Currently three seasons strong on Netflix, the 2018 Karate Kid sequel ‘Cobra Kai’ has been successful, to say the least. It has a whopping 92% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, and has already been renewed for its fourth season.
After production for season 3 wrapped, things got rocky for the show after its original studio, YouTube Red, decided to stop producing original scripted content, leaving it without a home. However, Netflix swooped in and saved the day in June 2020 by buying the rights to the show, and renewing it for another season.
Cobra Kai picks up three decades after the 1984 film The Karate Kid left off, with the same actors reprising their roles of Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka).
In the 1984 movie, Johnny is shown to be Daniel’s main rival, and is a student of the Cobra Kai dojo. He is shown to have become a black belt as a result of training under his sensei, John Kreese.
So what exactly is Cobra Kai? What does it mean, and where does the name come from? What role does it play in the current web series? We have some facts, as well as some theories. Read on to find out more!
1. What is Cobra Kai?
Cobra Kai is a karate dojo based in Los Angeles, California. It was originally founded in the 1970s by John Kreese and Terry Silver, who’ve been friends since their days together in the military.
One might argue that the ethos of Cobra Kai is devoid of humanity and honor. Kreese instructs his students to be merciless towards their enemies, making Cobra Kai members vicious and unethical.
The students are taught to live by two “Creeds”. The first one is “Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy”. The second Creed lays further emphasis on discouraging mercy: “We do not train to be merciful. Mercy is for the weak. Here, on the streets, in competition: A man confronts you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy.”
After the 1985 All-Valley Tournament events, Cobra Kai is permanently banned from the tournament for their unethical and unsportsmanlike behavior.
2. How Does Cobra Kai Function in the Netflix Series?
Three decades after the 1984 Karate Kid film, Johnny Lawrence, whose financial situation has deteriorated, decides to reopen Cobra Kai, and develops his own way of training his students. This new Cobra Kai way of training is a mixture of Kreese’s techniques minus the cruelty. It promotes the concept that the best defense is a good offense.
Johnny retains the first Creed, “Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy”, although he starts his students off with the first two, and only adds the “No Mercy” part later. His training also includes knuckle push-ups, manual labor (similar to the Miyagi-Do way), sparring, obstacle courses, fighting hungry dogs, and more such challenges.
“You’ve all learned to Strike First. To be aggressive. To not be losers. I’ve taught you to Strike Hard. To put every ounce of your power behind everything you do.
But I haven’t taught you the third rule of Cobra Kai: No Mercy. The older you get, the more you’re gonna learn that life isn’t fair. You wake up one morning feeling great, and then life throws a spinning heel kick to your balls and takes a big, steaming shit in your mouth.
You get an F on a test. You get suspended. You fall in love with a girl, then some other dude comes and steals her away. Your car gets set on fire. Just when you think things are going good, everything falls apart. That’s how it goes. Life shows No Mercy. So neither do we. We do whatever it takes to keep our heads above water.
We do whatever it takes to keep moving forward. We do whatever it takes to win. Remember who you are. You’re badass. You don’t give a shit. You kick ass! You’re Cobra Kai.”Johnny Lawrence
However, despite the similarities between John Kreese’s Cobra Kai and Johnny Lawrence’s Cobra Kai’s training and ethos, there is one distinct difference. While Johnny’s sensei Kreese allowed and even encouraged illegal tactics during combat, Johnny strictly discourages it. He does not want his students to be the way he and his peers were in the early days of Cobra Kai.
To ensure that his students fight with honor, Johnny imparts the following lesson to them: “Two Cobras in the jungle. One kills the strongest lion. The other kills a crippled monkey. Which Cobra do you want to be?”—the obvious answer being the lion. Anyone who resorts to illegal moves is punished with 50 push-ups and being demoted to the white belt.
However, after Johnny’s efforts to instill an ethical code of conduct in his students, his old sensei John Kreese returns and usurps the Cobra Kai dojo from him. Cobra Kai falls back into the old practices, and Johnny ends up starting a new dojo: Eagle Fang Karate.
3. What Does the Name “Cobra Kai” Mean and Where Did it Originate?
Although the origins of the name Cobra Kai have never been officially stated in the Karate Kid universe, a plausible theory is that it was inspired by an organization named Kokuryūkai. “Kokuryūkai” literally translates to “Black Dragon Society”, a real ultra-nationalist, right-wing paramilitary organization that existed in 20th century Japan.
Nestled between the World War era’s Kokuryūkai and the 2018 release of the Cobra Kai series by YouTube Red, was the crucial phase of America’s 1960s-70s obsession with martial arts, karate in particular.
If you were a kid in the US in the 60s/70s or know someone who was, you probably know the extent of this obsession firsthand.
Almost everyone in television and film found some way to incorporate martial arts into the mix. Buffy the Vampire Slayer as well as all the vampires she fought used martial arts. People in detective shows and sci-fi TV shows used martial arts. People in films that weren’t even about martial arts used martial arts!
As a result of this craze, martial arts studios mushroomed all over the US. From one studio for every 500 students, there were suddenly ten studios for every 500 students, then 20, then 50. The martial arts fever in the US was nothing short of a countrywide cultural phenomenon.
By the late 70s, only a handful of names in the US actually remained faithful to the Eastern roots of martial arts. One of these was John Keehan a.k.a. Count Dante of Chicago.This self-promoted “deadliest man on earth” boasted about teaching ancient techniques of Dim Mak (Touch of Death) in comic book ads extensively. Keehan got his 15 minutes of national fame for a vicious dojo war where some people actually died.
“The various enmities culminated in the Dojo War incident of April 24, 1970, where Dante and some of his students went to a rival dojo of the Green Dragon Society’s Black Cobra Hall.
According to press coverage, upon entering the school, they claimed to be police officers, and attacked the rival dojo’s students. The brief battle resulted in the death of one of Dante’s friends and fellow sensei, Jim Koncevic.”Chicago Tribune
Dante’s dojo was named the Black Dragon Fighting Society, presumably inspired by the Kokuryūkai a.k.a Black Dragon Society. He was known to train Black and Latino people in karate—an illegal practice at the time. This beef with the authorities made Dante a popular name in Chicago.
All of this makes it a pretty plausible theory that the writer of The Karate Kid, which came out in 1984, could have been inspired by Count Dante’s dojo, and used it as inspiration to name the antagonists’ dojo “Cobra Kai”!
4. About Cobra Kai
Cobra Kai is an action drama that is a reboot/sequel of The Karate Kid movies. It premiered on YouTube in 2018, and subsequently moved to Netflix. The series stars Ralph Macchio, William Zabka, Xolo Maridueña, Tanner Buchanan, Courtney Henggeler and Mary Mouser.
When Johnny Lawrence opens the Cobra Kai dojo to teach his bullied teenage neighbor, Miguel, how to defend himself, his age-old rivalry with Daniel LaRusso is ignited once more. Will their rivalry continue to affect their present lives and those they love, or will they be able to bury the past?