No Right Explanation

Mr. Miyagi vs Splinter


Last week the guys got into a heated battle over who was the best sensei and now they bring that battle to you in words, like gentlemen.


Chris: Well now, it looks like we’d been wandering directionless for too long, so it was time to find some solid ground and rethink the core. No silly frills, no wacky antics, just cold, hard, debating. Who’s the best sensei? Well, Dan decided it was Mr. Miyagi, almost certainly because Kyle called him Daniel-san at some point. And while I’m never happy to lose a debate, I can still see some places that Kyle could have stuck it to me, for sure. I mean, he has a real guy, I have a rat-man. That’s a tough sell.

Reason for that tough sell is that Mr. Miyagi has something Splinter could never have: The ability to be part of society. Miyagi is a normal-looking guy who just happens to also appear wise and awesome. Splinter is a rat that wears a gi of some sort and can hurl ninja stars into your face. Useful when enacting revenge, not so useful when all you need to do is walk down to the library and pick up a book (which is exciting I suppose).

Furthermore, Kyle neglected to pull a crane-style kick on my argument by calling into question Splinter’s true noble intentions. On the surface, he does seem very kind and encouraging toward live and let live. But further back, you learn that the original character trained four random kids he found with the explicit purpose of sending them to go murder his mortal enemy. Which they did. Miyagi was teaching Daniel-san to learn how to let anger go and fight honorably; Splinter taught the four Turtles to kill and then…well now you’re outcasts, sorry.

As much as I like to pretend that Splinter is this fun, silly old master, he’s actually pretty stock and one-dimensional. Sure he tells a single joke in each movie, but his personality comes down to just the “I’m wise and will dispense exposition that the Turtles couldn’t possibly know” stereotype that shows up a lot (perhaps not specific to the Turtles in every case, but you get the idea). Miyagi had a backstory and friends and such to flesh him out. A better sensei is not one that has no life of his own. Splinter requires the Turtles to be useful. Mr. Miyagi was doing just fine without Daniel-san.

I clearly haven’t learned how to wax the car well enough to win every debate, but I do know that I hate Joseph Campbell, and not because I think he’s stupid or wrong or whatever. It’s that I can’t stand when everyone just stands up and says, “Hey the Hero’s Journey is just retold over and over and they’re all the same characters feh!” We already know that. Learn a new way to analyze pop culture. I stopped needed to bring up the Hero’s Journey, Christ allusions, and phallic symbols back when I finished getting my English degree. No one cares about them in the real world except for English teachers and lazy snobs. Deal.


Kyle: That’s right, bow to the master. I finally catch a break by applying logic and practicality to my arguments. I wonder how long that will last…

But Chris made some decent points as to why Master Splinter was the greater sensei. But the whole time during filming, I was hoping he would overlook several big things.

Number one: Splinter takes time out of his busy schedule of being a stay-at-home sensei to four teenagers (one living hell of a job) to do some freelance guidance counseling to April, Casey Jones, Kino and even that douchy Japanese aristocrat who made a conscious decision to continue wearing April’s clothes after ending up in her lady-jeans and presumably her underthings. Try hanging out with a lost soul like that, or like Danny the Wonder-Dummy who would steal your toenail clippings if some grunting monstrosity told him to.

Why would Splinter try to help these nutty bastards, who all faint like ninnies when they first see him? Because he’s a natural teacher, and he wants to do the right thing.

Meanwhile Mr. Miyagi is willing to lie, steal, and fraud his way into a decent moral lesson. Daniel wouldn’t have won that tournament at the end if Miyagi hadn’t lie and say the kid was black-belt, totally steal said black belt to seal that lie, and even perpetuate several racial stereotypes in order to arrange for the kid’s girlfriend to be allowed to roam around with them. Needless malfeasance, for malfeasance’s sake.

He has a history of pulling that crap, too. As a young man he took his best friend’s fiancee out from under him, and then when he’s called out for it publicly he buggers off to America. To make matters worse, he doesn’t have the common sense to take the girl with him, and he doesn’t come back to make it right until like forty years later when his old man dies at the ripe old age of 200.

The second big thing that I hope Chris would overlook: Take a look at the results of these mentor relationships. Splinter’s boys save New York from a cult of pickpockets with super mutant slave animals and a penchant for kidnap and torture. Then they go back in time and save feudal Japan from that one character actor who played the villain in Lethal Weapon 3.

Mr. Miyagi’s pupil proves his worth and beats the piss out of that blonde kid and presumably gets to nail Elizabeth Shue. But then we learn the blonde kid is really kind of a victim of his lunatic teacher and Elizabeth Shue breaks up with Daniel and crashes his car. What a bitch.

Then by the third movie Daniel starts going Anakin Skywalker on us: Dabbling in evil training, plotting against people, and acting like a grade-A sack. By the end he manages to salvage a small business that he doesn’t really know how to run, and we never hear about him again.

See what I’m saying here?

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Dan: Did I give Kyle the win because he said Daniel-san? No, but it sure doesn’t hurt to butter up the judge. Besides, I can either align myself with Daniel-san or have someone sing Danny-Boy to me. This summer at PAX, see which one results in me sweeping your legs.

So, first point goes to Chris for the argument that no matter what version of Splinter you follow, he kicks all the butts. Either a rat that drank whatever Brain from Pinky and the Brain was drinking and decided to learn martial arts, or a human that took a few whacks from the mutant stick and kept on ticking. Pretty sweet, either way.

Second point went to Kyle because while Splinter taught different types of martial arts to his sons, emphasis was never put on how he taught them to be better people. Maybe with Raphael being less agro or Leonardo being a better leader, but Chris didn’t make that point so he didn’t get credit for it. Miyagi was constantly multitasking on his lessons, and that is why he got a winning student and a shiny new back deck.

Chris nabbed a point for the fact that Splinter gave each turtle a different area of expertise on top of the basic awesome ninja training. We know Daniel-san can do the crane kick, but he didn’t really specialize in anything else. Each turtle had a weapon that he know better than the back of his … well it only had 3 fingers but it was still a hand. To train a ninja is quite a feet, but to train a ninja with a specialty is the sign of a master.

Kyle makes what might be the most defining argument of the debate with pointing out that Splinter not only never got any closure in his rivalries, he never wanted any. Miyagi wasn’t training Daniel-san to kill anyone, or to avenge any past wrongs, he only wanted Daniel-san to be a better man and to win against the bullies. Many of our fans have pointed out that Splinter trained his boys to all-out murder the bad guy. Hate leads to the dark side, my good rat friend.

Chris didn’t get a point on his drinking round because saying that Master Splinter made a joke doesn’t make him a good sensei. Not when good ol’ Pat is going around honking people’s noses. Kyle swoops in for the win with the final argument that Ralphy doesn’t just know how to defend himself, doesn’t just know how to do manual labor, doesn’t just know how to get the girl … but has a marketable skill that he can make a decent living off of. Now that is one well rounded package, and that is why Miyagi pulled ahead for the ultimate win.

That, and he said Daniel-san.

About the author

Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.