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Learning at the Movies

Entered on June 23, 2008 by Admin

Posted in, Athletics, The Brain

The “training montage” in movies—the scenes where the main character acquires some important skill—is hollywood’s shorthand for “and then he learned how to…”  They tend towards macho displays of sweat and willpower, with an inspirational soundtrack as frosting.  (One of the most famous is in Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky”: soaring music, back-breaking workouts, screaming coaches, months of work all compressed into a three-minute music video.) But one of the more elegant and memorable depictions of learning is in “The Karate Kid” (starring Pat Morita as the karate teacher, Mr. Miyagi, and Ralph Maccio as his awkward new pupil, Daniel).  The scene below, where Daniel shows up at his teacher’s house to “learn karate”, manages both to take its time and be completely compelling. It’s worth watching the entire clip.

The scene opens with Daniel observing Mr. Miyagi as he sits patiently trying to catch a fly with chopsticks, something the teacher has been practicing for many years without success.  Daniel picks up the chopsticks and in a few tries manages to catch the fly (hinting at his untapped potential, and the frustrating nature of a beginner’s luck, where something is achieved without “earning it”.)  Then Mr. Miyagi, having invited Daniel over to his house, ostensibly to “learn karate”, instead has him paint his fence, sand his deck, wash and wax his cars. While far from seeming to be any kind of self-defense training, Mr. Miyagi directs Daniel’s attention, his breathing and the use of his arms and hands in very specific ways.  After a few days of hard labor, Daniel’s frustration and impatience with not learning karate come to a head at the 5:10 mark, and Mr. Miyagi is forced to show Daniel what he has in fact been learning.  In just over 10 minutes, the scene illustrates a counterintuitive kind of teaching and learning.  The teacher removes the goal and creates a situation where Daniel is learning without “knowing” that’s what he’s doing.

Wouldn’t we all like to have a teacher who knows how to subvert our own worst instincts?

If you know of other movies that illustrate learning (like this clip or in other interesting ways), please comment.

Andrew Gibbons
The Feldenkrais Institute


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