Here are the Major Lessons Cobra Kai Taught Me…
This is your Cobra Kai SPOILER WARNING.
Karate Kid has inspired underdogs since the 1980s. I was one. Daniel LaRusso and Mister Miyagi were two pals I knew I could turn to. They inspired me to get back into martial arts when I had quit too young, and they taught me to fight back against my bullies¹. When Cobra Kai came out, I hoped I’d be able to turn back to my favorite film Universe and revive the lessons of my youth. Turns out-
I have never been more right!
Your script isn’t the only one- other people have lives and stories, too.
Cobra Kai hits in new places because they don’t just retell the same stories. Johnny Lawrence gets his time in the spotlight, too. This isn’t a tale of good versus evil anymore, and sometimes Daniel’s in the wrong! Johnny has his own flaws, sure, but he’s also got his own side to the story. The best thing to do is take a step back and see things from all angles.
Confidence is power. Compassion is victory.
Cobra Kai Karate teaches confidence that transforms character’s lives. I’ve seen it happen time and time again in the real martial arts world, so the show nails it… apart from the fancy fighting and high school brawls. Hawk’s transformation is an example of the show’s true-to-heart nature: a kid bullied for his deformity who learns to kick-ass for himself but turns into a confidence-machine.
You see it with Miguel and Aisha, too. The confidence helps them win fights and “get the girl”² but they also lose friends and turn on the people that helped them along the way. There is power in confidence, but never victory.
What works instead is compassion. You’d think that it’s the Miyagi-Do specialty, but Daniel fails in imparting that wisdom on everyone, leading to some pretty dramatic actions by Robbie in the season 2 finale.
However, time and time again we see characters winning moments because of their compassion. Prime example: Miguel stops Johnny from drowning in his mistakes. There is an obvious victory in learning to love someone and giving them a chance. With Cobra Kai’s final mantra as: “Defeat does not exist in this dojo… does it!”³ I wouldn’t be surprised if their newest technique was a hug.
Karate is not an end, it’s a means to an end.
The characters of Cobra Kai let themselves get lost in the world of Karate. Daniel nearly loses his dealership and his marriage, Miguel breaks his neck, and many of the characters on both sides do things they aren’t proud of. The issue is that Karate and martial arts should never be the ends in themselves. Those techniques and hours of training should be a means to an end, teaching you to enjoy life and be a better person for those you love.
Obsessing over winning and becoming powerful in the ways of the fist only distracts you from the things that matter. Take the lesson from Mister Miyagi all those years ago. “No need fight, anymore.” It’s true. Take the lessons of Karate and become the best person in your everyday life. The martial arts are a fun way to get exercises and will make you a badass, as long as you don’t get distracted from the life you lead.
Change is possible.
With characters like Kreese in the picture, change seems like something only the main character does. Only Daniel changes in the original films, leading to static characters among the rest. In Cobra Kai, every character transforms in their own way. Down-on-his-luck Johnny, shy Eli, and troublesome Robby are just a few examples and they have big evolutions in the story⁴. We are not stuck in the roles we previously had. Johnny has done bad things, but he isn’t a bad person. The same goes for Robby. It’s the classic trope that Mister Miyagi uses to transform Daniel… and the color of his fence. With enough time and patience, change isn’t just possible; it’s inevitable!
 Except I only fought them in my imagination. But it was super cool! I promise.
 Put in quotes, because so-far it’s only been Hawk and Miguel “getting the girl”. No heteronormative thought here!
 NO SENSEI!
 And not just Eli getting a mohawk.