Yoda Vs. Mr. Miyagi

The Worst Advice EVER for Med Students… Comes from Yoda

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Why Yoda Might Be the Worst Teacher Ever and What That Means for Medical Students

Star Wars changed the game cinematically. Iconic quotes, amazing special effects, and fantastical storylines have captured audiences for decades. One such quote, from the film’s quintessential teacher, is something you’ve probably heard often: “Do or do not. There is no try.” It’s short, it’s memorable. And it’s terrible advice. 

In this video, we break down why “try” is one of the most important parts of studying for med school. We also take a look at another famous instructor; Mr. Miyagi may not have hundreds of years on his teaching resume, but he got it right. 

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The Karate Kid is a production of Columbia Pictures. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, is a production of Lucas Films. 


Transcript

Ryan Orwig:

Ryan Orwig here from STATMed Learning, where we talk about the challenges of learning in med school. Today, I’m talking about my problem with one of the most iconic teachers in movie history.

Yoda:

Jedi Master Yoda. You seek Yoda.

Ryan Orwig:

Yes. Master Yoda from Star Wars. I’m going to make the argument that Yoda is actually a terrible teacher.

Luke Skywalker:

No. It’s not true. That’s impossible.

Ryan Orwig:

I know. This is an upsetting, controversial hill to die on, but here we are. I mainly take issue with his message and methodology. Have you ever noticed how the best athletes are often not the best coaches? It feels a lot like that with Yoda and his off the charts midichlorian count. It’s like telling your students to run harder, express yourself, just do it. Pretty vague and aspirational, but not nuts and bolts stepwise, research-based methodology for best teaching, which is what I want from my expert instructor. So let’s talk about how Yoda gets this wrong, how to fix it, and who might actually deserve the title of best and most iconic teacher in movie history.

Ryan Orwig:

So you’re familiar with Yoda. Right? The little green Muppet from Star Wars who has a weird speech pattern and likes playing pranks. He oversaw the fall of the Galactic Republic, and famously trained younglings and padawans for 800 years. So, the deal here is aspiring Jedi knight, Luke Skywalker, tracks Yoda down on his backwater mud planet and crashes his spaceship into the swamp. What? Yeah. Do you like how I act like I don’t know the planet is called Dagobah and that Luke flies an Incom T-65 X-wing starfighter? Transparency folks. Anyway, Yoda teaches Luke the ways of the force by running around doing flips, handstands, levitating rocks, and whatnot. Now, as an educator, I have no problem with this. I mean like the director, JJ Abrams, I’m no expert in the force. So who am I to say how to teach the force? So for me so far so good, but then we get to the heart of the issue. Luke needs to get his ship out of the swamp. So he says, he’ll try to do it. And Yoda drops one of the greatest quotes in movie history and he says,

Yoda:

No. Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.

Ryan Orwig:

So Luke tries to get the ship out of the swamp. He goes over with the force, gets it up a little bit, and then he fails on his first attempt, mind you. So what does Yoda do? Oh, sagest and wisest of all teachers. Does he tell Luke, Hey, you know what? Try that 30 more times pausing and reflecting every so often, then come find me afterwards and we’ll debrief and strategize and see what’s working, and what’s not. Is that what happens? Because if so that would be good teaching. Spoiler. No. That’s not what happened. Luke basically tries and fails one time and then Yoda zip zap zoop does it for him. And Luke is like I can’t believe it. And Yoda is all like, that’s why you failed and that’s the end of his training. So what’s my problem with this?

Ryan Orwig:

This do or do not, there is no try is in direct opposition to the secret behind the best learning principles. My whole argument here is as simple as this, attempts that lead to failure, especially when supported by feedback, will accelerate learning. The way most of my med students and doctors study sets them up for what I call the trap of familiarity. Because the bulk of their studying is review based. This is a bad thing. This is anytime the learner rereads, recopies, or looks over what they’ve already studied. This is how most people define the act of studying. This is the problem. So it might not be wrong, but it is low yield. And in my world that makes it wrong. But I have literally had students tell me, I don’t want to try and recall the stuff that I’ve been studying, if I can’t get it all.

Ryan Orwig:

But trying and failing is the key to getting this stuff locked in faster. So this whole notion of do or do not, there is no try blocks the key step in learning. And I would hate to see Yoda teaching this way in a med school classroom. Learning any new skill, like riding a bike or playing the guitar, involves failure. I think we can all embrace that. We need to understand that learning any new concept from pharmacology and biochem to lifting your X-wing out of the swamp using the force should allow for trying and failing as the fastest route to mastery. But that is why Yoda’s approach fails in my eyes.

Ryan Orwig:

If Yoda gets it wrong, what movie teacher gets it right? Well, my vote is for Mr. Miyagi of the original Karate Kid. Fixer of bikes, grower of bonsai trees, a teacher to Danielson. The story is simple. Danielson moves to a new town and due in part to his poor social skills gets bullied by a bunch of karate loving jerks. Mr. Miyagi agrees to teach Danielson karate to fight the bullies at the All Valley Karate Tournament. But what’s relevant here is how Mr. Miyagi taught Danielson.

Mr. Miyagi:

Wax on. Wax off.

Ryan Orwig:

Note how Mr. Miyagi gives Daniel discrete corrective feedback as Danielson develops and practices his new skills.

Mr. Miyagi:

[crosstalk 00:05:47] to make circle. Wax off [crosstalk 00:05:49].

Ryan Orwig:

Mr. Miyagi allows him to try and mess up, then get immediate feedback. Yes. Perhaps he’s a little disgusted by Daniel’s failures and attitude, but who wouldn’t be?

Daniel:

Wax on. Wax off.

Mr. Miyagi:

Wax on. Wax off. Wax on. Wax off. Concentrate. Look at my eye. [crosstalk 00:00:06:06].

Ryan Orwig:

Miyagi encourages Daniel to iterate and then provides discreet corrective feedback. I’m sort of stretching this I realize to make it fit. But whereas Yoda is rather absolutest in his do or do not, there is no try approach. Miyagi guiding Danielson and allowing him to messily get where he needs to be, in my book is a much better methodology for teaching. So what are the results here? Yoda trains Luke with the axiom of do or do not, there is no try, not having Luke repeatedly practice and fail with these new skills.

Ryan Orwig:

And how does that turn out for Luke? He runs into a Sith Lord gets his hand chopped off and he falls into a chasm. Mr. Miyagi, on the other hand, teaches Danielson the individual moves repeatedly in isolation then provides corrective feedback so that Danielson can put the pieces together in action at the All Valley Karate Championship. Yeah. Danielson? Yeah. He wins. So from a certain point of view, I’ll let these results speak for themselves. I doubt I’ve won anyone over with this argument, but hopefully I’ve illustrated the importance of failing when attempting retrieval practice when studying.