Building the Perfect Beast: The ‘Cobra Kai’ Stunt Team – Pt. 2
The Philosophy of Power Consistency
The fights in Cobra Kai help to tell the story as much as the dialogue and the other cinematic elements, and they are just as thoughtfully designed. Whether introducing new concepts, such as the MMA element in season five, or character skills and abilities to be expanded upon later, it is all part of a grander scheme from the team of Barefield and Lee.“The good thing about, like what me and Don do, is we don’t just throw a punch, just to throw a punch, just to throw it. We tell stories behind what we’re doing,” Barefield said.
In telling the stories of Cobra Kai, a certain amount of believability in the action is a necessity for the team. Lee described their philosophy of keeping things from going too far, “How many times have you seen somebody all the sudden go from basic martial arts to all the sudden doing ‘The Matrix,’ floating in the air? Like how does that even happen? It makes zero sense, and actually, to me, it really upsets me and Ken, you know? Because it comes to the point where it’s like you’re kind of dumbing down the audience. It’s like, you just expect us to believe that? There’s no payoff in that. I didn’t see that character earn that. How did that character all of the sudden get there? And that’s one thing we really like to do is keep the power consistency of the show level, and keep it fair.”
The passion Barefield and Lee have for making Cobra Kai the best show they can is best expressed in their attention to those minute details that viewers, especially non-martial artists, may not even notice, and that is why they do them.
For the 1%
The series, bridging the chasm between the decades of The Karate Kid films, has become the popular culture repository for martial arts. For both Barefield and Lee, the show is not just another gig, but a mantle of responsibility that they take seriously, and they treasure their roles in the process as new generations discover the series and the films. “It’s just a real cool, unique experience, that there are people who experienced ‘Karate Kid,’ and now are experiencing ‘Cobra Kai,’” Barefied said. “But then just the opposite, there are these kids that are watching ‘Cobra Kai,’ and then they’re like, ‘Well, I want to watch ‘Karate Kid.’ Then they go back and re-fall back in love with it, the way that we did, when we watched it. So that’s why the fanbase is so big, because, you know, you got the 15 year olds, and you got the 55 years olds. That’s just like…everyone’s on board with it. So that’s why me and Don want to make sure that when we do something, we pay tribute, and we hold that, like what the soul of this whole thing is, which is Miyagi, right? That’s like the soul of this whole thing. And we make sure that we protect that, like, very adamantly.”
The commitment of Lee and Barefield may not be immediately understood by the uninitiated, or even those working on the show, but as Barefield explains, they are not trying to slip something past the viewers, or get away with something less than legitimate, “That’s why like camera guys and directors that come in, and they're looking at us like, these stunt guys are crazy. It’s like, no, we’re not crazy, we’re just protecting what we’re shooting. We’re not just gonna phone it in. Like, no, redo this. Do it again. Do it again. Don will run in there, they’ll be talking. No, no, hold on. Give him a second. Because we’ll tweak it, and get it just right. And it’s not for the 99%. It’s for the 1%.
Lee provided more details about how things work on set, “We feel like we have a responsibility to our actors, and to real martial artists that are out there, because, with that being said, we know that people will pick it apart. And the last thing that I want to do, or Ken wants them to do, is to go ahead and make a meme of one of our actors for holding something wrong, or having their thumbs out on a bo when it should be in. So, it’s those little things. I see a finger there, I go, ‘Ken I saw it.’ He goes, ‘Go fix it.’ Cool, I’ll go fix it. That’s where Ken is saying the crazy part comes out, where the director’s like, ‘I didn’t even see what they are fixing. What are they fixing?’ And don’t worry about it. We got it. That’s usually what we tell them.”
With the incredibly enthusiastic reception of season five by the fans, the mission of Barefield and Lee resonates even deeper. For them, it is more than just trying to make some flashy fight scenes, but instead comes from a personal dedication to something bigger. Lee put it succinctly, “Cobra Kai, let’s make karate cool again. So many people talk about MMA, it’s forgotten the martial art way. And it’s cool to see a lot of kids, that even when I go to tournaments or whatever, that people understand, and you as a martial artist, as well, understand this. Our fans at Black Belt understand that, that it’s the martial way. And it’s cool for people to understand the philosophy of martial arts instead of just wanting to train to either ‘A’ to defend themselves to defend themselves, or just train to be, you know, fighting machines. And there’s no wrong way in either one of those things, but it is really nice and appreciate that the martial way…that there’s light being shed on that right now.”
As a fan of the show, and the films, and as a martial artist, I appreciate the work and dedication that both Ken Barefield and Don Lee have put into Cobra Kai. And it’s important to note that their work is not just for themselves, as Lee points out, “First and foremost, the Cobra Kai fans are the best. They love it. That’s why we love it, is because we are fans of the show as well.” Barefield agreed wholeheartedly with an enthusiastic, “YES!” Lee continued, “This is my favorite show. And so it’s a dream come true because I’m a fan as well.” There is no doubt about the commitment of Barefield and Lee to the continued success of the series.
Will there be a season six of Cobra Kai? If there is, for Barefield, one thing is certain, “When we do ‘Cobra Kai,’ me and Don will be back together, for sure.”