Eisenbud's Odyssey: My Miyagi moment

We’re all in training, in one way or another, for the most important fight of our lives.

Actor Pat Morita, who played Mr. Miyagi in the 'Karate Kid' movies (photo credit: REUTERS)
Actor Pat Morita, who played Mr. Miyagi in the 'Karate Kid' movies
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the classic 1984 film The Karate Kid there is a brilliant and breathtaking scene that ties the movie together – and to this day, sends chills down my spine.
It occurs after Daniel, an unbearably bullied new kid, spends weeks doing grunt work for a mysterious maintenance man named Mr. Miyagi (who also happens to be a martial arts master, and wise, Yoda-esque figure), while Miyagi is supposed to be training him for the most important fight of his life.
Daniel, a karate neophyte, expresses exasperated disgust to his purported “sensei” that he has wasted weeks of his time to train properly for the much-anticipated bout against a gang of sadistic teenage karate experts who have made his life miserable. Indeed, instead of “training,” Daniel polishes Miyagi’s cars, maintains his property and is generally exploited for Miyagi’s apparent gain.
After Miyagi listens to Daniel’s disillusioned and angry diatribe, he promptly demands that Daniel illustrate the physical motions his body and mind have indelibly retained by performing each individual task thousands of times, over and over again. (“Wax on, right hand” – “wax off, left hand”; “paint the fence”; “sand the floor,” etc.)
To the shock of Daniel, and millions of captivated viewers, it becomes evident that all of the painful and seemingly meaningless movements he was forced to repeat are far more than what they appear.
Indeed, the elderly Miyagi, a normally calm, Zen presence, suddenly screams at the top of his lungs while throwing a barrage of fast, intense blows at Daniel, which Daniel cleanly deflects utilizing the exact same motions he memorized by laboring for Miyagi.
To Daniel’s utter astonishment, he realizes that all the backbreaking drudgery his sensei put him through has led to a breakthrough: a mastery of karate.
It’s beautiful to behold this epiphany, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, for many reasons.
The most important reason, I believe, is that it illustrates that in life, all the pain, disappointments, depression, anger and frustration that can make existence feel like an endurance test can also collectively and miraculously prepare us for something very special – even transcendental – when we least expect it. When we are about to give up.
LET’S FACE it: Life’s circuitous, often demoralizing cruel nature is very much an endurance test. To be sure, I write these words on the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that shook me, a New York City native, to my core, and left millions of other people profoundly haunted by the unspeakable evil it has come to symbolize.
Yet 9/11, while utterly senseless, is one of thousands of chapters in the history of man that will continue to unfold – where good, innocent people have been, and will be, victimized by the cruelest and most depraved of our numbers – leaving us attempting to carry on, any way we can.
The question then becomes: What do we do with all the agonizing and seemingly useless lessons and experiences we accumulate by simply being alive? How do we utilize all the pain and disillusionment to grow and create, instead of destroy?
While there is no single answer for all of us, much like Daniel, who unwittingly becomes a student of life in the most unlikely of ways through Miyagi, we too are being trained in ways we could not begin to fathom. In ways that defy logic, and frequently, humanity.
I bring all this up because, like millions of others, I have gone through protracted dark periods when I felt like giving up. Times when I genuinely believed that life was little more than a meaningless burden meant to break my spirit in the most creative ways imaginable.
Now, compared to atrocities like 9/11 and the Holocaust, my dark times would be like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow to those far less fortunate – but to me it was dark, just the same. And I pitied myself.
THEN, ONE day when I least expected it, I had my “Miyagi Moment.”
By this, I mean a moment when I finally understood that all the psychic pain and meaningless motions which I believed were sending me in endless, unconstructive circles, had actually prepared me for the fight of my life.
In my case, this is the fight for Israel, and by extension, for my family, who was slaughtered during the Holocaust for being Jewish.
My Miyagi Moment came to me with help from my beloved grandmother Carola, who lived through the all-encompassing hell known as the Shoah, and came out of it an unmatched creator of love and hope.
The ultimate sensei, my grandmother inspired me in ways I never knew possible, and convinced me that if she could turn her pain into something special, then as her grandson, maybe I could, too.
OF COURSE, the vast majority of us will never be so lucky as to have a Miyagi or Carola to help guide us and channel our many painful experiences into something that transcends the means to the end.
However, what Miyagi and Carola teach us is that if we convert each lesson – ranging from the horrific to the benign (and everything in between) – into constructive fuel, the result can be just as breathtaking as Daniel’s.
Like Daniel, I am now the ultimate new kid on the block in a geopolitical conflict where I’m surrounded by bullies who don’t just want to harm and humiliate me, but very much want me dead.
The difference now is that since I made aliya in July 2010, I have taken all the pain, disappointment and anger that once debilitated me and harnessed it to drive me to heights I have never known.
Just like Carola taught me.
Ultimately, we’re all in training, in one way or another, for the most important fight of our lives.
The secret, I believe, is to determine what exactly that fight is, and then to recycle all the ugly pain, disappointment and seeming futility we experience in this life to create something meaningful. Even beautiful.
If you do this, your Miyagi Moment will likely come, too.