4 lessons Mr Miyagi can teach learning designers


The other day I was able to show my wife the original Karate Kid film for the first time. She loved it and was able to instantly make connections with many modern day movie references.

I find it fascinating that I can watch a film multiple times, and depending on when I watch it I will get something completely different out of it.

So many characters from this classic are unforgettable and arguably the most famous is Mr. Miyagi. In my home city of Melbourne, we’ve even dedicated restaurants to him.

Mr Miyagi is a Karate Master and mentor to the hero of Karate Kid - Daniel LaRusso (Daniel-san).

Here are 4 lessons I took from Mr. Miyagi that will improve the way you design learning.

1. "You trust the quality of what you know, not quantity."


Daniel-san is having a moment of self doubt; he is unsure whether he knows enough karate. In a classic show of bluntness, Mr Miyagi responds to Daniel with “Feeling correct”. “You sure know how to make a guy feel confident” responds Daniel-san.

But Daniel has missed the point here - Mr Miyagi is leading him to focus on the quality of his karate knowledge, not the number of  karate moves.


Don’t go just give people a whole heap of information and just hope something sticks. Allow learners to go on a journey where they understand a point completely before moving on. Let them test their knowledge  out; they should feel confident in what they know, not how much.

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


“But…. But… but…. when do I learn how to punch?” Ok, I added in the “buts”. This is a classic (and ineffective) approach to learning - Daniel is trying to cram as much karate training as possible into one lesson.


Whether it be eLearning or an Instructor Led Course - instead of cramming it all into one session, think about how you can use multiple sessions or blended learning to create a good balance. Give people a good balance between theory and practise; if you load them just with theory, you can’t expect them to perform straight away in the real world. In fact, many people will get deflated, doubting themselves and their ability. They will most probably retain very little to nothing. A great way to ensure balance between theory and practice is to use methods such as Spaced Repetition.

3. "Wax on, wax off."

This may be one of the most famous movie quotes of all time. My childhood was full of kids responding with “Wax On, Wax Off” while learning something new and having no idea why what they learned was relevant. Mr Miyagi trains Daniel to wax a number of cars with one instruction: “Wax on, wax off.” There was method to his madness; the instruction teaches Daniel to instinctively block karate attacks.

Mr Miyagi didn’t get distracted or deterred when Daniel-san started muttering angry rumblings about “Wax on and Wax Off”. Part of Mr Miyagi’s training was to build trust between himself and Daniel-san. He also taught Daniel some key skills outside of karate that would help him in the long run.


Work on building trust with the people learning so they believe your methods will help them in the long run. Help shape their culture and their work ethic to get the point across, but don’t deliver all the information at once. Look for acknowledgement and assess whether they have got the first steps down before moving on…. “Breathe in, breathe out.”. It’s unconventional and not always pretty but it will help to drive the outcomes home.

4. “First learn stand, then learn fly. Nature rule Daniel-san, not mine.”

Our first peek at the ending of Karate Kid, we see Mr. Miyagi practising a special move passed down from generations of Karate masters. Daniel-san, of course, immediately asks “Could you teach me?”.

Now, Mr Miyagi could teach him but he knows that Daniel is not ready. He still has more to learn before getting there. That’s not just Mr Miyagi’s opinion; he backs it up with other sources.


Assess where the people learning are at and don’t rush into training them on something they are not yet ready to do. Make sure what they are going to learn will be relevant to them at the appropriate time in need.

Extra Tip:

Ensure you have methods to evaluate the effectiveness of your learning design post-training. Hopefully, you will end up having that moment just like Daniel-san, when he realises that painting the house, fence and sanding the deck all led to him being amazing at karate, stopping the bullying, having a stronger relationship with his girlfriend, and winning the tournament.