The True Story That Inspired The Karate Kid

The Karate Kid may be one of the best Hollywood martial arts films ever made. It’s even more special since it was based on true events.

While The Karate Kid franchise was properly revived with Netflix’s Cobra Kai series, which recently received a trailer for Season 5, fans can’t forget the compelling appeal of the original films. Ralph Macchio had just come off the hype of The Outsidersopposite huge stars in the film industry — like Dirty Dancing‘s Patrick Swayze and a young Rob Lowe — when he took on the lead role of Daniel LaRusso in the 1984 film The Karate Kid,

The first film eventually earned the title as one of the greatest sports movies of all time, which only made sense, as the director behind Rocky (John G. Avildsen) also directed The Karate Kid movies. The Karate Kid followed the martial arts adventures of LaRusso and his mentor, Mr. Miyagi, and the rivals they met along the way. While the iconic crane kick may have been illegal in real-life, some plot points were based on true events.

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The Karate Kid began with 17-year-old Daniel’s move from New Jersey to the unfamiliar territory of Los Angeles, California. Daniel immediately made an enemy with Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), a black belt at the Cobra Kai karate dojo, after Daniel befriended his ex-girlfriend, Ali. The Cobra Kai thugs beat up Daniel, and this inspired him to learn karate from his apartment’s handyman — Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). Although, Mr. Miyagi wasn’t initially keen on the idea and instructed Daniel to complete several tedious tasks as hidden training exercises.


After only a few months of training, Daniel competed at the All-Valley Karate Tournament and was up against his high school bully, Johnny. John Kreese (Martin Kove) was Cobra Kai’s ruthless sensei who also served in the Vietnam War. He encouraged Johnny to sweep the leg during the match. However, an injured Daniel delivered a brutal crane kick to Johnny’s face — securing his victory.

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Robert Mark Kamen is best recognized as the talented creator of The Karate Kid franchise. While some of the first film’s plot was based on a newspaper article producer Jerry Weintraub saw about a kid from San Fernando Valley who learned karate to fight off his bullies, large portions of the story were based on Kamen’s own life experiences. Kamen was only 17 years old when he was beaten up by a group of bullies at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.


He decided to take up karate but was unsatisfied with the vengeful teachings of his first instructor. Kamen consequently became a student of an Okinawan sensei named Meitoku Yagi — who actually studied under Chōjun Miyagi. Furthermore, Kreese was a combination of two people Kamen met: a Marine-Veteran sensei and a cruel sensei who ordered his students to injure each other. In addition to providing some of the real-life inspiration behind The Karate KidKamen also suggested changing the original title of The Karate Kid Project to just The Karate Kid, What started as a teenage brawl turned into one of the best martial arts franchises today.


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