“The Karate Kid” is the story of a young boy, Gilbert, who wants to protect himself from a bully. Inspired by the classic movie Karate Kid, he finds stands up against the class bully, only to be badly embarassed in front of his classmates, including a girl that he likes very much.
Instead of letting himself continue to get beat up by Pete the Heat, the “not so bright fourth grader,” Gilbert decides to take karate classes. He enrolls in the classes, but his teacher is lousy and lazy, accusing the kids of being disrespectful while practically ignoring them and putting no heart into his teacher. The instructor, Mr. Lopez, closes the karate school due to “bad business” and Gilbert is relieved. He has found karate to be painful, difficult, and useless in helping him defend himself against Pete the Heat.
When Gilbert’s mother offers to send him to a new karate school, he tells her that it’s not necessary, and that he she will never hear about him getting beat up again. The reader can assume that this does not mean that he no longer got beat up, but that he simply no longer told his mother about it.
The title of the short story, “The Karate Kid,” turns out to be ironic because the reader learns that Gilbert is not a fighter in any sense of the word. His skills at fighting are lacking and he has no “fighter” in him because he does not press on to become skilled enough at karate to fight back. In fact, he loses interest in karate altoghther, preferring to stick to reading comic books which, “didn’t hurt.”
There are several themes throughout this short story; the theme of childhood memories as Gilbert’s mother is motivated to pay for the classes due to her own unrequitted ballet dreams. There are themes of fighting, winning, and losing. The fighting represents Gilbert’s stuggle to prove himself, for his friend Raymundo it may symbolize letting a friend down (when he does not help Gilbert, calling him a menso) and for Pete the Heat it symbolizes a way for him to hide his own weaknesses.
One can write a whole character analysis on Mr. Lopez, the lackluster instructor who aids in dashing Gilbert’s dreams of becoming a great fighter.
Gary Soto is a short story master and I have been reading many more of his works in Baseball in April and Other Stories while my 8th grade students have taken an interest in his short stories about love.