Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

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?”


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.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • This is such a great article Jeff.

    The movie was a great metaphor to help explain life in general as I would often find the things I did in my hobbies would often borrow from other things done whilst I lived my life over the years.

    My creativity at dancing and picking up the movements coming from the years of practice in the martial arts,

    My Art ability all because of the years spent as a child copying cartoon characters and recreating them in a drawing book and painting by numbers.

    The key really is to live an abundant life because you never know what you will get out of each activity and how it will come in useful.

  • Right now, I’m practicing procrastination, to wit reading and commenting on other people’s blog posts when I actually should be doing other things.

    • I am well practiced in that art form. 😉

  • Great post Jeff. Practing away and am proud of the direction im going.

  • All of life is practice – especially the boring parts. I’m practicing the details. It’s been a weak link for me for most of my life. I’m a “big picture” kind of girl, and I see now that focusing on the details is really where I’ve fallen short (and thus, things don’t get done the way they could). It’s not about perfectionism, tho. Just about making sure the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed before I ship. And with a show this Saturday, it’s pretty important I don’t miss a thing.

    • Right, Lisa. There’s a difference between being perfect and well practiced. The practice makes you ready for the performance.

  • Practicing even when you don’t realize it. I feel like I’m practicing everyday. But I think that’s how we grow. Great post! 🙂

  • Phil Bryson

    Yes brilliant I know from my own experiences I’ve made too many mistakes & taken the easy route out, which is not the way forward. Really appreciate this. I know when I was printing photographs in a darkroom that it sometimes went wrong. I walked away and thought about it until I’d worked out what I’d done wrong. It’s all about perseverance.

  • Susan Sloate

    Jeff, one of my favorite blog posts ever! What a wonderful reminder to ‘just do it’, even if it doesn’t feel competent, much less world class. Recently I’ve been ‘practicing’ my craft in writing the first draft of a book I’ve wanted to write for years. Much as I care about it, it’s been a struggle getting it on paper. A friend of mine said about her recent first draft, “I have about 15,000 words, and I hate every one of them.” That’s about how I feel about this, but though I wish it were better right now, I know that just GETTING IT DOWN is the key to making that happen. Thanks for the excellent and pithy reminder – and enjoy those calluses!

    • I have 55,000 words for my next book, and I hate most of them. But yes, getting down is part of the process… and the practice.

  • Jevonnah Ellison

    Practicing great habits like exercising and eating right can turn into our lifestyle. As a Leadership Coach who empowers women to live out their God-given purpose, if we don’t take care of our bodies, overwhelm is paramount. Practicing good health has huge benefits. jevonnahellison.com

    • Definitely. I find that one form of discipline turns into another in a completely (seemingly) unrelated area.

  • Joel Keller

    Jeff – excellent post. For me, it comes back to recognizing that what I do daily is, in fact, “practicing” life. The most impactful writing (in my opinion) comes from our personal experiences…or what we’ve observed in a close friend’s life. Our experiences make us the unique individuals we are today. I can only write with conviction when something has made a significant impression on me. Often, that goes back to my own experience (“practicing life” on a daily basis). Thanks for your thoughts; always challenging & appreciated.

    • Well said, Joel. Life IS practice. Right?

  • Pamela Parker

    Reading this today was so timely…a follow-up or confirmation to impressions received earlier this morning, “practicing the presence if God.” Oswald Chamber’s reading for today was entitled “Make a Habit of Having No Habits.” Habits become invisible and lost as you practice doing them unconsciously.

    • Wow. Deep. I will have to think on this…

    • That’s such an awesome idea. I read that one a long time ago – got to go back to my copy of Utmost! Love that thought about habits becoming invisible.

  • Marcy Mason McKay

    I needed this reminder, Jeff. I’ve written faithfully for YEARS, but I’m still unpublished. Blah, blah, blah. Between you and Steven Pressfield, maybe I can get it through my skull that I AM honoring my craft. I’m doing the work. TY.

    • You are a writer.

      So writer.

      • Marcy Mason McKay

        Exactly. Thank you.

  • Wow.
    There is something in me that misses the connection between the privilege of singing a newborn to sleep, and waxing a car…

    • Good point, Katharine. Very different things. The point wasn’t that singing to my kid was mundane. It wasn’t. The point was that thing I was doing was not actually the thing I was practicing. Meaning, I was just trying to get him to fall asleep, not get back into guitar shape. But the routine of the activity led to an unexpected result.

      Much like, “wax on, wax off.”

      The idea is that in life, we are always practicing something, even when we don’t realize it. My challenge is to be more aware of those things so that we can intentionally practice what matters most.

      But in the meantime, we can trust the process and the fact that we ARE growing… even when it doesn’t seem that way.

  • Love this, Jeff! Similar to my concept of the “Accidental Expert,” but your examples really strike the message home in a way I couldn’t articulate. Keep knocking it out of the park, man 😉

  • Lee J Tyler

    Oh how I love this post, Jeff! And I’m not alone judging by the comments. This is brilliant! I will be reading this every day as I sit down to wax on, wax off. It makes me want to run to my writing. The contribution we make is just as important as any of the factors in our writing. Yet it’s not talked about much, if at all. Thank you for reminding us of that by your example.

    • Thanks, Lee! And you’re welcome. I hope it helps you practice more.

  • From a coach’s perspective, practice makes the unnatural natural, makes what is not instinctive instinctive. The heat of battle is not where you want to practice anything. If you have to think you lose! Practice changes who you are into what you need to become to compete.

  • Kristin Ingram

    Great post! I’m currently doing a lot behind the scenes to get my new website up and running. I feel like I’m not accomplishing anything but your post has really helped me get motivated again! Perfect timing. Thanks Jeff!

    • More is happening than you realize, Kristin.

      Stay faithful.

      • Kristin Ingram

        Thanks Jeff. I’m trying!

      • reading that was short reply was good for my beginning blogging soul. thanks, Jeff.

  • obiagelin

    There is a popular saying that practice makes perfect. For me, I have been trying to perfect the act of story telling by writing and re-writing my short stories times without number.
    I am currently practising new stories each week on my creative writing blog: https://storieswithoutborders.wordpress.com/

  • E.E. Clementine

    Believe it or not, journal writing helps your craft of writing! I sometimes get frustrated writing in my journal because I feel that few will ever see it, so what’s the point? Of course this is silly. It’s better to write for yourself rather than for others. That way, it’s a pure way of expressing yourself, especially writing down things that happen in your daily life. 🙂

    • Thank you for this- because I journal constantly and blog rarely! And yes, I’ve always believed “it all counts”. Writing begets better writing, and it’s all practice for the betterment of our craft – every single word we write, every thought we get written down (or typed) somewhere. I have often thought that if I would just search through my journal – where I write out my life honest and unashamed – I would probably recognize the fodder of hundreds of blog posts just waiting to be written!

      • Couldn’t have said it better myself, Beth!

        • Thank you, Jeff!

      • Love the thought that it ALL counts. I’ve been writing at least 200 words every morning a day for the last ten years after reading the Good Book, and have just realized that it’s making all the difference now.

        • That’s terrific! Keep it up!

          • Thanks Beth! Same to you too!

  • Alan Fawcett

    I love this and have used Karate Kid as a resource and reference material for many clients. I like watching the realisation hit as they see that natural learning journey people often travel open and the coaching/training support offered along the way. Daniel starts as an enthusiastic beginner. All motivation and no skill. Miyagi sets him to work (on what appears to be an unrelated task). There is no hype, no cheerleading – Daniel didn’t need more of that. It was all about direction. What many people miss is that it was also very specific direction. When Daniel went to work waxing the car in what he thought was the most efficient manner, Miyagi corrected him. “no, like this, wax on, wax off…” It was when Daniel moved to the next phase, a phase we all experience. The disillusioned learner, a place where our skill level has increased (just maybe not as far as we were expecting), and our motivation has dropped like a stone. This was the point that Miyagi moves into a new phase of teaching/coaching. He shows Daniel the impact of his work. His specific work. Quick wins, demonstration of progress and motivation returns, a desire to do more (paint the fence perhaps?) . There are two more phases I show throughout the film, but the key is to know where you (or your client) are and get/give the right support at the right time. Thanks Jeff.

    • What I love about this movie is how Daniel doesn’t get it. He thinks Karate is cool. He’s wrong. He thinks Miyagi is weak and the dojo guys are strong. He’s wrong. He thinks he doesn’t have much to offer. He’s wrong.

      • So wrong. The revelatory scene where the method behind Mr. Miyagi’s madness is amazing. Unforgettable.

        btw, Jeff – I know you’re pretty by the book about all of this… is it legit to pull stills from movies like this? and put them in my own blog posts?

  • Wendy Tarasoff

    Wendy Tarasoff writes “The wax on” is “words” for a writer. These come from dictionaries. “The wax off” is writing different sentence types with a word from the dictionary in all the ways it is used, grasshopper. Then you will be able to do the death defying “crane” stance and win at writing in a myriad of ways.

  • Allison Wiers

    Your post got me thinking…when I’m caring for my family I’m practicing love, diligence, patience and stewardship. When I’m doing my work I’m practicing obedience to God, loving others, creativity. The list could go on and on. I have a feeling I will be asking myself many times over what I am practicing each day. Thanks for the great perspective Jeff!

  • mnegraeff

    This was helpful. I’m a doctor. I feel like I haven’t done anything “new” or “exciting” for ten years. But I’ve become better in ways I don’t fully appreciate because all that time was practice. I’m about to start a blog about all of that too, so writing, even when it seems boring, uninspired, or useless, will also be practice. Thanks for the re-frame!

    • The good news is most folks say it takes about ten years of discipline to master something. I wish I wasn’t constantly doing new things. Mastery is hidden in the mundane. Time to get serious.

  • Phumuzile

    Jeff I have neglected my manuscript for weeks now; am distracted by business issues. I Have neglected reading your articles, but now i see the remedy I need is to read the articles.The first I opened was this article it is so theraphic” I have a feeling you are also physic.

    • Heh. Psychic? Not quite. But thanks for reading. Glad it helps!

  • I can vouch for this from personally experience. I’ve taken Taekwondo for the last year and a half. When we’re in class all we want to learn our curriculum so we can pass our next test and get closer to Black belt. Our Sabonim makes us practice the same kicks and techniques over and over again. A couple of months ago two guys tried to jump me, in that moment instinct kicked in and I defended myself with all those kicks that I had practiced thousands of times, it was second nature!

    • Nice. Spoken like a true expert! I’ve actually considered martial arts a few times. The discipline is fascinating to me.

  • I love that movie and as you say Jeff it relates to our lives in so many ways. Writing is a perfect example, to get better at it you just have to keep writing, the more you write the more your writing will develop, one word at a time.

  • Carolyn Smith

    It’s always about the journey. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Jeff, there are some writers whose content gets repetitive and stale over time. Not you, my friend. Your books and blog are a constant encouragement and challenge. Thank you.

    Right now I’m effectively working 3 jobs (hopefully only 2 by the end of the year) and the main one that pays the bills is forcing me to practice skills that I see little value for in the moment.

    However, my wise wife and a few people I respect have reminded me of the principle of practice and (as is often the case) this season will make sense in retrospect.

    • That means a lot. Thank you,
      KC. I know you mean it.

  • I think I’m practicing how to be creative in life. Every day feels mundane but the light-bulb finally went off and I realized that if I can pull through this mundane, boring, day to day life I can probably get through anything. I am learning how to be creative even in the same habitual routine. Yay! It’s great this question was posed since I’ve been thinking of this all weekened!

    • That’s beautiful, Chelsea. What a wonderful thing to practice.

  • This week I’m practicing how to stay in the game when life throws curve balls. Why does it ALWAYS insist on doing that?! 😉

    • kenny

      What would there be to write about if there was just fast balls all strikes no hits 🙂

    • Eileen, I’m with you…it does feel that way a lot of the time. But without curve balls, there would be no learning, no growing, no variety, no surprises. Life is just more interesting when we face opportunities looking for solutions 🙂

  • Emma

    I haven’t seen The Karate Kid (I know; I will one day, I promise). So I look at it this way. All anything, such as a tree, has to be is itself. If a tree gave up after 11 months of going through the motions of being a tree day in day out, in the 12th month, there’d be no flowers.

    • Interesting.

      • Emma

        I’m so grateful for your blog posts, Jeff. Yours are the first I’ve come across that really speak to me. I drive myself insane with not writing. Now I’ve signed up to your ‘500 words challenge’. I’m becoming sane, 500 words at a time. 🙂

        Thank you so much.

        • Awesome, Emma! That’s a great group of writers. 🙂

  • “…you’re practicing something. It’s just a matter of how intentional you’re being”

    Yes! Well said, Jeff.

    There’s another lesson hidden in this post: If you want to be an influencer, you sometimes have to teach people things without them realizing what you’re doing.

    I’ve followed you for a while and it’s clear that although on the surface you help people write better (which is what they think they need), what you are actually doing is helping them be more intentional in all areas of their life.

    • Oh, I like that, Greg! You so smart. 🙂

      And yeah, people think I write about writing, but I really write about life. The craft is just an excuse. 😉

  • Steve1953

    I’ve been working with adults with disabilities and involved in Special Olympics. It can be very draining and I’ve had numerous times where I wanted to quit. As I have moved forward I also realize I’ve never had a more satisfying job, it demands empathy even on days when I feel emptied of emotion. No question many days are mundane and boring but today during a Special Olympics event I was struck by the raw emotion and joy of the people around me. Nothing has humbled me more.

    • Thanks for sharing that, Steve, and for doing something that matters.

      • Steve1953

        Thank you Jeff

  • Krish

    Thanks For Sharing..,

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  • Julie Tran

    Do you think that practicing without realizing it is better than practicing on purpose? Because when I want to achieve something, I talk to myself that: “I have to do this, I can do this, just try to practising”, such as speaking English. And I focus on that, expect positive result day by day, and I feel like it’s been long long time, but acctually not..(I am not goiving up though) But when I learn something accidentally, I felt it took me just a little time to do it well… Even better than what I always want to learn.. Or it’s my talent I haven’t known? I’m confused…

    • No, I don’t. I think the best practice is intentional practice, Julie. But when we recognize that all our life is practice for something, we can be more intentional about how we’re living.

  • Tracy

    I nevere thought that way about practice is basically just going through the motions. I like that analogy!

  • lena

    It was a
    positive conversation and each day since then he has made an effort to come
    and speak to her about his success of the day.