Retro Review: The Karate Kid and Found Fatherhood

BY John Carter JR

The 1984 Classic The Karate Kid recently turned 36 years old and with the release of its sequel series Cobra Kai on Netflix (and a new season on the way) we examine one of the key facets of the story’s most personal relationships – the father figures conveyed in the film and the effects they have on the children they influence – in particular, the relationship conveyed between Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and John Kreese (Martin Kove) along with the relationship with Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) and Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio).

Daniel Laruso is introduced to filmgoers when he moves to California with his mother for new opportunities. When he arrives, his mother asks him to see if the handyman can come fix their broken sink. This is the first instance when we are introduced to the iconic character, Mr. Miyagi, who is an older, quiet man with a gentle but serious demeanor. 

After being chased and attacked by some Cobra Kai goons Mr. Miyagi saves Daniel and helps him recover. Eventually, Mr. Miyagi is convinced to train Daniel to protect himself. Mr. Miyagi establishes himself as a sage guide for Daniel, the man who lost a child becomes an almost surrogate father figure to the fatherless boy. In showing kindness and caring for Daniel as a father would, Daniel becomes a better person for it.

Something that is not touched on as much in The Karate Kid is the relationship that develops between Kreese and Johnny, which in a way, also represents a found father or surrogate father situation. Cobra Kai later shows viewers that Johnny’s biological father is nowhere to be found and he is stuck living with his abusive and unkind step-father, Sid. 

Throughout The Karate Kid, however, it becomes clear how Johnny and Kreese’s relationship is the antithesis of the relationship between Mr. Miyagi and Daniel – it is aggressive and loud. In all their scenes, both Johnny and Kreese are standing next to each other. For example in the Cobra Kai Dojo scene when Mr. Miyagi and Kreese meet we get a sense that Johnny has a “My Sensei (Dad) can beat up your Sensei (Dad)”. 

By the end of the film, viewers see just how different these “parenting styles” are and how the differences in Karate teaching affect the outcome for both Daniel and Johnny. Both Johnny and Daniel make it to the final round of the All Valley Karate Tournament.  Examining the fight from an unbiased lens, the boys both played a bit dirty with a sweep to Daniel’s leg and a kick to Johnny’s face. 

However the difference here is Kreese told Johnny to do wrong, telling Johnny to go for Daniel’s injury. Johnny has some dissonance about this but Kreese reminds the boy of his teachings “No Mercy”. While this mindset leads to Johnny’s undoing, he later accepts his loss and tells Daniel he deserved the win, probably out of guilt.

In conclusion, Mr. Miyagi’s teaching style and fatherly kindness are what lead to Daniel Larusso’s success. Kreese’s cruel and vengeful nature leads to his students’ downfall. While Miyagi’s relationship with his student brings them closer together, the opposite can be said of Kreese. It is this father and son relationship dynamic that drives the entire series, whether it is Miyagi and Daniel, Kreese and Johnny, Sato and Chozen, or even Johnny and Miguel in Cobra Kai. By the end of it all however no one is more iconic or as loved as Mr. Miyagi.

I give Karate Kid a 10/10 for its Iconography and Themes

Who would you rather be your sensei? Are you Watching Cobra Kai on Netflix? Tweet to us @TigerMediaNet

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