The Hip Nip

A Portrait of Pat Morita

Tom Zimberoff
6 min readFeb 22, 2024


Noriyuki “Pat” Morita / ©1980 Tom Zimberoff / All Rights Reserved / May not be copied, altered, or reproduced in any manner whatsoever

He was “The Hip Nip.” That’s how Pat Morita billed himself professionally, and that’s how he introduced himself personally. So don’t be offended; it was his shtick.

In addition to standup comedy, Pat gained fame for playing Matsuo Takahashi — Arnold — on TV’s Happy Days and, later, Mister Miyagi in The Karate Kid on the big screen. He earned an Oscar nomination for the latter role and a footnote to American cultural history with his character’s heuristic approach to car care: “Wax on, wax off.” Every teenage boy since 1984 has milked that line for laughs. In the film, of course, it was a lesson about learning itself, how the repetitive practice of one menial task instills discipline, focus, and the ability to master many other skills.

Another one of Pat’s roles was Ah Chu on the TV series Sanford and Son. Few people were concerned about political correctness in 1980, and still fewer Hollywood producers, blithe in their naïveté, made any effort to distinguish one Asian ethnicity from another on screen. For example, Japanese actors were routinely cast to play Chinese characters and vice versa, as often as not with a silly if not offensive name: Ah Chu, indeed! Or how about the several European-American actors who, with affected eyelids, a Fu Manchu mustache, and a dubious accent, perpetuated the Charlie Chan movie franchise!? For…