Back in 1983, before beginning production on The Karate Kid, the movie’s two young leads, Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, entered a five-week karate bootcamp with Tang Soo Do master black-belt Pat E. Johnson. Because their respective characters, Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence, were students of different masters in the film, they trained separately with Johnson, learning slightly different styles.
“Pat pushed me hard every single day to build up my skills,” Zabka told Men’s Journal during a Tribeca Film Festival event for the new YouTube Red reboot, Cobra Kai.
The series imagines a world where the former adversaries face off once again when Lawrence is inspired to open a Cobra Kai dojo 34 years after their All Valley High showdown.
Both guys brushed up on their martial arts skills before shooting this iteration, but Zabka admits since they are now adults with families, it was not nearly as intense as their training for the original. “I remember there were days I would go home so sore,” he says, “but when I came back the next morning, I was surprised at how much further I could get my strikes.”
Macchio also says that having Johnson as a resource was invaluable to his performance and that of his scene partner, Pat Morita, who portrayed his sensei, Mr. Miyagi. “I was a young man when we started that process, and I had that ability to bounce back after each hit I took,” says Macchio. “We were devoted to it.”
But little did young Macchio know how useful his ability to bounce back would be. The pair spent hours blocking out each of the fights with Johnson, with special attention paid to where the camera would be. The final fight at the All Valley Tournament, where LaRusso dominates Lawrence with a well-placed crane kick, was mapped out for days. There was one scene in particular, though—the scramble that took place after a Halloween dance—that could probably have used a little more preparation, and resulted in Macchio taking an actual roundhouse to the face.
Below, Zabka and Macchio gave us a quick (and hilarious) breakdown of that moment:
Macchio: Basically, I got kicked in the face.
Zabka: Maybe I should tell the story. I mean, you were only half conscious for it. There was a very good reason.
Macchio: Go ahead. How do you think it happened? I don’t know if I have heard this explanation yet.
Zabka: I can explain: In the scene, I am supposed to be hitting Ralph with a front roundhouse kick. I had it pretty dialed in, so I was keeping a good amount of distance from his face in the rehearsals. They decided to move the camera at some point, so the blocking was a little different, but I didn’t adjust my planted foot. I didn’t realize until too late, and coming through the kick, it didn’t stop until it connected.
Macchio: We can laugh about it now, but the day of it was a pretty serious deal. Luckily, it landed on my jaw, and not my nose or the teeth, because I could have broken something. That would have probably shut down production. In this case, it only meant I had to put some makeup on, and eat all of my food through a straw for a bit.
Cobra Kai is now available to stream on YouTube Red.
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