With such an incredible impact on film history, it’s no wonder that the writing, production, and filming of ‘The Karate Kid’ is filled with some amazing facts. Join us as we crane kick through the best ones we could find. A warning for those who have not yet watched ‘The Karate Kid’ — multiple spoilers lay ahead!
The Karate Adult
Forgive us in advance for ruining any childhoods here but the karate kid did not turn out to be a kid after all. Ralph Macchio, who played the titular character of Daniel LaRusso, was a whole twenty-two-years old at the time of filming.
That’s right – the Karate Kid graduated high school years before becoming what we all thought was one of the most famous child actors of the ’80s!
The Eastwood’s Bitter Coke Feud
What might seem conspiratorial at first turns out to be a silver screen legend. The son of Clint Eastwood, Kyle Eastwood, was one of the early auditioners for the part of Daniel LaRusso. Turns out there was no nepotism when making the final decision as Ralph Macchio was selected over the young Eastwood.
In a petty vengeance, Clint Eastwood forbade any Coke products on his sets. Why did Coke receive the wrath of the Eastwoods? Columbia Pictures, who produced the Karate Kid, owned Coca-Cola at the time. That’ll teach them!
Mr. Miyagi’s Very American Accent
Pat Morita was cast as the indomitable Mr. Miyagi who, in the movie, hailed from Okinawa in Japan. Morita, however, did not hail from Japan and hailed from the very American state of California.
Morita’s Japanese accent was put on. Though having Japanese parents did, of course, give Morita the edge when impersonating the accent. In fact, fans were shocked to hear Morita’s original speaking voice.
Ralph Macchio Crane Kicks Sheen and Cage at the Audition
A string of actors that happen to be big names today was reputed to be in line for the role of Daniel LaRusso. Names such as Tom Cruise and 80’s golden child Emilio Estevez have cropped up in the Karate Kid casting history. Perhaps that should be mythology depending on who you ask...
Two names that were serious contenders were the up-and-coming Robert Downey Junior (who was yet to make his big break) and Nicolas Cage (who was already on his way to becoming a household name).
Pat’s Crane Feign
You might want to crane your neck while reading this childhood-shattering fact. The crane kick that Mr. Miyagi demonstrated to Daniel LaRusso became central and pivotal to the plot of the Karate Kid as LaRusso spent most of the movie perfecting it.
At forty-eight years old and not a professional karateka himself, the production crew decided that it was far too risky for Pat to stand on the pole and instead got a stunt double to don a bald cap and create the seminal movie moment.
Daniel Is Disqualified
As every Karate Kid fan knows, Daniel LaRusso crane kicks his way to victory, toppling the bully Johnny Lawrence in one swoop. Few movie endings can compete with this justice-is-served finale. However, any serious karateka will point out that this move would have more than likely have left Daniel disqualified from the tournament.
In karate tournaments, although there is contact, no move is meant to incapacitate or harm the opponent. Daniel’s crane kick would definitely have led to him being deemed unfit for the title.
The infamous Halloween scene whereby Mr. Miyagi comes to Daniel LaRusso’s rescue by knocking out his bullies was a challenge. Pat Morita’s stunt double in the film, a professional karateka named Fumio Demura, was accused of hitting the other actors too hard in the scene which led to many different takes.
Fumio insisted that if his own students were used in the scene, it would be done in one take. The exasperated director allowed for this and true to his word, the entire fight was reshot in a single take.
Mr. Miyagi’s (Almost) Missing Drunk Scene
A critical scene in 'The Karate Kid' is Daniel LaRusso coming across a very drunk Mr. Miyagi. The studio believed the scene impeded the pace of the movie and called on the director, John Avildsen, to cut it out of the movie completely. Avildsen refused.
The scene cemented an emotional evolution in the relationship between LaRusso and Miyagi by exposing Miyagi’s vulnerability and depression over being widowed. Avildsen maintained that the inclusion of the scene led to Pat Morita’s Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
The Real Miyagi
The character of Mr. Miyagi had a real-life influence. Robert Mark Karmen, the screenwriter of 'The Karate Kid', found inspiration in the naming and characterization of Mr. Miyagi from Chōjun Miyagi, a karateka who developed a modern style for the ancient martial art.
The original Miyagi developed a style called “Goju-Ryu” – meaning “hard-soft”. It is never explicitly stated in the movie that this is the particular fighting style Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel but bona fide practitioners have noticed definite similarities.
Chuck Never Chucked in the Towel
The character of John Kreese, played by Martin Kove, has inspired a few myths and some of these involve Chuck Norris. Norris, being a figurehead of martial arts in the ‘80s, was reputed to have been offered the role of John Kreese, the primary antagonist in 'The Karate Kid'.
Reportedly, Norris turned down the role due to its negative portrayal of karate instructors. While Norris himself has confirmed this to be untrue, he did admit that he would have turned down the role for that very reason.
The Mythical Crane Kick
Right, at this point we take full responsibility for shattering childhood ideals! For all the boys and girls out there that dutifully practiced the (in)famous Crane Kick – it’s a completely fictional karate move.
Well, not completely fictional as the stance is used in Karta displays but the actual move of “kicking someone like a crane”…yeah, is nothing more than silver screen lore.
Pat Morita’s Close Call
What can be considered a very near miss in movie history was that Pat Morita was not originally selected to play Mr. Miyagi. Morita’s long history of playing comedic parts was considered by the casting staff to be a detriment — audiences were well acquainted with his roles in 'Happy Days' and 'M*A*S*H'.
As legend has it, it took a grand total of five auditions for Morita to convince John Avildsen that he could shed his comic persona and embody the rather solemn Mr. Miyagi.
“Karate Kid” was a lesser-known (yet still very copyrighted) character in the DC Comics universe. Karate Kid belonged to the Legion of Superheroes and was a pivotal character in the comic book. The title of “The Karate Kid” was considered too good a marketing tool to compromise on so the producers approached DC Comics to negotiate using the name.
DC Comics, who owned “Karate Kid” had no issue in allowing Columbia Pictures to title the movie “The Karate Kid”. We bet DC would have negotiated differently in retrospect.
A Referee for Life
Pat E. Johnson served a few roles in The Karate Kid franchise and this is one of those Chuck Norris influences that does (indirectly) make its way into the movie. A longtime student of Chuck Norris, Johnson served as a stuntman, the fight coordinator, the fight choreographer, and an actor in the film series.
'The Karate Kid' fans can spot Johnson as the referee in the final fight scene between Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence. Johnson was one of only four people on the set that had any martial arts training.
You’re the Best
The ‘80s remain the decade of seminal soundtracks especially when it comes to epic showdowns. Before a drunken Randy Marsh from South Park made a whole new generation aware of Joe Esposito’s “You’re the Best”, the song was immortalized as the accompaniment to the final fight between Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso.
“You’re The Best” apparently wasn’t the best choice for Sylvester Stallone as it was rejected in favor of “Eye of the Tiger” for Rocky. Fortunately, John Avildsen found the perfect fit for it in 'The Karate Kid'.
Johnny Lawrence’s Less Intimidating Namesake
The cast and crew understood the target audience of 'The Karate Kid'. It is inarguably a film that has transcended generational gaps and this is in no small part due to the attention to detail. Details such as the name of the antagonist. To best visualize this, imagine getting beat up by a guy named Donald. And his surname is Rice.
That’s correct – Johnny Lawrence was originally named Donald Rice. We are certain that the roundhouse kicks and karate chops would feel far less painful knowing it was being delivered by a “Donnie Rice”.
Dennis Palumbo, a screenwriter recognized for shows such as 'The Love Boat', was originally approached to write the script. Palumbo was a fan of the story but insisted that should he write it, he would write it to end with Daniel LaRusso’s defeat to Johnny Lawrence.
The producers and studio were vehemently against this idea. Palumbo defended his idea by stating that Miyagi’s “it doesn’t matter if you win or lose” mantra leads to a predictable win. Seeing the success of the franchise, Palumbo admitted that he was “being a moron.”
Die-hard fans of 'The Karate Kid' sought to find each and every location that the movie was shot in. The easy part was knowing that it was shot in and around Los Angeles in California. Some clever investigative work had fans discover that Mr. Miyagi’s workshop, for instance, was not a workshop but rather a parking lot!
The entrance to the parking lot was walled off to hide this fact. Fans struggled but finally found the location for Mr. Miyagi’s house which was sadly torn down a few years after the film was released.
Ralph Macchio Waxes Lyrical
Say it with us: wax on, wax off. A Mr. Miyagi mantra that became what can only be considered an ‘80s meme. The scene involves Mr. Miyagi instructing a very annoyed Daniel LaRusso to meticulously apply wax on a 1947 Ford Super Deluxe convertible and then mindfully remove it.
Ralph Macchio scored big; after the release of the movie, he was gifted with the car. Fortunately Macchio’s many hours of waxing on and waxing off paid off as he still owns the vehicle.
Bit Part Brats
A group of children bids a very warm and exuberant farewell to Daniel LaRusso and his mother in the opening scene of 'The Karate Kid'. How these kids came to be in the movie was not through casting but rather through a deal struck with the very aggravated director.
John Avildsen recounted that the highly curious neighborhood children would not stop bothering the film crew. To get them to back off, Avildsen offered them a part in the movie. Luckily the kids stuck to the deal!
The Real-Life Karate Kids
How the storyline of 'The Karate Kid' came to be is quite a tale in itself. Producer Jerry Weintraub read a story in a local newspaper of how a nine-year-old boy came to study martial arts after a physical run-in with a gang. Similarly, screenwriter Robert Mark Karmen also found himself enrolling in martial arts classes after being attacked as a young child by a group of older kids.
Weintraub optioned the story of the nine-year-old and approached Karmen to write, making 'The Karate Kid' somewhat autobiographical for Karmen.
Like Father Like Son
The most hated figure in the movie, Daniel LaRusso’s archnemesis Johnny Lawrence, had no backstory in the film. William Zabka, who played the notorious Lawrence, took it upon himself to create a history for the character and imagined him growing up angry about being fatherless and only ever experiencing a connection to a father figure through the equally hostile Johnny Kreese.
This created a great juxtaposition between LaRusso and Mr. Miyagi’s relationship and Lawrence and Kreese’s relationship.
Ralph Macchio Sabotages the Sponsorship
The Columbia Coca-Cola war was a real thing. Ralph Macchio made no bones about his despise for the marketing that was being inserted into the film. During a scene in Mr. Miyagi’s dojo, Macchio subtly blocked the Sprite logo on a strategically placed bottle.
Obviously, this did not sit well with the fizzy drink giant and the crew was forced to reshoot the scene. Macchio made sure to allow just the briefest glimpse of the logo before obscuring it yet again.
Martin Kove’s Rage Lands Him the Part
Martin Kove, who played the belligerent John Kreese in 'The Karate Kid', was approached by director John Avildsen specifically requesting for Kove to audition for the role. Kove was determined to land the role, even turning down any other acting opportunities that came his way.
Unfortunately, Avildsen left Kove waiting for weeks. Kove was left irate and when the audition finally happened he let rip on Avildsen. His rage was so convincing that Avildesen immediately offered him the part!
The original cut of 'The Karate Kid' had two confrontations between Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence that were eventually snipped from the final movie. In the first missing fight sequence, Lawrence sneaks a slice of pie onto LaRusso’s seat in the school cafeteria. A highly indignant LaRusso, with pants covered in blueberry pie, attacks Lawrence.
In the second fight scene that was removed, LaRusso is seen drinking from a water fountain and is harassed by Lawrence. A reference to the first fight is made in the wildly popular follow-up series 'Cobra Kai'.
Chad McQueen Lives Up to Being a Chad
Johnny Lawrence’s right-hand man, Dutch, was undoubtedly the most ruthless of Lawrence’s Cobra Kai entourage. The aggressive attitude of Chad McQueen, who played Dutch, was a case of life imitating art apparently as it has been reported that the crew found it difficult to work with McQueen on set.
A fight scene that found itself on the cutting room floor purportedly ends with McQueen being held in a headlock after having an outburst.
Pat Morita’s Vertical Challenges
Mr. Miyagi, while being lethal in his martial art abilities, did not cut an imposing figure. Standing at five feet and three inches, Pat Morita was notably shorter than the antagonists he had to stare down in the film.
The height differences were a challenge for the camera so the crew had Morita stand on a box in some of the face-to-face scenes to get the best shots.
A Bully Is a Friend You Haven’t Beaten Up Yet
Bullying is central to the entire motivation of the plot in 'The Karate Kid' so it may come as a surprise to realize that at no point in the film is the word “bully” used nor is the concept of “being bullied” discussed. After saving Daniel LaRusso from the Cobra Kai gang on Halloween, Mr. Miyagi oddly acknowledges the assailants as LaRusso’s friends.
Film buffs believe by not giving them the title of bully is part of the training to remove any power that they psychologically have over LaRusso.
Six Degrees of Bruce Lee Separation
It’s fitting that the Little Dragon, Bruce Lee, has some presence in 'The Karate Kid'. Ok, while not directly involved as Lee passed a full eleven years before the filming of The Karate Kid, there are two actors in the film that had a relation to him.
Chad McQueen, who plays Dutch, is the son of Steve McQueen who was a close friend of Lee. Pat E. Johnson, the film’s fight choreographer and stuntman, had a bit part in 'Enter the Dragon'.
Mr. Miyagi’s Sewing
A Halloween costume that we wish featured far more is the historic shower costume that Daniel LaRusso donned to his Halloween high school dance. LaRusso walks into the dance hall with a shower curtain wrapped around him. Ali, his love interest, asks him where he got the costume to which LaRusso replies that a friend made it for him.
Which friend? Pay close attention to the preceding scenes as strips of the shower curtain are seen behind Mr. Miyagi as he cuts jack-o-lanterns.
The Lost Name Boys
Maybe the answer to the disagreeableness and hostility of the Cobra Kai gang is that most of them appear to be nameless. Dutch’s first name is not revealed and he is only referred to by his surname. Tommy’s surname is never said.
And worst of all, the fifth member of Cobra Kai is not referred to by his name throughout the movie, and only in the credits do we see that his name is Jimmy! Johnny Lawrence and Bobby Brown are the only two Cobra Kai members whose full names are revealed.
Elisabeth Shue Is Not Convinced
Elisabeth Shue has admitted that she was rather unconvinced by Ralph Macchio as 'The Karate Kid' at first sight. Macchio’s lean and diminutive frame didn't particularly inspire fear, especially next to the far more muscular and tall Cobra Kai kids.
To enhance Macchio’s frame, the producers had him wear the Kategai, the customary karate uniform, to give the impression of being bulky.
The Karate Copyright
While DC Comics obligingly allowed Columba Pictures to use 'The Karate Kid' name, a karate teacher from Brooklyn took umbrage at what he perceived to be a clear copyright infringement. Bill DeClemente sued Columba Pictures and Jerry Weintraub.
DeClemente’s case was dismissed though as the courts found that his claim of being known as “The Karate Kid” was not wide enough so as to damage his business dealings in any way.
The Fastest Black Belt in History
Either Daniel LaRusso is a prodigy beyond all prodigies or there is a time warp in 'The Karate Kid' universe. Let’s just stick with linear time here. Mr. Miyagi begins his training of LaRusso on the first of November.
The All Valley Karate tournament is less than fifty days away from his start of training yet by the time the tournament rolls around, LaRusso is a fully qualified black belt. Take into consideration that black belts are usually achieved after 5 years of weekly training!
Mr. Miyagi the Thief
It seems that Mr. Miyagi didn’t have the materials or finances to make or sponsor a black belt for LaRusso. In the registration scene where the official is explaining that only brown belts and above are allowed to enter, Mr. Miyagi spots a black belt in a gym bag and sneakily pilfers it under the guise of correcting the spelling of his name to the registrar.
While asking the registrar to change his name from ”Miyaji” to “Miyagi”, he sneakily hands the belt to Ali Mills.
Mr. Miyagi Beats a Samurai
Toshiro Mifune was the sort of actor that one automatically would assume would be ideally suited to play the character of Mr. Miyagi. A native of Japan, Mifune was renowned for starring in numerous samurai films.
Now, whereas producer Jerry Weintraub was reluctant to cast Pat Morita for his comedic background, director John Avildsen found Mifune “too serious”. His naturally imposing demeanor didn’t translate well into the character of the much kinder Miyagi.
The Secret Karateka Crew Member
Ron Thomas, who played the part of the Cobra Kai thug Bobby Brown was one of the only four people on the set who were trained in martial arts. Thomas was so well trained in fact that he brought with him a black belt in Ju-Jitsu.
His experience in martial arts allowed convinced director John Avildsen to allow Thomas to choreograph all his own fight sequences.
The Moment of Truth…or Something
Directly translating English movie titles doesn’t always work out the best, therefore, some clever titles have to be thought up by the marketing teams. Take 'Leaving Las Vegas' for instance. In Japan, this was titled 'I’m Drunk and You’re a XXX'.
Yeah… In France, they felt Karate Kid wasn’t going to work and retitled the movie to 'Le Moment de Vérité' (The Moment of Truth). Fortunately, French movie audiences recognized it as Karaté Kid and it quickly replaced the far less catchy title.
Do Not Go to the Dark Side, Daniel-San
While seeming more like a revenge movie at first glance, 'The Karate Kid' has a deeper meaning behind the rivalry between Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence. It is observed that both children are quick-tempered and impetuous and fuel the friction between themselves.
'The Karate Kid' then becomes more of a tale of having a benevolent and wise teacher to help guide this misspent youth in a healthy direction. Mr. Miyagi is a beacon of patience, teaching LaRusso the ways to control himself while Kreese teaches Lawrence negatively.
Burgers Landed Elisabeth Shue the Role
Elisabeth Shue was a name that popped up consistently in the ‘80s. Kind of like Steve Buscemi seemed to be in almost every movie in the ‘90s. 'The Karate Kid' was the movie that launched her film career.
The producers and director settled on Shue to play the part of Ali Mills in part due to a very well-known series of Burger King commercials that she starred in.
The Crane Kick Comes to Life
The mythical Crane Kick was brought to life in an almost implausible fashion during a UFC fight between Lyoto Machida and Randy Couture. Machida executed the move flawlessly, without the theatrics of first posing with his arms raised and assuming a crane stance.
Instead, he leaped forward and his foot thrust forward to meet Couture’s unfortunate face. The UFC commentators screamed “The Karate Kid” wildly and the match records clearly state that Randy Couture was knocked out by “crane kick.” Life imitates art!
Mr. Miyagi’s constant referring to Daniel LaRusso as “Daniel-San” is a double-edged sword. “San” holds the same title in Japanese as sir or mister would in English therefore the much older, much wiser Mr. Miyagi is referring to Daniel tongue-in-cheek as “Sir Daniel”.
The slight ribbing has a very intended purpose though: it’s to keep LaRusso from becoming too arrogant in his newfound karate skills.
Mr. Miyagi’s the Backstreet Boy
Mr. Miyagi could have been a Backstreet Boy. Daniel LaRusso asks him “What song were you singing?” Well, now we can tell you that the song he sings while very inebriated is a Japanese folk song titled “Back Street Life” by a well-known Japanese artist named Takeo Abe.
Pat Morita used his creative license for the scene, recalling the song being sung when he was a child.
Daniel’s Hormones Are Off the Charts
'The Karate Kid' has a good few Easter eggs laid in it. Eagle-eyed fans have noted many small details. A clever, little one is when Daniel LaRusso goes in search of his love interest, Ali Mills at the local fair.
LaRusso walks into the scene while the camera focuses on a gimmicky machine called the “Lover Tester”. The level that is illuminated when LaRusso stands by it is “Uncontrollable”, signaling his desires for Ali.
Running as a Pack
To emphasize Johnny Lawrence’s and the Cobra Kai gang’s weak and cowardly nature, there are only two scenes in which Lawrence does not appear with the other four Cobra Kai members.
Contrast this with Daniel LaRusso, who has no backup and no friends except for Mr. Miyagi and Ali Mills. One Cobra Kai member, Tommy, even ensures to attend karate practice with Johnny Lawrence and the others even though his arm is wounded.
Do You Know Where Your Kids Are?
One could forgive Daniel LaRusso’s mother for being somewhat distracted and distant. A single mother starting a new life in a different city with her son is, without a doubt, an unenviable challenge.
Even though LaRusso spends almost all of his free time with Mr. Miyagi, there is only one single scene in the movie that Daniel’s mother, Lucille LaRusso, has any conversation with Mr. Miyagi.
Daniel LaRusso is a real bonsai bozo when it comes to pronunciation. Fans might not quite have caught the subtle mispronunciation but there are a handful of times that Mr. Miyagi exclaims “banzai!” Banzai would be said in terms of a celebration, literally translating to ten thousand years.
The most notable time Mr. Miyagi says this is when mourning his wife on their anniversary, offering Daniel a drink and shouting “Banzai” and Daniel ignorantly smiles back saying “bonsai!”
Here’s a fact about Ralph Macchio’s age-defying looks that certainly will blow a mental fuse or two. Renee Handler, who plays Daniel LaRusso’s mother Lucille in The Karate Kid, was born in 1947. This means at the time of filming she was 37 years old.
Reasonable enough to be the mother of the then 16-year-old Daniel. But Ralph was actually going on 23 at the time of filming. Technically, then, Lucille LaRusso is only fourteen years older than her son!
Elisabeth Shue Makes It a Family Affair
No nepotism here. Perhaps just some cool celeb cred any sibling would be happy to cash in on. Elisabeth Shue had her brother play a small part in the movie. And when we say a small part we mean he pretty much just sat.
At the All-Valley tournament, Andrew is one of the contestants but it only goes as far as him scowling. 'The Karate Kid' may have been his entry into the showbiz world as he went on to play a feature role in 'Melrose Arch'.
Ralph’s Elusive Oscar
There could have been some curse to beating Johnny Lawrence and taking the championship title at the All Valley tournament for Daniel LaRusso. Ralph Macchio to date is the only main cast member of 'The Karate Kid' that has not won nor been nominated for an Academy Award.
Ironically, Pat Morita received an Oscar nod for his role as Mr. Miyagi. Elisabeth Shue won an Oscar for her role in 'Leaving Las Vegas' and William Zabka received a nomination with his directing partner for their 2003 short film 'Most'.
Mr. Miyagi Trains Sweden
A liberal Swedish political party, Folkpartiet (The People’s Party), drew on 'The Karate Kid' for some marketing slogan inspiration. The elections were a chance for the party to recruit young politicians to take part in a mentoring program by the party.
The slogan read “Utan Mr. Miyagi, ingen Daniel-san”. Translated into English, it reads: Without a Mr. Miyagi, there is no Daniel-san.”
It’s a Flower, Not a Sun, Dummy
'The Karate Kid' headband is iconic. Officially known as a Tenugui, the white cloth with the blue pattern had many an ‘80s kids tying handtowels and ties around their heads in imitation. And yet it was not even supposed to be featured in the film.
Pat Morita happened to have a handkerchief on him and adlibbed the headband by tying the handkerchief around Ralph Macchio’s head. In addition, many thought the pattern on the Tenugui was the sun when in fact it was a flower.
The Halloween Fight Night Curse 1
The Halloween skeleton fight scene was one of the most problematic scenes to shoot in the movie. To top off the challenges this scene created, the most damaging was the final spinning kick that sent Daniel LaRusso to his knees.
In actuality, this spinning kick actually did connect with Ralph Macchio’s face. Ralph was in such dire pain that the shooting had to be suspended for almost two days to allow him to recover and the swelling to subside!
Producer Jerry Weintraub wanted to market every bit of the karate and Asian theme as much as possible when the film was to be released.
Even though Pat Morita was a well-established and easily recognized actor, Weintraub suggested that his Japanese name be used in the credits for the film. Pat agreed and was then credited as Noriyuki “Pat” Morita.
William Zabka’s Method Acting Goes Too Far
Poor William Zabka. His channeling of his inner bully Johnny Lawrence was incredibly effective. So effective that the extras in the movie started to blur the line between the real person William and the character Johnny.
In between takes during the final tournament scene, the extras would continue jeering at and booing William. It’s reported that his mother who was on set would berate the extras!
William Zabka Just Wants to Be Left Alone
Continuing with the theme of the Johnny Lawrence hatred, William Zabka has stated that there have been more than a handful of times when random strangers would approach him, and instead of requesting an autograph, they requested a fight!
William, as his mother had to do, has had to reassure diehard Daniel LaRusso defenders that he is not a black belt bully in real life and just an actor – and a really nice guy.
It’s Strictly Business, Mr. Miyagi
Daniel LaRusso and Mr. Miyagi’s relationship was so authentic that it would lead fans to believe that it extended off-screen. Sadly, this was not the case. When interviewed in his older years, Ralph Macchio was asked about his private relationship with Pat Morita.
Ralph admitted that they were not involved in each others’ personal lives and only had a professional relationship. William Zabka and Martin Kove, however, have remained close friends of Ralph’s for almost forty years.
Mr. Miyagi’s Smile Beats Daniel’s Victory March
Ralph Macchio may have let the title of Karate Kid get to his head a bit. Speaking at a fan meetup in 2016, Ralph stated that his ideal was originally Daniel LaRusso being carried on the shoulders of the adoring crowd after his victory.
This ending was, in fact, shot and set as the ending. John Avildsen had a change of heart decided to reshoot it with a grinning Mr. Miyagi, beaming with pride. Ralph conceded that in hindsight this was the better ending scene.
Pat the Fashion Designer
Pat Morita is handy when it comes to the finer costume details. The famous Tenugui (headband) was Pat’s inspiration and there’s another costume design that was his doing: the bonsai logo on Daniel LaRusso’s gi.
The bonsai-inspired logo was a result of a few words of wisdom Mr. Miyagi bestowed on Daniel: “Only root karate come from Miyagi. Just like bonsai choose own way grow because root strong you choose own way do karate same reason."
Hollywood or Harvard
Elisabeth Shue was close to completing her degree when the offer to play Ali Mills in 'The Karate Kid' was sent her way. It was not a tough decision for Shue who figured that she could put her studies on hold for the six weeks that it would take to shoot the film.
Shue was unaware, however, that her role in 'The Karate Kid, would set her up to become a highly sought-after A-list actress. She eventually dropped out of studies together to further her acting career.
Zabka’s Green Belt
While William Zabka seemed to pull off amazingly convincing karate moves in 'The Karate Kid', he was one of the cast members who had absolutely no martial arts training prior to filming. However, unlike Ralpha Macchio, Zabka was hooked by karate and continued studying it, eventually earning himself a green belt.
Zabka, an accomplished high school wrestler, said he felt that wrestling gave the ability to “slide into martial arts training” and further exclaiming that it was “kind of a nice fit.”
It’s amazing how granted the average movie-goer takes CGI nowadays. One of the more legendary scenes in 'The Karate Kid' is Pat Morita instructing Daniel LaRusso to catch a fly using a pair of chopsticks. Ralph Macchio explained what a painstaking process this was as it involved several flies, tying them to fishing lines so as to keep them within the frame.
Eventually, the crew settled on simply switching up camera angles to make it appear as if Daniel had nabbed the critter. Pretty fly for a karate guy?
'The Karate Kid' is an exemplary case study of hindsight. There were a few close calls that could have turned this classic into a forgotten VHS.
One example of this is the casting of Ralph Macchio. The producers were so impressed by Macchio that they scrapped naming the titular character’s surname from Webber to LaRusso to better represent Macchio’s Italian heritage.
Kreese Puts a Crease in Quickbooks
Martin Kove reprised his role as cruel karate instructor John Kreese for a 2018 Quickbooks commercial. How do Cobra Kai and Quickbooks come together? Well, in what we hope is not an official backstory, Kreese explains that his uncontrollable rage and frustration was due to not having a handle on Cobra Kai’s bookkeeping!
Kreese concludes that thanks to Quickbooks getting rid of his frustration, his far kinder karate school is now called… Koala Kai. As we said, we hope this isn’t an official backstory!
Mr. Miyagi Claims He Is Not Japanese
Mr. Miyagi makes a curious statement about his nationality when telling Daniel LaRusso where he’s from. Instead of saying his country is Japan, Mr. Miyagi claims his country is Okinawa.
This might have to do with some residual Okinawan pride as it was a sovereign nation before becoming annexed by Japan in 1879. This is further complicated by the scene where Mr. Miyagi has a little too much to drink and reveals he fought for America in the war.
How I Met Your Karate Kid
In an episode of How 'I Met Your Mother', Barney Stinson explains a fan theory, that he believes in, whereby the real villain in 'The Karate Kid' is not Johnny Lawrence but rather Daniel LaRusso. There are a number of instances in the film where Daniel instigates conflict between him and Johnny.
The real evidence for this though is Daniel confessing to Mr. Miyagi that he wishes to learn karate in order to take revenge on Johnny Lawrence – something Mr. Miyagi quickly corrects.
Cobra Kai definitely has a cool ring to it but has anyone thought about what the “kai” part actually means? Turns out it has a slightly political tinge to it.
It essentially refers to “an organization” therefore Cobra Kai can be translated as “The Cobra Organization”. Adding kai to group names is generally done by more right-wing groups in Japan.
Lost in Translation
For such a dedicated and experienced karateka, John Kreese does not seem to know the difference between French and Japanese. Very oddly, Kreese shouts “en garde!” to initiate a fighting session between students.
Now, as most know, en garde is decidedly French and is said between fencers before dueling! To add to the weirdness, the referee in the form of Pat E. Johnson who, as mentioned, was a student of Chuck Norris, also says en garde to signal the start of a fight. Weird!
Alternate Endings Are New Beginnings
The opening scene of the sequel, 'The Karate Kid Part II', shows John Kreese being subdued by Mr. Miyagi at the All Valley tournament. This scene was originally intended to be the final scene in 'The Karate Kid'. In it, Kreese, engulfed with rage and embarrassment, attacks Johnny Lawrence for losing to Daniel LaRusso.
Mr. Miyagi neutralizes Kreese and instead of delivering a lethal blow, pinches Kreese’s nose. The humbling act makes the other Cobra Kai members remove their belts in disrespect for their disgraced sensei.
Ali Finds Football Hotter Than Karate
Elisabeth Shue had intended to return to her studies at Harvard once shooting had wrapped up for 'The Karate Kid'. When the film proved to be an overwhelming box office success, Columbia Pictures immediately called for a sequel.
John Avildsen petitioned for Shue to reprise her role as Ali Mills but Shue, determined to finish her studies, declined. The scriptwriters then wrote in a rather depressing reason for Ali’s departure – she left Daniel LaRusso for a football player.
No Life Jackets
During one of Daniel LaRusso’s many, many training sessions, Mr. Miyagi takes him out on a lake where he instructs Daniel to stand on the bow and begin practicing his Karta. Daniel dutifully does so until Mr. Miyagi begins excitedly rocking the boat, causing Daniel to plunge into the freezing water.
As the movie was shot at the end of the year, it was winter in California, and the teeth-chattering, goosebump-inducing flailing was no acting on Ralph Macchio’s part – the water really was that cold.
Mr. Miyagi the Veteran
Military history buffs will appreciate the attention to detail of Mr. Miyagi’s very decorated uniform. Judging by the medals, Mr. Miyagi was an exemplary soldier.
The insignia embroidered on his uniform is that of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, a unit of Japanese-American soldiers that fought for America. This is interesting as the Regiment trained separately due to prejudice laws in America at the time.
William Zabka Strikes Fear
William Zabka used method acting to get into his Johnny Lawrence character even for just the auditioning. Zabka recounts that his persona of being a gang leader meant he had to create a “hostile environment” so he didn’t fraternize with the other auditioners and instead sat in his dad’s car, blasting hard-rock, and only went in when it was reading time.
The method acting was a success because, after his first reading with Ralph Macchio, Macchio said he told the producers that Zabka “scared the s**t out of me!”
The Cobra Clique
It appears that some cast members took method acting to the next level. Director John Avildsen very intentionally blocked out reading and rehearsal times to keep a divide between the characters.
For the Cobra Kai gang, Avildsen would have them rehearse together and bond together. They were intentionally kept apart from Ralph Macchio and over the rehearsal weeks bonded in what William Zabka called “a little fraternity”.
The Secret Martial Artist
Ron Thomas, who played the role of Cobra Kai member Bobby Brown, was the only actor that knew martial arts, having earned a second-degree black belt in Ju-Jitsu. His agent insisted that he does not reveal this fact due to the studio looking not for actual martial artists and only actors.
After a few weeks into the training, Pat E. Johnson confronted Thomas hinting “You know something, don’t you?” Not being able to hide his skills any longer, Thomas could happily spill his beans.
Pat E. Johnson trained all the actors in the basic karate skills used in the film. He recalled having trained Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio separately but with an equal intensity that elicited many complaints from both actors respectively.
This was by design as the singular, focused, and intense training was meant to create a hardship that would eventually foster a bond between Macchio and Morita.
The original script called for a responsive training dummy named “Mr. Hashimoto”. The idea was that Mr. Miyagi created this by using a broom and some clever hydraulics that would make the broom swing at Daniel LaRusso.
The execution of this contraption was a failure in real life. Instead, Mr. Hashimoto was scrapped and the scene was rewritten to Mr. Miyagi donning a baseball catcher’s outfit – vest and helmet – and having Daniel practice on him.
The All-Valley Tournament Was Real
To create roaring crowds nowadays, a few clicks of a mouse will have the CGI do the work for a director. In 1984 this was not a reality yet, so extras had to be called in. For the All-Valley tournament, the script called for up to 1,000 participants.
To get around this, the studio hosted an actual karate tournament complete with titles and prizes. The competitors were instructed not to look at the cameras or the crew and compete in the tournament as normal.
Halloween Fight Night Curse 2
While shooting the Halloween fight, Rob Garrison, who played the role of Cobra Kai member Tommy, was severely injured by Pat Morita’s stunt double, Fumio Demura. Garrison recalled in an interview that “everyone remembers Ralph [Macchio] getting hurt” meanwhile Garrison was knocked out by what he called an overexcited Demura.
The move was scripted that a kick in the groin would cause Tommy to keel over and then a strike to the face would incapacitate him. This left Garrison with a broken nose.
Mr. Miyagi’s Toiley Humor
Pat Morita, a comic actor by training, was everyone’s favorite on set. Fans of the film only know him as the solemn, focused mentor to Daniel LaRusso but Ralph Macchio recalls that he was “a stand-up by nature.”
Whenever he found an opportunity to make a joke, he grabbed on to it and always make everyone laugh.