Learning karate as a PhD student in Sweden


I came to Sweden to do a PhD on gender and technology. I wasn’t sure what to expect of a Swedish doctoral education, but with time I realized that being a PhD student here had a lot in common with learning karate from Mr. Miyagi.

It can safely be said that ‘The Karate Kid’ is one of the best Hollywood movies to come out of the 1980s. It tells the story of Daniel, a scrawny teenager from New Jersey, who moves into a new neighborhood in California and finds himself the target of unwanted attention from the local gang of bullies, who happen study karate. Daniel is taken under the wing of Mr. Miyagi, a karate guru who agrees to teach him how to fight against the bullies at the upcoming karate championships. Daniel is frightened and uncertain if he will be able to stand up to his challengers, but he trusts Mr. Miyagi and decides to put himself in Miyagi’s hands in hope of learning karate.

This happens after the most scary, and memorable, scene in the movie. Daniel is riding home on his bike after a school dance and the gang of bullies decide to beat him up. He starts peddling furiously and detours off the main road through a field. Close to home, he falls off his bike and sprints to the fence that encircles the apartment complex where he and Mr. Miyagi both live. Running as quickly as he can, he nearly makes it to the fence before the gang of bullies catch up with him.

But much to his dismay, the gate is locked and he isn’t able to climb over it fast enough. The big, bad guys catch up with him, grab his legs and pull him down off the fence. And then they proceed to beat him up, kicking at him with karate kicks to the face and gut, and then holding him upright while the strongest, meanest of the bullies gives him even more of a beating. Seemingly all alone, and without a friend in his new neighborhood, Daniel has to face the beating and try to make it through alive.

(Blog post 1 of 8 about being a PhD student in Sweden. Adapted from: Johnson, E. (2005) ‘Learning Karate, a metaphor for Ph.D. training’ in Mellström, Ulf (ed.) Kunskapens vägar och forskningens praktik Lund: Arkiv pp.87-96)

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