Sunday, December 5

Lessons from ‘Cobra Kai’ | EL PAÍS Weekly: Psychology and well-being



The famous Netflix series, which has millions of viewers waiting for a new season, takes up the same protagonists three decades later from Karate Kid, with fortunes changed, for something more than an exercise in nostalgia. The multiplication of conflicts serves to reflect on the ambiguity of good, evil, strength and weakness. At the base of this complex world of relationships and rivalries is the philosophy of karate, originally from the island of Okinawa, and which is especially valid in the current time of instability and great challenges. The “way of the empty hand”, as this martial art is translated, has as its great reference the master Gichin Funakoshi, who at the beginning of the 20th century began to forge the foundations of modern karate, which would spread throughout Japan and later in the whole world. He left as a legacy 20 rules, the Nijū kun, that we can also apply to the challenges of today’s life. Let’s look at four of them.

Know yourself first, then know others. It is useless to learn to fight if you don’t know who is fighting first. As Sun Tzu said two and a half millennia ago in The Art of War: “If you know the enemy and you know yourself, you should not fear the result of hundreds of battles.” The problem, as it happens in the series to sensei (teacher) Johnny, is that most people don’t know themselves. This leads to addictions, self-boycotts, and ongoing friction with the environment. Being in constant conflict with others, as Johnny is, is a way of ignoring the war within yourself. When we do not know ourselves or there are parts of us that we do not accept, we find it easier to look outside guilty in a battle that has no end, because it is carried out on the wrong front.

Karate is like boiling water: if you don’t constantly heat it, it will get cold. Talent is much more common than perseverance. We all know people with a special capacity for something, but who have not developed it out of laziness or because they have not made that gift a priority. Martial arts students achieve mastery by repeating the same movements over and over again, day after day, and the same is true for whatever purpose we set ourselves. You need a marathoner’s mentality, or what in Japanese is called kaizen (continuous progress), so that the water continues to boil and we distill our best essences. Any great achievement is the result of an almost infinite sum of small actions in the same direction.

Don’t let your spirit wander. This rule of karate is a call to your attention. Everything we do mechanically, without consciousness, has no power. A teacher like Lord Miyagi from Karate Kid I would say that the bad fighter lets his spirit “float through the clouds”, absorbed by other problems. He is not present in combat and that leads to certain defeat. Carried to the small daily tasks, that wandering is called multitasking today, a term that is not even true to what it describes. Laboratory observations have shown that multitasking doesn’t really exist; what we do is go out and go in different activities, with the consequent fatigue that leads to the multiplication of errors. When we constantly shift our attention from one thing to the other, what we achieve is exhaustion without focusing on anything. Against this current disease, karate recommends paying attention to a single thing as if our lives depended on it.

Adapt your attitude based on your opponent. In chapter five of The origin of species, Darwin already said that “the species that survive are not the strongest, but those that adapt better to change”. That is another key of martial arts that is very applicable to life, and that takes on more value in these turbulent times. Just as the fighter takes advantage of the strength of his opponent to redirect it for his own benefit, the spirit of karate invites us to extract a “why” from each situation. We may never know why the pandemic we have lived through, but if it has served us something – changing to healthier habits, setting new priorities, loving our own better – then we will not have lived this ordeal in vain. .

Francesc Miralles is a writer and journalist who is an expert in psychology.


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