So earlier this year, a sequel T.V. show to The Karate Kid film franchise launched on YouTube Red called Cobra Kai. Picking up the story 30 years after the end of the 3rd film, the show continues the story of Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny’s (William Zabka) decades long rivalry. You can watch the first two episodes for free too on YouTube.
I didn’t have a lot of interest in the show at first, but when an old friend (thanks Mike) suggested I should check it out, I decided to do a full retrospective of the entire The Karate Kid franchise… and I ended up enjoying the show a lot more than I thought I would. Cobra Kai is a brilliant show, one that pays respects to the film series and yet does its own thing at the same time. I loved it so much that I watched the whole thing twice and it was while enjoying the series for the second time when I noticed a lot of in-jokes, references and call-backs to not only the film franchise but also fan theories over the years. The second season of Cobra Kai is filming as I type this and set to be released next year. So to pass the time until then, I thought I’d take a look a the many, many Cobra Kai references from season one. Now, I’m not sure that I caught everything but I’m going to cover as many as I noticed.
If you’ve not seen Cobra Kai yet then check it out as it’s brilliant. Also, SPOILERS ahead too as some references give away plot points.
Episode 1: Ace Degenerate
This one kicks off showing the fight that ended the original film. But it also features some new shots, angles and even previously unused footage not shown in the movie. Johnny still likes his red cars, in the show he now has a bright red Pontiac Firebird while in the movie he had a bright red Avanti convertible – I guess it would be too much to expect the same car three decades later. But it still shows that Johnny likes red cars.
It’s also shown that Johnny is now living in the Reseda area of L.A., which is where Daniel and his mother moved to in the film. Plus Johnny is now working as a odd-job/maintenance man which is the same job Mr. Miyagi held. Then, when Johnny’s car is hit and towed away, the company is called “Pat’s Towing” which could (or could not) be a reference to Mr. Miyagi actor Pat Morita… maybe?
When Johnny and Daniel finally meet in the show after 30 years, Johnny makes reference to the fact that Daniel should’ve been disqualified as his infamous crane-kick hit Johnny in the face and it’s made clear at the start of the tournament that blows to the face are illegal. It’s a much discussed plot hole among fans of the film. Also while at the car dealership, Daniel introduces his cousin Louie and in the films he had an uncle Louie. There’s a chance uncle Louie named his son after himself.
Episode 2: Strike First
While talking to Miguel Diaz, Johnny recites a Cobra Kai mantra (“A man confronts you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy.”) and even signs off by saying “What is the problem Mr. Diaz?”. Which is exactly what John Kreese says to Johnny in the first film and even signs off by saying “What is the problem Mr. Lawrence?”.
When talking to his wife, Daniel mentions how he was pushed off a cliff while on his bike. Aside from some hyperbole from Daniel, he is referencing when Johnny and the Cobra Kai students pushed Daniel off his bike and down a hill in the first film. There is also a brief flashback showing Daniel teaching his daughter karate, he says “True karate is here, here but never here” while pointing to parts of her body from her head to her stomach. This is something Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel in the film.
Daniel invites his daughter’s boyfriend, Kyler round for dinner and at that dinner he mentions how he got his sashimi knife during his first visit to Okinawa which is a reference to the second film. Also during the dinner, Daniel questions Kyler on his injuries especially his black eye and hand. Mr. Miyagi also does this to Daniel in the first film after he is beat up by the Cobra Kai students.
At the Cobra Kai dojo, Johnny has Miguel clean the windows. Miguel asks if he should clean the windows a specific way… which is an obvious set up for a “wax on, wax off” joke, but Johnny says he doesn’t give a shit.
Episode 3: Esqueleto
While at dinner (again) and discussing his daughter going to the Halloween dance Daniel mentions him being a chaperone, he goes on to say how his mother used to drive him on dates which is a reference to the date he and Ali went on in the first film in which his mother drove the love birds.
As Johnny trains Miguel (rather brutally) at the swimming pool, he says “Cobra Kai never dies”, which is a reference to the mantra said in both the first and third films. Then at the Halloween dance later in the episode, Miguel turns up in the same infamous and iconic skeleton costume Johnny wore in the first film. And as Johnny is walking trough the school, he sees a picture of Ali from the first film.
Episode 4: Cobra Kai Never Dies
To be honest, this one is a little light on the references as it spends a lot of time with the new characters instead of the older ones. Well the title of the episode is a reference I’ve already covered with that previously mentioned mantra of the dojo.
This is a tenuous one I admit, but Daniel makes Bananarama pancakes for breakfast, Bananarama performed the song Cruel Summer which appears in the film. When Kyler and his friends bully Miguel in the library, one of Kyler’s cohorts says “I think he’s gonna cry.” This is the same line said by one of the Cobra Kai students to Daniel in the first film in the locker-room before the tournament begins.
Episode 5: Counterbalance
Johnny says “This isn’t a knitting class, it’s a dojo.” to Miguel. John Kreese says the line “This is a karate dojo, not a knitting class.” in the first film to Mr. Miyagi.
As Daniel sets up his dojo at home, he hangs a rule of karate on the wall, this is the same rule (rule 2) Mr. Miyagi has on his dojo and teaches to Daniel in the second film. Plus the country club Daniel frequents in the show (seen a lot in this episode) is the same club where he gets covered in spaghetti from the first film after seeing Johnny and Ali dancing together – the Encino Oaks Country Club.
As Daniel performs a kata near the end of the episode, he strikes the exact same pose he used in the third film’s final fight and the music in the background is the same as the music in the first film’s finale.
Episode 6: Quiver
This one opens with a young version of Johnny showing us his past. We see him ogle some motorbikes, which is something featured in the first film and then young Johnny discovers the Cobra Kai dojo for the first time. He looks through the window and can see and hear a young John Kreese talking to students – the audio used is taken directly from the first film. Funnily enough, the audio used is taken form a scene in the first film that Johnny was in.
Johnny teaches his students a simple one-two jab punch. This is the same punch John tells Johnny to use to warm up the students in the first film. Daniel is doing some katas when Robby asks him what he is doing. Daniel explains how they are the foundation to Karate, Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel the same kata and says the same thing in the third film.
Johnny walks past this students in the dojo saying “Fear does not exist in this dojo does it? Pain does not exist in this dojo does it? Defeat does not exist in this dojo does it?” John did the same thing in the first film.
Episode 7: All Valley
This one opens with a very familiar scene as Daniel has Robby do some chores around the car lot including waxing cars. This is Daniel teaching Robby Karate the same way Mr. Miyagi taught him. And when Robby is finished waxing the cars, Daniel asks “Both lots?”. This is a nod to when Mr. Miyagi asks Daniel to paint the fence. Then Robby get upset that he’s not being taught Karate at all and accuses Daniel of using him to just do chores, the same thing happened to Daniel with Mr. Miyagi.
As Johnny is looking through his karate magazine, he sees an ad for the All Valley Karate Championships. The design for the ad is almost identical to the original save some colouring and a date change.
Miguel and Sam go on a date to the Golf n Stuff which is the exact same place Daniel and Ali went on their date in the first film. Many of the shots and actions are recreated too including the opening crane shot, having their photo taken in a photo-both, playing mini golf, etc. The whole scene is full of nods and references to the original film.
Johnny learns that the Cobra Kai dojo has a lifetime ban from entering competition. This is a plot point carried over from the third film when John Kreese and the dojo are given a life time ban due to the events of the film. It also makes sense that Johnny knows nothing about it as he was not part of the third film.
Episode 8: Molting
Johnny wears a red jacket in this one (he really likes red) and it looks a lot like the red jacket he had in the first film. Meanwhile at Daniel’s home, he gets a visit from his mother, Lucille and she is played by the same actress as the original film – Randee Heller. Lucille also references the time Daniel was pushed of his bike down that hill… or cliff according to Daniel. She also describes Daniel’s eyes as “baby browns”, something she did in the film.
Johnny recaps the events of the first film while talking to Miguel… only there’s a twist (more on that later). But he mentions several characters from the the flick including Ali, and some of the old Cobra Kai students. When Daniel trains Robby, he wears a baseball catcher’s mask and chest protector, just like Mr. Miyagi did with Daniel in the film. He also mentions about power coming out of one inch of his fist, which is what Mr. Miyagi also said to Daniel.
Miguel discovers his girlfriend, Sam with another boy. A boy she has no interest in, but Miguel misunderstands the situation. Daniel did the same when he saw Johnny and Ali at the country club.
Episode 9: Different But Same
Johnny arrives at Daniel’s house and says “You still can’t leave well enough alone.” This is a reference to the first film when, after the Halloween dance, the Cobra Kai students catch Daniel and Johnny says “You couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you, you little twerp?”.
While test driving a car, Johnny calls Daniel “Danielle”. One of Johnny’s fellow students, Dutch, also referred to Daniel as “Danielle” in the locker room before the big fight in the first film. Also while on the test drive, they stop at Daniel’s old apartment complex where he and hos mother lived in the first film. Then Johnny mentions kicking Daniel’s “ass around the corner”, which is a reference to the Halloween fight in the film. Of course Daniel quips back “how’d that end?” which is referencing Mr. Miyagi beating the crap out of the Johnny and the Cobra Kais.
Then while at a bar having a drink together, Daniel and Johnny talk about the spaghetti calamity at the county club as well as well as referencing a few other things from the films including the opening of the second film. Daniel also says he knows where Ali is now (possible set-up for a cameo in season 2?).
Episode 10: Mercy
The scoreboard for the karate tournament is in the exact same style and colours as in the original film. The Cobra Kai gis are also the exact same style and colour as they were in the film. Of course the infamous crane-kick make an appearance when Miguel uses it to score his first point to mock Daniel. The whole tournament has plenty of references to the big fight from the film, Johnny making a fist aimed at one of his students – just as John Kreese did, the semi-finals are announced the same way, one of the Cobra Kai get disqualified for using an illegal move and many more.
Robby gets taken out of the competition with an injury, just as Daniel was. Then back in the locker room Daniel rubs his hands together, just as Mr. Miyagi did when readying himself to heal Daniel… only this version has a different resolve. Then when Robby returns to the tournament after his injury, the announcer exclaims, ” Daniel LaRusso’s gonna coach!” – which is a twist on the line “Daniel LaRusso’s gonna fight!” from the first film.
The episode ends with Daniel taking Robby to his old training grounds… Mr. Miyagi’s house. It’s complete with the old cars (especially that yellow Ford Super Deluxe convertible). Then they go into the garden and it looks just as it did in the film, all while the famous Bill Conti music plays in the background. Only that’s not quite the end…
Back at the Cobra Kai dojo, Johnny get an unexpected visitor – John Kreese, his old sensei, still played by Martin Kove and with a big, fat stogie in his mouth. Setting up for a hell of a confrontation in season 2.
As a nice bonus reference. There has been a fan theory for years that Daniel was actually the bully in the original film and Johnny was the victim. Plenty of people have covered this theory and you can read one example here. Well in the show, Johnny is not really the bad guy. He’s a bit of a loser, a drop-out sure – but he’s also shown to be sympathetic and caring. While Daniel is shown to be a more antagonistic, likes showing off his wealth, popularity and success.
It’s almost as if Johnny is the victim here and Daniel is the bully… kind of like the fan theory. In fact, in episode 8, Johnny tells the story of the original film to Miguel – but he tells it as if he was the victim. In-keeping with the fan theory thing. It’s a nice bit on the part of the writers to include such a reference and even base the whole show off.
There’s a lot of fan-service in the show (some references I’ve not covered, some I’ve not even noticed myself) yet it never feels forced. The writers have crafted a wonderful series with Cobra Kai that while fresh, still has one foot in the 80s and the original three films.
Bring on season 2, I can’t wait.