him the physical karate skills so that he could defend himself, he also became a father figure to him. He mentored the young man to the point that Parker’s whole view on life was revolutionized. He developed a certain level of mental toughness that helped him both in the physical practice of karate as well as the mental practice of surviving in a tough environment.

A key part of the movie that stood out to me was how Han got Parker to even begin developing his body for the art of karate. Each day when Parker came for lessons, Han would tell him to stand in one spot and take his jacket off and then put it back on. He would simply say, “Jacket off!” Then, “Jacket on!” He repeated this process for hours every day. Parker became increasingly frustrated with what he believed was Han punishing him. He kept saying, “Can we start learning karate now?”

One day after another lengthy “jacket off, jacket on” session, Parker got so upset that he quit and walked away. On his way out he said something to the effect of, “I know why you won’t teach me karate. It’s because you don’t know it. You don’t know how to do it!”

It’s at this point, when Parker became so irate that he was willing to just quit and walk away, that the beauty of this unorthodox training was revealed. Han called Parker back and showed him that the entire “jacket off, jacket on” routine was to develop his muscles in a unique way that he could excel as a karate champion. All those difficult, frustrating, boring hours that Parker thought were a waste of time were actually an investment in developing his own body. His reflexes were much better. The entire learning process became so much easier because he went through what he thought was punishment by a man who really didn’t know what he was doing.

As it turned out, Parker entered a karate tournament against some of the best young karate experts in China and based on the rigorous training that Han put him through, he won the entire tournament! What an accomplishment!

There are so many life lessons in this story. First of all, Mr. Han became a father and mentor to a fatherless boy. He helped to guide him by teaching him the essential skills to succeed in the tournament and overall in life. How many of us have sought out young boys and girls who may not have the best home environment and try to mentor them? My heart goes out to such young people. And even if they were like Parker who had a loving mother, they still need the valuable lessons that a positive mentor can give.

Another lesson in the movie is that sometimes we learn the best lessons in the most unconventional and unorthodox ways. There was Parker thinking the boring routine was punishment; while at that time he was in the developmental stages of becoming a master at his craft. One phrase that I have coined is, “That which I thought was the death of me became the key to my victory.” That could certainly be said of Parker.

As parents we should know what’s best for our kids. And yes, sometimes they get frustrated and rebel. Sometimes they say, “But everybody else is doing this, why can’t I?” It’s at those times that we have to do what’s best for them even if it pains them in the process.

About the Author

Rodrick Walters is a professional speaker and the founder of The Upbeat Dad, an organization whose mission is to advocate the positive effect that fathers can have on children’s lives. His daily blog is read by thousands of individuals from all over the world. Readers of the blog are fathers, mothers and children who support the view that kids are better off when both parents are involved in their lives. Rodrick went through a bitter divorce in 2001, during which he saw first-hand the impact on his then 3 year old daughter. He has since given motivational talks to parents and children about the impact of divorce on families. He remarried in 2009 and is the father of a newborn son. His daughter, who is now 12, lives with his new family. Rodrick is a native of Jamaica. He and his family reside in Miami, Florida. Visit his blog at:

About the author