The Mr Miyagi Principle

Mr MiyagiThere is a subtle perception about expertise that exists in various forms across most cultures. Specifically, that a true ultimate master of something very rarely shows off about it. My favourite example of this is the karate master Mr Miyagi from the Karate Kid films. When asked about his karate skills, he demurs, saying "oh, I only know a little." Then he goes back to playing with chopsticks. Meanwhile, the wannabe is the one jumping around going "yaa!" at everyone, trying to look like a badass.

Later in the movie, when we finally get to see Mr Miyagi's karate skills in action, it's all the more awesome because of the sense of rarity. He hardly ever shows off his skills, so seeing him unleash them is even more of an epic moment.

I think that that the idea of the true master being humble and reluctant to show off is subtly ingrained into most of our pyches. And I think it can be used constructively. If you act like a master, people will subconsciously tend to assume you are a master. Assuming, of course, that mastery is an impression you want to convey.

Hence the Mr Miyagi Principle:

Assuming you already have some credentials established, the less inclined you are perform (or show off) at a moment's notice, the better people will assume you are.

There are some caveats to this. Obviously this isn't recommending you don't perform at all. And it does assume there are credentials: that the people you're with have heard good things about you, or seen you before.

I discovered this by accident a few years ago, simply because I was starting to dislike performing magic in social situations. I'd been finding that the more I performed professionally, the more I wanted to keep social occasions as magic-free zones. Much like eating chocolate cake for every mean, you can get sick of even something great if you have too much of it. Hence I started trying to politely decline requests to "show us something" at parties, and started to find that people were assuming I was more capable simply because I seemed less inclined to show off.

As well as the impression of mastery, there is an additional benefit to using the Mr Miyagi principle. Just like in the moments where he gives a rare demonstration of his karate skills, if your performances start to be seen as rarities, they tend to become much more eagerly anticipated.

Assuming you want your performances and skills to be valued, it’s a principle I think is worth bearing in mind.


(Photo by John G. Avildsen in conjunction with Columbia Pictures Company, via Wikipedia, attributed and used in good faith.)



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