Pat Morita Was One of the Last Choices to Play Mr. Miyagi

It’d be interesting to see how Pat Morita would continue to shape the legend of The Karate Kid today, but given that he passed away in 2005 at the age of 73 it’s fair to say that if he was still alive at the age of 90 he wouldn’t be quite as spry as he was in the movies. But Ralph Macchio is keeping his legend alive in Cobra Kai by continuing Miyagi-Do, even if his methods have been questionable in the last two seasons. More surprising than anything though is the idea that Pat Morita wasn’t originally picked to play the role of Mr. Miyagi. That might come as a shock to a lot of people since he played the role in such a great way that trying to imagine anyone else in the role is almost impossible. The initial idea was to bring in Toshiro Mifune, who didn’t speak a lick of English but was a great actor during his time. Somehow Pat was given a look from his time on Happy Days and was considered the right person for the job. When one looks at it this was an inspired bit of casting since not only did he fit the role, but he really came to be one of the most revered teachers in pop culture history. Funny enough, Pat did not know karate when he was brought on, and he really only learned what was needed in order to get through the movies. But hey, he did a great job since a lot of people felt that messing with Mr. Miyagi was a sure way to ouch-town.

This is a case of being hired because of one’s ethnicity, as Pat was brought on because he looked the part thanks to his Japanese heritage and he was trained to make the role even more authentic in its own way. One might have thought that he and Ralph wouldn’t have meshed so well since Ralph had no idea who was being brought in, but once they sat down and started reading the script back and forth it was apparent that they were as compatible as could be, and therefore the movie was made. The back and forth exchanges between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi are still classic after all and they managed to teach a lot of us when we were younger how to be decent people and of course that Mr. Miyagi was getting a lot of free work out of Daniel while he was teaching him very basic fundamentals to karate the made sense in their own way, but is not how a lot of us that did enter karate trained when we were first going through it. One thing about karate that is fairly obvious and is covered in the movie, karate is for self-defense primarily, and while it is effective, a large percentage of it is for form, not necessarily function. Sometimes the best self-defense is to remove yourself from a situation, but if that’s not possible, it’s then easily acceptable to end a confrontation quickly and in the most effective manner. In other words, kick, punch, grab, and try to hurt your aggressor to get the point across, and then run.

The karate used in The Karate Kid was more or less used since there was no longer a flee option on the table when it came to Daniel and Johnny, and the altercation between Mr. Miyagi and the Cobra Kai made it obvious that he was defending Daniel but wasn’t interested in doing anything else. That’s what was great about Mr. Miyagi, he taught us to defend and to keep defending, but not attack with naked aggression, and it’s a lesson that Daniel was meant to take to heart. It does feel that Pat Morita brought to this role a sense of dignity that was hard to ignore since he did embody the idea of what a sensei should be like in some ways, patient, compassionate, but definitely able to stand up and be the teacher or the defender as needed. In fact, the most violent anyone saw Mr. Miyagi get in the movies came in the first and third movies when he fought Johnny and his friends and then Terry Silver and John Kreese. Oh yeah, don’t forget how he tossed a man twice his size, Mike Barnes, through the front doors of the dojo. Mr. Miyagi was built up in a way that didn’t make a lot of sense sometimes but still managed to carry a quiet sense of dignity that was great to watch.

Of course now with the season 3 trailer of Cobra Kai having dropped, it almost sounds as though Mr. Miyagi was keeping secrets from Daniel, which is so incredibly odd. What could he have been holding back all those years?

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