Interview with Martin Kove

In 1984, a legend was born in the form of the nefarious Cobra Kai Karate teacher, John Kreese. Like the characters, the dialogue, and just about everything else featured in the hit film “The Karate Kid”, John Kreese became a staple of martial arts folklore, and no one knows that better than the man who got to portray him, Martin Kove, who is regularly told what an influence John Kreese has had on the world of karate by fans of “The Karate Kid”.

But that wouldn’t be the last time Marty would dip his toes in the martial arts genre. He would reprise the role of John Kreese in both “Karate Kid” sequels, and would later appear alongside the Chinese Hercules himself, Bolo Yeung in “Shootfighter: Fight to the Death”, just to name a few.

These days, he’s got his sights set on reinvigorating the Western genre for modern audiences, but the influence his most famous character had continues with his appearance in the coming of age MMA drama “Tapped Out”. Today, Martin Kove stops in with KFK to recount his experiences in the film industry, the influence that John Kreese has had on the martial arts world, and his experiences working alongside Cody Hackman in making “Tapped Out!

International Trailer for Tapped Out

Brad:  Hi Martin, nice to have you on KFK!  If we can go back a little bit in history, you’re quite well known as the Cobra Kai teacher John Kreese in the original “Karate Kid”.  How did your involvement with the film first come about?

Marty:  Thank you!  Well, I read for the part in “Karate Kid”, and at the time, John Kreese was just another heavy tough guy in a movie. No one really knew the iconic value of it. And it turned into this wonderful movie and wonderful experience, working with Jerry Weintraub, John Avildsen, Pat Morita, and Ralph Macchio. The whole film was fantastic, but to me, the star of the whole piece was the writer, Robert Mark Kamen. Without his writing, you don’t have the icon that was created years later.

Oh, yes, “The Karate Kid” has got so many quotable lines. We spoke with Cody Hackman and he really spoke at length about how big an influence “The Karate Kid” had on him throughout his whole life, and in the development of “Tapped Out”, which leads into my next question, which is your character in “Tapped Out” -the principal who has to discipline Cody’s character. How did your involvement in “Tapped Out” come about?


Martin Kove goes from Cobra Kai to high school principal in Tapped Out!

Originally, I’d been approached about doing a thirty second cameo in the film, and at the time, I wasn’t really interested in that kind of role. Then later, they sent me the script, and I was really impressed with it, so they came up with the part of the principal who is really the anti-thesis of John Kreese, who really represents a much darker side of life. Principal Vanhorne is a lighter side of life. He sees that Cody’s character Michael Shaw is behaving like a delinquent, and he sends him to Michael Biehn’s dojo to restructure his life. I loved working with Cody. He’d told me about his great love of “The Karate Kid”, and it was really easy to work with him.

Well, Cody is really proud of “Tapped Out”, as he should be, I think. So it was great speaking with him and hearing how “The Karate Kid” was really in his mind as he was creating “Tapped Out”. Did you have any experience in martial arts going into “The Karate Kid”?

I’d studied with Shihan Tak Kobota as far back as ’82 or ’83 when I was making a film “The Line of Ireland” which was about Brian Buruma, who was King of Ireland. To develop my prowess with an axe, he’d taken me through a lot of Kendo and Taekwondo. It was really Pat Johnson who perfected our attitude on “The Karate Kid”. He was the stunt coordinator, and he’d studied under Chuck Norris during his tournament days, and I’d trained with him for three hours a day. He’d worked with all of us separately, me, Billy Zapka, Pat Morita, and Ralph Macchio. Later on, I earned a black belt in Okinawa-te, which is a different style completely which I used in a movie called “Steele Justice”.


John Kreese is displeased with this news!

And, of course, after “The Karate Kid”, you came back for the sequels. What was the experience like of making the sequels in comparison to the original?

It was a terrific experience. It was working with the same people. The third film, I couldn’t really do in its entirety, but they brought in people like Thomas Ian Griffith, who is a wonderful martial artist, and he sort out played out the sting operation in the movie.

Outside of “The Karate Kid” movies and “Tapped Out”, how often have you appeared in martial arts films or martial arts heavy roles throughout your career?

About a dozen. A lot of different movies like “Steele of Justice”, and I’d worked with Bolo Yeung in the movie “Shootfighter: Fight to the Death”.

Working alongside Bolo must have been a great experience, he’s appeared alongside people like Bruce Lee and Jean-Claude Van Damme…

Oh, yeah, He’s very gracious, really courageous. Bolo was the good guy in the film. It had already been partially filmed, and I actually had my arm in a cast at the time. I’d been in the Florida keys, and I was in an accident, and my arm was cut by a propeller, so we had to work the cast I had on my arm into the movie where Bolo had broken my arm in the early days of the film five year prior to the major fight at the end, and he and I had a history together. I really enjoyed being a part of it.

Well, it’s certainly a novelty for Bolo to be the good guy! Well, one thing we had asked Cody, and I kind of feel obligated ask anyone connected to either “Tapped Out” or “The Karate Kid” is what are your feelings on “The Karate Kid” remake?

Martin Kove as the ruthless John Kreese in The Karate Kid!

Martin Kove as the ruthless John Kreese in The Karate Kid!


Well, Will Smith is a good filmmaker, and he really did a lot of research in making the film, and he really was committed towards honoring all of our characters. I was invited to the premiere, and he was very, very respectful to all of us, and he was very concerned about “Did we enjoy the film? Did we research the characters correctly?” and I thought it was an interesting take on the film. I had actually been going on a lot of different radio shows when the film was coming out to put out some fires with people saying they wouldn’t go see the film. And I’d gone on there and said, “The movie doesn’t compete with the original ‘Karate Kid’, it just pay homage to it.” And everybody kind of settled down. And I thought it was an interesting take. I wasn’t the same movie that we all had made, it was different. And how many remakes really honor the first movie? It’s always hard to improve upon the first classic, but Will Smith made a good attempt, and he made a good movie!

Would you be interested in working with Cody Hackman again in the future?

Certainly. I have a lot of respect for Cody. I really liked the film. When I attended the premiere in Ontario, I wasn’t prepared to like the film as much as I did. It has a lot of soul, and it wasn’t just a fight movie. It’s a movie about a kid who gets an opportunity to turn his life around when he’s headed down the wrong path. Michael Biehn did a terrific job in the film, and Cody has a great future ahead of him. When I’d met his mother, she told me that he would watch “The Karate Kid” every day for so many years in a row, so that was incredibly flattering to hear, just as much as when I have Grandmasters and five-time kickboxing champions tell me that John Kreese changed Karate forever. We did a lot of laughing, and sometimes when you’re making a movie with a lot of big names, there is a lot less laughing and more tension than you would like, so it’s great to be able to work alongside someone like Cody who has a wonderful sense of humor and be able to laugh and have a good time making the film. I’d work with Cody again tomorrow.

Actors Martin Kove and Cody Hackman posing for the cameras.

Martin Kove alongside Cody Hackman at the premiere of Tapped Out!

That’s exactly what Cody said when we spoke with him – that his goal for “Tapped Out” was for it to not simply be a fight film but a drama with martial arts in it. And that was the impression I’d got when I saw it, and I Think he succeeded really well with it, and I’m looking forward to seeing more his work in the future.

Yeah, we’re really hoping for the film to get a theatrical release in Canada and the European markets. But it’s a good movie with a lot of heart, the fight scene at the end is incredible. A lot of movies like this can have slip-ups when you don’t have money to band-aid things, but I think the film came out really well. I’d really love to do a Western with Cody and have us as gunslingers. I’m currently participating in a documentary on John Avildsen, the director “The Karate Kid” I and II and “Rocky”, and one of my big goals right now is to try to get the Western back on its feet. I enjoy Westerns as much as I do movies like “The Karate Kid”, and we’re not making too many classics nowadays. We’re making a lot of special effects movies and not enough relationship movies. And we need a good Western! It’s a very character-driven genre, and it needs to happen. Things like “Red River”, “The Wild Bunch”, and “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly”, all those movies to me are iconic. They deal with our frontier and they deal with wonderful characters. These are sort of my Bible with the direction I’m going, although I love the discipline of martial arts, and I’m proud to be a part of all the “Karate Kid” movies, as well as “Tapped Out”.

Well, as you should be! Those are certainly in the upper tier of martial arts films. It’s been a true pleasure taking to you, sir! I definitely look forward to seeing the documentary about John Avildsen and the resurrection of the Western! 

It’s been good talking to you!

It’s been nothing less than a privilege speaking with Martin Kove.  Any KFK readers who haven’t  seen his iconic portrayal of the ruthless Cobra Kai Master John Kreese, please get onto that! If you’re a fan of MMA or martial arts films, be sure to give “Tapped Out” a look and check out our review of the film here.

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From the earliest days of childhood, Brad Curran was utterly fascinated by martial arts, his passion only growing stronger after spending time living in the melting pot of Asian cultures that is Hawaii. His early exposure developed into a lifelong passion and fascination with all forms of martial arts and tremendous passion for action and martial arts films. He would go on to take a number of different martial arts forms, including Shaolin Ch'uan fa, Taekwondo, Shotokan Karate and remains a devoted student, avid and eager to continue his martial arts studies. Brad is also an aspiring writer and deeply desires to share his love for martial arts and martial arts movies with the world!

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