After 34 years, the doors of Cobra Kai opened once again with the return of Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) looking for redemption and a chance to inspire a new generation of karate kids.
With much talk over the years of revisiting, reliving, and even rebooting the Miyagi-verse, show writers Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Harold Schlossberg brought back the ex ace-degenerate and THE Karate Kid himself, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) for the series “Cobra Kai”.
With this, the writing trio brought multi-generational fans of the ‘Karate Kid’ films back to the Miyagi-verse with a twist. The series premiered in May 2018 as a flagship show for the YouTube Red/Premium streaming service with stories this time viewed from Johnny’s perspective.
In an about-turn, Johnny is broke and living in Reseda whilst Daniel is a successful car salesman living the affluent life.
The two are briefly reunited, which triggers old rivalries when Johnny opens up a Cobra Kai dojo to inspire a new generation of karate kids much to Daniel’s chagrin, so he decides to bring back Miyagi-Do.
The drama and excitement of the film saga is brought back to life with a comical touch. It also introduces a new generation of young empty- handed warriors fighting their own bullies, getting involved in the perils of teenage romance, with students of both dojos starting their own hard- striking rivalries, all to a resurrected and rebooted 80s soundtrack.
“Cobra Kai” was a hit with a second series greenlit straight away. It delivered even more drama, fight action, and nostalgia factor, bringing back a venomous villain and our favourite degenerates. The cliffhanger ending had us drooling for season 3 which aired this time, on streaming giant, Netflix.
Far from resting on their laurels the trio of Heald, Hurwitz, and Schlossberg struck even harder with a significant volume of nail-biting action, and drama with even more reunions from the original films.
Whilst the humour was still present, the stories became more drama and tragedy-laden with more odds overcome and rivalries escalating to near-deadly levels.
Season 3 ended with some epic showdowns and a team-up we had all been waiting for, and with Season 4 having wrapped production, we wait with bated breath for the latest offering to drop on Netflix, as Kung Fu Kingdom takes a look at the best fight action and drama from all three seasons so far…
So get into your gi, tighten your belt, and take a bow… Kamae! Hajime! (on guard, let’s begin!) as we countdown Cobra Kai’s Top 10 Fight Scenes! (in descending order)
10. School Lunch Room Fight — S1 / Ep 5: Counterbalance
The first real fight of season 1 is the quintessential crowd-pleaser with Cobra Kai student Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña) facing up to his bully Kyler (Joe Seo). Who doesn’t enjoy seeing violent bullies get their comeuppance eh?
Of course this is ‘Karate Kid’ 2.0 which means it’s not just a school-yard scrap. Fight choreographer, Hiro Koda, brings in some technically-rich karate techniques mixed in with action-movie dynamics, complete with table-top leaps whilst using everyday objects as a weapon – in this case a lunch tray.
The frenetic speed, and brutal contact convey the much-anticipated tension and excitement with the added drama of the season’s underdog having his day.
9. Miguel vs. Robby Tournament — S1 / Ep 10: Mercy
The first season kept all the nostalgic tropes of the films so it’s only right that the finale would play out at the All Valley Tournament. It captures the tension and emotion of the original film, but the writers have also dropped in some clever twists.
Where the match between Johnny and Daniel in the film was clear cut – we knew who to root for – now it’s not so clear. Johnny’s dual-tortured angst of watching his estranged son Robby (Tanner Buchanan) get hurt and his student, Miguel turn into a Gen Z version of his younger self have viewer loyalties split three ways.
The drama played out on the mat with some outstanding karate action from Maridueña and Buchanan making for a gripping showdown.
8. Garage Fight — S3 / Ep 2: Nature vs. Nurture
Having teased throughout the season of a Johnny / Daniel team up (and standoff) the garage fight gives us both.
From fighting side by side against the chop shop roughnecks, in search of Johnny’s son Robby, to one-on-one, the mix of tension and comedy, and some adrenaline-pumping karate action proves to be an entertaining crowd-pleaser. Both Zabka and Macchio show they can still deliver the goods when it comes to screen presence, and chemistry, along with the fight action.
Their skirmish may be brief but it’s certainly very engaging and like any good show, it leaves fans wanting more…
7. Mall Fight — S2 / Ep 5: All In
Season 2 sees the Cobra Kai / Miyagi-Do feud escalate
toward the students. Daniel’s daughter, Sam LaRusso (Mary Mouser) and Robby Keene fend off their rivals led by former bullied nerd-turned Cobra Kai badass, Eli aka “Hawk” (Jacob Bertrand), bullying his former friend Demetri (Gianni DeCenzo).
Looking to raise the bar from season one’s lunch-hall fight, choreographers Hiro Koda and Jahnel Curfman slipped in some impressive aerial stunts and wire-fu making for a more action-packed battle.
What really takes this to another level is Sam and Robby fighting back- to-back, intercut with flashbacks of their training sessions in the old Miyagi garden. Quintessentially, a modern-day ‘drum-technique moment’ comes into play revealing how all the training plays out when it’s time to fight.
For the ‘Karate Kid’ geeks among you, listen closely to the song playing as Demetri tries to get away from Hawk and his friends.
6. Cobra Kai Bar Fight — S2 / Ep 5: All In
The original Cobra Kai are back and who’d have thought we’d be elated to see this group of troublemakers reunited? True, they were the villains of the first film, but reuniting Johnny, with Bobby (Sensei Ron Thomas), Jimmy (Tony O’ Dell) and Tommy (the late Rob Garrison) after 34 years, was a genius and welcome inclusion, and had fans like me grinning like a Cheshire cat.
This reunion, steeped in nostalgia from the first film is made a little heart- wrenching with an ailing, terminally-ill Tommy which is even more tragic with the real-life passing of Rob Garrison occurring shortly after the season aired.
After a day of riding the roads ‘wild dogs’ style, and shooting the breeze in the bar, one question hung in the air; could the old gang still strike like a cobra?
Since you can’t sit in a bar for long without a fight breaking out, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’ as degenerates burst into action kicking ass old-school style, and striking hard together one last time.
5. School Hall Fight — S2 / Ep 10: No Mercy
Rivalries that see fist and feet explode lie at the heart of the ‘Karate Kid’ saga and of course ‘Cobra Kai’. Looking to give us way more bang for our buck Messrs Heald, Hurwitz and Schlossberg set up numerous rivalries for an epic school-hall showdown.
As well as Miyagi-Do vs Cobra Kai students, we have Tory (a sterling performance from Peyton List) vs Sam LaRusso, Miguel vs Robby and even Hawk vs Demetri.
It starts off entertainingly enough, at times tense and exciting with some great fight action and plenty of comedic moments – check out Stingray’s (Paul Walter Hauser) excellent and amusing improvised techniques. Things heat up though, and a school-hall rumble turns almost deadly tragic.
The no holds barred, free-for-all feel of this scene invokes the danger factor present in the films, namely “The Karate Kid II”, where Chozen and his uncle Sato are determined to kill Miyagi and Daniel.
That threat hovers over the ferocity in which the main rivals relentlessly battle each other, in particular Tory donning some spiked knuckle dusters and actually using them. This makes for nail-biting stuff, especially the furious fight between Robby and Miguel, and once again loyalties are torn.
The mix of intense action with the inevitable tragic end make this truly captivating, marking a change in tone of the initially lighthearted narrative and approach. This dramatic tonal change injected fresh life into the series and gave us a finale that left us wanting so much more…
4. Battle at ‘Golf N’ Stuff’ — S3 / Ep 5: Miyagi-Do
This standoff at the Valley’s favourite fun factory is a pivotal moment for students of both schools.
Sam LaRusso leads a posse to take care of the Cobra Kai bullies, who, now, under the tutelage of John Kreese (Martin Kove), are becoming more out of control.
The fight action portrays the same, consistent, high-quality calibre we’ve now come to expect from husband and wife fight choreo team, Hiro Koda and Jahnel Curfman, proof of which lies in the fact that repeated viewings are equally enjoyable.
What elevates this moment is the escalation of the characters’ stories: Sam’s battle with PTSD following her fight with Tory in the finale of ‘No Mercy’ (season 2) is made worse when Tory joins the fight here.
The introduction of Hawk’s conflicting emotions is particularly interesting with credit to Jacob Bertrand’s performance leading to a bone-breaking climactic finish, showing Cobra Kai at their most brutal and sadistic, quite frankly leaving all of us in a shock of disbelief.
3. Johnny & Daniel vs. Kreese & Robby — S3 / Ep 10: December 19
This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for as Johnny finally stands up to his old sensei, and this time it’s not just his old dojo that’s at stake.
The intricate writing in the dramatic final episode of season 3 packs a visceral double whammy with Johnny battling his sensei whilst at the same time, trying to steer his son Robby out from Kreese’s clutches.
The three-way conflict paves the way for a ‘Revenge of the Sith’ moment as Robby hatefully seethes at his father’s compassion dismissing it as weakness and embracing karate’s dark side.
The arrival of an enraged Daniel on a payback mission, leaves you at the edge of your seat with another long-anticipated moment – and in true ‘Karate Kid’ fashion, puts some newly-acquired disabling techniques to good use.
2. Daniel vs. Chozen — S3 / Ep 5: Miyagi-Do
With the return of Kreese and the old Cobra Kai gang from the films, it wouldn’t be long before the rest of the original film cast would follow.
‘Miyagi-Do’ sees a lost and dejected Daniel return to Okinawa and a commercialized Tomi Village when, lo and behold, he meets former flame Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita). One touching reunion leads to an awkward meeting with Daniel’s deadly foe, Chozen (Yuji Okumoto).
Chozen’s return gave us much more than a highly-anticipated rematch. Daniel’s return to Okinawa reconnects him with the spiritual heart of Miyagi-Do Karate and some of its origins all through a tense training session with his former rival.
Like with the original Cobra Kai, the return of Yuji Okumoto’s signature and complicated villain (which should be greeted with dread) in the scheme of things, is very welcome. The shared scenes of Daniel and Chozen are by far, the most powerfully nostalgic and stirring of any episode in the season.
Just as Daniel reconnects with his late mentor, so do we feel connected once again to the magic and charm of the original films. Let’s not overlook the fantastic, beautifully-shot and expertly-choreographed karate and kobudo action; the sparring and staff fights pack in all the intensity and energy of proper karate training.
Okumoto’s strikes in particular, are fast, precise, and look as if they connected rather painfully, which, given that the actor is himself well-versed in karate shouldn’t surprise anyone.
As a Gōjū-ryū karate practitioner myself, I was giddy as a schoolboy seeing the inclusion of proper Gōjū techniques – including the mawashi-uke or ‘wheel block’ – in this scene. Some tense drama, proper, authentic, traditional karate and a great comic moment make this one of the best scenes of the season.
…and in at #1 is…
Miyagi-Do & Eagle Fang Karate vs. Cobra Kai — S3 / Ep 10: December 19
If you thought those dastardly Cobra Kai were vicious little terrors before, wait until you see what they get up to in this, the most action-packed, and hard-hitting episode of the season.
Their viciousness making them think they can go where they want and do what they want with impunity, makes this generation of Cobras the most dangerous and gives fans a dramatic battle that leads to the team up and showdown we’ve all been waiting for.
With Miguel now back on his feet (having been paralyzed due to the events of season 2’s, episode ‘No Mercy’), team Miyagi-Do join up with Johnny Lawrence’s new karate club – um …Eagle Fang – for the fight of their lives.
This episode brings the character arcs of Sam’s paralyzing PTSD and Eli’s torn loyalties to a close, as rivals once again, face off to settle their scores.
Miguel’s fight on two fronts, his ongoing recovery, and facing his old bully Kyler – now a Cobra Kai student – adds visceral intensity to the all-out battle in the LaRusso home, the first half of which looks like it was shot in one take.
The camera pans from one group to the other with no cuts in between which makes the fight even more absorbing, dramatic and intense. The climactic fights between the rivals prove to be the best yet with some crowd-pleasing flying techniques, leg locks, and a weapons battle between Tory and Sam in an “Enter the Dragon”-style showdown of epic proportions!
(Images: COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2020/21)