Last weekend I marathoned the Cobra Kai series, which tells the story of Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso, characters from the movie Karate Kid, released in 1984. The series takes place 34 years after the All Valley karate tournament and begins with Johnny Lawrence reopening the Cobra Kai dojo.
Watching this series was a very nostalgic moment and took me back to the time when I was a kid and played with my uncle and cousins imitating some karate moves of Miyagi and Daniel San against the evil fighters of Cobra Kai.
In the movie Karate Kid, the whole story of the rivalry between Daniel and Johnny is told from Daniel LaRusso’s point of view, so the figure of Johnny Lawrence was obviously reduced to the villainous character.
When I was a child I didn’t know it, but now, as a psychologist and scholar, I can understand that no one is born good or bad and that there are no good guys or bad guys — in fact, the concept of badness and goodness is quite relative and can change depending on the culture in which it lives. we live or the creation we had. What is good for some people may be bad for others.
The Cobra Kai series caught me at the moment when Johnny, little by little, was able to tell his version of the same story narrated by Daniel in Karate Kid and that’s when I realized how important it is to reflect on the influence of adults in the lives of teenagers.
For those who haven’t watched Karate Kid, I’ll summarize it here: in 1984, a teenager named Daniel moves to a small town and becomes interested in a girl his age who is Johnny’s ex-girlfriend, a bully boy who, along with his gang , begins to torment Daniel. The “good guy”, however, meets Miyagi Miyagi, who teaches him karate for self-defense. Johnny and his gang are part of a dojo called Cobra Kai, which is led by sensei John Kreese, a man in his early thirties who trains teenagers to attack their enemies.
In the series Cobra Kai, Johnny is the father of a teenager named Robby and, due to alcoholism, he exercises an absent father, making the boy feel abandoned and getting involved with crime. As a way of getting revenge on his father, the teenager seeks work at his rival, Daniel LaRusso’s dealership, but little by little he begins to admire the boss and train karate with him. Robby realizes that everything he lacks in his relationship with his father is present in his relationship with Daniel and starts to treat him as an admirable and fatherly figure.
Over the course of the series, Johnny recalls his childhood also marked by his father’s absence and the presence of a stepfather who discouraged him all the time. It was only by meeting the Kreese sensei, in his early teens, that Johnny felt he could be motivated and proud of a male figure who would fulfill the role of fatherhood at that moment. Having the father’s place filled by Kreese, Johnny built his masculinity in adolescence, based on the sexist and oppressive teachings of his sensei.
The life story of Kreese sensei is also told and, coincidentally (or not), it is in adolescence that his narrative begins. Kreese was bullied by school bullies, who bullied him because his mother had severe mental health issues. In his youth, during the Vietnam War, he met George Tuner, a man in his 40s who taught him how to fight by attacking and without compassion — later these teachings would become part of the Cobra Kai style.
There are many characters in the series that demonstrate how much adult people, by becoming a figure of admiration, can influence the development of teenagers.
Miyagi taught Daniel the importance of not attacking and only fighting to defend himself when necessary, while Kreese taught Johnny that a winner is the one who attacks first.
What would Johnny’s story have been like if Kreese had taught him another stance in karate and in life? What would Kreese’s life have been like if he hadn’t gone to Vietnam and met his sensei?
Although it is a fictional series, Cobra Kai can help us think about the impacts of adults on the lives of teenagers.
*Dojo is a place where Japanese martial arts are trained.