Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Karate Kid

"He who is attacked by the spirits of darkness needs only to apply himself vigorously to prayer and he will beat them back with great success." - Bernard of Clairvaux

The more things change, the more they stay the same. With the 2010 reboot of The Karate Kid, the same issues have come to the forefront just as they were in the 1980s versions of the series: bullying and self-discipline.

Whether it is Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki "Pat" Morita) in Southern California in 1984 or Dre (Jaden Smith) and Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) in China in 2010, these themes seem to be timeless experiences from one decade to the next.

The new version of the movie opens with Dre and his mother (Taraji Henson) relocating from Detroit to Beijing - and Dre having a difficult time fitting in with his new Chinese peers. Perhaps to counter Dre's American brashness (most likely a coping mechanism for the boy), a group of young Chinese boys led by Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) decide to target Dre for bullying and intimidation - not unlike the experiences "Daniel-son" had twenty-five years earlier.

The Karate Kid movie spends a significant chunk of the film exploring Dre's experiences of loneliness, fear, frustrations, and helplessness - perhaps as a way to remind us that these emotions are not the overdramatic reactions of childhood - but that they are real and that they can have lasting effects on those who experience them.

But when all seems lost for young Dre, we get to meet Mr. Han, an unassuming janitor who swoops in at just the right moment to protect the boy from the bullies who attack him.

Not only does Han serve as a protector, but he also becomes Dre's trainer - not just for self-defence but for self-discipline. Before teaching him any fancy moves or cool kung fu, Han gives him the tools to calm his emotions and to center himself in contemplation and silence.

Whether we are a student experiencing bullying in school or an adult faced with pressures and insurmountable challenges ahead, we can all relate to Dre - and we can all use a bit of Mr. Han in our lives.

Bernard of Clairvaux, a wise monk living in the middle ages, once said, "If we know how to use the weapon of prayer well, we shall come off conquerers at last, for prayer is more powerful than all the devils." He continued, saying, "He who is attacked by the spirits of darkness needs only to apply himself vigorously to prayer - and he will beat them back with great success."

What Bernard was saying was that before we can react to our troubles - be they bullies, finances, or pressure - we must learn self-discipline. We must not conquer the situation when we are angry, upset, or frustrated; instead, we must first spend moments in quiet contemplation. This pause before action runs counter to most people's advice - but it is something that is practiced around the world and across the centuries. From Buddha to Jesus Christ, the great masters of prayer have known this incredible lesson.

If Dre reacted immediately, it would have been disastrous for everyone. It would have also led Dre to start down the path of violence for the sake of vengeance. But Mr. Han knew better. Instead, he led him up the mountaintop of prayer - and even with Dre at such a young age - he provided him the training needed to center himself and calm the storms within. Only then could he truly react to the threat that lay before him.

Let us pray that the next time we encounter trouble, we take a moment to breathe and reflect, meditate and contemplate, pray and discern. Then, as Bernard of Clairvaux has predicted, we can beat back whatever haunts us with great success. God be with you on that journey.

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