“In the real world, you can’t expect people to do what they’re supposed to do.”
~ Johnny Lawrence (Cobra Kai, Season One)
Karate, like many other forms of Martial Arts, are taught through a series of lessons. They range from discipline, self defense, respect, honor, confidence, and most of all focus.
Each of these lessons are key in helping students navigate, not only kata (forms), kiotsuke (attention), waza (technique), and how to rise through the ranks, but also, life in general. If these students are not taught correctly and instructed that with growth comes great responsibility, these new skills can cause problems later.
Conversely, if students are trained properly, the skills and the lessons can definitely be used for the remainder of life. We all have baggage, and if we are not taught how to deal with the ills of our past, those issues can haunt us until we actually address them, face them, then create the agents of change we need.
Fast forward to entertainment, and the show that brings together the martial arts, life skills, and overcoming circumstances is The Karate Kid (1984).
Many fans of the original movie seem to mistake the lessons taught by Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) as similar lessons taught by Cobra Kai, but they aren’t. Mr. Miyagi taught honor, balance, and self defense to Daniel (Ralph Macchio). Meanwhile, Cobra Kai taught a form of martial arts that resulted in dirty fighting and dishonor.
“I’m gonna teach you a style of karate that was taught to me: a method of fighting your pussy generation desperately needs. I’m not just gonna teach you how to conquer your fears. I’m gonna teach you how to awaken the snake within you.”~ Johnny Lawrence (Cobra Kai, Season One)
Let’s look at the aspects of the Cobra Kai mantra and examine how those misguided lessons are introduced in the YouTube inaugural original series.
As the top student of the Cobra Kai dojo, Johnny (William Zabka) was always taught to strike first and ask questions later. Within the first lesson of the new series, Johnny explains the same to his first prize pupil, Miguel (Xolo Mariduena).
“A student only speaks when spoken too,” which has an underlining sense of respect for the teacher rooted in fear and intimidation. Next, Miguel must always refer to that lead teacher as nothing but ‘Sensei,’ which again teaches a form of respect, but both of these lessons are overshadowed by the lesson to strike first and to never wait for the enemy to attack. Something Johnny also learned in his early years.
Johnny tells Miguel that Cobra Kai isn’t just about karate; it’s about a way of life. He explains that striking first is the initial step towards victory — a mindset about being aggressive. Some may even interpret this lesson as aggressively going after your dreams and striking down anyone who gets in your way that tries to prevent your success.
The show explores the rivalry between Johnny and Daniel LaRusso that started back in the original Karate Kid. We also discover the way that rivalry ended 30 years ago at the All Valley Karate Tournament haunts Johnny to this day. Throughout the initial 10-episode season, we are shown how Johnny has tried to live by the three main rules he was taught by Sensei Kreese (Martin Kove).
“You’ll build strength. You’ll learn discipline. And when the time is right you’ll strike back.”~ Johnny Lawrence (Cobra Kai, Season One)
The second lesson Johnny was taught to strike hard.
Throughout Season One, we focus on Johnny’s journey becoming a Sensei. In Season Two, we begin to see the struggles Johnny may have with what he was taught by Sensei Kreese. We are shown a different side of Johnny that we didn’t get to see in the original film.
The rivalry between Johnny and Daniel is still evident, but it slowly infects their students. Throughout Season Two, we are presented with an internal struggle with Johnny as he tries to determine whether or not the lessons he was taught were actually beneficial life lessons or not.
In essence, the hard strikes are now internal — something Johnny was never expecting.
“And once you do that you’ll be the one who’s feared.”~ Johnny Lawrence (Cobra Kai, Season One)
By the end of Season Two, we are left with the final lesson of “No Mercy” being played out between the students and resulting in a shocking twist. We are left with Johnny feeling as if he’s responsible for the outcome of everything because the bitterness that lies within since he was originally taught.
As an audience, we are left with many questions about what may or will happen to the characters. Throughout life, we are always growing and learning from our achievements and mistakes. In Season Two, we learn about the lessons we are taught at a young age can mold and shape our adult life — sometimes, without mercy.
These lessons have a way of haunting us and making us discover the difference between right or wrong. These lessons can either strengthen us for life or make us bitter until the day we die. Overall, it’s up to us to make the right decisions about everything, but always remembering that not everything is going to follow a strict black-and-white setting. Life is always going to be a grey area.
The moral of the Cobra Kai story is a matter of using the life lessons we are taught in a way that strengthens our overall character. You can stream Seasons 1 and 2 on YouTube now for free. Season 3 is coming.
Just remember to Strike First, Strike Hard, and show No Mercy.