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The biggest scene in The Karate Kid: An oral history

To mark the 33th anniversary of the greatest film ever, The Karate Kid, jeffpearlman.com presents an oral history of one of the important scenes from modern cinema: The moment when etaniel LaRusso and Mr. Miyagi enter the Cobra Kai studio for the first time …

Daniel LaRusso: I was really scared. I mean, these guys were beating the snot out of me. Luckily, Mr. Miyagi agreed to help. I think it meant a lot to him, having a son-like figure to care for.

Mr. Miyagi: I hated him from the beginning.

Daniel LaRusso: He loved me so much.

Mr. Miyagi: No, really. I hated him. Typical 1980s brat American kid. Whiny, whiny, whiny. Everything was about him. Boo fucking hoo, they’re beating me up. In Tennessee we took care of our own problems. With lead pipes, sandpaper and hookers.

Daniel LaRusso: He’s from Japan.

Mr. Miyagi: That’s another thing. I’m from Franklin, Tennessee. I said it 500 times during shooting, during scenes, during rehearsal. My grandma is Chinese. My grandpa is Korean. I was born in Franklin. I don’t speak a word of Japanese. Or Chinese. I once ate at a Panda Express. That’s as close as it comes. Sometimes you lie to get a role. It is what it is.

Daniel LaRusso: So we entered the karate studio, and it was pretty intense.

John Kreese: It was weird. This old man and this kid with bad bruise makeup walk in. And we’re all in our pajamas, practicing an Incas dance routine from 1500 AD. I was coming off a tremendous Nutcracker production, and the ballet company wanted to follow with a real winner.

Daniel LaRusso: I saw the poster for the All Valley Karate Championships and knew we were in the right place.

John Kreese: That poster? Really? Jesus Christ, it was ironic. Ron [Kreese’s boyfriend] gave it to me for Chanukah. He knew how much I hated karate.

Ron: It cost $1 at the Stormville Flea Market. I just knew Johnnie had to have it.

Mr. Miyagi: You have to remember, just a few years earlier Chachi burned down my restaurant when he forgot to turn the stove off. So, really, dealing with another entitled punk wasn’t my idea of fun. Hell, I was still fighting the insurance company. Milwaukee laws are so convoluted when it comes to collecting. Anyhow, I just thought we’d go to the studio, some tough kid would kick Daniel’s ass and I could go back to waxing cars, painting fences and Glocking fools.

John Kreese: I swear to God—I thought it was all a big joke. So I played along. You know, “Yes, we’re all big, bad karate people! Look at us! Boo! Karate! Kick him high and really give him the ol’ one-two puncharoo!”

Melvin Reynolds: It was my fifth year in the company. John was like a father to me. Then, out of nowhere, he grabs hold and slams me to the ground. Then he’s like, “You lose concentration to fight and you’re dead meat!” What?

John Kreese: I really got into character. I felt my nipples go aflame with fever.

Mr. Miyagi: He was sort of over the top.

Daniel LaRusso: He was sort of over the top.

Johnny Lawrence: He was sort of over the top.

John Kreese: I nailed it. Ballet is like acting. You become the character. So I thought to myself, “OK, John. You’re no longer a dancer. You’re a big, bad karate dojo owner with a power punch and a score to settle and a tattoo! Now do it!”

Ron: He won’t like me saying this, but Johnnie is the biggest pussy I’ve ever seen. He once made me take him to the ER for a splinter. In his pinky.

John Kreese: I told him to give me 60 pushups on his knuckles. The script just called for 60 pushups, but “on your knuckles” seemed like a good flourish. I dunno—is that even possible?

Melvin Reynolds: I made $350 as an extra. I did one pushup.

Brown: I was pretty psyched when Sensei called on me to fight in the square.

Robinson: One black guy in the movie—and they name me “Robinson”? Seriously? Robinson? My real name is Herbert Martin Schwartz II. I’m classically trained. I play seven instruments and I hold multiple degrees from MIT and Harvard. I did this film as a lark when I saw an ad for “Kick-ass Karate Dude.” That sounded good. Then I show up and not only am I the one brother in the whole movie, but they name me “Robinson.” Fucking a.

Brown: I kicked his ass.

Robinson: Oh, that’s the other thing. Page 49 of the script literally reads, “COLORED KARATE GUY GETS BEATEN DOWN.” I saw that and was like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” In any other universe I’m the guy holding the trophy. But Hollywood is Hollywood. One token black guy and—of course—he gets his ass kicked. I was on set for two hours. They paid me $30. I’m still humiliated.

Johnny Lawrence: Sensei was giving another one of his speeches. God, they were so boring. Mercy and no mercy and weak and strong and overcoming the power of one with the power of … seriously, just shut up and let’s eat some cupcakes. Then, luckily LaRusso walked in. With those big brown eyes. I didn’t mean to stare. But, God, he’s so hunky.

John Kreese: I owned this whole scene. I yelled, “What is the problem, Mr. Lawrence?” Really sold it. But for weeks on set I knew Johnny had a thing for Daniel LaRusso.

Johnny Lawrence: I can’t lie. I did.

Mr. Miyagi: I saw my opening. Daniel wanted to leave, but I was like, “Wait. Just wait.”

Daniel LaRusso: He was trying to help me. Like a father helping a son.

Mr. Miyagi: There were 20 of them, only one Daniel. I figured if we stuck around they’d just beat his ass and I’d be free to go home.

Daniel LaRusso: I was terrified.

Johnny Lawrence: He’s so cute when he’s terrified.

John Kreese: I’ve never really liked this part of the movie. In 1984 I was about 6-foot-5. Remember, this was before the surgery. And Miyagi was 4-foot-3. The director said, “Get all up in his face and threatening!” but how do you do that to a little mashed potato doll. So I tried. It took about 20 takes, because I kept laughing.

Mr. Miyagi: First of all, I’m 4-foot-7. And a half. Second, Kreese was my bitch. Just ask him. We studied together at Juliard in the late 1960s. Probably played Connect Four 100 times. He never won.

John Kreese: OK. That’s true.

Daniel LaRusso: I was scared when we entered the studio. I was scared when Johnny started staring at me. I mean, look, I was just a kid of 43 and not all that tough. But as Kreese kept jabbering and jabbering, it finally hit me, “Wait. This isn’t a real karate studio.” For one thing, he was wearing pink ballet shoes. Second, off camera there was this huge Smurfette poster. Third, the place smelled of orchids and vanilla. And there were candles everywhere.

John Kreese: I like candles. So?

Mr. Myagi: I kept waiting for someone to punch Daniel. In the face. Hard. But they were just a big gang of pussies. I acted out the scene as asked. When the producer yelled CUT I knew I had a decision to make. So I grabbed my pen and jabbed it in Daniel’s eyeball. Just to let the tension out. Then I ran, jumped in my Camaro and left. Just drove off and never looked back. Did that movie even get made?

John Kreese: Those two guys had a special kinship.

Johnny Lawrence: Daniel and I never became Daniel and I.

Robinson: No one will tell you this, but I won the All Valley Karate Championship that year. Easily.

Melvin Reynolds: I still don’t know why Kreese hurt me like that.

Mr. Myagi: I moved back to Milwaukee. Al Delvecchio and I opened up a new restaurant. If I ever see Daniel again, I’ll kill him.

Daniel LaRusso: I’m planning on surprising Mr. Miyagi next week. He’s the best friend I’ve ever had.

Mr. Miyagi: I hate him.

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