Between the Cross and the Cobra Kai: Good, Evil, and Triumph in the Karate Kid


Get em a body bag, yeah” Jimmy, from the Karate Kid Part I (1984)

The Karate Kid was the first movie I ever saw on Beta-vision, yes, its official—I am getting old. However, the key thing about KK, at least in the original 1984 version (what in the world was the Jaden Smith movie about anyway???) is that it really took root in the children of the early 1980’s.

The KK can be accused of being sappy on some level by modern standards, but it forever remains one of my favorite movies. Why? The reasons are varied, perhaps it is because that it was a very formative time in a childhood and I was just attached to things I really enjoyed.

Or maybe it’s because I always envisioned that one day I would simply paint the house, sweep the floor, and wax on and wax off and mysteriously be transformed from 7 year old kid with a slight speech impediment to a deadly ninja over night.

Then again there may be another reason. Maybe its just that the KK dealt with the universal themes of good and evil, but only in 1980’s terminology. The Cobra Kai’s (the wealthy elitists from good side of town) have made it their priority in life to bully, intimidate, and make life miserable for the poor outsider—Daniel Larruso. Larruso is out matched at every turn and angle.

What is his way out? Daniel has to learn to meet violence with violence, but “…Not from the Y Ma, but from a good school.” So, Daniel Larruso comes under the tutelage of the Okinawan Karate Master—Mr. Miyagi. Through repetitious and monotonous and unorthodox labor, Miyagi turns Daniel into a humble and unlikely hero who eventually faces all of his foes in the local Karate tournament.

Through the best montage of the 1980’s (only rivaled by Rocky IV) , set to “You’re the Best Around,” we discover that Larruso defeats all of his enemies through sheer force, then after defeating them—they are reconciled to him in the final scene where Jonny Lawrence says, “Your all right Larruso,” and hands Daniel the All Valley Karate Trophy (seemingly passing over the fact that the Cobra Kai’s have gone to great lengths to possibly seriously injure if not cripple him for life, but hey Crane Kicks have a way with making you friends).

Now what does the Gospel have to say about this seemingly innocent—Reagan-era-Rocky style-romp? Well, the universal theme of injustice sticks out like a sore thumb. The rich oppressing the poor and taking delight in it is a very real issue in the KK. The Cobra Kais are true to their creed—they are snakes, clad in Michael Jackson zipper jackets, with skeleton paint on their faces, they represent oppression and tyranny. They are strong, handsome, wealthy, athletic, and privileged class of kids that most preppy 80’s children aspired to be (alright, not all preppy-teen were all out to kill people with their Kawasaki’s and leg sweeps).

On the other hand, Daniel Larruso represents an unwanted outsider, who appears weak, small, and different. Daniel is almost like a prophet in some ways, the outsider, who kicks against the established hierarchy by challenging the lead dog, Jonny Lawrence, where one day at the beach when Allie (with an ‘I’) gets her “Boom Box” (aka Ghetto Blaster for children of the Zeros) slammed into beach Cobra Kai style.

From there Daniel will take a series of beatings and mistreatments, ultimately rescued by his mentor, friend, and new father-figure—Mr. Miyagi. So, through Miyagi, Daniel becomes a young Jedi, err, I mean a young Karate master in training.  Daniel goes into full-blown mode, seeking revenge, triumph, and finally attaining acceptance from the community that once rejected him. But that’s where the story takes a sharp departure from the Gospel of Christ.

The KK would be closer to the Gospel if in the scene where the Cobra-Kai Halloween Scream-Team would have not only beaten Daniel, but also murder Daniel without his father-figure coming to rescue him. The KK teaches a simple message of when treated wrongly, learn Karate and kick someone in the mouth (i.e. Lex Tallionis), but the Gospel shows us something entirely different.

Jesus doesn’t over power his enemies through sheer might and physical force, but through His dying in their place. The Gospel shows us that Jesus isn’t rescued by His Father in the midst the lawless hands of wicked men and the Snake, no, instead it was the will of the Father to crush His only begotten Son (cf. Is. 53:10), so that the wrath of God against the enemies of God would Passover over them and onto Christ. Romans 5, explains that:

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”

So, in the KK we see one who is weak, despised, rejected, and the unlikely hero and in the Gospel we see the same thing too. But their roads take two different paths to victory. One seeks justice in triumphing over his foes by overcoming with brute strength, the Other seeks justice by unjustly submitting Himself to weakness, humility, and death, even death on the cross (Phi. 2:8). In the one the Cobra Kai’s are defeated by a Crane Kick, in the other the Serpent is defeated by the Cross of Christ. 

Join me back here next week for R3D as we examine Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”


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