Do you remember the scene? Scrawny Daniel LaRusso, improbably, is kicking ass. He’s leveraging his three months’ karate training to fight toe to toe with Johnny Lawrence, an athletic kid with years of karate trophies lining his bookcase. Daniel, injured because Johnny cheated (sweep the knee/yes, sensei), balances on one leg, his good leg, arms raised into wings like some great prehistoric bird.
We know what’s coming. Daniel has, for no reason whatsoever, perfected this move earlier in the movie when he should have been working on basics. Johnny lunges, Daniel jumps, kicks and lands, all on one foot. Johnny crashes to the mat. Daniel wins the all-valley karate championship, and steals our hearts in the1984 movie the Karate Kid. I’ve seen this ridiculous scene countless times. Most recently at the start of the first episode of Cobra Kai, my latest non-binge.
Let me explain.
Three years ago, I bought my family a cheap spin bike as a Christmas gift. Our annual bicycling cycle went like this: In April, when it warmed up enough to ride outside, we all went out in groups or alone to loop around the Gettysburg Battlefield. The long loop is a hilly fifteen miles. The abbreviated loop is just under ten. Various lightly traveled roads spoke out in every direction, so without any thought at all, each of us can leave home for as long or short a ride as we want. We all ride hard through October, and on those few nice days in November, and then we spend the next four months losing any of the fitness we gained all year. The spin bike, I thought, would fix all this.
I’m the only one who still uses it regularly. And I only ride it in the winter. The rest of the year it sits idle next to the weight bench in the living room that gets a surprising amount of year-round action. That first year, when the spin bike got constant use from all family members, I “binged” The Walking Dead as I rode. And by binge I mean I watched about four episodes a week.
Last year, it was Cheer. “Hang on,” you say, “Cheer only has six episodes.” Yes, the weather last year was beautiful—the forties or higher all winter. I doubt I rode the spin bike more than eight times all year. The rest of my exercising was outdoors. I watched the last half of the last episode of Cheer in September after Jerry was arrested for creating child pornography. I just wanted to get it done. This year I’m watching Cobra Kai.
It isn’t just the cold that keeps me exercising inside. It’s the darkness, too. I have appropriate clothes for riding down into the twenties. I have bike lights too. But there’s something depressing and lonely about riding a dark, deserted road in subfreezing temperatures. I’d rather ride inside my warm, brightly lit house, my wife and kids close by, watching Cobra Kai.
I’m not too far into the series. I started the year with the X-Files, but I found it slow moving and dull. Maybe fine to watch on TV with a beer and chips, but to distract yourself from pain? No way.
Cobra Kai picks up the story of Johnny and Daniel thirty-six years later. Well, I think it’s thirty-six years later, that’s how much time has elapsed from the original movie release. But those two guys, the original actors, both my age, look great. More like forty than fifty-five—plastic surgery? Plus, both characters have kids in high school. I know things are different in urban environments, but where I live, when you’re in your fifties, the kids in school are most likely your grandkids.
Eli suggested this show to me. He knows that I’ve watched all the Karate Kid movies—including the Next Karate Kid, starring Hillary Swank, just last month—so after three episodes, once I formed an opinion, I returned to Eli with feedback. “Man, every character in that show is an asshole!” I didn’t really say that, he’s my kid. I think I called them jerks. But in my mind, I said asshole. Johnny, a blue-collar worker who wakes up in the morning and drinks the stale beer from his nightstand, who abandoned his family when his son was young, who still drives his Pontiac Firebird from high school, who makes racist comments as often as I call my cats, is portrayed as the ‘bad’ character. But in my mind Daniel is worse.
He’s smug, he’s whiney, he’s a doormat to his spoiled children. And worst of all, he’s condescending to Johnny. Plus, his daughter and her friends are terrible people. In one of the opening scenes, she participates in a hit and run car accident. Her boyfriends bully small, geeky kids for no reason, just like Johnny and his thugs did to Daniel in the first Karate Kid. Daniel has grown up, grown a successful business into a local empire, and raised his daughter to be part of the crowd that beat the hell out of him when he was a teen.
Early in Daniel’s karate training, his sensei, Mr. Miyagi, tells Daniel to wax a lot full of old rusty cars. Wax on, outward circles with his right hand; wax off, outward circles with his left hand. Breathe in, wax on; breathe out, wax off. The repetition of the chore teaches Daniel perseverance. The repetition of the hand movements establishes the basis for Daniel’s karate training. We watch Daniel grow as an athlete and a person.
I’m not sure I can watch Cobra Kai. It lacks any of the sweetness of the original Karate Kid. There are no wax on/wax off moments in this series. Daniel’s daughter wouldn’t even wipe off the counter, that’s for the maid to do. There’s no getting to know people from other cultures. There’s no good versus evil, everyone’s evil. When I told Eli I think everyone in the show is a jerk, he said “I know. That’s why I stopped watching it.”