Top 5 Movie Martial Arts Masters

Every good martial arts movie has a great martial arts master to help the hero along on their journey to greatness.  Here are a few of my favorites.  All of these are fun characters, but I think we can also learn something about how to teach the martial arts from each of them.  Here is my take on each one of these Movie Martial Arts Masters.

Name: Mr. Miyagi

Movie: Karate Kid (1984)
Home: Southern California (by way of Okinawa)
Art: Karate

Wise Quote:

Daniel: Hey – you ever get into fights when you were a kid?
Miyagi: Huh – plenty.
Daniel: Yeah, but it wasn’t like the problem I have, right?
Miyagi: Why? Fighting fighting. Same same.
Daniel: Yeah, but you knew karate.
Miyagi: Someone always know more.
Daniel: You mean there were times when you were scared to fight?
Miyagi: Always scare. Miyagi hate fighting.
Daniel: Yeah, but you like karate.
Miyagi: So?
Daniel: So, karate’s fighting. You train to fight.
Miyagi: That what you think?
Daniel: [pondering] No.
Miyagi: Then why train?
Daniel: [thinks] So I won’t have to fight.
Miyagi: [laughs] Miyagi have hope for you.

What we can learn:

Mr. Miyagi teaches from a place of pure love.  He loves Daniel and he loves Karate.  Teaching Karate isn’t a job for him.  It’s part of him and it is something he must do.  Belts, uniforms and tournaments are not the center of his teaching.  He is helping Daniel grow in the same way he shapes his bonsai trees.

Name: Mr. Han

Movie: Karate Kid (2010)
Home: Beijing, China
Art: Kung Fu

Wise Quote:

  • Your focus needs more focus!

What we can learn:

Mr. Han shares much in common with Mr. Miyagi.  Hey, they’re basically the same character!  But, there’s one very special thing about him that I was attracted to.  Mr. Han has a unique challenge when compared to any of the other masters in this entry.  He’s teaching a child — Dre is only 11.  All the others are teaching a teenager or a young man.  Having done a lot of martial arts with children (including my own daughters) I know how different that is.  Mr. Han’s relentless calls to focus address the hardest part of teaching smaller children.  I’ve used his “Your focus needs more focus!” quote when working with my own six year old daughter.  It’s always a challenge, but it’s rewarding to see when they start to learn it.

Name: Yoda

Movie: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Home: Degobah
Art: The Way of the Force

Wise Quotes:

  • Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not.
  • No. Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.

What we can learn:

I’ve previously made clear my issues with Luke Skywalker as a role model for a martial arts student.  However, I have fewer issues with Yoda as a role model for a martial arts master.  Once Yoda decides to take on Luke as a student, he pours all his energy into breaking Luke’s preconceptions about himself and the universe.  More important than teaching technique, Yoda is trying to build Luke’s character.  There’s no job more important for a true martial arts teacher.

Name: Morpheus

Movie: The Matrix (1999)
Home: Zion
Art: Virtual Kung Fu

Wise Quote:

  • Neo, sooner or later you’re going to realize just as I did that there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

What we can learn:

Does Morpheus actually know any martial arts outside of the Matrix in the Real World?  That’s actually pretty unclear to me.  And, Neo learns all his Jujitsu and Kung Fu from a “Training Program.”  This means Morpheus is a pretty unique martial arts master.  In his first sparring session with Neo he notes that “your problem is not your technique.”  He doesn’t need to teach Neo any Kung Fu, he needs to free Neo’s mind.  Morpheus needs to break down Neo’s preconceptions about his own limitations.  He needs Neo to BELIEVE he can do it — which is a challenge any martial arts teacher knows.

Name: Oogway and Shifu

Movie: Kung Fu Panda (2008)
Home: The Valley of Peace
Art: Kung Fu


Sample Wisdom:

Oogway: My friend, the panda will never fulfill his destiny, nor you yours until you let go of the illusion of control.
Shifu: Illusion?
Oogway: Yes.
[points at peach tree]
Oogway: Look at this tree, Shifu. I cannot make it blossom when it suits me nor make it bear fruit before its time.
Shifu: But there are things we *can* control: I can control when the fruit will fall, I can control where to plant the seed.  That is no illusion, Master!
Oogway: Ah, yes. But no matter what you do, that seed will grow to be a peach tree. You may wish for an apple or an orange, but you will get a peach.
Shifu: But a peach cannot defeat Tai Lung!
Oogway: Maybe it can, if you are willing to guide, to nurture it, to believe in it.
Shifu: But how? How? I need your help, master.
Oogway: No, you just need to believe. Promise me, Shifu, promise me you will believe.

What We Can Learn:

OK, I’m counting these two as a single master for my top 5 list. In my view, both Oogway and Shifu are incomplete martial arts teachers, but together they’re great.  Shifu is too rash.  He’s focused on technique, achievement and recognition.  However, Oogway is also flawed.  While he is powerful, he’s so introspective that I can’t imagine him teaching technique.  Flawed as they both are, together they make a great team.  One focused on the outward and one on the inner self.  In the best schools I’ve trained in, there has been more than one instructor who inspired me and taught me different things.  Teaching as a team can be powerful.

So, there’s my list of the Top 5 Movie Martial Arts Masters.  What do you think?  Do you have other thoughts on these guys?  Who did I leave off the list?  Leave me a comment and let me know!


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Best of ZZNinja « ZZ Ninja

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: