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  • George Samuels

What Mr. Miyagi Taught Me About Teaching

There are many wise mentors in films from Yoda of Star Wars to Mr.Miyagi of The Karate Kid. Throughout the ages, mentors have provided guidance to those who often lose their way. This article is an attempt to outline what I’ve come to call the “Mr. Miyagi Method.”

Mr. Miyagi is a wise old Japanese character from the 90’s hit film The Karate Kid.

He was the type of teacher that everyone wish they had – with a style of teaching that is based on doing, not just reading textbooks all day.

There may be many different approaches to teaching, but this style is the type best suited to experiential learners.

So how does it work?

  1. Make student promise not to ask questions

  2. Teacher gives student a seemingly mundane task to perform for a significant period of time

  3. Student gets increasingly frustrated

  4. Teacher resists informing the student of the task’s importance prematurely

  5. Teacher taunts (indirectly) student during tasks

  6. Student hits breaking point and decides to quit

  7. When the student quits, the teacher interrupts and gets the student to perform the task in a different way

  8. Student amazes him or herself

Karate Kid. Moment of realization.

A scene from The Karate Kid. Picture from My Rule of Thirds.

Why does this work so well? Let’s break it down step-by-step:

  1. If a student really wants something from a teacher, they must learn to respect the teacher (no questions asked)

  2. The teacher does not give a reason to the student, they must understand the lesson and have full conviction in its outcome. Teacher does not reveal real reasons for the task for risk of breaking the lesson.

  3. Young students (usually rebellious or misunderstood) will get frustrated because they are used to getting what they want

  4. The teacher must remain focused and have conviction (energetically) so the student does not detect weakness or see means to manipulate (you may think this is harsh, but everybody detects each other’s energies on a subtle level)

  5. The teacher will pass the student every now and then to see just how focused he or she is on the task at hand (this develops an ability for the student to stay focused no matter the distractions – the true lesson)

  6. If the teacher persists enough, the student will eventually get tired and throw in the towel (if they have not yet seen the reason why they’re doing what they’re doing)

  7. When the student quits, it is the role of the teacher to intervene right then and there and get the student to relay what they’ve learned to the teacher. The student will get frustrated again, but the teacher must persist. The teacher must then provide something that allows the student to apply what they’ve learned to a different task or challenge. This shows that the student has truly learned something, and not just memorized for the sake of.

  8. The student amazes themselves but, in your heart, you knew they had it in them all along. This is the true power of education.

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***Note: some students will not trust a teacher upfront, so sometimes “tough love” becomes a necessary part of the lessons. Many students, even adults, are reluctant to taking direction from somebody else out of fear of being told “what to do.”  A Master Teacher will typically know how to deal with this by being calm and assertive.***


I have used this approach most successfully with visual or haptic-oriented students. It’s very improvisational but, for the teacher, you know exactly what’s happening.

There’s a bit of risk involved as well (as there’s always going to be a few students who won’t appreciate the lack of structure or order), but remember that you are trying to embed lessons, not just regurgitate it in fancy frameworks.

In the words of Mr. Miyagi, “No such thing as bad student, only bad teacher. Teacher say, student do.” The Millennial generation must heal its resistance towards being told “what to do”, but the teachers of today must also make sure they are coming from a solid foundation themselves.

May you find your inner teacher and share your wisdom with the world!

Image courtesy of Goinswriter