Life Lessons from Mr Miyagi

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My grandfather was a sage in his own, unassuming right. His biggest teachings for me were ones of patience, dedication, play, and unconditional love. He was a quiet giant who emanated so much love in the way only grandads can.

To me he was the epitome of Stoicism. I really cannot remember a time when I saw him rattled. Just calm acceptance of the situation and a determination to resolve what was in his control.

These traits came in especially useful throughout my childhood, like when I got a tiddlywinks counter firmly jammed up my right nostril. Nothing a little mindfulness and a set of car keys couldn’t fix.

But my grandad also introduced me to other grandmasters of wisdom. From physicists to Roman emperors, he would dazzle my developing mind with tales of wonder and intrigue from across the the globe and through time.

One such master that my grandad introduced me to was Okinawan legend, Nariyoshi Keisuke Miyagi.

Although at the time I simply knew him as Mr Miyagi.

Yes, that Mr Miyagi.

My grandad took me to see the Karate Kid at the cinema and would endlessly watch the videos with me. I remember him cheering in a packed cinema at the point in Karate Kid III when Mr Miyagi come to the rescue.

The similarities between my grandad and Mr Miyagi were not lost on me, even at a young age.

To this day I cannot watch a scene with Mr Miyagi without getting emotional.

With the fourth season of Cobra Kai now out on Netflix, I have been thinking about some of the life lessons imparted by Mr Miyagi that have impacted me and my thinking ever since.

Today I’d like to share my top life lessons from the great Mr Miyagi.

#1 – The Importance of Balance

Balance is a key aspect to the way we teach movement.

As Mr Miyagi puts it

“Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home. Understand?” 

Mr Miyagi

Balance is a skill that children hone from a very early age, but as we get older we forget the importance. This is to our detriment. It’s a use it or lose it kind of deal.

We’ve discussed at length here why everyone should include some form of balance work into their movement practice, and it’s something that I try to include every single day.

But the concept of balance goes beyond the physical act. Balance in every aspect of our lives is key in living a ‘good life’.

With happiness comes sadness. With pleasure comes pain. You cannot have one without the other. A denial of this fact may be a huge cause of human suffering.

An understanding of this pendulum swing of life allows us to take the ups with the downs, and to accept that a diversion from the path, a fall off the wagon, is simply one moment in time that does not define who you are.

Mr Miyagi understood this very well.

#2 – Always Return to Basic of Life…Breathing

This one is a game changer for so many.

Breathwork is so simple that it is easily overlooked. But our breath is like the gateway to our central nervous system. We can leverage it to either up regulate or down regulate our nervous system response, allowing us to manage stress levels appropriately.

Simple breathwork is what we start our clients with. Whereas meditation can seem a bit esoteric to some and complicated to others, breathwork is the perfect starting point.

Our first port of call for all of our clients is Box Breathing.

#3 – There is a Lesson to be Learnt in Every Situation

This could be straight out of the Stoic playbook.

The only thing in life that we can truly control are our thoughts and perceptions, everything else is outside of our control to some extent.

As Marcus Aurelius puts it:

“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.” 

Marcus Aurelius

It’s our perception of a situation that can cause us pain and suffering, not necessarily the situation itself.

A drought ridden farmer would leap for joy at the first sign of rain, whereas a new bride standing outside for her wedding photos might weep. Same situation, different mindset.

When we can separate our emotions from life’s variable occurrences (not an easy task by anyone’s standards) we can start to see the lessons that life is teaching us.

In every crisis there is an opportunity to learn or to grow, even if the situation is just teaching us what not to do.

At the beginning of Karate Kid, Daniel cannot see the lessons that Mr Miyagi is imparting, he can only see pain, struggle and strife. But sure enough, even the most mundane events can teach us.

“Not everything is as seem.”

Sometimes, when we are deep in the toil of life’s challenges, we do not have the clarity to see the lessons the universe is teaching us. But they are always there.

#4 – First Learn walk, Then Learn Fly. Nature Rule, Daniel-san, Not Mine.

In today’s quick fix world we want everything right now. Fast food, 6 minute abs, 3 week weight loss plans.

But in our haste to achieve the end goals we often neglect the necessary steps to properly reach them. And while we make progress we often revert back to where we started, and sometime even regress.

What we are lacking are the marginal gains and tiny habits that create the solid foundation needed for sustainable growth.

Everyone wants to be special, but most people aren’t prepared to do the work required.

Why? Because it’s not sexy. Whether it’s tracking your macros, endless repetitions of foundational movements, or prioritising a decent 8 hours sleep each night, it’s not very interesting.

Not compared to what the Instagram influencers are doing: juggling kettlebells on a bosu ball, drinking the latest kale and deer semen smoothie, or taking the latest high octane nootropic.

The truth is that all of this shit is snake oil if you don’t have the basics dialled in.

Never underestimate the power of tiny, incremental gains. Size really isn’t everything.

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.

Dalai Lama

#5 –  It’s Okay to Lose to Opponent. Must Not Lose to Fear!

Feeling fear is totally normal. It’s what has kept us alive for millenia.

What is less than beneficial is allowing our fears to dictate our lives.

I spent a huge part of my life in a state of fear. Fear of looking foolish. Fear of criticism. Fear of failure. Fear of success.

It took me ’til fairly recently to understand that the sensation of fear was just the mind and body getting ready to do exceptional things.

When I read the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear form Frank Herbert’s novel Dune it all fell into place.

“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear

It’s not the initial sensation of fear that we must avoid; this is natural and beneficial. It’s letting the fear take the reins and letting it dictate what we do or not do.

Think about the physiological effects of fear. Increased heart rate, blood pressure rises, breathing becomes more rapid, adrenalin gets dumped into the bloodstream, the muscles tremble, butterflies in the belly.

Take the context of fear out of the equation and we could be talking about excitement. It elicits the same physiological response. The only thing that is different is the perception. See lesson #3.

This was a powerful realisation for me.

Bravery is not the lack of fear. It’s continuing forward despite feeling the fear. The simple act of trying to be brave IS bravery itself.

‘Failure’ is a massive part of life and necessary for success. You cannot have one without the other. See lesson #2.

The only real failure is having to live with the regret of never having tried. In many studies on the regrets of people on their death bed, the overwhelming majority of regrets are of things not done as opposed to regretting things they had done.

So don’t get to the end of your days having let fear stop you doing the things you’d love to do. Go do them.

I am eternally grateful to both my grandad and Mr Miyagi for all the lessons they have given me. The Tao of Nariyoshi Keisuke Miyagi is a book that is long overdue. Maybe it’s my next project.

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