There is an incident where Johnny pushed Daniel off a cliff even when Daniel didn’t instigate anything. While explaining the version of events from his point of view to his student Miguel Diaz, Johnny hid a lot of the facts behind and this greatly affected young Miguel’s mind and opinion about the Larruso family (Miguel was dating Daniel’s daughter that time so the lies played a pivotal part in hampering the two’s relationship) so this is no less than brainwashing a teenager’s mind – which, sadly, also does not get mentioned often by the die-hard fans of this show.
Larusso often got bullied and at times, badly beaten up even. When the boy tried to fight back, he discovered that his tormentors knew martial arts. Prominent among his bullies was the chief of the gang, named Johnny Lawrence. The principle issue of the conflict between Larusso and Lawrence was over a high school girl called Ali Mills. The story of Cobra Kai television series was a sequel to this continuation of rivalry between Daniel and Johnny 30 years later.
Now take a deep breath and open your eyes. Like seriously?! Two grown adults engaging in rivalries over issues 30 years ago!! Now don’t be shocked but yes, old wounds fester hard. The issues between Daniel and Johnny weren’t solved the way it should have been. When the two teens tried to settle everything in the 1984 All Valley Under-18 Karate Tournament, it was Larusso who came out as the victor in the end, becoming the most prominent underdog winner ever in the history of fictional sports.
What helped Daniel prior to the tournament was Sensei Myagi’s wise teachings, that “karate is for defence only” and “life like Karate should have a balance to it”. On the other hand, Johnny Lawrence’s young mind was corrupted by the vicious teachings of his cruel martial arts instructor, Sensei John Kreese. Kreese’s single philosophy of “Strike first, strike hard, no mercy” twisted the actual teachings of what karate really represents.
However, the showrunners of Cobra Kai tried to take a different approach in telling the present day ongoing stories of Daniel and Johnny. The first of them is telling the story from Johnny Lawrence’s point of view instead of Daniel’s. Earlier in the 80s, Lawrence was the typical high school bully who victimised others but now we are seeing a different side of him. The writers gave us a glimpse of his childhood and the reasons why he ended up into what he became. Worse for Johnny, his past rival Daniel is now a successful car owner, running an entire dealership company of his own (named ‘Larusso Auto Group’) while Johnny himself has become a mere drunkard who wastes his life drinking and doing petty small jobs to make a living. This increases Johnny’s resentment towards Daniel even more and in his mind, Daniel is the reason Johnny’s life went downhill ever since the tournament. Johnny is completely incapable of seeing that Daniel reached where he is because of his hard work. Instead of blaming himself, he likes to blame others for his failures. His initial re-opening of Cobra Kai was also done to spite Daniel and not to help students learn karate.
And adult Daniel, after seeing Cobra Kai reinstated, began having PTSD issues of how he was harassed and treated poorly by Cobra Kai gangs in his early teens, which goes on to show adult Daniel still has resentment towards his former enemy dojo Daniel, being a successful, influential rich man now, did everything in his power to shut down Cobra Kai at the very beginning of the show. All of this re-escalated the rivalry between them. So in a way, the writers are also trying to show Daniel has his flaws too.
One of the main themes of Cobra Kai is balance. Balance is a crucial aspect of life which many of us fail to maintain. As the series progresses, both Daniel and Johnny discover that in order to be a better men and lead a better life, it is imperative to have balance. A change in circle, a shift in pattern, an alteration in way of life – the sole purpose only in order to find a change for the greater good. But finding balance itself can be difficult because it means to let go of some of your old traits and develop new ones. Not to mention the fact that ego often gets in the way. Johnny Lawrence is a classic example of this. Despite the fact that he was a great bully during the 80s, the adult version of him doesn’t seem to show any regret for his past wrongdoings. He thinks that Daniel is the reason for the downslide in his later life but the sheer hypocrisy behind this often does not get mentioned by the Cobra Kai fandom, that Johnny made Daniel’s teenage life a complete mess initially by beating him up frequently.
To be fair, Daniel isn’t perfect either. He is certainly not a bully and in fact detests such qualities however, he too has a fair amount of flaws. Daniel – in his adult life – often jumps quickly to conclusions regarding people, especially those who have tormented him in the past like Johnny and members of Cobra Kai. Considering that he was treated very harshly by Cobra Kai, this hatred is certainly understandable. In real life as well, past grievances persist in people’s minds for long and many people don’t forgive easily. However, forgiveness is a trait which can help to make you find inner peace and balance. More importantly, forgiveness is a living proof that you have a heart deep inside.
Interestingly, it was Mr. Myagi who once said to Daniel, “For person with no forgiveness in heart, living worse punishment than death.” One would have thought that Daniel – being the student of Myagi – ought to show forgiveness too but ironically, we often see the opposite happening. Adult Daniel finds it hard to forgive his past bullies and accept the fact that people can change with time if showed the right direction, that all of us possess light and darkness in our hearts and sometimes the light can overcome the dark.
Daniel tries to teach his students the same principle but seems to forget it himself. In Season 1, there are moments when Daniel tries to get Cobra Kai shut down for good, thinking that reinstating the infamous dojo could lead teenagers astray and to their resorting to violence. Now in Daniel’s defence, his views on Cobra Kai indeed turned out to be true as we see several teenagers who trained there being aggressive bullies. He was concerned for the children of his society and acted in a manner that he thought was right. However, Johnny was trying to change Cobra Kai into a better martial arts coaching center, a different sort from what it used to be once.
Maintaining balance is like listening to a fine piece of music where the tune never seems to bore you out, but rather gives you vibes to listen to it more! If you constantly swallow what other people are telling you, the risks are you may get to lose your own personality and be prone to a slave like mentality
Daniel failed to see that and Johnny didn’t bother explaining it to him either. But as Season 1 was reaching its climax, we see Johnny again resort to his old ways of impulsive behaviour due to some misjudgment and telling his students to ‘show no mercy’ in the tournament. This certainly should disturb the viewers as the ‘strike first, strike hard, no mercy’ mantra reared up like a snake, although Lawrence does seem to realise his toxic method of teaching later on and genuinely expressed regret over it.
The showrunners are trying to maintain balance over Daniel and Johnny like a see-saw. Americans generally see this show as a ‘badass karate soap opera’ but the actual theme goes deeper than that. Cobra Kai is rehashing the message the original Karate Kid movies tried to give us but in a different approach. Perhaps that’s what makes it so creative and watchable. Although I prefer the original movies’ way of delivering this message, I still think the way Cobra Kai is handling things is pretty great. And this theme – balance – is a virtue all of us should strive to maintain, whether it be personal life or professional or whole life in overall.
Maintaining balance is like listening to a fine piece of music where the tune never seems to bore you out, but rather gives you vibes to listen to it more! If you constantly swallow what other people are telling you, the risks are you may get to lose your own personality and be prone to a slave-like mentality. So sometimes in life, striking fast and hard is necessary. On the other hand, if we constantly reject other people’s opinions, chances are we turn arrogant. Therefore, on these occasions in life, taking a defensive approach may turn out to be a better choice.
* Chowdhury Taoheed Al-Rabbi is a student of BUP.