Flags and Fists
On December 19 1984, Daniel Larusso defeated Cobra Kai α-male John “Johnny” Lawrence in the final match of the All Valley Karate Championships using the “Crane,” a kick derived from a Zen-like balance within, best practiced on a stump. One wonders if sweeping Daniel’s leg didn’t simply clear the floors to his enlightenment. The tournament’s logo, likely a creation of the film’s set designer, is a fist from the POV of an imminent victim. Turn it 90° on its side, and you have a quick allusion to a fist-pumping “wax on/wax off” Daniel likely practiced in his bed every night with quixotic visions of Ali (Elizabeth Shue). The film’s real muse, however, is transcendental absorption — to catch a fly in chopsticks not with one’s eyes, but knowing. All this faux-Buddhism, despite the slightly racist exoticism, is a wonderful thing. Daniel’s shower curtain costume on that fateful night may be a metaphor for evasion, conceived by Mr. Miyagi who himself had been hiding from troubles back in Okinawa. The red dot in the flag of Japan represents the sun, though its derivative in the flag of Bangladesh symbolizes the blood shed in gaining independence from Pakistan. “If a white flag means surrender, a black flag represents anarchy,” says Raymond Pettibon, co-founder and designer of Black Flag’s logo, which I always considered a fist with a tucked-in thumb. Unlike Karate, which employs offensive strikes, Jujutsu (literally, “the art of yielding”) is a grappling martial art in which an opponent’s force — both as vector and psychological intent — is used against himself. Daniel would have simply gotten out of the way, a John Cagean absence splattered by boos. As a flying fist gives you something to run from, anarchy may give a kid something to run to. I turn up “Rise Above” at work, but am only able to relate to …it’s no use, never mind the preceding try to stop us, but… A true cynic will not believe in punk (only what his hypochondria tells him). Henry Rollins staunchly stands on stage with taut legs hunched in some martial stance, as if bracing himself for the unknown. There is a moment of dread when a mosh pit begins to form around you. Someone hit my face and my glasses flew off. I got on my hands and knees, desperately grasping for re-vision, a halo of flailing arms above me and boots so near my fingers but never quite touching. It’s like I disappeared.