please wax on about your wax on wax off thoughts, i'd love to see an injection of mary oliver into the cobra kai metaverse!!
bsfddsf okay i apologize in advance for how roundabout this is going to be
i mentioned t.h. white—the writers & cast of ck talk occasionally in interviews about how they think of mr. miyagi as the "yoda" of their universe, which given how openly george lucas borrowed from samurai movies feels like a fair if recursive comparison; but in terms of iconic mentors of genre fiction, i always want to compare him and daniel to merlin and wart in the sword in the stone, not just because the sequence of daniel doing chores feels really similar structurally to the sequence of merlin turning wart into a fish, an ant, etc., but because once & future king and karate kid are grappling with incredibly similar themes: whether might makes right, the frivolity/childishness of violence and how bullies mistake it for glory, the appropriate use of force in defense & offense
& thinking about the animal transformation sequence really highlights, to me, how strongly cobra kai's karate is characterized as—artificial, i guess? against mr. miyagi's karate: it takes place indoors, the students are constantly snapping into neat geometric formations of lines and squares, the dojo itself is like
in this shot everything is white on white on white, broken up only by 1) weapons on the walls 2) kreese's black gi 3) the belts, which we already know we're supposed to disdain as an artificial performance of ego/militarism in this story because of mr. miyagi's j.c. penney/karate here, karate here, karate never here speech five minutes ago 4) johnny's red flag, which is only really in this shot anyway to tell us that johnny's here and we should look at him. kreese is (i think) at exactly the two-thirds line of the horizontal axis here, the lines of the back wall and the right wall of the dojo proceed outward from him, the mirrors suggest rows of students proceeding ad infinitum at his back who are all absolutely identical and unmoving, god i love this shot! it's hugely intimidating, and it's also totally sterile. there is no mess here and there is no room to breathe here. the karate in this room exists in isolation from the world, and in opposition to the world—it turns students from boys into machines. when cobra kai karate leaves this dojo and meets the world, the result isn't just violence, but a violence specifically of conquest: cobra kai karate is used to force the world to behave as the student (or as the sensei) wants it to behave.
okay, so, in cobra kai daniel repeats the chores that mr. miyagi had him do, the specific chores that mr. miyagi had him do, in the specific way and place that mr. miyagi had him do them; which certainly works! like, it's obviously a tried-and-true way of teaching students the basics! but at a certain point we are all sitting there asking daniel... does your fence really need painting for a tenth time? is it not, like, painted by now?
because daniel sort of behaves, in cobra kai, as if the entire point of that sequence was the payoff where it turned out to be karate all along—him telling amanda "i love this part" as robby gets confused/frustrated in s1 really comes off that way to me; and of course that is one of the points, and also that chores are a solid substitute for training fees, but the other thing that the chores do is ground daniel's karate in the lived and ordinary world. these specific chores are not an ancient tradition!—mr. miyagi's father never had him waxing any cars! (qualifier, i'm not gonna say daniel Does Not Get This: there's a part in karate kid iii where he tells jessica half the time he teaches me stuff, i don't know what it is... that vase you were making this morning, he'll make a whole karate lesson out of that, and then demonstrates to her how vase-making motions might be used to stop a mugger, and also i love standing on a log in the woods doing kata. i've mentally marked this whole thread as "genuinely interested to see where it goes in the show from here")
but the point is that there are no swords hanging on the walls of mr. miyagi's house, his belt means he does not need a rope to hold up his pants, and imo this is not about any kind of fight over "formal training means you lose ~karate authenticity~" (which it might easily have become, and which would have sucked!) but about the cobra kai desire to use karate to transform yourself into someone who can overcome the world, someone extraordinary, someone stronger than the world, someone better than the world
vs. the miyagi-do desire to use karate to become a person who can live in the world, which is something a lonely, stick-out-like-a-sore-thumb kid like daniel is really looking for. painting the fence matters because it teaches daniel basic muscle movements, but also because the fence needs painting; because the deck needs sanding; because the cars need waxing; because you have to learn to live in this world, to pay attention to it, to take care of it physically. because it's good to watch cranes, and to see what they can do. the same way (imo) that it's good for wart in the sword in the stone to watch ants, and badgers, and wild geese, and learn from them. i don't think it's a coincidence that the mr. miyagi's lessons are often rooted in the actual physical place of california—walk into the ocean! stand on a boat in the middle of a lake surrounded by the hills!— for a kid who has been uprooted very physically from the place where he grew up. as has mr. miyagi! the mary oliver of it all: over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
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