Because I'm somewhat familiar with the Black Belt demographic, I can safely say there's a good chance you're a lot like me. You probably grew up in the martial arts, and when The Karate Kid came out in 1984, you loved every minute of it.
You likely watched The Karate Kid Part II when it was released in 1986 and fantasized about jetting to Okinawa to learn karate (and perhaps to fall in love with a local lad or lass).You might have been somewhat less enthusiastic about The Karate Kid Part III (1989, with Terry Silver: "A man can't stand, he can't fight!") and The Next Karate Kid (1994, with Hilary Swank assuming the role of the student in need of Mr. Miyagi's morality), but still you watched — and in all likelihood reminisced about your formative years in the arts.
Then came the black hole, the period when seemingly no martial arts movie could capture the philosophical side of our passion — you know, the reason we all train for life. Fortunately, that black hole collapsed in on itself when YouTube announced in 2018 that it was resurrecting the Karate Kid storyline in the form of a series called Cobra Kai.
We all waited with bated breath for Cobra Kai to debut, and when it did, we were pleased with the direction it took, with more philosophy, better fights and deeper characters — including the bully Johnny Lawrence, who now has a sympathy-inducing back story, and Daniel LaRusso, who seems to have grown into an often-annoying adult. Even though many of us didn't have a subscription to YouTube Red, we devoured the first season when it was made available for free.
But afterward, we said to ourselves, "That was great, but I don't need another subscription to a streaming service. I already get Netflix. Besides, I don't have a lot of free time — I'd rather be training!" So we let it go. And then YouTube revealed that Season 3 of Cobra Kai was not happening. Bummer!
Well, as they say, when one door closes, another opens. Soon after YouTube announced the demise of Cobra Kai, Netflix, which many of us already have a subscription to, said it was picking up the series and ordering Season 3. Even better, Netflix made Seasons 1 and 2 available on its service. Contrary to the Cobra Kai creed, Netflix showed mercy on all the Karate Kid fans who never had a chance to binge the first two seasons. Which we did immediately. At that point, it became clear …
The reason Cobra Kai resonates with fans of The Karate Kid — and is gaining plenty of new ones — is it hearkens back to the old days of the martial arts and often the good old days of our lives. Through plausible scenes set in the present and pertinent flashbacks from the films, we see that beer-swilling Johnny is the product of a dysfunctional family. We see that Daniel also has issues, including the loss of his beloved Mr. Miyagi and a video-game-obsessed son who thinks karate is for losers. We also witness the struggles Daniel must endure as he takes on the mantle of Miyagi and grooms a student — and competitor — of his own. (Note: The episode of Cobra Kai that features the 2018 All Valley Karate Tournament rocks!)So there you have the sitrep. The first 20 episodes of Cobra Kai are on Netflix now, with Season 3 scheduled for release in 2021. Viewers already have witnessed the return of several familiar faces from the original films — I won't name those names here because discovering them in real time is half the fun. All I can say is that Cobra Kai is a breath of fresh air in the martial arts genre, which, thanks to Hollywood, is all too often preoccupied with tales of you-killed-my-brother vengeance and underground death matches.
Now that you know why I'm such a fan — and why you should be, as well — I will present the 11 most memorable moments from Season 1. This list materialized as I binge-watched the first 10 episodes for the third time. They are presented in chronological order.
Season 1, Episode 1The story opens with the climax from The Karate Kid: Cobra Kai's Johnny Lawrence takes on Miyagi-do karate's Daniel LaRusso at the All Valley Karate Championship. Present are the obligatory sound bites that have found their way into American pop culture, including "Sweep the leg" and "Get him a body bag!" Naturally, the crane kick is shown.
The transition that follows is brilliant. Johnny from 1984 is shown facedown on the mat after the kick heard round the world. The scene dissolves into one that shows Johnny in the present, facedown on the carpet after a night of hard drinking.
Season 1, Episode 1Johnny (William Zabka): "It was an illegal kick."
Daniel (Ralph Macchio): "What about that elbow to my knee?"Johnny: "I got a warning. You got the win."
Season 1, Episode 2 Johnny to his new student Miguel Diaz (Xolo Mariduena): "Quiet! We do not train to be merciful here. Mercy is for the weak. … What is the problem, Mr. Diaz?"
Season 1, Episode 2 Miguel (in the dojo training): "Hey, Sensei, is there any particular way you want me to wash these windows?"
Johnny: "Nah. … Whichever is easiest."
Season 1, Episode 3 A Halloween dance is about to take place at the high school. Miguel is planning to wear a less-than-cool costume his grandmother made.
Johnny: "I can't let you go out like that. We have a reputation to uphold."
Miguel: "What do you suggest?"
Quick cut! Out of a cloud of mist in the school's gymnasium, Miguel appears wearing — you guessed it — a skeleton costume.
Season 1, Episode 5A frazzled Daniel visits the grave of Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). "It's funny, when I was a kid, you seemed to always have all the answers. I guess I thought when I got older, I'd have it all figured out, too. But now, I feel like I'm clueless. Lately, I've let my anger take control." Old footage of Mr. Miyagi: "Daniel-san, you remember lesson about balance? Lesson not just karate only. Lesson for all life."
Season 1, Episode 6 A young Johnny sees John Kreese's Cobra Kai school for the first time. Johnny peers through the window as Kreese (Martin Kove) teaches — with the usual Cobra Kai sound bites. It is Johnny's origin story.
Season 1, Episode 6 Johnny: "Since you joined Cobra Kai, I have been hard on you. I've called you names. Some of you I've hit. And for that, I don't apologize. Cobra Kai is about strength. … And right now, you're all weak. And I know that … because I was you.
"Fear does not exist in this dojo, does it?"
Pain does not exist in this dojo, does it?
"Defeat does not exist in this dojo, does it?"
Season 1, Episode 7It starts in full annoyance mode. Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan) is doing various tasks at the car dealership, including washing the windows, sweeping the floor and, yes, waxing the cars. And Daniel corrects every movement he makes.
Robby: "Mr. LaRusso, I'm all done."
Daniel: "Really? Both lots?
"Robby (angry): "I thought you were gonna teach me karate!"
Daniel (to himself, after Robby has stormed off): "God, I love this part."
Daniel (in the dojo, teaching Robby): "Show me wash the window. Show me wax on, wax off."
Season 1, Episode 9 Johnny and Daniel are test-driving a car, bonding over an REO Speedwagon song. They stop at Daniel's old apartment.
Johnny: "I remember — I kicked your ass around that corner."
Daniel: "Oh, yeah? How'd that end?"
Having a drink, Johnny talks about his abusive stepfather. Daniel mentions that his father died when he was a kid. Each managed to find a sensei to take the place of his missing dad.
Season 1, Episode 10The All Valley Karate Tournament, nuff said.
Robert W. Young is the editor-in-chief of Black Belt.
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