The Mr. Miyagi Guide to Practicing Your Craft

Years ago, I hired a young storyteller and knew she was going to need some direction. So as soon as she started, I told her, “I want you to ask permission anytime you do something on your own… In other words, you’re handcuffed to the team.”

Mr. Miyagi
Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-san from the Karate Kid.

At first, she didn’t understand this. But eventually, I explained the point of the exercise. She was incredibly talented and had always worked on her own, so I wanted to teach her the importance of working with a team.

Then she said, “Oh. So you’re going to Miyagi me?”

Exactly.

How “wax on, wax off” works in real life

Remember that scene from The Karate Kid in which Mr. Miyagi made Daniel wax his car? (What — you’ve never seen that movie?! Shame on you. Go watch it now. It’s a classic!)

The point of the exercise wasn’t to teach Daniel how to buff. It was to teach him the fundamentals of a craft he didn’t understand.

So Daniel spends weeks doing this repetitive, boring task, without really understanding why. Over and over again, he scrubs that car until it shines like nothing else — until finally he can’t take it anymore.

He didn’t sign up for this. He wanted to learn Karate. He wanted to be awesome. And this felt like a chore, a waste of time. But Miyagi shows him what he’s been doing has been preparation for all the moves he’s going to learn. In fact, he’s already learned them — without realizing it.

Daniel learns an important lesson here. And so do we when we commit ourselves to the work, not just the fruit.

There is no “awesome” and “mundane.” There is only the work that must be done. And you either love it or you don’t.

Want to learn guitar? Get a baby…

Our son was born four and a half weeks early. There were no medical complications (thank God), but he was pretty fussy when we brought him home from the hospital.

We quickly learned the best way to get him to nap was to play guitar and sing him a song.

For over a year, I neglected playing the guitar. I told myself it was because I was a writer, not a musician. But secretly, I missed it. I felt bad for not taking it as seriously as before.

I told myself I’d pick it back up… some day. Little did I know, a crying baby would be my impetus for doing so. Fast forward two years, and I’m back. My callouses have returned, and my voice is the strongest it’s ever been.

Was I trying to get better? Of course not; I was trying to make a baby go to sleep. Really, I was just going through the motions. Turns out, that’s all practice is.

What we learn from all this

There are three lessons we learn from this Miyagi-style teaching:

  1. Sometimes, practice doesn’t feel like practice.
  2. You’re practicing even when you don’t realize it.
  3. All of life is practice — even the boring parts (in fact, especially the boring parts).

Whatever you’re doing, don’t believe the lie that says you’re doing nothing. No, you’re practicing something. It’s just a matter of how intentional you’re being.

So the question is…

What are you practicing right now? And is it a legacy you’d be proud of? Share in the comments.