1984 All-Valley Under 18 Karate Championship: An oral history

Posted: October 21, 2013 by shawnfury in Uncategorized
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Following publication of oral histories of the 1952 Hickory Huskers and the 1939 New York Knights, it’s time for another look back at one of the great sports moments in movie history. As always, we tracked down all the participants involved. This time? The 1984 All-Valley Under 18 Karate Championship, dramatized in the classic documentary, The Karate Kid. The tournament featured defending champ Johnny Lawrence but ended with the coronation of Daniel LaRusso. Here now, the story of the 1984 All-Valley Under 18 Karate Championship.


The 1984 All-Valley Under 18 Karate Championship was the 20th All-Valley Under 18 Karate Championship, although at the outset organizers called it the All-Valley 18-and-Under Karate Championship. When 18-year-olds won the first five events, the event began excluding everyone that age, but it remains a mystery why it wasn’t simply rechristened the All-Valley 17-and-Under Karate Championship. Originally designed as a way to bring the Valley karate community together for easygoing competition and friendship, the tournament changed with the emergence of the Cobra Kai dojo under the brutal leadership of John Kreese. Cobra Kai members won four straight events from 1980-83, showing no mercy and proving fear does not exist, except in their opponents. No longer could participants simply try their best and hope that was enough.

A Vietnam veteran — although later investigations by Reuters questioned some of the battlefield claims prominent in his bio — John Kreese channeled his rage and business acumen into a successful career as a karate instructor and dojo owner, quickly turning a profit — and heads. But few people agreed with his methods, though no one could argue with the results.
John Kreese: I still don’t think people really appreciate what I did with that dojo. When I took over in ’80, the place called itself the Karate Kix. Fat children in ill-fitting uniforms covered in chocolate sauce waddled around, falling down whenever they tried a kick. I quickly changed the name and that changed everything. I always wanted to be in charge of something named after the Cobra. A crime syndicate, a group of elite killers in war who answer only to the president, a dojo, something. Cobra Kai. It came to me one night as I was beating on a homeless man in an alley. Three syllables. Simple. Dangerous. I eliminated the riffraff, brought in arrogant kids who wanted to kick ass and become bullies. I was rolling in money and All-Valley Under 18 Karate Championship titles. I thought the good times would last forever.
John “Johnny” Lawrence: First day Kreese takes over, he has all of us stand in a circle around him. Climbs into this six-foot-high wicker basket he stole at a street fair. Puts the lid on the thing. Sits in it for about three minutes. Weird Egyptian music starts playing on the dojo speakers. We’re all looking around. And Kreese slithers up out of it, with his tongue jutting out. Craziest thing I’ve ever seen. He finally gets out and starts pointing at guys to charge him. One after another they went after him. First kid, broken nose, bones sent up into his brain. Second kid, collapses his chest with a roundhouse kick. Third kid, shatters his ankle with a leaping kick you might remember from the time Bobby did it to a certain mama’s boy from Jersey. All of ’em are sprawled out on the mat. Kreese gets on his hands and knees and starts hissing at them, spitting in their eyes. From that day on, we knew what it meant to be a Cobra Kai.
Mustachioed ref in red T-shirt: Cobra Kai dominated once Kreese took over. I didn’t like his techniques, no one did. But as long as they followed the rules — everything above the waist is a point, you can hit the head, sternum, kidneys and ribs — we couldn’t do much about the intimidation or mindgames. And let’s face it, they were ahead of their time: Those black uniforms were awesome.
Kreese: Vince Lombardi brings discipline to a team and they name the Super Bowl trophy after him and make Broadway plays about him. I do it and get blacklisted from the sport I love and the media portrays me as a barbarian. That’s fair?

Determined to be an inclusive dojo, Kreese didn’t just search for people who could dominate on the karate mat. He filled his dojo with henchmen and wannabes, giving them all a role in Cobra Kai.
Tommy: I’m telling you, the guy thought of everything. Johnny was the star, we knew that. Bobby was up there too. But for the rest of us, Kreese made us watch hour after hour of old Batman TV shows, the Adam West ones, and wanted us to learn how to become evil right-hand men to our stars. We watched how to mindlessly attack in a pack. How to taunt someone when they’re on the ground and you’re circling above them, kicking them in the ribs, telling them, “How do you like that, huh?” He even drilled us on our cackles. You think I just came up with “Get him a body bag…yeeeeeah!”? Think I’m doing improv out there? I said it in front of a mirror 30 minutes a day, while Kreese kneeled in front of me and punched me in the stomach.
Dutch: As I’ve learned in the 30 years since, and during various tours of our country’s penitentiaries, there aren’t many places in this world where a cocky, rage-filled, wide-eyed, pill-popping sociopath with dyed blond hair can feel at home, but that’s how I felt when I’d walk into that dojo. I’ve pulled off armed robberies, mugged people at knife point, bludgeoned census workers with baseball bats, thrown acid on bosses, but nothing — nothing — was as satisfying as kicking people in the nuts while wearing the Cobra Kai uniform.
Black Cobra Kai member: I’m not going to say Kreese was a good man, and the only time people ever really saw me I got thrashed. Still, Kreese’s letter of recommendation — which one of the admissions officers later told me appeared to be written in pig’s blood — helped me get into the Lamda Lamda Lamda at Adams College.

Into this Cobra Kai-dominated environment stepped young Daniel LaRusso, who moved from New Jersey to the Valley with his mom, who left computers to work in restaurant management. A nice kid who even friends admit owned “the type of face you just want to punch, like, three or four times a day, really, really hard until he’s bleeding,” LaRusso struggled to make friends in his new home. The Cobra Kais enjoyed tormenting him, whether at soccer practices or on a fateful trip to the beach, where Daniel defended the honor of John Lawrence’s lady friend, Ali Mills.
Ali: Yeah, I thought he was cute. He wasn’t like Johnny. He had dark hair, came from the East Coast and was a wimp. I needed that after Johnny.
Daniel: I hated California. Give me Newark winters and government corruption over palm trees and sunshine. Lucky for me I met Ali. I don’t know what she saw in me, honestly. Well, I sort of do. I guess now I can admit she first started going out with me because I rented her for a thousand bucks. She wanted to buy a new outfit and her rich parents said they wouldn’t give it to her. We compromised.
Johnny: This kid walked around with a “kick me” sign attached to him. No, he really did. His first day at school Dutch snuck up behind him, slapped him on the back in a welcoming gesture but taped that paper to his back. Everything about him enraged us in Cobra Kai — his stupid-looking bike, his ability to bounce a soccer ball on his knee, even his mom, who actually seemed to love him instead of treating him as an accessory to take along to the country club. Then he stole my girl. And when you steal a Cobra Kai’s girl, you’re going to get stung. Poisoned? Bitten? Suffocated?

Daniel spent his early days in California getting pummeled or embarrassed. Johnny beat him up at the beach, although Dutch missed a prime chance to kick sand in his face. The Cobra Kai ran him and his stupid frigging bike off the road and saved their best beating for Halloween, when an inspired LaRusso prank quickly went south. The Kai surrounded Daniel and took turns beating him up, all while decked out in nightmarish skeleton outfits. They were prepared to finish him off — maybe even kill him — when a handyman from Okinawa showed up to the party.
Mr. Miyagi: Is it weird that I was hanging out on an oddly foggy night on the top of a fence at the exact moment young Daniel found himself corralled and pummeled by the Cobra Kai, especially because I was usually in bed by 9? No.
Bobby: Maybe part of me was happy this old Japanese man swooped down. I told Johnny, LaRusso had had enough but he wasn’t satisfied. Enemy deserves no mercy, all of that. Still, it was embarrassing how easily he dispatched five elite members of the Kai.
Mr. Miyagi: Truly a laughable performance by the Cobra Kai. Few punches to the gut, kick to the groin, karate chop to the chest, and they all roll around in the ground moaning. This is the best, most dangerous dojo in the Valley?

Miyagi — who previously had fought for life, not points — proved to be a combination of Bruce Lee, Schneider, Bill Belichick, Sun Tzu, and Tom Sawyer. His unique training methods — getting Daniel to perform much-needed handiwork around his home for no compensation — proved genius. But even today, not everyone is totally comfortable with the arrangement.
Daniel: He flouted basic labor laws, sure. And people raised their eyebrows about this elderly man hanging out with a vulnerable teenager but I will challenge anyone to a fight who says a bad word about Mr. Miyagi. Really. When people email me about the 1984 All-Valley Under 18 Karate Championship I really appreciate it. But sometimes they’ll throw in a cheap shot line about Miyagi or wonder what exactly his intentions were. I’ll track them down using their IP address, ride to their place on my restored bike, and stand outside their door until they come out. We then fight to three points but it usually ends after one when they find out the crane kick really is everything they’ve heard about.
Mr. Miyagi: Wax on, wax off. Paint the fence. Daniel was actually the seventh bullied child I trained in the martial arts using these exclusive techniques, which are now available for sale on three DVDs. Sometimes mothers call me up, wonder if it will work for their kid. I simply tell them to google the 1984 All-Valley Under 18 Karate Championship. In a matter of weeks, I took a 110-pound kid with little experience — a kid who nearly lost a fight against his own bike that he was trying to punch — and turned him into a champion at perhaps the most prestigious karate tournament in the country, or at least the Valley. Yeah, it works.
Daniel: By the time Miyagi finished with me, I had confidence I could hold my own in a fight in the cafeteria. But I still thought it was foolish to force me into the 1984 All-Valley Under 18 Karate Championship. When he gave me that car, it sort of felt like something you’d give someone you knew was dying. Like, let’s give him a moment of happiness before the big sleep.
Mr. Miyagi: Well, heh. Anyway.

Daniel’s tournament nearly ended before it began. Although no one knew this in the LaRusso camp, fighters had to be brown belt or above to compete. Miyagi saved the day by stealing a black belt out of a bag.
Kreese: When I saw the documentary they made about that tournament and it captures Ali and Miyagi sweet-talking their way into the tournament — doesn’t speak English, official reminds him of an uncle? — and committing a felony by stealing the belt, I immediately filed a protest with the karate commissioner of California. LaRusso’s entire tournament should have been voided. Still hopeful it breaks our way. Redeem myself and my good name.
Daniel: All credit to Ali, too, for convincing the guy to let her come with by saying she was Miyagi’s translator. I needed her support. It was almost like she was really good at lying to men — about things like karate instructors not speaking English or what she’s really doing with football players from UCLA.

Still, as the tourney began, Kreese had few worries about the final outcome.
Kreese: 1984 was the year of the Cobra, really. Cobra Kai. Cobra Commander on G.I. Joe dominated the airwaves, the federal government began offering COBRA insurance to workers (editor’s note: That was actually 1985). Thought the title was ours, since we had, you know, three-quarters of the field coming from our one dojo.
Johnny: Already had a bitchin’ kegger planned at my old man’s oceanfront home. Was sort of a tradition for the Kai. Watch video of the championship match, get some vintage porn, invite some girls and pick up a few geeks to beat up in the basement. Didn’t think ’84 would be any different.

Daniel cruised through the early rounds, once he picked up on the rules and the pace.
Ali: He was the best. Around. Nothin’ was ever gonna keep him down.
Mr. Miyagi: Again…how about my training, huh? I’m all about being humble but he made those guys who’d been doing karate for 5 or 10 years look foolish. All from simple techniques and lessons taught by me. You too can learn them with one easy call and three payments of $19.99.
Daniel: My favorite victory in the early rounds? Man, tough to say. Probably Tommy. Yeah, big-mouthed Tommy and his bulging eyes. I could see Johnny being cocky, Bobby too. Tommy’s career record at the tourney was something like 1-4. Used his anger against him and that big yellow logo on his uniform served as the perfect target for a punch. Beating Dutch, beating Dutch was the tough one. People still don’t know how I did it. Mean, cruel man. Still sends me these bizarre Christmas cards with stick figures drawn inside. Cobra Kai standing around me, my head busted open, asking me if I still need my mommy to dress me. But a well-delivered kick and Dutch went away and I had my three points.

In the semifinals, Johnny took down Vidal in one of the more entertaining matches of the tournament. That left Daniel against Bobby, who was anxious to vanquish the punk kid and get another shot at his dojo-mate Lawrence, who defeated him the year before for the title.
Bobby: There’s no way LaRusso beats me. None. I was in my prime, he was still unsure of himself. I didn’t have Johnny’s sadism but I’d really become clinical out there, knew how to take guys apart.
Kreese: I didn’t want him taken apart. I didn’t want him beaten. Out of commission.
Bobby: My heart sunk. So why’d I blindly follow an order I knew was wrong? Especially because most people thought I was the one guy from Cobra Kai who had a conscience? Why’d I go out there and take out LaRusso’s knee with a move that was, frankly, pretty impressive from an athletic standpoint? Ever heard about Stanley Milgram’s experiments?
Daniel: I thought he’d Theismann’d my leg. I didn’t even want to look.
Kreese: Bobby pleased me, until LaRusso came back.
Daniel: Can we talk about the All-Valley Under 18 Karate Championship rulebook for a second? When Bobby incapacitated me, the redneck announcer said that under “Rule 31-2” I had 15 minutes to return to action or Lawrence would win. Forget for a moment the ethics — the fact a dojo could send one of its goons to hurt someone, ensuring victory for someone else from the dojo, it’s like something out of NASCAR, but with more roundhouse kicks — and let’s talk about that rule. Rule 31-2. How big was that god damned rulebook? Golf — golf! — has like 34 rules and then appendices. That thing covers an entire sport and how it’s played throughout the world, including what happens when the wind blows a ball a centimeter on the green. Apparently the All-Valley Under 18 Karate Championship had one that dwarfed it. Exactly how many rules were in it? 60? 100? And how did that hillbilly announcer know it right off the top of his head? Is he a savant? 31-2. My god.

Fortunately for Daniel, he never was in violation of Rule 31-2. Back in the locker room, flat on his back, devastated by his apparent defeat at the hands — and feet — of the evil Cobra Kai, he searched for a miracle.
Mrs. LaRusso: I was so proud of him. Even if he’d been wheeled out there just to accept the runner-up trophy, I would have been proud.
Mom: Mom says, “It was just bad luck.” Bad luck instead of a coordinated attack perpetrated by someone who — and I know you’re not supposed to use him as a reference and in theory it destroys whatever argument you’re trying to make — was the Hitler of karate dojos. Jesus, Mom.
Ali: Honestly I was already figuring out how to get back with Johnny, wondering if he’d take me back. It was a good ride with Daniel but is that the image I wanted my girlfriends to have? That I’d stick with a guy who leaves a tournament being carried out like a child? I left…and then…
Mr. Miyagi: There was nothing mystic or magical about my remedy. Basic chiropractor work, dressed up in ancient symbolism like loudly clapping your hands and rubbing them together. Daniel had a bone bruise, nothing more. No torn ACL, no shredded MCL. I simply had to make him think he was okay and stop the crying. Literally anyone with two hands could have done it.

Moments later, the tournament’s announcer — a foul-mouthed ex-con who’d never seen a karate match in his life until his parole officer got him the gig, a blue suit and a belt buckle — uttered one of the most famous lines in sports history, one that has, in the years since, taken its rightful place alongside “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” and “I don’t believe what I just saw!”
Announcer: “Daniel LaRusso’s gonna fight? Daniel LaRusso’s gonna fight!” I’ll be walking on the street still to this day and people come up and yell that at me. Startles me every time. Or I’ll be standing in line at the bank and the teller won’t hand over cash until she sees some ID and makes me say it out loud while she calls her co-worker Danny over to listen.
Johnny: I was happy when I saw Daniel limp out there. No one wants to win a title by default. I understood that Kreese had, finally, lost all connection with reality. He used to always quote Brando from The Godfather when he taught us at the dojo but by the end of that day he was quoting Brando from Apocalypse Now. I was terrified about what would happen if I lost — I pictured him berating me for getting second-place and shattering the trophy over the head of the fat kid from Cobra Kai and then making him eat the pieces — so a default would have prevented that. But I really just wanted to kick Daniel’s ass.
Mustachioed ref in red T-shirt: Most anticipated final in tournament history? Of course. Weird tournament that year. Most years we drew, I don’t know, 20, 30 people — family, some drifters who came for the free lemonade and T-shirts — and someone from the local weekly always came down to shoot a picture of the winner holding the trophy; they’d put it in the Briefs section of the sports page and usually misspell the name in the caption. That year the crowd filled much of the stands and when that title match ended…people stormed the ring. For a karate tournament. They lifted the winner onto their shoulders, like he was Lindbergh or had made the winning shot at the buzzer against the 1973 UCLA Bruins. Little odd, certainly. But yeah, you had everything going into that final: Good guy, evil guy and a ref who liked stealing the spotlight whenever he could with some occasionally questionable calls.

Daniel had the crowd behind him, but the odds stacked against him. Daniel blocked the aggressive Lawrence’s early Cobra barrage and scored a point with a punch and a blow to the back of the head. A bloodied Lawrence went to his sensei. And like Bobby before him, heard a chilling command.
Kreese: Sweep the leg. Bobby failed to knock the punk out of commission, I figured Lawrence could do it.
Johnny: Terrifying. When I looked into his eyes I saw darkness. I didn’t want to do it, I knew I could still beat LaRusso. But I wanted to please the sensei.
Daniel: So Lawrence picks up two points against me to even the match. Then he grabs my leg. Holds it. Holds it for a second or two. And then delivers a vicious elbow to the back of my knee. No disqualification.
Bobby: So why’d I get tossed again?
Mustachioed ref in red T-shirt: A ref goes by the rulebook but sometimes there are unwritten rules. Bobby’s foul was deliberate.
Bobby: And Johnny’s wasn’t?
Mustachioed ref in red T-shirt: I made a judgment call. No DQ on Lawrence. Gave him a really strong warning, though.

Tied at 2-2, the next point would win the match. A beaten, exhausted LaRusso knew he had one chance — and one kick left in his arsenal.
Johnny: I saw him perch on one leg, like a type of bird. I know now it was a crane. I’d never seen anything like it. Who had?
Mr. Miyagi: If done right, no can defense.
Daniel: It’s an awkward move. I could see Ali snickering at how I looked. But I just had to wait for Johnny to mindlessly run toward me with his defenses down and face out. From there the training took over and a little one-two kick and I had my third point.
Kreese: Of all the things that bothered me about that tournament, that’s what sticks with me late at night. No defense, Mr. Lawrence? How about waiting him out till his leg tires and he’s on two feet? How about hopping around a bit so LaRusso can’t just stand there waiting for your smug face to run into his Jersey foot? How about faking an attack, making him commit and then pulling back? You think he’s still delivering that kick?
Mr. Miyagi: As I say, if done right, no can defense.

LaRusso’s crane kick, third point and victory did spark a reaction unlike anything ever seen at the tournament as Ali and many others took to the ring to cheer their new hero. Even Lawrence got in on the act, handing his enemy the trophy and telling him he was all right. The All-Valley Under 18 Karate Championship continues to this day. For the most part the tournament’s forgotten two hours after it’s finished. Not so with the 1984 version. The memories of that championship live on, in the minds of everyone who’s ever been bullied or waxed a car and in the hearts of those who watched a scrawny kid from New Jersey conquer the Cobra.
Daniel: The highlight of my life? …. Yeah. Or you thought it was waking up every day to work as a salesman for the chain of Miyagi-do dojos across the Valley? Is that sad? Maybe. But, damn it. Mr. Miyagi and me? We did it. We did it.

  1. Mark says:

    Very Enjoyable Shawn.
    (I was going to complain if you didn’t include a reference to “You’re the best, around”)

    • Ken Macon says:

      I am an English teacher with unconventional methods that sometimes leave students saying, “We did nothing in class.” In the past, I have shown the clips of Daniel doing chores when he is actually learning Karate in order to show them everything we do in class is for a purpose. This year, a greater emphasis has been put on the End Of Year Test. I decided to show the entire film and expand the metaphor of me as Miyagi and the EOC is Cobra Kai. Test day is the All Valley Karate Championship. I’ve hung a poster from the movie in my room changing the date to the actual test date. I stumbled upon this wonderfully written “oral history”. I am now writing EOC like questions based on the oral history. Thank you.

      • shawnfury says:

        Ken, Thanks so much for the comment! I love that I — and Miyagi, Daniel and even Johnny — are helping the youth of America! You sound like an awesome teacher, and not just because of your taste in movies. Best of luck to you and to the kids on the test. And my only hope now is that on test day, some kid named Daniel says he’s too sick to attend school…and then emerges in class while you shout, “Daniel’s going to take the test? Ladies and gentlemen, Daniel’s going to take the test!”

  2. Mike says:

    As a psychology teacher, I appreciate the Milgram reference. Funny stuff!

  3. […] 1984 All-Valley Under 18 Karate Championship: An oral history (tvfury.wordpress.com) […]

  4. […] Finally, the 1984 All-Valley Under-18 Karate championship, documented in The Karate Kid. Find out how John Kreese motivated by pretending to be a cobra. What did Daniel say about the rumors surrounding Mr. Miyagi? And for the love of god, how big was the rulebook for the championship? […]

  5. George says:

    One of the funniest things Ive read in a while. Thanks. Great job.

  6. […] in the footsteps of our fake oral history of the 1952 Hickory Huskers, and a look at the 1984 All-Valley Under 18 Karate competition, it’s time for another look back at one of the great sports teams in movie history. This time […]

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