One of my favorite movies growing up was 1984’s The Karate Kid. If you haven’t seen it, fuck off. If you don’t remember it, it’s essentially teenage Rocky in the San Fernando Valley. Ralph Macchio learns karate from wise old Mr. Miyagi so he can stand up to these Corba Kai jerks and go out with Elisabeth Shue. I loved this movie, and it created several lifelong obsessions: movies about teenagers, “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama, Elisabeth Shue and most importantly, karate.
Being a martial arts expert seemed like the coolest thing in the world to me. You could not give a fuck about anything and beat up anyone who tried to mess with you. As a shy and socially awkward kid, this was all that I wanted. I signed up for a taekwondo class convinced that I had discovered the shortcut to self-confidence. I was 100% wrong about that.
The problems started even before I got to class. Putting on the outfit, or gi, for the first time, I had a horrible realization: there was nothing cool about wearing this thing. First of all, it’s white. And it was definitely after Labor Day. Secondly, it’s this weird short robe that has multiple ties like a straitjacket. I began to understand why Jean Claude Van Damme always wound up shirtless in his movies. Realizing that everyone would be wearing a gi, I resigned myself to looking stupid. At least we would all looks stupid.
When I got to class, things got worse. I realized that this wasn’t going to be learning life lessons with an enchanting old man. I realized, for the first time, that this was karate class. It was school after school. That I willingly signed up for. What an idiot I had been! It wasn’t even a part of school that I enjoyed, like reading or lunch. It was basically gym class, led by somebody’s beefy dad who would sweat when he yelled at us. Very un-Miyagi. If I wanted to get yelled at, I could have stayed home.
I might have been able to put up with all this bullshit if the class had delivered the goods. But it totally did not. I learned a few basic punches and kicks, that’s it. Nothing that was going to impress Elisabeth Shue or fight off the Cobra Kai. When I saw a bunch of older kids waiting around for their class to start, I realized this wasn’t a shortcut to anything. This was like a cult: once you’re in, you’re supposed to stay in. After that first class, I told myself I wouldn’t be back for another class.
But then a funny thing happened: I didn’t quit right away. Because I realized that I didn’t know very much taekwondo, but I knew a little bit. Maybe that would be enough to diffuse a dangerous situation. I started waiting for something to happen, an excuse to show off my newly acquired karate moves. That’s when I realized that Ralph Macchio only learned karate because he was getting beat up everyday. Was I really hoping to be terrorized by a bully? Did I want my life to get worse just to prove that I went to a karate class? What the fuck was wrong with me?
After that, taekwondo only had one thing left to teach me: how to quit something your parents have already spent a bunch of money on. And I turned out to be pretty good at that. So thanks, Ralph Macchio.