Despite alarming levels of corny and my natural aversion to martial arts, The Karate Kid was a defining movie of my youth. Daniel-san, an awkward transplant from the east coast, finds himself in California and is promptly subjected to the ruthless bullying of the Cobra Kai, a teenage karate team coached by a win at all costs testosterone-fueled psychopath. Daniel-san is befriended by the immortal Mr. Miyagi, who’s unconventional training methods integrate the body and mind under the constant urge of “focus”.
Daniel-san uses “focus” to build self-confidence, overcome a bad leg injury before the final and ultimately unleash history’s greatest Crane kick. It is inspirational, but instructional.
Focus is a tremendous and frequently under-appreciated talent that separates otherwise talented individuals from each other in big moments. A few years ago, I watched a young soccer player that had received a call up to the National team. At first glance, I missed it. He seemed ordinary. Small in stature, quick, but not in a breath-taking way and largely bereft of ball trickery. The second game showed me the difference. It was a final and played on level terms. He was the difference winning the game by scoring two goals in two plays that may have taken less then ten seconds. Midway through the first half he made a subtle, horizontal run into the box and calmy volleyed a chipped pass into the net, more precision than power. The second goal came when he pounced on an opponent’s shaky touch to create a breakaway. He shot hard and low, but the keeper saved it. The rest of the play unfolded in slow motion. The ball bounced high and to the right of the prone keeper, and the player calmly volleyed home his second goal. At no time did his eyes come off the ball. He was completely focused and it made all the difference.
Earlier in the week, I watched a freshmam basketball game where the home team went down, endured a few strange officiating calls and scrambled back into the game before losing. Several players came unhinged in the final minutes flailing arms and shaking heads over non-calls while the game remained live. There was one exception, and it was this player who continued to make shots and other plays to keep his team in contention. It was not a coincidence that his focus on things that mattered in that moment enabled him to make plays, while those around him did not.