The Karate Kid

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This makes so much more sense compared to waxing cars.
"Wax on, wax off!"
Mr. Miyagi

A series of five films beginning in 1984. Following a similar pattern to the first Rocky movie (and featuring the same director) it focused on a student-master relationship between Daniel Larusso and Mr. Miyagi, whose name came to be slang for a type of Retired Badass. The first three films starred Ralph Macchio as Daniel and Pat Morita as Miyagi. Hilary Swank played a new "Karate Kid" in the fourth movie.

The Karate Kid: (1984) The first film introduced Daniel Larusso, a teenager whose father had passed away (although the viewers wouldn't learn this until the second movie) and he just moved with his Mom from New Jersey to Reseda, California. Daniel has a little bit of a temper, but is overall a good kid. He doesn't fare well making new friends, upon trying to get close to a girl he likes, Ali, he gets into a fight with her ex-boyfriend Johnny. Johnny happens to be the prize student of the Cobra-Kai Karate Dojo, whose sensei John Kreese encourages such behavior. After they fight, which ends with Daniel losing badly, Johnny leads his gang into tormenting Daniel whenever possible.

It finally leads into a serious fight with the gang chasing Daniel down and beating him up just outside his apartment complex. Coming to his rescue is the elderly Asian handyman, Mr. Miyagi. Despite his age, Miyagi protects Daniel and defeats the Cobra-Kai gang with ease. Upon seeing Miyagi's skill, Daniel requests to be trained. After seeing that appealing to Kreese won't work, Miyagi agrees to train him but arranges a deal that the Cobra-Kai will stop bothering Daniel if he enters an upcoming tournament.

Daniel is hesitant about the tournament, but willing to learn karate at the least to defend himself. The first few days Miyagi had Daniel do several chores: paint the fence, sand the decks and wax the car. Daniel endures it patiently, but eventually blows up at Miyagi for using him as a slave instead as a student. Miyagi then demonstrates what Wax On, Wax Off really means. Daniel is stunned, then begins to understand that Miyagi wasn't trying to teach him how to fight, but how to apply martial arts to his life.[1]

The first movie is the most loved of the film series, and Pat Morita earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Mr. Miyagi. The Nostalgia Filter helps a lot, as the film is not ashamed to be set in the 80's. Though given that it was also filmed in the 80s, this probably explains why. The main theme of this film is balance and self-respect, that martial arts should be used in discipline and not for aggression.

The Karate Kid, Part Two: (1986) Six months after the first film, Daniel has broken up with Ali and is being set up to move in with Mr. Miyagi as his mom moves up north. Miyagi receives a notice that his father is gravelly ill and he decides to return to his home village in Okinawa. Daniel wants to support his friend and father-figure and goes with him, also hoping to learn more about Miyagi's history.

At the village many things have changed, and Daniel learns of an old feud between Miyagi and his old friend Sato that has not passed with time. (Miyagi left Okinawa so he would not have to fight to the death) Daniel also begins a troublesome relationship with Sato's nephew Chozen, who is even more aggressive. Miyagi's father dies but that did not subside Sato's anger. Along the way, Daniel also begins a new romance with a local girl, Kumiko.

The second movie was a well respected sequel, much of it having to do with the change of scenery and culture. A major theme of this film is about mercy and pacifism. Daniel learns about what 'life or death' combat is about and also trades blows with Chozen progressively throughout the film.

The Karate Kid, Part Three: (1989) One year since the first film, John Kreese is running into financial trouble after his humiliation in the first film and the beginning of the second. He orchestrates a plan with an old war buddy of his to bring the Cobra-Kai Dojo back by targeting both Daniel and Mr. Miyagi. They blackmail Daniel into returning to the same tournament so he could be humiliated by a new unstoppable student.

The third film was felt by many to be a severe case of Sequelitis, as the themes of fighting for self-respect and for your life in the previous films were dropped for a more standard underdog story and villain's plot. Also, Daniel doesn't seem to get any better, even after his "fight to the death" from the previous movie; he is just as inexperienced as in the first film.

The Next Karate Kid: (1994) Five years after the last movie, Mr. Miyagi and Daniel have parted ways and the venerable old man found a new student to help, Julie Pierce. She is struggling with a para-military group that almost runs her high school, with the leader Dugan (played by Michael Ironside) just as ruthless as Kreese from the earlier films. This time he takes her to a local monastery to learn about peace of mind.

This film was poorly received and made even less than the last film, which essentially killed the franchise.[2]

The movies also inspired a somewhat forgettable Animated Series involving Daniel and Mr. Miyagi traveling the world in pursuit of a magical healing shrine.

The Karate Kid: A Continuity Reboot set in Beijing, China was released in June 2010, starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. It has kung fu instead of karate.


The Karate Kid is the Trope Namer for:

The original film series has examples of:
  • All Guys Want Cheerleaders: Ali.
  • Apologetic Attacker: Bobby begs Daniel's forgiveness after kicking his knee.
  • Arrogant Kung Fu Guy: Kreese in the first; Silver in the third. Gets more literal in the latest film where he actually uses kung fu.
  • Artistic License Martial Arts:
    • The actual crane kick is an almost physically impossible move that few people alive can successfully perform. (It's a twirling kick in which you jump, kick, and land all on the same leg.) As no one working on the film could do it--even the martial arts expert who helped choreograph the fight scenes--they just had Ralph Maccio do a weird, inexplicable flamingo pose into a more standard sort of front kick. (Why couldn't they have used a special effect?) No bother, because in Real Life there is actually no move in any martial art for which there is no defense when it is performed well. (See below.)
      • They couldn't have used a special effect because it was 1984 and the days of whipping up realistic CG models of people that could perform feats real actors couldn't and integrating them even semi-believably with actual footage were at least twenty years in the future.
    • In a real martial arts tournament, someone with a fractured leg would not be allowed to continue even if they insisted -- the risk of becoming permanently disabled (not to mention a lawsuit) is too high. Also, Johnny's behavior (and his fellow students' taunts) in the final fight makes it blatantly obvious that his teacher is instructing them to deliberately injure other participants. In Real Life the referee would stop the fight and not only disqualify Johnny, but probably have the entire dojo permanently barred from future competitions.
  • Asian Gal with White Guy: Daniel and Kumiko, though when the other option is Chozen...
  • Asskicking Pose: The Crane Technique.
  • Awesome but Impractical: The crane stance, which in Real Life could be defeated with a good shove to the chest.
    • In the sequel, Chozen allows him to follow through, but simply catches his foot and gives him an elbow to the back (a move reminiscent of Johnny's elbow to Daniel's knee in the first movie).
      • Though it's notable that during his fight in the second movie, Daniel's wearing jeans which makes the kick noticeably slower and gives Chozen a lot more time to react than Johnny had.
  • Awesomeness By Analysis: After time, Daniel was able to point out the flaws in others techniques and able to improve upon them.
  • Badass Pacifist: Mr. Miyagi hates fighting, but is VERY competent when the situation calls for it.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Mr. Miyagi is calm and peaceful, but that doesn't mean he's lacking in fighting skill.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Mr. Miyagi gets to do this at least Once per Movie.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Ali, Kumiko, and Jessica, respectively. Daniel obviously isn't picky when it comes to hair color.
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: Lampshaded in the director's commentary:

"How come they're all blond?"

    • Probably to contrast dark haired Daniel.
    • Also to show how conformist they are (some probably dye) and to emphasize their Californian-ness.
  • Breakout Villain: John Kreese appeared in only three scenes in the original film but was so memorably over-the-top that he was present in the next two sequels.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The poster of Sato breaking a log. Miyagi breaks a log of similar size (that Sato was seen trying unsuccessfully to break over and over again) in one blow to save Sato from being pinned under it during the hurricane.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Used as a finishing move for each of the films, standing on one leg, using a child's drum, doing katas and the praying mantis jump kick.
    • The second film opens with Miyagi teaching Daniel about a breathing technique to focus the mind and body to pound in nails in one hit. Mid-way through the movie Daniel is challenged to break the sheets of ice and Miyagi reminds him of the technique.
    • So Last Season: The reason why he needs the drum technique is illustrated when Chozen easily defeats the Crane.
    • In the third film, Daniel must rappel down a cliff to retrieve a valuable bonsai tree. Good thing his new girlfriend's hobby is mountain climbing.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Kreese's philosophy reads like this on paper; in actual effect, it's... rather different. He's effectively teaching the kids to be thugs.
  • Continuity Nod: Miyagi makes several passing references to "Daniel-san" in The Next Karate Kid, to the point of muttering that it was rather "easier to live with boys" when he inadvertently takes a peek of Julie in her underwear when he walks into her room.
  • Cool Car: Miyagi has several.
  • Cool Old Guy: Take a guess...
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Hi again, Terry from part III! Oh, and bonus: his company is called Dyna-Tox Industries. Yes, really. Their PR team must cry themselves to sleep every night!
  • Crowning Music of Awesome: Joe Esposito's "You're The Best" in the first movie, and Peter Cetera's "Glory of Love" in the second.
  • Curb Stomp Battle: Pretty much every time Mr. Miyagi gets his hands dirty.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Miyagi in the first film especially.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Most kids who bully Daniel quickly move to attempted murder once he tries to defend himself. Inverted in part 3, where Barnes starts entirely too much shit throughout the movie, but gets off with nothing more than a loss by a single point. Terry and Kreese get no comeuppance at all.
  • Fight Magnet: For a guy who doesn't want to fight, Mr. Miyagi beats up a lot of people.
  • Finish Him!: Kreese's instructions to the Cobra Kai.
  • Five-Bad Band: The five Cobra Kai who play major roles in the first movie and the beginning of the second. Kreese is the Big Bad, Johnny is The Dragon, Tommy is a smartass version of the Evil Genius, Dutch is The Brute, and Bobby, the non-conformist and least vicious in the group, is the Dark Chick.
  • For the Evulz: It may not be why Terry first harasses Daniel, but it's certainly why he enjoys it.
    • The whole series features some of the most nonsensical villains you'll ever see. Good luck coming up with any motivation by the time you get to Dugan from Next.
  • The Freelance Shame Squad: A ballroom filled with refined, upper-crust partygoers all stop dancing and put down their canapes just to laugh at Daniel-San after he bumps into a waiter and gets bolognese sauce all over his outfit. They're probably mocking the poor waiter too, but it doesn't come across as strongly.
  • Game-Breaking Injury: "Sweep the leg."
    • And in the reboot: "I don't want him beaten; I want him broken" and "Break his leg."
  • Gang of Bullies: The Cobras.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Johnny rolling a joint in the bathroom.
  • Graceful Loser: Johnny, after Daniel wins the tournament. Kreese... Not so much.
  • Groin Attack: Mr. Miyagi, believe it or not. It was a five on one battle...that soon became a four on one.
    • Daniel delivers one to Chozen at the sock hop dance.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: To get to the level of competition that the Cobra Kai students are at requires years of training and physical conditioning. Daniel goes through a Training Montage of a few weeks and easily beats them.
  • Healing Hands: Mr. Miyagi knows a few Pressure Point techniques. Mr. Han in the reboot uses similar techniques.
  • Heel Face Turn: Sato.
  • I Have No Son: Sato to Chozen after Chozen refuses to help Daniel rescue a girl in the hurricane. "Now, to you, I am dead."
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Daniel and Mr. Miyagi
  • Japanese Honorifics: Miyagi always appends -san to Daniel's name. A minor case of Did Not Do the Research, as -kun would be more appropriate to their relationship.
  • Jerkass: The Cobra Kai.
  • Kids Are Cruel: In the first film, besides Daniel being bullied by the Cobras, some of the kids ridicule him after being beaten up by Johnny.
    • Ali's girlfriends rather inexplicably despise Daniel from the get-go.
    • The remake is even worse with this.
  • Kung Fu Kid
  • Literal-Minded

Daniel: (upon being instructed on Wax On, Wax Off) Where did all these cars come from?
Miyagi: Detroit.

  • Magical Asian: Mr. Miyagi.
  • Martial Medic: Mr. Miyagi.
  • Martial Pacifist: Miyagi.
  • Motive Decay: Terry in Part III does what he does out of friendship and loyalty to his friend, John. The opening scenes of the movie really do a good job of driving this home. And yet, he's the one who comes up with the idea of completely destroying Danny and Miyagi, and his motivation ends up devolving completely into this.
  • MST: The commentary for the DVD collection invokes this, with the writer, the director, and even Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita themselves snarking over the film.
  • Neutral Female: Kumiko attempts to subvert it by trying to pull Chozen away from Daniel during their last fight. It doesn't work, but the effort is appreciated.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Daniel's initial fight with Johnny, and even more the Cobra Kai gang-beating he receives in the school dance scene.
  • Not My Driver: In the second movie, a car is waiting for Mr. Miyagi and Daniel when they arrive in Okinawa. When Miyagi asks the driver why they're heading away from the village where he wants to go, the driver and his friend reply "Some things have changed since you were last here, Miyagi-san..." "...and some things have not, eh?" Mr. Miyagi and Daniel soon learn what this means when they reach their real destination: a warehouse where Mr. Sato and his nephew Chozen confront them.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Mr. Miyagi only appears ignorant and senile.
  • Obviously Evil: Terry in the third movie. They have multiple scenes entirely dedicated to piling on gratuitous For the Evulz moments for the guy. He's an obnoxious rich guy who dumps toxic waste wherever he can get away with it, bribes judges, makes sure to hire, not the best karate champion but specifically "Karate's Bad Boy" and is in touch with local "bad boys" to hook him up with his mooks. Oh, and he wants to destroy the lives of a kid and an elderly man because they inadvertently humiliated his friend Kreese when Kreese tried to destroy their lives.
  • Old Master: Miyagi.
  • The Only Way They Will Learn: Daniel's being made to perform menial tasks for Mr. Miyagi to build the strength and muscle memory necessary for effective blocks. For Julie, he sets up his teaching of the waltz as a typical karate instruction.
  • Opposed Mentors: The second Karate Kid movie has the main character pick up an Evil Mentor after an argument with Miyagi.
  • Ordered to Cheat: "Sweep the Leg" is the former Trope Namers (though the "out of commission" order fits much better).
  • Parental Substitute: Miyagi and Daniel form a very close father/son dynamic throughout the films.
  • Police Are Useless: Part of the plot of the third movie.
  • Retired Badass: Mr. Miyagi, who'd earned medals in World War II, including the Medal of Honor.
    • Some Truth in Television and Fridge Brilliance there, given Miyagi is apparently a Japanese national. Those Japanese who signed up to fight with the US armed forces during World War II were put together in one unit. That unit earned more medals and Medals of Honor per head than any other in any branch of service.
      • Even more of both in a sad way, as Miyagi's pregnant wife was taken to a Japanese interment camp and died there in childbirth, as did the son she gave birth to. Miyagi's drunken re-reading of the telegram informing him of this leads to a small Heroic BSOD in the first movie.
  • Running Gag: Reminding people that it's pronounced Mi-ya-gi, not Mi-ya-ji.
  • Second Place Is for Losers: Kreese destroys Johnny's trophy, prompting Miyagi to give him a little lesson.
  • The So-Called Coward: The main plot of Part 2 when Sato, who dismissed Miyagi as a coward for years, finally sees him and Daniel in action during a typhoon and realizes to his astonishment at how powerful and fearless they really are when necessary. As a result, he insists on helping them and makes amends the next morning.
  • So Last Season: The Crane Technique to the Drum Technique.
  • Taught By Experience: Miyagi was formally trained by his father, but had little knowledge on how tournaments work. He didn't even know much about the belt system.

Daniel: I thought you said you've been in plenty of fights?
Miyagi: Hai, for life, not for points.

  • Took a Level in Badass: Daniel.
  • Training Montage: "You're the Best (Around)" (not by Survivor, of "Eye of the Tiger" fame, but by Joe "Bean" Esposito) played during the tournament montage. Not exactly a training montage, but Daniel learned how good he had gotten from Miyagi's training. It makes sense, given that the first three movies were directed by John G. Avildsen, who also directed Rocky.
    • Not to mention that, while performed by Esposito, the song is written by Bill Conti, who composed "Gonna Fly Now" for Rocky.
  • Trickster Mentor: Mr. Miyagi.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Bobby who was always the most laid back of the Cobra Kais has a minor one after Kreese forces him to injure Daniel's knee and practically breaks down in tears apologizing.
  • Wax On, Wax Off: Trope Namer (also inverted in the third movie when Mr. Miyagi teaches Jessica a new "kata": the waltz).
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Er, where did that Freddy kid go in the first film? He seemed set up to become a good friend of Daniel's but he just...disappeared.
    • His other friends peer pressure him into ditching Daniel in the football practice scene after the beach fight. He can however briefly be seen watching the tournament right at the end and is presumably part of the crowd that lifts Daniel onto their shoulders after he wins.
  • When You Snatch the Pebble: Subverted. Daniel can catch a fly with chopsticks on his first go, even Miyagi can't. Beginner's Luck.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: At the beginning of Part II, Miyagi spared Kreese's life after squashing him in an act of self-defense.

Daniel: You could have killed him, couldn't you?
Mr. Miyagi: Hai.
Daniel: Well, why didn't you?
Mr. Miyagi: Because Daniel, for man with no forgiveness in heart, life worse punishment than death.

  • The Worf Effect: Daniel suffers this in both the sequels.
  • World of Cardboard Speech: Daniel's plea to Miyagi to perform the pressure point healing technique on his leg, letting his master know that he fully understands the meaning of balance.
  • World War II: Miyagi served in one of the US Army's nisei regiments in Europe during WWII, and received the Distinguished Service Cross. On the other side of the coin, his wife and son died in childbirth in one of the internment camps.
  • Yamato Nadeshiko: Yukie and her niece Kumiko.
  • You No Take Candle: Mr. Miyagi's stereotyped broken English.
    • Possibly inverted by the fight announcer from the first film, who somehow got a job MCing a karate tournament without knowing how Japanese syllables are pronounced ("Me-yah-jee-doh Karate").

  1. And get some needed housework done as payment for training Daniel.
  2. Though it did get a shout-out when Hilary Swank won the first of her several Oscars.