*Major season 3 spoilers below*
Everything old can become new again. It’s a quote that has found itself being reinvented and taking on new meanings as time has gone on. It’s not a Mr. Miyagi (played by the late and beloved Pat Morita) quote, but it might as well be. That said, in order to make something old new, you need to figure out some way to strike a balance, which does correlate with a moment in Karate Kid when Mr. Miyagi reiterates to a scared Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), “Lesson not just karate only. Lesson for whole life! Whole life have balance, everything be better.”
It’s a memorable quote that many have gone on to carry with them from a movie franchise that has held that same power.
Most people have some kind of experience with karate growing up. Whether it’s actually taking classes, almost taking classes, or, of course, getting into the phenomena that is The Karate Kid. For Aedin Mincks, he started off in Tae Kwon Do as a kid and while he earned a few belts, he didn’t continue it growing up. “The time that I did though, it was super fun and I thought I was pretty badass. Even though my mom was probably just trying to sneak in exercise for me,” he jokes.
It wasn’t until The Karate Kid remake produced by Will Smith and starring Jaden Smith, Taraji P. Henson, and Jackie Chan that Aedin learned about the original franchise. As his initial reference when the audition for Cobra Kai (a continuation of the original trilogy) came about, he went and checked out the initial movies and became even more interested. “It’s really cool to be a part of a project like this that has so much legendary history and seeing the love the show is getting is just unbelievably awesome,” he expresses gratitude. Already a loved hit when it premiered on Youtube Red, the switch to Netflix found the show receiving even more love and welcome. “It’s just amazing to see how the new and original fans are responding and supporting the series and it’s so great how supportive the community is.”
Premiering in 2018, the show takes place 34 years after the 1984 All-Valley Karate Tournament in where Daniel LaRusso defeated Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). Now in his 50s, Johnny is a man who was used to feeling on top of the world is completely down on his luck. He’s divorced, kinda an alcoholic, a severed relationship with his son, far from the wealthy lifestyle he grew up in, and admittedly has not gotten over a decent amount of downfalls that happened to him in high school. Meanwhile, Daniel runs a successful car dealership, he’s married with children, and wealthy, and admittedly…he also hasn’t gotten over what happened in high school anyway. In fact, while the both of them completely hate each other’s guts after all these years, they both share something in common in their interest to relive their glory days and settle the score. What they also share is an interest in bringing karate back to Reseda and training their students to be better than they were (albeit, Johnny originally taking this task on reluctantly thanks to Miguel).
I appreciate the way [Johnny] approaches problems and the way he cares so much about the students in his own unconventional way but still gives the students the whole tough love thing.
Joining the show in season two, Aedin’s character Mitch started off as a new recruit for the Cobra Kai Karate dojo under Johnny’s teachings. As leadership, loyalties, and friendships have changed throughout the show, Mitch has joined his peers in going back and forth on where he thinks he needs to be. “Mitch’s character just wants to fit in,” Aedin begins when I ask him about his dojo decisions with him now a part of Johnny and Daniel’s joint dojo at the end of season three.
“He originally went to Cobra Kai because he saw Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) win the All Valley Tournament and he wanted in on that action. So with that, in my opinion, it seems that Mitch knows his loyalty lies with Johnny. He started with Johnny and is still with him in the journey through dojos,” he looks back. Similar to Mitch, Aedin finds himself aligning most with Johnny and the way that he leads as a Sensei. “I appreciate the way he approaches problems and the way he cares so much about the students in his own unconventional way but still gives the students the whole tough love thing.”
The idea of Cobra Kai was not only to bring back The Karate Kid, but to explore the original villain of the series, Johnny, and expand on the world through his eyes. With William Zabka and Ralph Macchio reprising their roles, that meant that looking at the world through his eyes had to be in the present, not the past. Although, the show does offer flashbacks. However, with a franchise that is quintessential 80s, the way to tap into Johnny Lawrence as a Sensei and as a character that could grapple with his mistakes and seek redemption, was to also look at the culture of the 80s in a similar way.
“Well first, I think the 80’s culture is sweet, but if anything, I think it’s important to have the originality of it but also in this era,” Aedin comments. “The beauty in it is that they’ve put two different times into one and it just gets better.” Aside from the obvious references, such as the song choices included throughout, the show blends the Johnny and Daniel existing in both eras through their students and realizing that what they once considered their glory years aren’t actually so glorious.
It’s harder to mock someone for being a nerd or not being physically strong anymore when you’re an adult and realize that picking on the little guy gets you nowhere. And it’s frustrating to see the lessons that were put onto you and made you miserable be put onto those younger than you. Two things we see Johnny coming to terms with throughout the series in the most imperfect ways. Similar to how for Daniel, it’s a struggle to realize that even though you can quote wisdom you were taught, it’s another thing to actually live it.
I think the 80s culture is sweet but if anything, I think it’s important to have the originality of it but also in this era. The beauty in it is that they’ve put two different times into one and it just gets better.
But we also get to see the new generation experiencing life in similar ways that Johnny and Daniel once did. When you’re used to feeling small, sometimes it is easier to go after the little guy to feel bigger. When life throws miserable things at you and you have nowhere else to release them, sometimes the quickest option is to throw that misery in another direction. In Mitch’s case, he comes into the show and along with best friend Chris (Khalil Everage) is labeled a nerd–actually they’re given the option between being labeled assface or penis breath–and his interest in taking up karate like most of the recruits is to gain cool points. While Chris decides the message of Cobra Kai is too cruel for him, Mitch, like all of Cobra Kai, gains a cool reputation through fear, utilizing what they’ve learned to show why they shouldn’t be messed with–no mercy. That is until no mercy is shown on him and Kreese kicks him out in season three. “I feel like he would’ve stuck with Cobra Kai so he did need that humbling experience,” Aedin says about that moment which comes as Cobra Kai finds itself shifting back under the power of Kreese and away from Johnny. “He also might’ve even left if Hawk left since he is kinda his goon.”
When it comes to what he enjoys most about playing Mitch, Aedin shares that it comes from the experience of being apart of the show from the cast to the creators, also known as the Big 3. “I have to say I love the fight scenes and also the times we get to spend offset just hanging as friends.”
The show offers a lot of opportunities for the cast to have those kinds of bonding and fighting moments. One of them being the big fight scene that closed out season three. While Daniel and Johnny are starting to find some common ground, the tension between students of Miyagi Do and Cobra Kai is boiling over and while they went at it on school grounds in the season two finale, the season three finale found them at the LaRusso home. “I love getting to perform fight scenes and watching it going straight through with no recording cuts–it’s awesome to see,” Aedin talks about that moment.
“I actually got goosebumps watching that fight scene at the LaRusso’s–I loved when Hawk knocked the guy over the head with the vase,” Aedin gives a shoutout to his co-star Jacob Bertrand in a pivotal moment during the almost 8-minute fight sequence. The work and intention of the scene mirrors that of the hallway brawl of season two which Aedin shares was a little easier to nail down. “[With] the LaRusso house, we had to do a lot of choreography and moving around like watching out for cameras and we actually had to improvise during that fight and throw out random combinations from things we had learned.”
Of course, Aedin can’t share anything about season four, including if there are plans for another brawl between the students of that caliber, although the ending of season three confirms for us that the students will get another opportunity to go at it again, this time with Hawk taking a page from Mitch’s book and leaving from under Kreese, he does say that he’s sure the new season will be something that will surprise fans and keep them wanting more.
I think this generation will turn out a little different than how it was for Daniel and Johnny because there’s so much of switching sides and seeing true colors throughout the show, so hopefully, the lasting effect will be more positive or settling.
There’s also hope that he may get more screen time with Peyton List who plays Tory and Tanner Buchanan who plays Robby Keane, Johnny’s son. With both of those characters giving their loyalties to Kreese, what could come from any scenes between these three characters would, by most accounts, be chaotic. But also interesting especially given that the actors themselves have all had experience coming up in the Disney Channel world to now. Aside from Aedin’s background as Angus on ANT Farm, Peyton played the role of Emma on Jessie, and Tanner guest-starred on Girl Meets World as Charlie Gardner. All of them making names as characters completely different from the ones they’re playing now.
“It’s cool that quite a few of us on the show have had that in common,” Aedin says referring to their work being in Disney shows. “Playing Angus on Disney, as well as my work on Ted did involve a lot of physicalities, so I have had quite a bit of experience working with stunt coordinators which would definitely come in to play on Cobra Kai.”
It’s also cool getting to see the cast play into this world and with these characters that are struggling to figure out how to deal with the conflicts in their lives and the ways that morality comes into play with their actions. For characters like Daniel, Johnny, and even Kreese, their rivalries have lasted 30+ years to the point where it’s not only affecting them and their abilities to move on in life despite their greatest efforts, but also the way that their kids act towards each other and what they consider to be their power and sense of self. “I think this generation will turn out a little different than how it was for Daniel and Johnny,” Aedin says when I ask him. “Because there’s so much of switching sides and seeing true colors throughout the show, so hopefully, the lasting effect will be more positive or settling.”
The idea of switching sides and the different shades in true colors was in the intention of the show’s creators, Josh Hearld, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg, who were interested in the way that the title of being a hero and of being a villain relied on the eyes of the audience. It also seems to resonate with viewers for Aedin says. “It’s not really a black or white thing. You can pick any Sensei really to be your hero or villain because they all are in their own ways both based on experiences and their pasts. It just depends on your point of view on them.”
All three seasons of Cobra Kai are now streaming on Netflix with season four in pre-production.
(photo cred: Nikki Mincks)