So, anyone who follows me on twitter has likely seen my immeasurable praise for season 2 of Cobra Kai. In a spring with many great & long awaited shows and films, including Endgame, season 2 of The Orville, the final season of Game of Thrones, and the second half of Rising of the Shield Hero, it was this little show that did the most for me, and, so far is by far the best of all of them. (Haven’t seen Endgame yet, but I doubt it’ll be as good.)
Possible spoilers ahead. I don’t necessarily intend to include spoilers, but in the course of my analysis/discussion there may be some, so be forewarned. And go watch the show; it’s awesome!
As such, some thoughts I had around the time of season 1’s release came back to mind, along with some new, related ones prompted by season 2. Specifically, I want to talk about the differing philosophies presented on the show. Previously we had two competing ones, those of Daniel Larusso and Miyagi-do, and Johnny Lawrence and Cobra Kai. This season, with the reintroduction of John Kreese, graces us with a third. While he’s aligned with the Cobra Kai dojo, it is clear that he and Johnny have significant differences.
So, let’s get into it!
I’m going to talk about the two main philosophies more or less together, as to talk about one you need the other for comparison, then leave Kreese’s for last.
So the first, and primary difference between Miyagi-do and Cobra Kai are the mindsets involved. Cobra Kai is extremely aggressive “Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy!”, and places emphasis on victory, while Miyagi-do far more emphasizes inner peace, calm, and balance. However, both are self-defense arts at their core (yes it’s not quite that simple, but we’ll get there soon.)
Now, here’s where I get to bring some personal experience into this. I trained in Krav Maga for about 7 years (going to classes usually once or twice a week, so never got SUPER into it—progressed two belt levels in that time, and if I hadn’t moved I’d likely have progressed another level by now.) When watching season 1 of Cobra Kai, I was really struck by how similar Krav Maga was, in many respects, to Cobra Kai—and that certainly played a role in my declaring myself #TeamCobraKai from the outset.)
Krav Maga is a very aggressive art, not a pretty one, and the focus is very simple: win at any cost. It’s why it (in)famously involves strikes to the most vulnerable of targets, such as the groin and eyes (one of the first things you’ll learn is a groin kick). The head of the school I attended often described it as “fighting a war on a personal level.” There’s a reason there are no Krav Maga tournaments, and there aren’t meant to be any. Krav Maga is meant to be used in situations where you believe you are in danger, and must defend yourself. We’re also encouraged to make use of our surroundings, and improvised weapons if needed (we’re also told that the best way to protect ourselves is to carry a gun, by the way.) Another choice line I’ve heard many times is “If you get in a fight, you’re going to get hurt. The winner of the fight is the one whose medical bill is smaller.” That’s why we learn almost exclusively violent, damaging techniques; the few ones that don’t fall into that category, such as arm bars, we’re told to use in situations where for whatever reason we don’t want to hurt our opponent (a popular example is a drunk uncle at a wedding, or if one is law enforcement and making an arrest.)
We see a lot of that in the Cobra Kai approach to fighting, though it is, almost ironically, a less violent and brutal art, as it must be in order to compete in tournaments. Both arts believe in striking first (if you truly believe that a fight is going to take place, at least), striking hard, and showing no mercy. Again, to reference what I’ve learned, we’re taught that if we end up in a fight, we only stop once we are certain our attacker isn’t going to get up to attack us again.
There is nothing wrong with this philosophy and approach. In fact, in my opinion, it’s the one you should have if you get into a real fight. The assumption must always be that if someone starts up with you they intend to seriously harm you, at the least. So as the Bible says, “if one comes to kill you, rise and kill him first.”
The Miyagi-do approach obviously rejects this, favoring a style that minimizes use of force, emphasizing honor and mercy, seeking to end a fight with minimal injury to all parties involved. It also seems, to me, to be more of a lifestyle approach, with all its talk of calm and balance, more spiritual. (This sort of thing never really appeared to me in a martial art, which is part of why I chose Krav Maga.) It might well be a more healthier way to approach life as a whole, and I think that this is, more so than the ideas of how to fight, is the primary difference between the two approaches. Like Krav Maga, Cobra Kai is ideal for when you are actually in a fight, but can lead to problems in other areas (in the show we see it lead to some successes as well, but also to key failures), as we see in the show, while Miyagi-do is more healthily applied to other aspects of one’s life (applied correctly, I don’t think we’ve seen similar failures). This is also why I believe we may well see, eventually, an ideal approach which is a synthesis of the two in season three or beyond.
Now, as we shift over to the Kresse brand of Cobra Kai, we return to what I mentioned above, that at their core, both Cobra Kai and Miyagi-do are self defense arts. This means that you do not seek out fights, and do not start fights (note that I consider this distinct from throwing the first punch in a situation where it’s clear a fight is inevitable). We see, in the show, and more so once Kreese arrives, that a number of the Cobra Kai kids are going down a dark path, becoming bullies as they seek out and start to enjoy fights. This is where you find an objectively (I believe) negative approach. But even here, it’s important to understand why Kreese has this view, and why it’s popular among some of the students. John Kreese is clearly a man who never truly left behind the war in which he fought in. He isn’t pure evil, rather extremely misguided and living with an unhealthy mindset. He’s not a successful or happy man, which certainly only makes this worse. We learn from him in season 2 that the army didn’t let him re-enlist, and his choice of words when he confronts Daniel. Additionally, the raid on the Miyagi-do dojo was a very military sort of operation. When you understand where he is coming from, his approach, his seeking out of fights, makes sense. In a war you generally want to be on the offensive, pushing into your enemy’s territory to conquer and neutralize them. This, his Cobra Kai is an offensive-minded art, not a defensive one. It’s easy to understand why a number of the students, many of whom were previously horribly bullied, like this aggressive approach. Now that they have power to throw around, they feel like they need to do so in order to avoid returning to those previous times. Hawk is the best example of this, and as we see at the season’s end, the students that bought into this approach chose Kreese over Johnny, and are training for revenge over what happened to Miguel during the fight at the school. However, we also see that this aggression leads to mistakes, and, at least at times, to inferior fighting, such as when an overconfident, aggressive Hawk was beaten by Demitri in said school fight.
To reference Krav Maga again, despite its aggressive fighting approach, we are taught that it’s always better to avoid a fight if possible (remember, you WILL get hurt if you get into a real fight). And of course, we are not to seek out fights. The art is a weapon, which we will use if needed, but just like you don’t go whipping out and using a gun, so too with martial arts. A fight, a real fight, might be war on a personal level, but that’s only once the fight begins or it’s clear it will begin. It’s also why Krav Maga doesn’t have tournaments; it’s not a sport, it’s not for play. It’s for real, when and if the need arises.
This is why we’re likely to see that alliance of the two opposing, but both defensive minded arts, against the war-minded, offensive minded art in season 3.
In short, the Migayi-do approach seems a healthier one for life, while Cobra Kai (Johnny Lawrence style) is best for when you’re in a fight, and the Kreese Cobra Kai is what you want if you are at war. Each one has its place, though only the first two are applicable to civilian life.
That’s really all I had to say on this topic, and I hope it was as interesting to read about as it was for me to think about.
Before I go, there is one other, tangential thing worth mentioning, as it relates to Judaism somewhat (and tangentially to Krav Maga, an art created by Jews). I saw this very interesting tweet (posted below), in which someone states that a Jewish friend of his saw a parallel between Cobra Kai and the philosophy of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, who formed the Jewish Defense League, the Kach Party in Israel, of which later spawned the Kahane Chai movement. While I doubt this was intentional on the part of the creators of the original Karate Kid and the creators of Cobra Kai, there are too many coincidental parallels to ignore. Both emphasize strength, and fighting back against your enemies without mercy when needed, and the names sound kind of similar: Cobra Kai—Kahane Chai. Additionally, the Cobra Kai logo and the Kahane Chai logo share a color scheme. In this assumption I suppose that, as one of the replies speculates, Miyagi-do represents a softer, more world Jewry as opposed to the Kahanist strong, (Israeli) warrior Jew. I don’t necessarily have an opinion on this, but it was something fascinating that I happened upon while I was preparing this post, and I felt like it was worth adding, since the Krav Maga parallels are there. (I’ve also seen comparisons made between this ideological divide between Charles Xavier & Magneto from X-Men, and that’s not a terrible comparison to the Cobra Kai vs Miyagi-do divide either.)
Again, I hope you found this interesting, and if you want some awesome books that’ll strike you hard, and without mercy—but with awesomeness, (and do feature some characters who abide by that philosophy), check out the Galaxy Ascendant series! I’m also now on Subscribestar, so if you’d like to support me there, please check it out; anything is appreciated!