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Wax On. Wax Off

Wax On. Wax Off

Molly writes...

I grew up in the 1980’s and 1990’s. When I look back at the games, the music, the television, and movies of this time, I realize that it culturally shaped my childhood. I spent a lot of my time with an older brother. When we played or hung out together, he always got to pick what we would do. Although not what I would have picked, I was just happy to be invited.

One movie that I remember us watching and over and over was, “The Karate Kid”. We loved that movie. When you are young you don't pay attention to all the details of why something is special or significant, you just know you love it. You may not register the lessons learned, even though you may have indeed learned them. Accessibility to movies was different back then and there were fewer movies to choose from, kids would often watch the same movies repeatedly. Most of the kids our age could recite lines from their favorite movies. The Karate Kid was one of those movies and one line that was quoted often was, “Wax on. Wax off.” All the kids would say it all the time. Never really thinking about what it meant.

I recently rewatched the movie with my daughter. It is fascinating watching something you viewed many times as a child. I had not seen it for many years and watching it again as an adult was interesting and eye opening. In fact, it not only blew my mind a bit, but it made me admire the movie even more.

My first feelings were of course those of nostalgia. The warmth of fond memories flooding in of being a kid and how excited we would get to watch a movie. I could practically taste the Coca Cola and Doritos that would almost always complete the experience. I remember how hard it was for my brother and I to agree on what we would watch. I would be yearning for a princess movie, only to always go with his choice. I assumed, in this case, that I would hate such a movie as one called “The Karate Kid”, only to be proven wrong, so very wrong. I loved the movie and it seemed that everyone else at that time did as well. What was it about the film that was so likeable?

Once I digested the nostalgia of the film, I shifted gears from focusing on what the movie meant for me then, to what the movie meant for me now. Why was I so particularly taken by it now? There was something about it that struck me. I knew that I really enjoyed it as a kid, but I never really thought about the message behind the story and the way the film delivered it so eloquently. Then it hit me, like a karate chop to the gut, that this movie was about Zentangle. Ok, well not exactly, but it was about Zentangle, for me.

I immediately went back and rewatched a few select scenes again. Eagerly digesting all the parallels. There were so many overlaps in the lessons learned and philosophies shared. Did Mr. Miyagi practice The Zentangle Method too? Watching how Mr. Miyagi so carefully, patiently, and thoughtfully shares his knowledge of the art of karate with the young Daniel was like listening to Bijou. Slow down. Deliberate strokes. Anything is possible one stroke at a time. It all seemed to align.

I then watched what is probably the most famous scene in the whole movie. It is a scene where Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel that he will teach him karate and then gives Daniel a list of chores to do. Each chore is basic and repetitive. The tasks are long and require focus. Daniel becomes frustrated in the work, thinking it is not teaching him anything about karate. After a long series of workdays, Mr. Miyagi patiently demonstrates the importance of the basic strokes.

Show me sand the floor.
Show me wax on, wax off.
Show me paint the fence.
Show me paint the house.

With the Zentangle Method, we say that all tangles are constructed of basic strokes. We use the term “icso” to describe them. They are a dot, a line, a “C” shape, a “S” curve, and an orb. If you can create these forms, you are then able to create with the Zentangle Method.


With a regular Zentangle practice, repetition and focus, these strokes become stronger, more fluid and a part of your tangled artistry. Seemingly complex compositions can all be broken down into basic strokes. Each artistic journey begins and ends with basic strokes. Your Zentangle practice is all about basic strokes.

Show me dot.
Show me line.
Show me “c” curve.
Show me “s” curve.
Show me orb.

And again, and again and again.
And you too can create beautiful images with repetitive patterns.
Anything is possible, one stroke at a time.
Wax on. Wax off.

Molly Hollibaugh


  • I would like to join Zentangle Class near where I live but it’s not in Wales because it’s too far away. I want Class around in Gloucestershire or Cheltenham areas.

    I hope to hear from you soon. Thank you.

    Helen on

  • Gracias Molly!!

    Es increíble cómo es el poder de manifestación! A través de Zentangle en cada trazo se expresan las emociones, el sentimiento del día y la expresión creativa de nuestro ser. Todo confluye dando paso a paso una obra artística. Todo se logra con la perseverancia y el convencimiento de que “Todo es posible” con empeño, atención y dedicación. La película es un acto de presencia y constancia, confiar en sí mismo, creer para luego mostrar todas las capacidades innatas en todos. Zentangle y el segmento “Wax on wax off” es sin duda, una verdadera sincronicidad. Gracias

    Mónica Isaza Zapata, 4 de agosto de 2023, San José, Costa Rica on

  • I loved this, Molly! Such a profound lesson that we all learned subconsciously at the time. Thanks for bringing light onto these important parallels, which are constant in oriental teachings!

    Gabriela on

  • Hermoso como lo expresas Molly!!un paso a la vez!!😍

    Alicia on

  • <3

    Your words are thoughtful and inspiring and appreciated. Thank you

    Jen on

  • Thanks, Molly. That it the spot. I’ve been in a slump lately. Just haven’t felt creative or in the mood to tangle. I feel out of practice and sort of like it would be a chore to pick up the micron. Maybe I’ll go ‘paint the fence’ and icso my way through a Z string. Thanks for the nudge.

    Leslie Barr on

  • I love this Molly! I hadn’t thought of the Karate Kid in a long time and yet as soon as you mentioned Wax on Wax off, I knew where you were going. Your writing is beautiful and the Zen part of Zentangle is a key component for me.

    Thank you for sharing your experience in such a relatable way!

    Molly Siddoway King, CZT36 on

  • Molly was beautiful reading I went to the past I saw that picture many times Those learning are very present perseverance and patience thanks for your posting

    Ingrid Serfaty on

  • Molly, thanks for the inspiring analogy 😘😘

    Poh Yen Ho on

  • Thank you for sharing your memories, Molly. I think of this movie often as a reminder that simple repetition builds strength and skill and knowledge that can be attained no other way. Zentangle has been a gift in my life for the lessons it have helped me take beyond the drawing time.

    Diane Harpster on

  • Gracias Molly! Qué gran ejemplo de vida! Es el verdadero principio del Zentangle, un trazo a la vez, repetido concientemente resulta perfecto.

    ICSO motiva para seguir disfrutando y alimentando la creatividad. Otra vez mil gracias por traer al presente esta gran enseñanza!

    Elsa Dueñas CZT26 on

  • I love the movie and your connection to Zentangle.

    Clara A Brunk on

  • I love the movie and your connection to Zentangle.

    Clara A Brunk on

  • Thank you Molly,
    This was a fantastic read. I love the parallels you drew for us from an all time favorite movie for many of us. Keep on tangling.
    Wax on. Wax off!

    Sandi Buchspics on

  • Beautifully written! Spot on!

    Mary Lindeblad on

  • Yes. Wax on-Wax off. One of my favorite lessons, to continue learning. Thank you for this. Love and blessings to each of you.

    Karen Izzi on

  • THAT was worth the read and the watching, Molly. I think this was, so far, my favorite blogpost. Thank you.

    Ginny Stiles on

  • What a wonderful post! Thank you for reminding me what a great movie that was and I really enjoyed your sharing and storytelling. A reminder that sometimes that focusing on and practicing the basic fundamentals can be really helpful. Zentangle really does touch every aspect of our daily life,

    Patti Euler on

  • Thank you Molly, great comparison. I watched that movie many times with my kids but it has been a while. Very thought provoking comparison, time to watch with my grandkids!

    Linda Bourgeois on

  • This post was extremely helpful in terms of practicing Isco, simple strokes to learn by. I love the analogy of the Karate Kid.

    Thank you Molly.

    Norris Spencer on

  • We all need a Mr. Miyake in our lives. Good life lessons in both karate and The Zentangle Method of discipline and focus.

    Janice Orlansky on

  • Thank you Molly. I love the comparison.

    Marilyn on

  • This post was extremely helpful in terms of practicing Isco, simple strokes to learn by. I love the analogy of the Karate Kid.

    Thank you Molly.

    Norris Spencer on

  • Dear Molly, I too had forgotten all about the impact of Mr. Miyagi’s teachings. Watching that short clip brought about an emotional reaction on my part. Very powerful! Surprised to find the parallels between the “wax on-wax off” segment and the basic teachings of the Zentangle method. Very observant of you! Thanks for pointing out all those basic lessons….you are so inspirational! 🤗

    Harriet Meltzer on

  • Simply—thank you.

    Judith Maloney on

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