Cobra Kai is essentially a Gen Z show born out of Gen X’s teenage iconography. A cultural successor and sequel to The Karate Kid (1984), this is one of the few running shows to embody good old-fashioned rivalry. This time, it isn’t just between Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence. But there’s just as much, if not more, karate and cockfighting. Like its predecessor, the Netflix series traipses through the overpowering hormones of 16-year-olds — from the endless supply of oxytocin’s love to testosterone-fuelled manliness and sometimes, violence. Almost every character alternates between cloy and clout.
For most of the series, karate is the root of the teens’ anarchic chaos; it masks their aggression and hostility with sophistication. This exact textuality helps Cobra Kai create entrancing fight scenes — everyone’s at the no-holds-barred mercy of their opponent’s fists, feet, and fury. Admiring this collection of skirmishes, here are five of my favourite fight sequences:
Miguel beats the high-school punks in the cafeteria
I’m not quite into the idea of violent retribution, but for a series that is mired in this belief, Miguel thrashing these bullies is the ultimate moment of catharsis. It’s the underdog-has-now-ascended sequence, much like LaRusso’s arc when he was a teen. As Miguel jerks the bullies into submission by slithering, wrenching, punching and wielding a food tray, Cobra Kai finally gets its ‘badass’ moment. Just like the bystanders, I, too, was rapt and high with adrenaline.
Miguel vs Robby in the All Valley Karate Tournament final
Combine Anakin Skywalker’s descent into the Dark Side in Revenge of the Sith with The Karate Kid’s climactic fight and this is what you get. Miguel, after learning karate to fend off bullies, harnesses his skills unsparingly. He takes advantage of Robby’s weak shoulder — by yanking and kicking it — burnishing the ‘No Mercy’ mantra of his Cobra Kai dojo. We see the implications of his dojo’s relentless masculinity here, too — “Don’t be a pussy.” His triumph is not as impressive. Neither is his fight persona.
Johnny’s fight with Kreese
Kreese, Johnny’s first sensei, is back from the dead, and as pugnacious and morally deficit as before — remember the time he tried to kill Johnny when he came second in a competition? This is a face-off between two old fogeys, one worse than the other. These Cobra Kai bigwigs have rusty moves, but their hulking bodies carry just as much rage as before. It is a trenchant fight sequence that takes you back to their grotesquely abusive relationship in the 80s.
The Cobra Kai and Miyagi-do confrontation at the mall
One of the first large-scale confrontations between the two dojos, this scene prompts ‘ooh’s’ and ‘aah’s’ immediately. It’s one of the few ideological rifts we see in the series as well. The cobras, who began studying karate for confidence and defence, are now potent monsters. And the Miyagi-dos represent what the cobras initially set out to achieve. It is brisk, rattling, and pumped.
The school-wide rumble
What started out as a dishy, Mean Girls-esque karate fight over a provocative love triangle later spirals into a school-wide face-off between every student of the two dojos. This ten-minute-long kickpunching mayhem — of kids elbowing each other on staircases, brutally ramming into lockers — is pathologically wild and loose. Not only does it reverse Miguel’s and Robby’s roles from the season one finale fight, but it also presents a subversive, full-length sequence of women karate-chopping each other. This is a dramatic and stylised culmination of all that we waited for in the first two seasons.