As the Karate Kid revival series quickly climbs to the top of Netflix’s most-viewed show this week, here’s the most important question – what does Cobra Kai mean?
We first learned the name Cobra Kai in 1984 when the first Karate Kid movie was released in theatres. (remember that time when we had theatres?)
The hot-headed karate champions of the San Fernando Valley, the team which never lost until a wise, old man named Mr Miyagi rose against them and destroyed their pride; they were the quiver of cobras, Cobra Kai.
Translating Cobra Kai
In Japanese, the word Kai means organization, which makes sense given that the students of Cobra Kai trained at a dojo. So a loose translation of Cobra Kai means the Cobra Society.
Given the intense hold that John Kreese had over his students, it did seem like he ran his dojo less like a school and more like a way of life, where you never showed any mercy to the weak.
So, Kai literally means association or society in Japanese. Which means Cobra Kai means a society of Cobras. Sounds dark? That’s because it is.
In the Cobra Kai dojo, fear does not exist. Pain does not exist! Cobra Kai dojo stands for strength, because there is no mercy for the weak here.
Strike first, strike hard, no mercy! It was this mentality that had Cobra Kai win a number of All Valley Karate Championships, and they would have won the title in 1984 if not for Daniel LaRusso and his karate master Mr Miyagi!
Now the likely inspiration for the name, Cobra Kai, seems to be Kokurya Kai, translated as the Black Dragon Society.
Kokurya Kai was a real WW II Japanese ultra right wing association, which had sizable number of martial artists hired as thugs to break up labour strikes, to work as security personnel of Japanese business interests in colonial Manchuria, intimidate or assassinate political opponents etc.
Kokurya Kai was the government’s alternative for use of firearms, especially considering the use of firearms was and is heavily regulated in Japan.
Today, Japan is a world leader on the control of its gun crime due to its strict regulatory laws. It has almost eradicated gun crimes and ended mass shootings, in a first for a developed nation.
So in a bid to avoid firearms, the Japanese government deployed a militia of sorts, trained to inflict fear in the opponents by striking first and hard.
(Sound familiar?) It was pretty handy to have trained thugs who can do real damage without firearms and carry out the government’s bidding.
Some exciting hearsay
Between the World War era’s Kokurya Kai and 2018 release of the Cobra Kai series by YouTube Red, there is the crucial phase of America fascination with martial arts and by default, karate.
If you were a kid in 60s and 70s America or know someone who was, you would know the extent of this obsession first-hand. Almost everyone in TV and film had started using martial arts.
Buffy the Vampire slayer and all the vampires she fought used martial arts. People in detective shows and sci-fi shows on TV used martial arts.
People in films that weren’t even about martial arts still used martial arts.
Meanwhile, martial arts studios opened everywhere, so that instead of there being 1 studio for every 500 students, there were 10 studios for every 500 students. And then 20. And then 50.
By late 70s, there were only a handful of names in America which had any good ol’ Eastern mysticism left in them.
One particular name coming out of Chicagi was John Keehan or Count Dante and his Black Dragon Fighting society.
The self-promoted deadliest man on earth who boasted of teaching ancient techniques of Dim Mak (Touch of Death), Keehan got his 15 minutes of national fame for a 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 Black Dragon Fighting society and he was known to train Blacks and Latinos in Karate, a practise that was illegal at the time.
This beef with the authorities made Dante a popular name in Chicago.
So, when Karate Kid came out in early 1980s, the writer could have been inspired by this man’s dojo to give an evil villainous name to the bad side, Cobra Kai.
They could have gone for Kobra Kai but Hip Hop was only starting to become mainstream in 80s and Mortal Kombat came out only in 1990s.
But then, this is just hearsay. You guys can comment below and let me know what you think of the origins of Cobra Kai and also what did you think about my little research online.