How we taught Grace and Vivi to adore a good kick in the face.
I have learned a lot recently about the things that children think, the things that children say, and the things that children believe. I am, by no means, a stranger to the younger versions of my fellow human beings. I have known and loved children all my life, but it’s not at all the same experience as being a step-parent. Since elaborating on the nature of the step-parent/child relationship would be mind-numbingly dull to most of you who have children, and terrifying enough to force those that do not under the vasectomy knife, I’ll warn you now that you might want to stop reading. That is, unless you love, as I love, The Karate Kid.
Not too far back, we decided that this was something the kids “needed to see.” As anyone who was reared in the ‘80’s can tell you, this is by no means a light-hearted decision. This was a seminal movie in my childhood, and almost everyone I know who’s my age says the same. Carla and I both loved it and couldn’t imagine why the kids wouldn’t love it as well. It is, after all, a classic coming of age story, and a true heroes tale as well. If you look at it through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s teachings (and those of us who revere Star Wars with equal fervor to the Karate Kid surely have studied said teachings) you see that Daniel-San is as archetypically heroic as Luke Skywalker. According to Campbell, heroes come from a heroic or mysterious birth (New Jersey, check) and are typically fatherless (Mrs. Laruso was clearly on her own, check. She did have the good sense to own a station wagon, whether it ran or not, though). They face adversity early in life (Kobra Kai Karate Bullies, check) and find through this adversity the wise old man to become a teacher/father figure (and Mr. Miyagi is as shriveled, short, old, and verbally challenged as Yoda, with only slightly better hair, check). There follows a period of hiding in a magical land (Mr. Miyagi lived, apparently, behind a junk-yard in an unusually inexpensive Japanese pleasure garden of some type. He also owned a fleet of classic automobiles that clearly only required a good wash and wax to get them in tip-top running shape, and all of this on a handy-mans salary in LOS ANGELES, a magical and mysterious place if ever there was one. Check.) A true hero undergoes rigorous training in the warrior discipline, (Admit it, EVERYONE of you reading this just said, “Wax On, Wax Off” to yourselves, possibly out loud. Some of you mimed the hand gesture), and proceeds to vanquish his enemies while learning something about himself, and usually getting the girl. OK, that might not be an EXACT recount of Campbell’s writing, but you get the point. We LOVED Daniel-San, though almost no one in his world seemed to. Plus, we were all as in love with Alli with an I just as much as we had loved Princess Leia only a few years before, and only lamented that KKIII didn’t include a gold bikini (or a believable or even recognizable plot structure.)
However, I digress. (ya think?) In order to properly expose Grace and Vivi to the glory of The Karate Kid, Carla and I invited to our home the one man who might truly seal the deal when selling ‘80’s pop culture to the uninitiated. That is, of course, the inimitable Mr. Kevin Smokler (@Weegee). We gathered around the boob tube (what is the proper reference of this nature for an HD digital television these days? TV’s don’t have tube’s anymore, right?), and settled in for a movie night like none other. The first hour or so was predictable difficult, and this is where we (finally) get to the point I made up front. Children’s minds work in unique and wonderful ways, and ours are no different.
Seemingly the most difficult thing for the girls to digest was ‘80’s fashion, and frankly, who can blame them? If I had a nickel for every time Grace or Viv asked, incredulously, “What is he/she WEARING?!!?!?!?”, well, I’d have about $1.15. They had little understanding of the shortness of the shorts during the P.E. or beach scenes, no acceptance whatsoever of the sleeveless t-shirt, and Daniel-San’s classic red plaid shirt / camo pants combo was a complete mystery to them (as it was to us, at the time). The level of unintentional comedy in their discussion of Billy Zabka’s hair alone could provide stand-up material for a fleet of comics.
The other difficulty they seemed to have difficulty with is the one that makes me love them as much as I do. They had no conception, none whatsoever, as to why the Kobra Kai asshats had decided to ruin Daniel-San’s life. “Why are they doing that?” they often asked, and it wasn’t a saddened plea on young Mr. Larusso’s behalf while they watched in horror as he got his teenage ass whipped. They genuinely had no understanding of cruelty on that level from one young person to another. I know they experience bullying at school, but it is mostly in the form of teasing, verbal abuse or the modern “Cyber bullying”, and they mostly know how to handle it, i.e. just ignore such ridiculousness when mild, and let the proper adult know what’s up when things get nasty. But actual physical violence between schoolmates was something foreign to them. Is this because they are only 11 and 12? Or, is it that the boys at school brawl in the yard, but they are beyond it since they are girls? This doesn’t seem to be the case. They are, thank goodness, just not exposed to that kind of blatant aggression and physical cruelty, and I am thankful for it. I felt the same when we saw Fried Green Tomatoes, and had to explain WHY a black woman’s word would never be trusted over a white man’s. That level of removal from the issues that so dominated generations before them makes me warm and fuzzy inside.
Meanwhile, it didn’t take too terribly long before the girls were completely wrapped up in this wonderful little flick, and rooting for Daniel-San right along with us. They laughed in all the right places (Daniel getting thrown out of the boat by a cackling Mr. Miyagi, who seems to have lost a firm grip on his horses), they got teary in the right places (learning of Mr. Miyagi’s own loss in his past) and by the end of the flick, they were PUMPED for the All Valley Karate Tournament. Seriously, who wouldn’t be? They laughed a good bit at the music (which they seemed to regard as just as odd as the fashion, surprisingly) but they were stoked. Another of their amazing insights happened right near the end, and it made me incredibly happy to see it. I’m not sure if WE understood this as kids, but the girls pretty clearly saw through the Kobra Kai kids’ bravado at the end, and recognized that they were in fact just some scared kids themselves, being manipulated by a teacher that was very, very wrong in the head. They saw the fear in Johnny’s eyes when Martin Cove delivered the classic line “Sweep the Leg,” and again when he let Mr. Lawrence know he wanted Daniel-San, “Out of commission.” These chilling moments might have been lost on me as a kid, but not on the girls. They saw the inherent decency in these young men with a terrible teacher, and focused their ire on the true villain of the story rather quickly.
And then, at last, it was here, the moment that so affected my childhood, and that of all my friends. The Crane Kick. Need I say more? I think not. What burst forth in our living room was the same that burst forth in my Father’s 25 years prior.
Riotous cheers! Whoooo! All five of us leapt forward, yelling and applauding, all of us rejoicing in Daniel-San and Mr. Miyagi’s triumph just as much as my family had done when I was the girl’s age. That, for me, was easily one of the great moments in my new parenting experience, and really showed me that as much as kids today are smarter and more experienced and exposed to the world, ultimately, everyone loves it when the good guy wins.