As I write this article I am actually listening to Joe Esposito's "You're The Best Around" which always propels me back to Reseda, California where a certain All-Valley Karate Championship Tournament took place in 1984. There are things in pop culture that enter our lives that leave a very profound effect on us. We can't always explain to people what it is about these certain things, except that we connect heavily with them. I admit that in certain cases these things can also leave a very deep and sentimental mark on your life forever. This just so happens to be the case with "The Karate Kid" for me. On June 22, 1984, a film, made on a relatively low budget, debuted across the country from the same team who brought audiences "Rocky". "The Karate Kid" told the story of Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), a Newark teenager in the process of moving to Reseda, California with his mother. Upon their arrival, Daniel manages to make friends and catch the attention of the beautiful Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue in her film debut). Eventually, trouble ensues when Ali's jealous ex-boyfriend Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) along with his martial arts trained gang create constant problems for Daniel. Fortunately, Daniel forms a close friendship with Mr. Miyagi, his apartment building's handyman, who teaches him life lessons and the art of karate. When trouble escalates for Daniel, a karate tournament is agreed upon as the final confrontation between Johnny and Daniel. Luckily, Daniel defeats Johnny and walks away not only a winner, but with the understanding that karate lies in the mind and heart, not in the hands.
It's difficult to trace exactly when I first witnessed "The Karate Kid", but it can be said that I was very young. For as long as I can remember, the image of Daniel and the story of the film has been engraved in my mind. Asking me, even at a tender age, if I knew what "The Karate Kid" was seemed preposterous... It was like asking me if I knew who brought my Christmas presents every year. Obviously, it was Santa Clause. Furthermore, to this day if people ask me that question I am graced with an overwhelming sense of fear. It leads me to think that if someone has the audacity to even ask that question, I fear that they themselves must not have seen the film. Fortunately, for most people that are breathing in 2008 have seen the film which not only relieves me but saves them from suffering a brutal crane kick to the jaw. My love and admiration for this film runs deeper then many would think and if people get hurt in the process it's simply out of my control. I believe that the true importance of this film to me is also the most obvious. Daniel was an average teenager living an average life. But, like most teenagers who are not in the spotlight, Daniel wanted to fit in and be accepted by many. This all seems like a simple request but all of us who at one time wanted this know it's not always the easiest to obtain as a teenager. Personally, this is what formed the immense connection for me with "The Karate Kid". As a child I admit to not being the most popular or athletic kid in elementary school. I wasn't searching to be Zack Morris or Joe Namath at recess time... I was simply just searching for a little more acceptance then I was receiving. Although, I must say that as a 5th grader I had it tough on the football field. Everyday at recess all the boys rushed to the football field. This was just a known fact. I particularly have never cared for sports and certainly never did then, I was far more interested in reading the latest "Goosebumps" book.
Unfortunately, a yearning to be more accepted was crucial in my little mind at the time. Most people develop bad reputations for whatever negatives your peers can tease you about. Not me. I was awarded the honor of a bad "chant". Due to my lack of athletic abilities, I was normally never covered on the football field but more times then I'd like to remember the ball was thrown to me. Tragically, 9 out of 10 times I would miss the ball which eventually resulted in a chant that the Cobra Kai (as I like to call them) of Washington School gave me. Everyday for 30 grueling minutes on the football field, I was taunted with the chant: "throw it to Kenny, he can't catch!", the chant was nothing short of a true fact that was yelled in unison by the whole field... everyday. But, an odd thing occurred, even after this goddamn chant was created and it infested my life Monday through Friday, everyday I ran to that football field to play. Sure, inside I was hurt and pissed off that I couldn't catch if my life depended on it but I still showed up everyday to play that fucking game.
Now, the connection between this event and its significance with "The Karate Kid" is a fairly clear one. Daniel's need to be accepted did not stray far from mine and as much as we were abused for not fitting the format, we held our ground. Daniel's road to the All-Valley Karate Championship is something that we can all universally connect with because we've all felt less than accepted at one point. Certainly, Daniel did and he fought not only to stop getting his ass kicked everyday but for what he explained as "balance". My love for "The Karate Kid" runs so profoundly because it tells so much more than an average "underdog" story. It details beautifully the feeling that, specifically teenagers, feel at one point in their lives to find and sometimes fight for the balance they are searching for in life. Nearing it's 25th anniversary, "The Karate Kid" remains one of my favorite films of all time not only for its entertaining storyline, but the messages it offers for all who can find meaning in it. Fortunately, over the years of developing my love for "The Karate Kid", I also managed to catch a football pretty well. If you don't believe me, my crane kick has been developed to perfection and I'm just waiting for the day to test it out on the Cobra Kai's of Washington School. They claim Cobra Kai never dies... Bull shit.