Arriving 34 years after the original Karate Kid, in 2018 Cobra Kai hit screens. The story follows the washed-up Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), who wrestles with the success of his childhood rival Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), which leads him to re-open Cobra Kai dojo.
A huge hit for Netflix (after starting on Youtube Red), Cobra Kai has gained a dedicated fanbase in its own right. Today we’re looking at 30 facts you might not have known about the hit show about hitting people.
25. Only one member of the original Cobra Kai doesn’t appear in the show
Season two episode Take a Right was a real fan-pleaser, seeing Johnny Lawrence reunite with all his old friends from the original Cobra Kai. William Zabka’s old Karate Kid co-stars Rob Garrison, Ron Thomas and Tony O’Dell all returned, but one notable absentee was Chad McQueen. This was explained away by dialogue stating that McQueen’s character Dutch was doing time in prison.
The actual reason is that McQueen (son of legendary actor Steve McQueen) has long since retired from acting, and now works full time with his company McQueen Racing building high-performance race cars and motorcycles. Commitments to this business meant that he was simply too busy to film the Cobra Kai episode.
24. Will Smith is one of the show’s producers
Both William Zabka and Ralph Macchio have executive producer credits on Cobra Kai, but they’re not the only stars helping to run the show. Will Smith also has a producer credit on Cobra Kai, as production company Overbrook Entertainment – which Smith runs with wife Jada Pinkett-Smith – owns a portion of the rights to The Karate Kid, after they produced the 2010 remake, starring their son Jaden Smith alongside Jackie Chan.
Unfortunately for fans of the 2010 film, it doesn’t look likely that we’ll ever see Jaden Smith make anything other than an unrelated cameo in Cobra Kai. In the view of Cobra Kai creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, The Karate Kid remake is not part of what they have referred to as the Miyagi-Verse.
23. The show includes never-before-seen Karate Kid footage
Cobra Kai features several flashbacks to the events of The Karate Kid, but if you were thinking that some of that footage didn’t look totally familiar, there’s a good reason for it. Director John G. Avildsen spent hours filming the 1984 film’s tournament scene for multiple takes and multiple angles, resulting in a lot of footage that never got used.
As a result, there remained a lot of leftover material shot in the sequence which the makers of Cobra Kai were able to utilise. This never-before-seen footage included a shot of Johnny looking up into the stands to see his own parents sitting there, as well as three new angles of Daniel’s legendary crane kick.
22. Xolo Maridueña has a super intense training regime
Cobra Kai’s young cast of newcomers is headed up by Xolo Maridueña as Miguel Diaz. Mirroring Daniel’s experience in The Karate Kid, Miguel starts out a bubbly kid who has just moved to the area and winds up getting picked on. However, rather than finding a zen-like Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate, Diaz begs Johnny Lawrence to train him, inadvertently rekindling Johnny’s rivalry with Daniel.
Given that Diaz eventually starts working his way towards being a karate champion, it makes sense that Maridueña’s training regimen was the most intense of the cast. Maridueña told Glitter Mag Rocks that his training comprised of “a daily 2-4-hour regiment [sic] of working with professional stunts, martial arts, boxing, strength and yoga instructor teams to get me in amazing shape.”
21. The show plays on fan theories that Daniel is the real villain
1984’s The Karate Kid presents Daniel as the victim of bullying from Johnny and his friends, but some fans suggest that Daniel is actually the real bully. He constantly picks fights with Johnny, escalating the violence, and even stealing his girlfriend. Not only does Cobra Kai constantly reframe events from The Karate Kid so we can see them from Johnny’s perspective, but it also suggests that LaRusso is continuing his petty ways.
In Cobra Kai, LaRusso often makes situations worse with his hot temper, and consistently believes the worst of Johnny even when there’s no reason for him to do so. This blurring of the lines between good and bad (which also happens with the younger characters) is part of what makes the show so compelling.
20. Tanner Buchanan has the most martial arts training of anyone in the core cast
Tanner Buchanan plays Robby Keane, the semi-estranged son of Johnny Lawrence, who gets drawn into the world of karate thanks to the kindness of Daniel LaRusso. Keane is in his fair share of difficult and visually impressive fights, so it makes sense that the actor picked to play him would have some karate experience. What you may not have known is that Tanner Buchanan is the most proficient martial artist in the cast of any original Karate Kid movie or Cobra Kai.
Buchanan has a purple belt in tae kwon do, about halfway to a black belt, which is more advanced than any of the other teenage cast. In fact, Buchanan’s the most accomplished of anyone in the Miyagi-Verse, including both Macchio and Mr. Miyagi himself, Pat Morita. The only Karate Kid who beats Buchanan is the 2010 reboot’s Jackie Chan, who has a black belt in Hapkido as well as being proficient in many other martial arts.
19. The Next Karate Kid’s Hilary Swank could still appear
Cobra Kai has done a great job bringing back actors from the original trilogy, with re-appearances from the likes of Elisabeth Shue (Ali), Martin Kove (Kreese), Randee Heller (Daniel’s mom), Thomas Ian Griffith (Silver), Tamylyn Tomita (Kumiko), Yuji Okumoto (Chozen), Sean Kanan (Mike Barnes) and Robyn Lively (Jessica). One famous series star yet to appear, however, is Hilary Swank, who played Julie Pierce alongside Pat Morita in 1994’s The Next Karate Kid.
Since Cobra Kai began, fans have been anticipating a cameo from the two-time Oscar winner, yet as of season five Swank has yet to join the show. The actress has declined to address the question in interviews, but Cobra Kai’s showrunners have indicated they would love for her to appear, and remain hopeful it may happen.
18. Jacob Bertrand’s make-up and hair takes two hours to apply
Jacob Bertrand’s character in Cobra Kai definitely has the most outlandish look of the bunch, but it didn’t start out that way. Bertrand’s character begins as the shy and retiring Eli, who soon gains a mohawk and a back tattoo, and starts going by the name ‘Hawk.’ Hawk’s look is a huge part of his character, summing up his motive for staying loyal to Cobra Kai, as well as reminding us of his transformation.
His haircut and tattoo also serve to show his physical appearance transforming as his moral code and motivations do, making them way more than just an aesthetic choice. Hawk’s signature haircut takes a full hour to apply, and Bertrand also has to sit for roughly half an hour while his back tattoo is painted on. However, it often takes a full two hours to complete the process, as Bertrand would dance around to keep his spirits up while the painting was being done.
17. William Zabka almost said no to the show
Cobra Kai revolves around the performance of Billy Zabka as Johnny Lawrence, the reluctant sensei who slowly becomes determined to be better to his students than his own sensei was to him. However, it took a seriously compelling pitch to get Zabka on board with the project, since he didn’t approve of Lawrence reopening the Cobra Kai. Elaborating on his stance at the Tribeca Film Festival, Zabka said: “It’s Pandora’s Box for him. It’s the snake that bit him, you know.”
It’s not difficult to understand how Zabka came to this conclusion when The Karate Kid trilogy makes the unhealthy nature of Lawrence’s relationship to the Cobra Kai so obvious. Not only does LaRusso object to Lawrence bringing back the Cobra Kai, but Lawrence’s own friends who are former members themselves also question his decision to do so. In the end, Lawrence decides to keep the Cobra Kai name, but only while staying committed to an entirely different set of morals.
16. It took a lot to convince Ralph Macchio to be on the show
Cobra Kai has proved itself to be a success, with a third season being released in January and a fourth season already commissioned by Netflix. Given that Cobra Kai has been such an obvious slam dunk, it may surprise you to know that neither Zabka nor Macchio were on board at first. We’ve already discussed how Zabka was nervous about his character revitalising the Cobra Kai after all the torment the dojo caused him.
Macchio, for his part, just felt protective over the Karate Kid legacy in general and was hesitant to say yes to a project after saying no so many times. It took many meetings with both actors individually for the creators to finally convince them that Cobra Kai was a good idea. Of course, both actors have since settled into the show, and have said they are thrilled to return to their iconic characters.
15. Peyton List was convinced she’d failed her audition
Peyton List appears in season two of Cobra Kai as Tory, a talented martial artist who strikes up a rivalry with a certain someone in the core cast. If you already recognise List, then chances are you’ve seen her work on the Disney Channel, which includes Jessie and Bunk’d. List was apprehensive about auditioning for Cobra Kai and was convinced she hadn’t won the role since she auditioned so last-minute.
Her intuition turned out to be wrong, as she actually aced the audition, and was thrilled to be offered the role. List’s importance to the plot and core characters increases throughout season two, and fans predict she will play a pivotal role in season three as well. Just as LaRusso and Lawrence’s rivalry causes shockwaves throughout both dojos, the rivalry between Samantha and Tory is theorised to have similarly huge consequences.
14. The show’s creators were inspired by a How I Met Your Mother plotline
We’ve already discussed how Cobra Kai occasionally leans into the fan theory that Daniel LaRusso is actually the bad guy. Cobra Kai actually went in this direction after seeing this exact theory play out on another popular TV show: How I Met Your Mother. Character Barney Stinson makes constant references to The Karate Kid, and explains how much he idolises the hero of the movie.
However, in the season eight episode The Bro Mitzvah, Stinson makes it clear that he thinks Johnny Lawrence is the Karate Kid, not Daniel LaRusso. In fact, when Ralph Macchio shows up as himself to congratulate Barney Stinson on his engagement, Stinson is absolutely furious. It is only when William Zabka shows up, having been disguised as a clown, that Stinson calms down.
13. Most of the Cobra Kai actors are actually professional dancers
Despite almost everyone in the Cobra Kai core cast having at least a couple of awesome fights under their belt by the end of season one, most of the actors that were cast were not actually martial artists. Despite this, they were specifically chosen based on how well they would adapt to the stage fighting, and one marker in particular was used to decide how well they would succeed.
Specifically, the casting directors tried to pick actors with a background in professional dance or gymnastics. Aside from the main characters, almost all the kids training at either dojo have worked as professional dancers at some point in their careers. The reasoning is that if someone is used to picking up dance choreography quickly, fight choreography shouldn’t be that different.
12. Nichole Brown wasn’t asked to return for season three
Miguel might have kicked off the whole plot of Cobra Kai by pushing Johnny Lawrence to take up karate again and start teaching, and by being his first student. However, one student does not a dojo make, which is why the character of Aisha, played by Nichole Brown, is so important. Aisha isn’t physically bullied like Miguel is, and so it is not a desire to beat her bullies in a fight that encourages her to join Cobra Kai. Instead, Aisha wants to learn how to be confident and proud of herself.
Sadly, while Aisha was vital to the first two seasons, she hasn’t appeared since beyond a brief cameo in season four. It was explained that, following the riotous conclusion of season two, her parents moved her elsewhere. In reality, Brown’s contract on Cobra Kai was not renewed, reportedly because the show’s writers couldn’t find anything new for her to do, which seems a feeble excuse to lose such a strong character.
11. William Zabka and Ralph Macchio are actually great friends in real life
Cobra Kia might have a cast that is mostly comprised of teenagers, but there’s no denying that Zabka and Macchio are the heart of the show. Most of all, Cobra Kai centres on the rivalry between Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso, and their attempts and inability to put the past behind them. Watching the show, it can be super frustrating as the pair continually inch towards some kind of truce, only for situations out of their control to come between them.
If you find that kind of dynamic pretty stressful to watch play out, it might be helpful to remember that Zabka and Macchio are actually super good friends in real life. Though they got on well when the first Karate Kid was filmed in the 80s, the two became even closer after the passing of Pat Morita in 2005 and have been great friends ever since.
10. It’s the second time William Zabka and Diora Baird have played a couple
Cobra Kai sees Johnny struggling with his failures, and high on that list is his relationship with his son Robbie. Along the way we have a few appearances from the character Shannon Keene, Johnny’s ex and Robbie’s mother, who is played by the actress Diora Baird. Cobra Kai isn’t the only project which sees Zabka and Baird playing a couple, since they are also together in Hot Tub Time Machine.
Released in 2010, the offbeat comedy sees Zabka plays Rick Steelman while his girlfriend, played by Baird, is never even given a name. Also a model, Baird’s other acting credits include Wedding Crashers, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and Night of the Demons (2009).
9. You can tell the allegiance of the characters by the colours they wear
Cobra Kai is a show about karate, but more than that, it is a show about the shifting loyalty and relationships of the people in each rival dojo. Allegiances change based on who is dating who, what kind of morals are being taught at each dojo, and the latest escalation of the rivalry. These constantly shifting loyalties can make it difficult to know how secure each character is feeling in their dojo choice and their karate teachings at any possible moment.
The good news is, if you need to know how a particular character is feeling, all you have to do is look at their clothing choices. Characters feeling secure in their allegiance to the Cobra Kai will be seen wearing red, with the darker characters wearing black. In contrast, characters loyal to the Miyagi dojo are often seen in blue, and occasionally in white.
8. William Zabka broke a toe kicking blocks for season one
Making Cobra Kai is a super impressive feat, considering just how many young actors had to go through rigorous training in order to become proficient in karate. Not only that, but the ensemble cast then had to go on to shoot hugely complex stage combat scenes, with a large number of fighters, extras and other variables. With that said, for as hard as it has no doubt been for the younger actors to put their bodies through the paces, it must have been doubly difficult for the original Karate Kid actors.
Going back to an intense training regime and relearning stage combat in middle age is bound to be a gruelling process, as William Zabka learned. While kicking through wooden blocks in season one, Zabka felt his toe break, and quickly hobbled off to the side. Rather than let his waiting stunt double take over, however, Zabka simply pulled his toe out of the socket and reset it himself, before going for another take. Now that’s Cobra Kai spirit.
7. There’s a Cobra Kai video game
Season three of Cobra Kai isn’t set to release until January 2021, and the show’s move from YouTube Premium to Netflix means there’s now a much bigger audience waiting on a third series. If you’re one of many new fans trying to figure out a way to pass the time until the new season drops, there is something you can do. Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues is a video game roughly based on the events of the first two seasons of the show.
You can play as everyone from Johnny Lawrence to Hawk, and each character has their own special strengths and abilities. The side-scrolling beat-em-up is no doubt much easier than training in karate for real, and you can become a champion without ever leaving your living room. All in all, it’s not a bad way to spend the days until season three drops, especially if you pair it with an appropriate 80s rock playlist.
6. Tommy actor Rob Garrison died shortly after appearing in the show
In the key season two episode Take a Right, Johnny and his old Cobra Kai friends get back together for one last road trip, in honour of their friend Tommy (Rob Garrison), who is suffering with cancer. His old karate friends break him out of the hospital for one night, not knowing how long he has left. Tommy then passes away at the end of the episode, confirming for Lawrence that life is short and his moral decisions are important.
This episode was heartbreakingly true to life, as Tommy actor Rob Garrison was indeed terminally ill. His episode of Cobra Kai proved to be his final acting credit, and he passed away not long thereafter on September 27th, 2019, aged just 59.
5. Season two gives us a hint about the grown-up Freddy Fernandez’s livelihood
If you’ve watched the original Karate Kid, then you will recognise the name Freddy Fernandez. He’s is the next-door neighbour of Daniel LaRusso in the 1984 movie, who quickly befriends the kid and teaches him the lay of the land. Fernandez is probably most famous for wearing his iconic piggy t-shirt, which has become a memorable image from the film.
It therefore makes sense when we see Fernandez’s name all over the freezers and meat stores that we see in Cobra Kai. When LaRusso attempts to teach his students how to fight in extreme heat and extreme cold, we see the Fernandez name all over his freezer room. That implies that Fernandez never grew out of his piggy fixation, and went on to run a successful butchering business in California.
4. Tanner Buchanan’s mother is a real karate black belt
We’ve already looked at the fact that Tanner Buchanan, who plays Robby Keene, is the most well-versed in karate out of the entire Cobra Kai cast. Buchanan has his teal belt, which is around halfway to a black belt, and the actor has kept up training while filming Cobra Kai in order to progress further. If this seems like an odd detail for a person whose sole focus is acting, then it might make sense to look at his parents.
It turns out that Tanner Buchanan got his love of karate from his mother, Marlona Buchanan, who has had a lifelong interest in the sport. As surprising as it might sound, Marlona Buchanan actually has a black belt in karate, putting her on par with the professionals. Her son Tanner inherited his love of karate from her, and it no doubt helped him land a role on Cobra Kai.
3. The show’s creators are considering five different spin-offs
Many films and television shows attempt spin-offs that go nowhere, with maybe the most famous being the unsuccessful Friends off-shoot Joey. Cobra Kai is already technically a spin-off of the original Karate Kid, and so most would assume that a spin-off of Cobra Kai itself would be out of the question. With that said, the creators of Cobra Kai have made it known on multiple occasions that they are looking for opportunities to make the universe larger.
This could include finding separate stories in the Miyagi-verse to showcase in their own individual projects. Speaking about the possibility, creator Hayden Schlossberg said: “What I can say is that we have a list of at least five different scenarios that we would pursue, that we could consider… some of them are untraditional. Some of them are unlike any kind of spin-off you’ve ever seen before.
2. Robbie and Miguel making the tournament final actually makes no sense
There’s no denying that Cobra Kai is a fun show, with awesome action and some real heart at the centre of it. However, as many fans have been pointing out since the first season debuted on YouTube Premium, some of it doesn’t actually make any sense. Fans are asked to accept a lot of ridiculous things, such as Hawk’s overprotective mother never noticing his full back tattoo, and being totally accepting of his new hairstyle.
Most of all though, all of the timescales in regards to training and karate proficiency seem completely out of wack. With the exception of Sam, who has been training with her father since birth, all of the kids pick up karate way too fast. By the time the tournament rolls around, they should not be able to beat seasoned fighters who have been training for years to make the final, even if they are training with legends like Lawrence and LaRusso.
1. Mary Mouser got to keep her favourite outfit from season one
Most TV shows tend to involve a fairly long and exhausting shooting process, and there’s no denying that Cobra Kai was a difficult show to be a part of. Most of the young cast spent almost all their time on screen either fighting or preparing to fight, which meant a lot of complex and physically arduous karate choreography. One of the few times the second-generation Cobra Kai actors get a respite from the fighting is when they are hanging out or going on dates.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Mary Mouser, who plays Samantha LaRusso, became super attached to her date night outfit. The outfit that Sam wore on her season one date with Miguel became such a favourite of Mouser’s that she asked to take it home. Though the cast, for the most part, weren’t allowed to take anything from the set, Mouser was granted permission to keep the clothes, since she liked them so much.