How To Parent Like Mr. Miyagi

Updated: Feb 3

Parenting is much easier when we have an example to emulate, Mr. Miyagi from the original Karate Kid trilogy is one of those people for me. Every once in a while as a dad I find myself in an opportune time to teach my kids something, and my memory bank pulls out a quote from Mr. Miyagi. Key quote from Karate Kid Part 3: “It’s Ok Lose to Opponent, Must not lose to FEAR.” I understand he is a fictional character but America’s kids are in crisis mode! Many kids today have developed an attitude that says “this is tough I quit” or “be fair to me because I am special”. I try to teach strength and discipline when possible and I need all the help I can get. The Karate Kid movies were a huge influence on me growing up. My sister, my cousins and I can repeat every word of that entire trilogy. Many kids around 1984-1985 after watching the original Karate Kid signed up for Martial Arts, including ourselves. My sister even named her son Daniel.

Basic premise of Karate Kid Part 1

If you haven’t watched the original movie or better yet the original trilogy go do so now, I’ll wait. Get the trilogy over at Amazon So Daniel is a fatherless teenager who moves with his mom from Newark New Jersey to California, where he has trouble fitting in and even gets his butt kicked by the local high school senior gang. After some square peg/round hole shenanigans, Daniel befriends his apartment complex maintenance man, Mr. Miyagi. Throughout the movie Mr Miyagi develops into Daniel’s father figure and even nicknames him Daniel-San. The Miyagi character, played by Arnold from Happy Days is from Okinawa Japan and spoke mostly in simple teachable phrases that became memorable for many. Mr. Miyagi takes on the task of teaching Daniel-San karate as a way of self defense and more importantly as a way of self mastery.


Miyagi watched from the sidelines with stern encouragement.

Miyagi Tip Number 1 – Establish Hierarchy

One of the first lessons Miyagi gives Daniel is pronouncing his name, Miyagi; “Mee-Ah-Gee”. He insists on the proper way to address him and commands respect. When Miyagi agrees to teach Daniel-San Karate he gives him the famous bandana as he states:“You agree Karate student, I agree Karate Teacher”. The lessons here is that you are an authority first, friend second. Set your boundaries. You are the parent and it is an important job. If you do not respect that important job then your child will not respect you. If they don’t respect you, start saving up bail money. Once the hierarchy of parent and child is established it is much easier to have fun and joke around.

Miyagi Tip Number 2 – The Hidden Lessons

Day to day chores that seem meaningless prove to be more valuable later on in life. Danial-San would learn key Karate techniques while he thinks he is doing meaningless busy work and chores. He has to paint a fence for an entire day but later uses those same specific repetitions of moving his wrist up and down to form a karate block. From his perspective, and from ours as an audience, this was a happy surprise. but Miyagi had to construct the task of painting the fence to teach the up down wrist technique.

As your child grows he must utilize the lessons that you taught him, even if he did not know he was being taught a lesson at the time. Teaching a 4 year old to pour a bowl of cereal or to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich may seem trivial. But you are teaching self reliance. You can build on this foundation until they’ve gone to college and can actually cook for themselves.

Miyagi Tip Number 3 – Set the Challenge

You must push your kids to teach them how to push themselves. When Miyagi entered Daniel-San into a karate tournament the two hadn’t even talked about it. Miyagi thought that Daniel-San had heart and he believed in him. Daniel-San was terrified of the upcoming challenge. Miyagi knew that with discipline he could be ready with a few months of training.

We need to set the bar high and let them struggle through it to the goal. This is the way true confidence is built. A great Documentary on the inspiration for Miyagi is over on Netflix: The Real Miyagi on Netflix

Miyagi Tip Number 4 -Let them rise to the Challenge

The pressure was on and Daniel did not have much of a choice he had to get good at Karate, fast. After the decision was made to enter the tournament the best choice was to get good and win the tournament. In our family when someone doesn’t want to go to practice my go to line is, “well you already made the decision to join.”

Miyagi Tip Number 5 – Repetition is the mother of skill

Day and night he followed every one of Miyagi’s orders to train hard. Eventually Daniel-San would learn to practice on his own. Once a kid starts to get better at doing something they like to do it more and more. In the movie it’s a montage set to Zamfir’s Pan Flute. In real life it take months and years. A famous scene in the film, Miyagi is trying to catch a fly with chopsticks, Daniel walks in sits down and within about a minute catches the fly. Daniel-San is ecstatic but Miyagi, frustrated proclaims: “You beginner luck.” Its a big laugh from the audience. But there are a few reasons why it’s such a potent scene. Miyagi is mad because getting something on the first try without undermines Miyagi’s lessons on hard work and taking time to master skill.

Miyagi Tip Number 6 – Reward during special times- and then go all out!

After all the work is done— the sweet pay off! For Daniel-San’s birthday he got a custom Gi, and a new car. This was more to reward his hard work and show his appreciation. What is more memorable and encouraging to a kid: going out for dinner because it’s Friday or going out to dinner because kid number 2 got an A on the math test?



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