Illustration by Marcus Escobar for an article on Cobra Kai
The series doesn't just rely on the nostalgia of its predecessor; it uses it as a launching pad. (Illustration by Marcus Escobar, Minneapolis College of Art and Design)

In ‘Cobra Kai,’ the Characters Must Defeat the Past

Maintaining the charms of the original beloved ‘Karate Kid’ trilogy, the sequel series sends a strong message about not letting the past define you.

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Illustration by Marcus Escobar for an article on Cobra Kai

Maintaining the charms of the original beloved ‘Karate Kid’ trilogy, the sequel series sends a strong message about not letting the past define you.

“Wax on, wax off.” “Karate Kid” struck the hearts of viewers all over the world, and it was sad to see it end after three movies. Many different actors have attempted to revive the legendary movie, but no one can bring back the famous duo of Daniel LaRusso and Mr. Miyagi.

Over 30 years have passed, and Netflix has now released the first three seasons of the show “Cobra Kai.” The show was originally on YouTube, but after the streaming platform got out of the scripted originals game and the show fell into limbo status, Netflix took over. As unexpected as it may seem, the show starts out by explaining the life of Johnny Lawrence, the boy who fought Daniel LaRusso.

Now that Daniel and Johnny both have children of their own, they decide it’s time to open up their own dojos to assure their children’s safety. But there’s one problem — they are all holding on to the past. Not only have Johnny and Daniel let the past hinder them from going down the right path, but everyone in their lives too. Here are some moments worth mentioning. Warning: spoilers ahead.

Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence’s Feud Lives On

Toward the end of “Karate Kid: Part 1,” it’s pretty clear that Daniel and Johnny do not like each other — not only because they like the same girl, but because they share the same love for karate. At the end of the movie, there is a tournament: Daniel and Johnny meet at the final showdown, where Johnny is commanded by his sensei to destroy Daniel. Despite all the injuries Daniel experiences, he pulls through with the help of his sensei, Mr. Miyagi, winning the tournament and getting the girl.

After decades have passed, Daniel is a wealthy car salesman, cherishing the times he spent with his sensei, while Johnny is not as successful. That’s when Johnny witnesses some bullies brutally attacking a boy, and he decides to step in. After taking some time to think about it, Johnny decides to reopen Cobra Kai to teach kids to defend themselves. A few days later, Daniel sees the poster advertising the reopening, but decides to ignore it until he sees someone hurt. He decides to open his own dojo, and the battle begins. Because they are both caught up in the past, Johnny and Daniel choose to act immaturely, hating each other for their former mistakes. It is hard to see how their students — and families — get hurt because of their unfinished feud.

John Kreese and the War

Toward the end of Season 1 of “Cobra Kai,” John Kreese, Johnny’s old sensei, comes back from the dead — literally. He staged his death and had everyone believe he had passed away. Nonetheless, Johnny is reluctant to let John stay at his dojo, remembering his sensei’s past behavior, But John convinces Johnny that he has changed, and takes a job as an assistant, watching the students.

Later in the show, it becomes obvious that John was tricking Johnny. He uses every moment alone with the students to teach them how to be more violent and destructive. Eventually, he gets the majority of the students to turn on Johnny, and the show reveals a glimpse of John’s past. He fought in the Vietnam War and watched many people die.

Not only has he seen death, but he’s also been the cause of it, losing his friends and captain because he showed mercy. It’s clear that because of the unfairness he saw during the war, he wants to fully equip his soldiers, preparing them for the worst. In a way, his actions are explainable, as he is ultimately teaching his students that life is rough, and there might be a time when they need to fend for themselves. However, times have changed, and his ways are harsh, wrong and bound to fail.

Chozen Toguchi and Daniel LaRusso

Daniel flies to Okinawa, Japan, hoping to find a way to revive his car business. While he is there, he runs into his former girlfriend, Kumiko. Aware of his rivalry with Chozen Toguchi, Kumiko coordinates a meeting between them. Although Daniel is astonished and wants to leave, Kumiko tells him that Chozen has changed, and commands that they spend the day together. Daniel is still afraid of Chozen, who almost killed him, and Chozen doesn’t seem too excited either. Regardless, they spend time together, and Daniel finds that Chozen has learned from his mistakes. In addition, Chozen honors Daniel for beating him in the past, and decides to share a few karate tricks that Mr. Miyagi failed to share.

“Cobra Kai” is a show filled with action, romance and relatable life lessons. “For me, as much as the show is karate-centric, it’s not about karate,” said William Zabka “It’s about humans. It’s about adults trying to find their way, putting things behind them, struggling. And that’s what every character in the show has in some way.” As the fourth season approaches, I’m excited to see how the present will defeat the past.

Writer Profile

Laura Song

Biola University
Journalism and Integrated Media

Hello, my name is Laura and I am a junior at Biola University. As a child, I enjoyed reading Highlights’ magazines and that is when I became interested in writing. I am passionate about my writing and plan to continue writing after graduating.

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