Cobra Kai Stunt Coordinators: Hiro Koda and Jahnel Curfman
Cobra Kai's third season continues in its now-familiar place as Netflix's ratings winner. The continuing adventures of Daniel, Johnny, Sensei Kreese, and the gang remain popular with fans of the Karate Kid films and new fans exploring the Cobra Kai universe for the first time. While the stories are great and the dialogue is ever-quotable, it wouldn't mean a thing if it wasn't for the awesome fight scenes and large-scale battles. So where do all the jumping kicks, punches, sweeping legs, and back and forth brawls between our favorite heroes and villains come from? For that, you need to look no further than the extraordinary stunt team of Hiro Koda and Jahnel Curfman, stunt coordinators for the Cobra Kai series. The husband and wife team, are both accomplished martial artists with years of stunt work, fight choreography, and an Emmy to their credit, and took time out from filming season 4 to speak with me and provide an inside look at the making of the incredibly popular series.
Martial Arts for the Screen
Why that punch? Why that kick? And where did it come from? Invariably these are the questions martial arts film aficionados like to ask (I know I do.) How specific do the writers get? "We use it as more of a guideline," Curfman clarifies, "Where we say, I know you said it's a round kick, but what if we did a really cool take on a spinning back hook instead? They usually leave a lot to our discretion. Hiro shoots a previz (pre-visualization) and puts it all together so they can see what it is and then from there we sort of pick apart what they really like, what they want to change, the pieces they want to take out, and that sort of thing."
Although both Koda and Curfman have traditional Karate and Jeet Kune Do backgrounds respectively, both have trained in a variety of other styles and bring that experience to the screen always striving for what will work best, whether choosing the conventional or the exotic, "There's a lot of flavor of Silat in a lot of the characters," Koda reveals, "It's not a style that too many people really know, but if you know Silat you can pick it out."
Do modern trends find their way into the show? "Moving forward and trying to be innovative in what these kids are into now, today is all about tricking. It's like this crazy tricking world, but we've tried to put a little bit of flavor into it. We don't want to get too big on tricking, because it doesn't make sense with the story, but we do try to stay with how martial arts has evolved over the years."
To realize how great Koda and Curfman really are, viewers just have to remember that in the same way the actors didn't make up the lines they are saying, they don't make up the fights either. All the actors aren't martial arts masters, so what do they do with an actor that doesn't know any martial arts? Curfman explains, "It depends on how much time we have. It's a matter of getting them used to your style of movement and helping them retain choreography."
In creating the characters for Cobra Kai, their individual martial arts signatures have been factored into the equation and built upon as well, Koda tells of the process, "Over the years from season 1 through season 3 we've really tried to develop everybody's character and create something new and stylistically designed for each of those characters. It's more based on how those characters have grown character-wise, in the story that has also driven our action and how we develop their style. Everybody has a different mix of martial arts that we've put in there."
The school fight that concluded season 2 and the fight at the Larusso house at the end of season 3 have seemingly set a precedent for fans to expect Kurosawa-Esque battles to end each season. Is that the plan or do they just happen? Curfman points out that the action and their artistic contribution comes from the script, "Whatever they write, whatever they give us." For the end of season 3, Koda describes how the weather affected the choice of location and how it all came together. "They said we want to another one of those (epic fight, like the one at the school at the end of season 2), but we're going to do it even bigger. They got a lot more characters involved. It was actually supposed to take place in the Miyagi-Do backyard dojo but rain and weather kind of screwed our schedule up, so the creators said, well we're going to put it in the Larusso house, so we had to really re-design and re-choreograph so it would work in the Larusso house, but that actually wound up being a lot more fun than outside in the yard." The battle royale that takes place at the end of season 3 will leave fans asking: What will they do next? We'll all just have to wait and see.
At the time of our interview, the Screen Actors Guild awards recently released the list of nominees for BEST TV SERIES STUNT ENSEMBLE, and Cobra Kai is on the list! Awards to be presented on April 4. Be sure to watch and support your favorite streaming dojo!
- Cobra Kai's Fight Choreography and Oners - Black Belt Magazine ›
- Jahnel Curfman: The Road to the Cobra's Dojo - Black Belt Magazine ›
- Interview with Neraida Bega - Black Belt Magazine ›