by Chris Compson
If you are like me and had your formative years span the late 1980’s and early 90’s, then the phrase “sweep the leg” is likely to arouse your happiest childhood memories. Unlike my older brother whose definition of heroism was enshrined in the image of Luke Skywalker, or my younger sister who had to search through a litany of doe-eyed Disney damsels with anthropomorphic animal companions for inspiration, I had a clear role model to emulate in the pint-sized champion of Daniel Larusso…The Karate Kid!
The 1984 classic The Karate Kid is largely responsible for the thousands of hours adolescent boys spent in YMCA karate classes and practicing the “crane-kick” in their backyards. However, the impact of The Karate Kid is not limited to nostalgic reminiscence. Lessons from the classic form the backbone of any successful running program. If you have never seen the film (shame on you), and I highly recommend viewing it immediately before continuing this column.
Lesson one: It’s not about the belt.
Desperate to avoid the onslaught of the Neanderthals from the Cobra Kai dojo, Daniel enlists the sage wisdom and training of Mr. Miyagi (my generation’s Yoda), but not before vetting his “karate-credentials” with an inquiry into his “belt.” Mr. Miyagi’s response might be the greatest line in this cinematic opus, “In Okinawa, belt mean no need rope to hold up pants.” While Daniel-san may not have taken comfort in Miyagi’s sarcasm, we should. In not so many words, Miyagi reminds us that our success and value is not measured in the number of medals we win or how many top-ten age group finishes we have. Ultimately, the medals are even less useful than a belt.
Lesson two: Indecision equals “squish.”
The crane-kick – Mr. Miyagi’s invincible, ancient, family weapon. It requires complete concentration and a general lack of understanding of physics, but hey, it was the 80’s. When learning the crane-kick, Daniel’s moment of indecision results in Miyagi’s famous “road” analogy. “Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later [Squish] get squish just like grape. Here, karate, same thing. Either you karate do ‘yes’ or karate do ‘no. You karate do ‘guess so,’ [Squish].” Miyagi demands complete commitment, just as running does. If we approach running with a “guess so” attitude, we will inevitably find reasons and excuses to “guess not.” Without complete devotion to the crane-kick, Daniel could never win the Tri-Valley Championships (in one of film’s greatest moments). Likewise, without similar devotion, we do not stand a chance of reaching our running potential.
Lesson three: “Better learn balance.”
Daniel, as the quintessential teenager, is constantly looking for a shortcut to victory while Mr. Miyagi instructs his pupil through a series of house chores more suitable to maid training than karate instruction. This tension comes to a head when Daniel demands to learn how to punch while Miyagi has him balancing on a boat. Miyagi’s response, “Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home.” As Daniel continues his inquisition, Miyagi dumps him in the lake…classic. But Miyagi had a point, as usual. While devotion and commitment are essential to success, they must be balanced. When running becomes our sole focus, when running dominates our lives and ceases to be a joy, our running suffers. Like Miyagi taught us, a day fishing on the lake is just as important as a day in the dojo. So make sure your flip-flops see as much action as your running shoes, and you will be surprised how your training flourishes.
Chris Compson has run at the state, national and international level and now coaches high school runners. You can follow his posts about running and other pursuits at soulitarypursuits.blogspot.com and twitter @clcruns, or contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org