The By-Product Myth

“Not every difficult and dangerous thing is suitable for training, but only that which is conducive to success in achieving the object of our effort.”  – Epictetus

A good place to look for an example of the “By-Product Myth” is in the 1984 American teen drama, The Karate Kid. The story’s bullied underdog adolescent hero, Daniel LaRusso, is baffled by his karate teacher’s bizarre instructions to wax his car, paint his fence, sand his floor and paint his house, all in a strict series of movements. LaRusso has his early reservations, but has agreed to do what his teacher, Mr. Miyagi, tells him to do and accepts it as a form of chore payment for his karate training. By the fourth day LaRusso’s patience has worn thin and believing he has been conned into being the charismatic karate master’s slave he tells him as much. In perhaps the film’s most memorable moments Miyagi tells his student to demonstrate the series of movements he has been using to complete his chores and, to LaRusso’s amazement, these movements are really blocks to karate strikes. Okay, this is so much celluloid fantasy, but the essence of this idea is embedded in the thought processes of many martial artists. Many imply and outright declare that a student can acquire efficient fighting skills without realizing what they are doing. This is the essence of “The By-Product Myth”.

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