20 Secret Facts About The Karate Kid
We know that many of you were massive fans of The Karate Kid during your childhood, so we thought it was about time that we took a closer look at the brilliant 1984 film that started the successful franchise…
With that in mind, we present the following. Remember: facts on, facts off!
20. The actor playing Freddy took a football to the face
Daniel has to get used to minor injuries and scrapes throughout the movie, which is unsurprising because he’s the karate kid.
However, you wouldn’t expect his non-karate training friends to get injured at the same rate, even if that’s occasionally exactly what happened.
Specifically, the fairly innocuous football beach scene went sour fast for one actor, and that actor was the one playing Freddy.
If you watch closely, you can see him get hit smack in the face with a football, in a moment that definitely wasn’t scripted.
While Daniel is trying to get the attention of the beautiful Ali, he shows off his football skills, only to have the ball knocked away by Freddy.
In reality though, the ball hits Isreal Juarbe smack in the face, and you can see the impact just before Daniel is brought back to his senses. Ouch.
19. Chuck Norris never turned down the role of John Kreese
It’s a popular Karate Kids myth that Chuck Norris was offered the role of rival dojo owner John Kreese, but turned it down.
It’s difficult to know where the rumour began, but the story goes that he rejected it because he didn’t want to contribute to karate being viewed in a negative light as violent or unethical.
Both producers on the film and Chuck Norris have since confirmed that such an exchange never happened, and was likely made up by fans to explain his absence from the project.
In fact, it’s pretty much agreed upon that he was never even approached about the project, so he didn’t actually have any opportunity to turn it down.
With that said, Norris has made it known that if he had been asked to be in The Karate Kid, he probably would have said no.
Not only that, but he would have said no for the exact reasons fans speculated he would: because he didn’t want to make karate look bad.
18. Pat Morita did not perform the legendary crane kick
Mr Miyagi’s famed crane kick is perhaps the most iconic part of the movie, since it’s what Daniel spends all movie working towards perfecting.
However, the legendary instructor didn’t actually perform the kick himself… or at least, the actor playing him didn’t.
It might not seem that difficult or dangerous at first glance, but the crane kick on the pole was deemed too extreme for Pat Morita to do himself.
Instead, a professional stuntman and martial artist was brought in to film the scene, while wearing a bald cap and baggy clothes to make him look like Mr Miyagi.
If you want to see what the stuntman actually looks like, you can see him in the tournament scene, as he’s the competitor who is eventually bested by Johnny before the final.
His name is Darryl Vidal, and he is a famous 10th degree black belt and one of the most respected karate teachers in the world.
17. The movie originally had a whole other confrontation after the tournament
The Karate Kid might seem like one of those movies with a perfect ending, where all the loose ends are wrapped up but there’s enough intrigue left for a sequel.
However, it may surprise you to know that the movie didn’t originally end with the winning of the tournament, but with a whole other confrontation that came afterwards.
Early drafts of the script ended with a scene immediately after the tournament, where Mr Miyagi and John Kreese come face to face.
In the scene, Miyagi contemptuously tweaks Kreese’s nose, and members of the Cobra Kai drop their karate belts around their defeated leader in shame.
This ending is how things go in the novelisation of the movie, but things were changed in later drafts of the film’s script, in order to keep the focus on Daniel’s victory, rather than the story of his mentor.
Instead, this confrontation between the two teachers happens at the beginning of The Karate Kid Part II.
16. In real-life, Daniel would have been disqualified from the tournament
The tournament scene is no doubt the high point of the movie, where Daniel finally gets to prevail over his bully and justice is served.
It’s also Mr Miyagi’s proudest moment in the film, since he gets to watch Daniel reach his full potential and succeed.
The pivotal point of the scene is Daniel’s crane kick – Mr Miyagi’s signature move and the one powerful enough to defeat Johnny.
However, the truth is that if Daniel had been competing in a real karate competition, the power of the crane kick could have gotten him disqualified.
As crazy as it might sound, most karate competitions forbid ever striking your opponent with full force, in order to maintain a level of safety.
Obviously, Daniel held nothing back with that crane kick, and most experts agree that he would have been disqualified for it.
15. Pat Morita was initially refused the role of Mr. Miyagi
Mr. Miyagi is one of the most beloved mentor figures in all of film, right up there with the likes of Dumbledore and Yoda.
It’s almost impossible to imagine anyone but Pat Morita in the role, but he wasn’t always guaranteed the part.
Though he was always the first choice of director John G. Avildsen, other people working on the film did not agree.
In particular, producer Jerry Weintraub was concerned that audiences would not be able to respect him as wise old sage, given his background in comedy.
Morita had previously had a long stint on the sitcom Happy Days, and Weintraub believed that anyone watching Karate Kid would only be able to see Morita as his previous character.
Thankfully, he was eventually given the opportunity to prove his doubters wrong, and soon showed that he was the perfect cast.
14. Ralph Macchio wasn’t a kid at all
The clue is in the name: Karate Kid is about a kid balancing the normal trials of high school with learning the art of karate.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the character of Daniel would be played by an actual high schooler, but you would be wrong.
Ralph Macchio was actually 22 when he was cast in the role, though his castmates had trouble actually believing that.
The baby-faced star was determined to look young enough to convincingly play the part, despite graduating high school over half a decade previously.
Macchio also starred in the sequels, so by the time The Karate Kid Part II and The Karate Kid Part III had been released, he was thoroughly into his late twenties.
Still, most actors strive to look more youthful than they actually are, so Macchio might have actually been quite pleased with his castmates’ teasing.
13. Pat Morita was Oscar-nominated for his performance
Despite certain members of production doubting that Morita even should have been cast, he soon proved to be one of the most beloved parts of the movie.
As well as charming critics and audiences alike, his performance soon earned him a slew of award nominations.
As well as being nominated for a Golden Globe in the category of Best Supporting Actor, he also earned an Oscar nomination.
Unfortunately, he did not win in either category, losing out to Haing S. Ngor in The Killing Fields at the Oscars, as well as at the Golden Globes.
Even more unfortunately, he was also nominated for a Razzie thanks to his work on The Karate Kid Part III.
He did earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame though, which hopefully made up for losing out in all three cases.
12. Charlie Sheen turned the film down
Given the movie’s success, it’s easy to imagine that several actors were fighting it out for the opportunity to play Daniel LaRusso.
In actual fact, many high profile 80s actors walked away from the opportunity to play the character, even when it was offered to them.
Most notably, Charlie Sheen was offered the part but turned it down immediately due to his lack of belief in the project.
Sean Penn had a similar response to the script, also turning down the opportunity to play a character that would become iconic.
It’s easy to say that Ralph Macchio had the best judgement of the bunch, but he also went on to pass on projects that became huge successes.
In particular, Macchio rejected an offer to play Marty McFly, after reading the script too quickly and concluding that it was about “A kid, a car, and plutonium pills”.
11. Its soundtrack was nearly used for Rocky III
You may remember that The Karate Kid’s soundtrack had a few excellent moments, featuring songs such as Joe Esposito’s You’re the Best.
The track was played in the film during the tournament montage near the end, and kind of became the anthem of the movie.
It’s unusual that You’re the Best was such a good fit for The Karate Kid, as it was actually written for a different movie entirely.
Specifically, it was written for Rocky III, but was rejected by Sylvester Stallone in favour of Eye of the Tiger by Survivor.
Eye of the Tiger went on to become an iconic montage song in its own right, and Survivor created another connection to The Karate Kid.
Instead of writing a song for the finale, they instead performed the main theme, called The Moment of Truth.
10. The characters originally had very different names
When we think of The Karate Kid, we think of the bitter conflict between Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence.
However, in the first draft of Robert Mark Kamen’s screenplay, our young hero and his nemesis went by different names.
Originally, the central hero went by the perhaps more innocuous name of Daniel Webber.
It was only when the Italian-American Macchio was cast in the role that the surname was changed to LaRusso.
However, that isn’t anywhere near as drastic a difference as the original name of Johnny Lawrence.
Believe it or not, William Zabka’s black belt bully was originally going to be called Donald Rice.
9. Japanese film legend Toshiro Mifune was first choice for Mr Miyagi
The Karate Kid was a comparatively rare example of a Hollywood movie with a key leading role for a Japanese actor.
The film’s producers set their sights high and sought to cast one of the most renowned Japanese screen actors ever.
Their first choice for the role of Mr Miyagi was Toshiro Mifune, famed for his collaborations with legendary director Akira Kurosawa.
Mifune acted in 16 films for Kurosawa, probably their most famous collaborations being Rashomon and The Seven Samurai.
Unfortunately, Mifune proved to be an unsuitable candidate for The Karate Kid as he spoke no English.
Once the producers realised they needed someone else, they took on the unlikely candidate of Pat Morita.
8. Screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen drew on his real-life experiences
The Karate Kid was one of the first produced screenplays by writer Robert Mark Kamen.
Kamen is himself a practitioner of karate, and he drew heavily on his own real-life experiences in the script.
The writer took up the martial art in his teens, after being attacked by a gang of bullies.
Initially Kamen trained under a harsh American instructor from a military background (i.e. a very John Kreese-like character), but he had his doubts about the emphasis on vengeful violence.
Kamen then found a new instructor teaching a practice of Okinawan origin, founded by a sensei named Chojun Miyagi.
Kamen went on to work extensively with Luc Besson, co-creating action franchises The Transporter and Taken.
7. Everyone hated the film’s title
Today, The Karate Kid holds up as one of the most memorable, simple movie titles of the 80s.
However, not everyone involved in the making of the film had all that much confidence in the title.
As a matter of fact, just about everyone thought releasing the film under the title The Karate Kid would make them a laughing stock.
John Kreese actor Martin Kove states, “all of us used to complain about the title.”
And, in a case of life definitely not imitating art, Daniel LaRusso actor Ralph Macchio was in total agreement.
Macchio recalls, “I fought tooth and nail to change this goofy title, only because I knew there was a chance I had to carry it for the rest of my life.” How right he was!
6. Many iconic Karate Kid locations are still around
The Karate Kid might not feature any locations quite as iconic as the Rocky steps, but that hasn’t stopped eager fans making pilgrimages to the places the movie was shot.
Fortunately for them, many of the locations are still accessible and have barely changed in the decades since the 80s when the movie was filmed.
In particular, it is possible to visit the apartment complex where Daniel spends most of his time, and the only change is that there’s no longer a tree growing out front.
The beach where the cast can be seen playing football has also undergone hardly any transformation at all, making it another prime visiting spot.
You can also still visit Daniel’s school, which still has everything from the brass plaque outside to the original library.
The school is no longer operational, but it has been transformed into an adult education centre, so it has retained much of its original charm.
5. Unfortunately, Mr. Miyagi’s house isn’t still around to visit
Once the movie was released, it didn’t take long for Karate Kid fans to find the locations where the film was shot in real-life.
However, one location that did elude them was Mr. Miyagi’s house, where much of Daniel’s training took place.
It took until 2014 for one dedicated fan to discover the address of Mr Miyagi’s house, and the outcome was not good.
The house fell into disrepair for many years, since fans couldn’t find it and campaign for it to be protected.
As a result of it becoming derelict and dangerous, Mr. Miyagi’s house was demolished in the late 80s.
That hasn’t stopped fans from making the journey to other locations from the food though.
4. A food fight between Daniel and Johnny was cut from the film
Daniel and Johnny have several confrontations throughout the film, not to mention their final showdown at the movie’s climax.
With that said, the film originally included even more scenes of the two clashing, including one that bizarrely centred on blueberry pie.
The film allegedly included a sequence of Johnny sneaking a slice of blueberry pie onto Daniel’s seat just before he sat down.
Daniel retaliated by smearing Johnny’s face with blueberry pie, which soon sparked a full-on conflict.
It’s unclear why the scene was cut, maybe because it came too close to the final showdown, or simply because it was too silly.
Either way, some fans may be disappointed that they were originally going to see two schools of martial arts ethics go up against each other… in a food fight.
3. Hilary Swank starred in a panned reboot
You may have heard of the 2010 Karate Kid remake starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, but have you ever seen 1994’s The Next Karate Kid?
This was described as a ‘revamp sequel’ and starred Hilary Swank as Julie Pierce, a new student of Mr Miyagi who was again played by Pat Morita.
The sequel has surprising heart and depth, as it follows Julie Pierce learning karate to combat her anger issues.
Due to her parents’ death in a car accident, Pierce is plagued with anger issues and sadness and works through them with the help of Mr Miyagi.
Critics actually praised the acting and plot of the film, but it failed due to many fans questioning why it was necessary.
Despite it having a solid plot and performances, audiences simply thought that you cannot improve on a classic.
2. The headband is actually just a handkerchief
It wouldn’t be The Karate Kid without Daniel LaRusso’s iconic headband. In fact, the entire movie could be an advert for wrapping cloth around your head and kicking some serious butt.
However, this now-legendary item of movie costuming has a far more humble origin story than you might think: it’s just a handkerchief.
In a 2014 video for the Oprah Winfrey Network, Ralph Macchio admits that the headband was little more than “a handkerchief [that] Pat Morita had in his pocket.”
“He took it out, you know, just to pat his brow,” Macchio continues, “and he just decided to put it on me, but it was never in the script.”
Wearing a sweaty handkerchief around his head probably wasn’t how Macchio had imagined his glitzy Hollywood career, but there’s no doubt that the headband has become an enduring pop-culture symbol.
As for where Morita obtained the handkerchief in the first place, we’ll never know. Thanks to the movie, however, you can probably get its design on your bedsheets if you so choose.
1. The story continues with Cobra Kai
A TV series called ‘Cobra Kai’ that continues The Karate Kid franchise aired earlier this year on YouTube Premium.
Brilliantly, it stars Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, reprising their roles from the original films.
It follows the reopening of the Cobra Kai karate dojo by Johnny and the continuation of his rivalry with Daniel LaRusso.
The second series of Cobra Kai was released in 2019, and got a similarly positive response to the first.
The show also follows the second generation of Johnny and Daniel’s rivalry, with some unexpected twists.
We know that many of you were massive fans of The Karate Kid during your childhood.
Believe it or not, the film is now 35 years old, so we thought it was about time that we took a look at what the stars of this 80s classic are up to today, and more importantly, what they look like!
Ralph Macchio (Daniel LaRusso)
Sean Penn and Charlie Sheen both turned down the role of Daniel LaRusso, but can you imagine anyone else but the gorgeous Ralph Macchio Jr. in the role? Believe it or not, during filming Macchio was actually aged 22, with many of the cast refusing to believe him when he told them how old he was!
Maccio was also seen in a number of other films, including Crossroads, My Cousin Vinny and The Outsiders. He has been married to his wife Phyllis Fierro for 32 years, having met her when he was just 15 years old! They have 2 children together called Julia and Daniel.
Noriyuki ‘Pat’ Morita (Mr. Miyagi)
Noriyuki ‘Pat’ Morita’s brilliant performance as Mr Miyagi earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, although he sadly lost out to Haing S. Ngor who won for his performance in The Killing Fields.
Sadly, Morita died of kidney failure in 2005 at the age of 73. He was survived by his wife of 11 years, Evelyn, as well as 3 daughters from a previous marriage.
Elisabeth Shue (Ali Mills)
We had a massive crush on Elisabeth Shue, who of course played Ali Mills, high school cheerleader and ex girlfriend of Johnny Lawrence.
Shue went on to star in Cocktail, Back to the Future Part II and Part III, Leaving Las Vegas (for which she received an Oscar nomination), The Saint and Hollow Man, and she can currently be seen in the Amazon series The Boys. She married film director Davis Guggenheim in 1994, with whom she has 3 children called Miles, Stella and Agnes.
Martin Kove (John Kreese)
The main antagonist of the original Karate Kid film as well as The Karate Kid Part III, John Kreese was played brilliantly by Martin Kove.
Randee Heller (Lucille LaRusso)
Randee Heller’s character Lucille LaRusso is a single mother who moves to California with Daniel after the death of his father.
Heller is perhaps best known for playing Alice in the 70s sitcom Soap, who was one of the first lesbian characters in TV history. She also starred in the 4th series of Mad Men as Don Draper’s secretary Miss Blankenship.
William Zabka (Johnny Lawrence)
Johnny Lawrence was our favourite character in the original film, so much so that we remember asking our parents to purchase his action figure for Christmas!
Brilliantly, both Zabka and Ralph Macchio have recently reprised their roles on the TV series Cobra Kai, which follows the reopening of the Cobra Kai karate dojo by Johnny and the continuation of his rivalry with LaRusso.