The original run of The Karate Kid series coincided perfectly with my own middle school-aged dalliance with karate, which is probably why the series has an outsized place in my memory to this day. I didn't last long in karate -- green belt, I think, whatever that means -- but I liked the idea of karate, which was better represented on the big screen than in the nerf-chucks I had to make do with, or by my pot-bellied, Bob Guccione Jr. look-alike karate teacher. For me, the word karate will always be synonymous with John G. Avildsen's lightning-in-a-bottle film about a dumb Jersey kid who moved out to California in the mid-80s, just as it was having trouble reintroducing a large population of unstable Vietnam vets back into the workplace. In downtown L.A., Martin Riggs was taking out his sniper's remorse and dead-wife issues on the entire homicide division of the LAPD, while over in the Reseda neighborhood, the war was still going on inside the Cobra Kai dojo, run by a sadist who probably invented the ear necklace.
The character of John "this is a karate dojo, not a knitting class" Kreese was said to be a burden for actor Martin Kove. He apparently had a real problem playing a guy who corrupts a bunch of kids, teaching them the "way of the fist" and generally preparing them for what could seemingly only be a life of organized criminality. We're not talking about poor kids off the street, remember -- we find out late in the film that Johnny (William Zabka), LaRusso's chief rival, is actually country-club rich -- we're talking about young men who are going to take their Cobra Kai misteachings with them into higher education and then the upper crust of the workforce, causing us who knows what kind of damage. The much-maligned third film in the series will take a stab at exploring this angle -- what exactly the Cobra Kai financiers were trying to franchise -- but not to any satisfying degree. For our purposes, the Cobra Kai dojo is the equivalent of a biker bar that our hero innocently wanders into and asks for a Capri Sun.