Ralph Macchio originally didn’t want a sequel to The Karate Kid. For good reason—since its debut in 1984, the film has had two sequels, one spin-off and one reboot, none of which have been well-received. In contrast, Billy Zabka wanted a sequel from the start, but never got it. Despite the popularity of his character, he was mysteriously written out of future installments, replaced by a random assortment of teenage copies not quite as charismatic as Johnny Lawrence. The rest of the original cast members eventually faded into relative obscurity, burying themselves in civilian work and less boisterous endeavors. Pat Morita, who played Mr. Miyagi, passed away in 2005.
It took 30 years, new audiences, a renewed take on a beloved classic and the creative talents behind Harold & Kumar to finally convince Macchio to help Zabka spearhead a worthy sequel, and as fans, we couldn’t be any more thrilled. The result, of course, is Cobra Kai.
Reportedly inspired by an entertainment satire video posted in 2015 by YouTuber J. Matthew Turner, the show has a whopping 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has already been renewed for a second season. And what better way to celebrate, than to remember everything that made the first season special?
15 The new maintenance man
Karate master Kesuke Miyagi was introduced in 1984 as the elderly maintenance man at Daniel Larusso’s broken down apartment complex, tasked with managing repairs throughout the South Seas and assisting residents. He was constantly around whenever Daniel got in trouble and, as a result, often had a problem not getting involved. He was fixing the Larussos’ leaky faucet when he first found Daniel nursing a black eye.
Billy Zabka’s role in Cobra Kai operates much the same way. Middle-aged Johnny Lawrence is no longer affluent and wealthy, and now lives in a broken down apartment building in Reseda, with pipes that don’t work and fountains that are frequently used as makeshift toilets. He lives next door to a gawky teenage boy oddly reminiscent of early ‘80s Ralph Macchio and even has a similar father-son relationship with him.
Prior to reinstating the Cobra Kai dojo, Johnny did home improvements for a living, which involved repair and maintenance, and pretty much everything Mr. Miyagi did when he was still alive, minus the bonsai. He did carpentry and plumbing, gardening and bush trimming, picked up garbage, cleaned swimming pools and sorted through rooftops. He’d come home to a filthy apartment, filled to the brim with cans, bottles of ketchup and supermarket ham. He was decidedly unhappy about his life, but like Mr. Miyagi, remained relatively decent at his job.
14 An empire built on the bones of his master
Daniel Larusso wasn’t always a winner. He began his journey in 1984 as a pitiable loser, literally with his face baked in bruises and his nails caked in wet sand. He was the perfect misfit, pretending to know karate only to get his butt kicked, screwing up with a multiple car collision when he doused Johnny Lawrence with water and joining a karate tournament as a black belt despite not knowing the rules. And throughout the original trilogy, he remained so—he won his first tournament but was barely competent enough to defend his title, and he survived a match in Okinawa only to struggle against Mike Barnes—more or less our run-of-the-mill karate practitioner—in California. But living a good 34 years changed all that.
The Daniel Larusso in Cobra Kai is no longer a peerless underdog. He is now the plutocratic owner of the Larusso Auto Group, the largest, most successful auto dealership in San Fernando Valley. Clearly inspired by his days with Mr. Miyagi washing and maintaining cars, Daniel has more experience with autos than ever and gives away complimentary bonsai trees to loyal customers. He is also an honorary member of the All-Valley karate committee, able to influence the parameters of current and future tournaments.
Daniel and Mr. Miyagi weren’t just about the karate and the balance. They cared for at least 100 bonsai trees throughout their lifetime and once opened a shop back in 1989. For Daniel’s first birthday in Reseda, Mr. Miyagi gave him his first car, kickstarting a lengthy love affair with automobiles that lasts to this day. Kesuke Miyagi lives on in the Larussos and it’s touching to see Daniel’s never forgotten him.
13 Halloween mix-up
Nobody ever watches The Karate Kid thinking the skeletons are going to lose. At least, not against a few ordinary kids. But that’s exactly what happened in Cobra Kai this year. It was Halloween all over again and newly minted Cobra Kai, Miguel Diaz, needed a costume. He had one, but Sensei Lawrence said he looked like a Poor-Man and instead lent him his old costume, hoping it would help him kick some butt and uphold their dojo’s reputation.
Spoiler alert: it didn’t and the school was nearly closed for good.
Everyone remembers that scene in 1984 when Johnny and his friends were laughing like hyenas and pulling Daniel down from over the fence, throwing him against the wire. Pretty terrifying, right? They ended up beating him quite badly before Mr. Miyagi jumped in to save him.
Well, imagine that happening the other way around. Instead of the skeleton hunting the commoners, the commoners were throwing him against the wire and beating him down, leaving him clinging to life. Sensei Johnny found Miguel sprawled unconscious on the bathroom floor after Kyler and his friends were done with him and was immediately forced to suspend classes and return him to his mother.
12 Here’s to Ali, who broke both our hearts
We've never been a fan of Ali Mills. She left Johnny for Daniel midway through a fight and left Daniel for a college football player midway through their fight. If you think about it, she broke Johnny’s heart and moved on without prior notice, and broke Daniel’s the same way sometime later, also without prior notice. She gave neither man a chance to save their relationship, instead choosing to leave and never reconcile. We don't like her, but she is the reason Daniel even became a karate kid and the woman that ties Johnny and Daniel together.
In Cobra Kai, shortly after Daniel’s cousin Louie torches Johnny’s Firebird and the Larussos are forced to make amends, the two men step into a nearby bar for a few drinks. They talk about their traumatic childhoods and the plot point that once tied them together, Ali Mills. Ali moved to Denver sometime after or before med school and is now married to a fellow doctor. She goes by the name Schwarber now and the two men bitterly look her up on Facebook. Johnny calls her husband a dumb-looking loser. It’s a heartwarming, painfully bittersweet moment for Daniel and Johnny, who clearly could’ve been friends if Ali had not been so unnecessarily in the way.
11 Young Hearts revisited
Golf N’ Stuff is an iconic location in the Karate Kid universe. That’s where all the Valley kids go to have some fun with their friends, but more significantly, that’s where Daniel brought Ali for their first date back in ‘84. Ironically, that’s where Johnny also brought Ali for their first date two years before the Larussos moved in town.
Obviously, that’s where you go when you’re a Valley kid looking to get your first kiss, preferably with the guy or gal of your dreams.
In Cobra Kai, Miguel Diaz also brought high school princess Samantha Larusso to Golf N’ Stuff for their first and (probably) only date, mostly at his sensei’s urging. And like Daniel and Ali decades before, the two shot some hoops, played some golf, indulged in some classic skeeball, kicked butt playing arcade hockey and took adorable selfies together in the photo booth. They also pulled a new schtick—teaching each other karate while flirting their way through jiu-jitsu takedown moves. Overall, it goes well and ends with another iconic Karate Kid make-out session.
Just like in ‘84, the scene is memorably juxtaposed with flashing clips and “Young Hearts” by Commuter playing in the background. If that scene doesn't get your heart pumping, I don’t know what would.
10 Nothing to keep Daniel in check
Mr. Miyagi was in so many ways the heart and soul of The Karate Kid. He was responsible for more than just maintenance and karate; for one, he kept Daniel Larusso’s recklessness in check. He was in charge of constantly modulating his ego. He provided guidance in every facet of Daniel’s life and was the surrogate father he badly needed. Kesuke Miyagi was the only person in the world that could temper Larusso’s spirit, provide balance when he needed it the most. He was Daniel’s life mentor, and ours. Even during the events of 2018’s Cobra Kai, that continues to be true.
Unfortunately, Pat Morita, who plays Miyagi, passed away in 2005. His character is stated in his onscreen epitaph to have passed in 2011, seven years before the start of the show.
Episode 5 of Cobra Kai showed an older Daniel visiting Mr. Miyagi’s (here renamed as Nariyoshi) grave, lonely and desperate, humbly seeking guidance from the man he’d built his whole life on. Daniel sat by it, mulling over recent events: his problems with his daughter, his trust issues and past traumas and prejudices dug up, and the reopening of Cobra Kai under a different master. Oh, Daniel. It’s OK. We miss him, too.
9 The only way cobras bite
“Strike first. Strike hard. No mercy.” Every Cobra Kai lives by these rules. In life, in love and even in the way they punch. Try rewatching the entire Karate Kid trilogy, plus this year’s Cobra Kai, observing only the fights, and you’ll eventually notice a pattern in the way they throw their first punch.
Some people will aim for the gut or the cheek, but a Cobra Kai will always strike the nose and aim to make it bleed.
Johnny Lawrence was a master at this. So was Terry Silver, who debuted magnificently in The Karate Kid III and Daniel Larusso, who briefly served as his student. There’s a brilliant scene in the third film where Terry Silver sets Daniel up against a stranger, and in a fit of blind Cobra rage, struck him on the nose, just as he was taught.
This year’s Cobra Kai also emphasized on the “bite” for Miguel Diaz’s training. Sensei Johnny taught him the punch to better prepare him against Kyler and his friends. If you’re an avid Karate Kid fan, you might have noticed the reference straight away.
Miguel later executed the move with ease during the cafeteria fight scene, responding to Kyler’s hook with a swift block, and a lightning jab to the nose.
8 Mocking the crane
Daniel Larusso is famous for two things: winning a karate tournament with a move that should have merited instant disqualification and the crane kick. More the crane than anything else. In fact, it’s become so synonymous to him that it’s almost difficult to imagine someone else performing the move, and performing it just as flawlessly. But after this year’s Cobra Kai, it looks like we finally have a contender.
Enter Miguel Diaz, Johnny Lawrence’s prized karate student. For Miguel’s first knockout at the 50th Under-18 All-Valley Karate Championship, Johnny instructs him to perform the crane kick in front of Daniel Larusso himself, subtly mocking him for taking on Robby Keene (Johnny’s estranged son) as his student. Miguel performs the move with surprising proficiency, shocking both the crowd and the Larussos. Like a perfect cobra, he strikes hard and fast, and as always aims straight for the nose. How’s that for a finishing move?
The crane kick does actually belong to Daniel Larusso, however. Contrary to fan opinion, Samantha wasn’t entirely wrong about that. The move as it was shown in the original film is not currently used in any existing discipline, having been created solely for Miyagi-do Karate by real-life Kenpo master Darryl Vidal. Vidal notably played one of the participants at the 1984 Under-18 All-Valley Championships. (He was the curly-haired guy that kept doing Jedi flips and ultimately lost to Johnny Lawrence.)
The crane kick is a fictionalized martial arts technique that is at best distantly related to Japanese karate. Maybe Daniel originated the move, but it doesn’t necessarily mean no one else can do it better.
7 Don't sweep the leg
Johnny Lawrence already learned his lesson back in 1984, but it seems old habits end hard for some of his more passionate Cobra Kai students. Unlike Kreese from the original trilogy, Johnny does not encourage his students to fight dirty but also isn’t afraid to dress them down when they misbehave.
Unfortunately, also unlike Kreese, Johnny has very little control over his pupils’ actions.
During the tournament, they pointedly ignore his instructions to fight with dignity and even go so far as to call him a derogatory name for trying to play by the rules. The issue becomes even more pressing when Johnny discovers his son Robby fighting under the Larusso banner at the tournament, coming to blows with Miguel who already hates him, and Hawk who resents having his haircut called stupid.
Back in 1984, Kreese ordered Johnny’s friend Bobby to put Daniel “out of commission,” essentially by causing a bad enough violation that will keep Daniel out of the finals. Bobby reluctantly performed a flying kick (coincidentally, the real-world version of the crane), striking the back of Daniel’s leg, injuring him badly. Later, Johnny is instructed to do the same thing, fight dirty, “sweep his leg.” We all know how that ended.
In Cobra Kai, Hawk attacked Robby while his back was turned, dislocating his shoulder. Later, Miguel sadistically exploited this weakness by constantly striking Robby’s shoulder, and even committed the ultimate violation by grabbing Robby’s arm and yanking it, ironically while the latter was offering his hand in assistance. Johnny could only watch helplessly, in pain, as history repeated all over again.
6 Johnny's favorite jacket
Johnny’s iconic red jacket from the films made a surprise appearance in Episode 8 during the junkyard scene, while Sensei Lawrence was training the kids. Apparently, William Zabka kept the biker jacket from the first Karate Kid, and wore it specifically for that episode. That’s right. We were looking at a relic, and most of us probably didn’t even notice.
Johnny Lawrence notably wore the jacket in 1984 during his first meeting with Daniel Larusso. He and his buddies had raced to the beach on their motorbikes, and Johnny confronted Daniel and Ali while wearing the jacket. Johnny seems to favor this outfit over anything else, and has worn it to Golf N’ Stuff, the Under-18 All-Valley Championship, school and pretty much everywhere in between. No surprise, he still wears it as an adult.
Johnny’s red bomber jacket is one of the more subtle motifs presented throughout Cobra Kai. When Miguel first faced off against Robby at the beach, he was also wearing a red jacket—arguably not a coincidence, considering the whole idea behind this scene is to ironically reference the past. Daniel was also wearing red back in ‘84 however, which makes Miguel more than just an unlikely Johnny—he is more a clever amalgamation of Larusso and Lawrence than anything else. Absolutely ingenious.
5 Two legs are better than one
Miyagi-do is all about balance. Balance in life, balance in love, balance in karate. It’s no surprise that its best techniques also capitalize on balance, like the crane kick from the first movie and the katas from the third. For 2018’s Cobra Kai, Daniel teaches Robby Keene, his unlikely protégé, a new move that’s also about balance. There’s no name for it, but it involves balancing on only one hand, and striking the opponent with both feet, at exactly the same time. The target point is either the chest or the face.
After several tries doing handstands and executing roundhouse kicks on a tree, Robby manages the technique during the tournament, but unfortunately doesn’t get the winning point. Still, it was absolutely brilliant to watch, the perfect move to support Robby’s mangled shoulder (sound familiar?), and just reminded me of Mr. Miyagi and his enduring legacy.
Miyagi-do is the complete opposite of Cobra Kai ideology. The latter is all about power, speed and causing as much damage as possible, while the former focuses on efficiency, fighting only as necessary and compromise.
Daniel somehow managed to calm the natural cobra in Robby by passing down these ideas to him and, if you ask me, that’s just as impressive as helping bullied kids find the courage to stand up for themselves. Daniel and Johnny should work in therapy and counseling. Clearly, they know how to properly rehabilitate teenagers.
4 Dutch's second coming
Miguel’s turn to the dark side was certainly a compelling twist, and possibly the best thing about Cobra Kai, but let’s be honest; none of us expected shy, socially inept Eli to change as much as he did. Eli, or Hawk, is this generation’s Tommy or Dutch, and the twist no one expected.
Hawk is the complete opposite of Eli Moscowitz. He is rash and furiously overconfident, arrogant and painfully belligerent. Still, he is probably the most compelling character out of all the kids. He willfully forced himself out of introversion, flipped the script with only slight budging. He went from being the worst student to being the most bad at Johnny’s dojo, going so far as to make it to the tournament’s semi-finals and come face to face with Daniel’s esteemed protégé. He is also the closest thing we have to a Cobra Kai from the '80s, a nostalgic trip all bundled in a single mohawk.
Johnny told Miguel that on the day he first met Ali, Dutch had been throwing Milk Duds at her, something Hawk is later seen to be doing; also a nod to the movies. Hawk is Dutch. Even the show is being so explicit about it. What more proof do we need?
3 Where it all began
The best thing about Cobra Kai is that it repeats history in the subtlest of ways. If you blink or go to the restroom, maybe think about something else while watching, you’ll miss it. There are numerous examples throughout the show, but my favorite has to be the beach scene, which recreates Daniel and Johnny’s first meeting in 1984 for Miguel and Samantha, and new rival Robby.
We all remember the original scene. Johnny sees Daniel and Ali flirting at the beach. Heartbroken, he gets into a fight with Daniel and beats him to the ground. Daniel leaves feeling humiliated.
Despite this, Johnny ends up losing Ali forever.
Now let’s jump back to 2018. Miguel has been seeing Sam and Robby together at home and is upset over Sam hiding their relationship from her father. It gets worse when she stops responding to his texts or calls. Later, at Aisha’s beach party, history repeats as Miguel watches Sam and Robby seemingly flirt, and he engages them, tipsy and feeling heartbroken. Events happen like they did in the past, as Sam and Miguel argue over their relationship problems and Robby tries to intervene. Angry, Miguel pushes him down and in the scuffle, accidentally shoves Sam to the ground. Unlike Daniel, Robby does not leave humiliated, but Miguel does lose Sam in the aftermath. Sound familiar?
2 The man himself demands his due
It takes a lot to get someone like Johnny Lawrence quaking in his Gi. There’s life, there’s prejudice, but other than those, there isn’t much. In particular, there are not many people out there that can intimidate Johnny to submission, especially at his age. Except for one. His old karate teacher, Captain John Kreese.
The Vietnam War veteran notably forced Johnny to commit tournament violations during the 1984 Under-18 All-Valley Karate Championship and almost ended his life him by suffocation/neck snap at the parking lot when he lost against Daniel Larusso in the finals. Johnny ended up quitting Cobra Kai and has dealt with some form of PTSD over the years, no thanks to his former sensei.
Kreese, now an old man, appears in the very last scene of Season 1 at the entrance of Johnny’s dojo, congratulating him on the win and declaring a full return of Cobra Kai. Johnny gapes in horror, completely speechless, color instantly drained from his face.
We’ve seen cameos throughout Cobra Kai, like Randee Heller and mentions of Terry Silver and Mike Barnes, but none as memorable and chilling as the return of a former baddie. Was Johnny quaking in his sneakers? I was quaking from excitement.
1 “Leave the dork alone”
Unlike Mr. Miyagi, Mr. Lawrence starts his redemption story originally not wanting to get involved, and even tells Miguel Diaz, Daniel’s worthy doppelgänger, that the best part about living in his crappy apartment is “he doesn’t have to talk to anybody.” Of course, this changes fairly quickly when he finds Miguel getting picked on by Kyler and his friends. Although he joins the fight originally to avenge his Firebird, eventually he continues it for Miguel’s sake. He later tells an incredulous Daniel that Kyler and his goons “deserved” the beating they got, “wailing on a kid half their size.”
Johnny is clearly a flawed savior, but there’s no denying Mr. Miyagi lives in him, in his choices, his relationship with Miguel, and his reasons for helping the kids in his neighborhood.
Maybe more so than even Daniel Larusso at this point in their lives.
We saw it in the trailers. We knew it was going to happen. Heck, maybe Johnny’s turn to the good side is exactly why we tuned in to Cobra Kai to begin with. To see a beloved character live on in a man we thought was beyond redemption. That scene by the mini-mall is easily the most memorable in the show so far, simply because it reminds us of Miyagi—and the first time destiny turned the wheel for Daniel Larusso.