Before The Karate Kid hit movie theaters in 1984, martial arts films remained a niche genre. Only a few exceptions, like Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon ever caught the public’s attention. Otherwise, the public considered these movies to be corny B-movies that they would only catch at discount theaters. However, that all changed when Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel LaRusso the secrets of his traditional martial arts.
For the most part, the movie took the same tropes that had appeared in martial arts films for decades. Daniel LaRusso lived a life full of suffering thanks to the local bullies and students of Cobra Kai. While he had no means to fight back on his own, he found a unique mentor that took him in. Mr. Miyagi then taught Daniel the secrets of his martial arts by teaching him in obscure and quirky ways.
In many ways, this film should have fared no better than the average martial arts film. However, The Karate Kid succeeded thanks to centering its story around a group of American high schoolers with high school drama. The tale of these characters captured the imaginations of audiences, leading to its massive success. In the end, the film made over 130 million dollars at the box office. It also paved the way for many more martial arts hits in the 1980s and beyond.
However, none of this would have occurred without the heart and spirit of the film. Characters such as Mr. Miyagi became beloved treasures of cinema. Likewise, the spirit of Daniel LaRusso brought hope to the bullied and downtrodden across the nation.
Presenting the top ten characters from The Karate Kid franchise
10. Terry Silver
Before John Kreese became the sensei of Cobra Kai Karate in Reseda, California, he served in the military alongside Terry Silver. As the two served together, they formed a close bond, especially as Kreese saved Silver’s life. After Kreese proved to be a martial arts master by winning the army’s karate championship, Silver became his first student. During these lessons, Silver picked up the credo that would later define Cobra Kai: “Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy”. After he returned to the United States, Silver quickly became an expert in nuclear waste disposal where he made a fortune as a millionaire. However, he never forgot about his passion as a martial artist or his close friend.
Thus, he eventually founded the Cobra Kai Karate Academy, setting up his original mentor, John Kreese, as the head instructor at the academy’s flagship dojo. With Cobra Kai in place, the two set out to teach youth the lessons the hard-hitting lessons that they had learned in the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, Silver remained in Beverly Hills Estate, where he continued to study karate.
When John Kreese met with Terry Silver after the 1984 All Valley Tournament, the man had lost all his students and his reputation. Thus, Terry promised to avenge his friend as he sent him on a vacation. Focusing his efforts on Daniel LaRusso, Silver became determined to ruin the boy’s spirit. By lying to Daniel about Kreese’s death, he lured the boy into his clutches. As Daniel became his student, Silver taught him the “Quicksilver method” which focused on disabling the enemy so that he could not fight. After his brutal training, Daniel realized the training had not only caused him to harm his body, but also his spirit.
9. Ali Mills
Not long after Daniel LaRusso moved to Reseda, California, he began making new friends. None became more important to him than Ali Mills, who instantly became interested in Daniel. Unfortunately, she had recently broken up with the top student of Cobra Kai, Johnny Lawrence. So, her affection and interest in Daniel led to the boy’s consistent bullying. Since Johnny remained bitter about the break-up, he hated to see another man around his ex-girlfriend. This same violent attitude led to Ali separating herself from Johnny.
Her feelings toward Daniel increased as he defended her honor at a beach party. When Johnny destroyed her radio, Daniel stood up to call out Johnny. While the boy only received a beating for his efforts, Ali appreciated the gesture. By the time that the Halloween Party came around, Ali had grown so fond of Daniel that they attended the event together.
Despite her feelings for Daniel, he felt that she was not fully faithful to him, especially after Johnny forced her into a kiss. Luckily, they quickly patched their relationship during a date at GolfNStuff, where the two shared their first kiss. From that point on, the two stayed a couple for months. After Daniel won the All Valley Karate Championship, Ali happily celebrated alongside him.
Unfortunately, their relationship did not last past their high school years. After Ali wrecked Daniel’s car, she left him to date a UCLA football player. Eventually, Daniel moved on to marry Amanda.
8. Sato Toguchi
While growing up in a small village in Okinawa, Mr. Miyagi had a close group of friends. Even though Sato’s father was the wealthiest man in the village, he was close friends with the Miyagi family. Thus, the two sons of their families, Sato and Mr. Miyagi, also became close friends as they both trained in Miyagi-Do. Unfortunately, the love of a woman formed a near unmendable rift between the two of them.
Even though Sato’s father arranged for Yukie to marry his son, Mr. Miyagi fell in love with the woman. Unable to ignore his feelings, Mr. Miyagi announced his intentions to marry Yukie. Rather than accepting his friend’s feelings, Sato strongly felt that his friend had disgraced him. So, he resorted to the only thing that he felt would restore his honor, a fight to the death. When Mr. Miyagi fled to America rather than fight his friend, his deep feeling of disgrace grew even worse.
Over the decades, Sato used his wealth to cruelly rule over the village. As his fishing overfished the area, he bought all the farming lands around the village. Even when the villagers could no longer fish to live, they had to pay Sato to use his farming lands.
Despite his willingness to devastate the village, he never let go of his sense of honor. For instance, when Mr. Miyagi set forth a bet that was outside of Chozen’s ability to pay, Sato honored the bed and covered the money. In the end, his honor also helped him mend his relationship with Mr. Miyagi. For, he let go of his grudge after Miyagi saved his life during a powerful storm hit the village.
7. Julie Pierce
Years after Daniel graduated from high school, Mr. Miyagi traveled to Boston to honor the passing of one of his commanding officers. There, he met up with Louisa Pierce, the grieving widow of Lieutenant Jack Pierce. As they caught up, she invited him to her Boston home, where her granddaughter, Julie Pierce, also lived. Soon after meeting Julie, Mr. Miyagi realized that the tragic death of her parents had sent the girl in a self-destructive spiral.
While Julie’s grief over her parents had led to her overwhelming anger, Julie became the target of an aggressive group, the Alpha Elite. This group felt that they needed to enforce the rules around the school through physical force. Even though Julie began a relationship with one of the group’s new members, Eric McGowen, another member, Ned Randall, strongly desired her. So, he grew even more bitter as she spurned his overt advances in favor of Eric.
All her issues came to a peak after the school temporarily suspended her for breaking in to feed an injured hawk. During this time, Mr. Miyagi started her training in earnest by bringing her to a local Buddhist monastery. During her stay, Julie gained the inner balance that she lacked since the death of her parents as she trained her body and mind.
Not long after returning to Boston, Julie faced the Alpha Elite in a decisive battle after they ruined her prom night. While she defeated her tormentor, Ned, Mr. Miyagi defeated the Alpha Elite’s leader, Colonel Dugan.
6. Miguel Diaz
Over Thirty years after the faithful match at the All Valley Karate Tournament, Johnny Lawrence worked as a maintenance man in Reseda, California. Over the years, his life had fallen to shambles as alcoholism and overall depression overtook his life. However, a new tenant opened the door to a new life for the man.
Miguel Diaz had no training or martial arts instincts. Still, he became the target of a group of rich bullies in the area. While Johnny initially had no intentions of interfering nor gaining a student, he stepped in to beat back the bullies push Miguel into his car. Inspired by Johnny’s skills, Miguel begged for the man to train him. Thus, Miguel became Johnny Lawrence’s first student as the new sensei of a revived Cobra Kai dojo.
Unlike Mr. Miyagi, Johnny passed down the aggressive lessons of Cobra Kai. Thus, Miguel quickly learned to no mercy to his enemies. While it took a while for Miguel to gain the skill to beat back his tormentors, once he succeeded, the fight brought in a surge of new students for the dojo. Unaware of the detrimental way that Cobra Kai’s mantra had affected his students, Johnny continued to push forward with his philosophy.
Thanks to months of training under Cobra Kai, Miguel gained the skill to climb up the ranks of the 2018 All Valley Championship. Despite his desire to win honorably, Johnny helplessly watched as his students gave into their anger and performed illegal moves to disable their opponents. Miguel even continued this trend by agitating Robby Lawrence’s injured arm. When Johnny scolded him for his underhanded tactics, Miguel believed that he needed to win at any cost. In the end, Miguel walked away as the champion.
5. Chozen Toguchi
As Sato allowed his scorned feelings of dishonor to overwhelm him, he passed down the teachings of Miyagi-Do to his nephew, Chozen Toguchi. As Chozen became a great martial artist, Sato favored him as his assistant in both the dojo and other business dealings. Thus, Chozen became the owner of the local grocery store that bought the village’s produce.
As Daniel and Mr. Miyagi arrived at Okinawa, Chozen was the first man to greet him. Not revealing the full extent of his identity, Chozen brought the pair to a compound where they met up with Sato. Dropping his friendly act, Chozen reveled in showing disdain for Miyagi and his student. While his uncle desired an honorable fight with Miyagi, Chozen set forth to make Daniel’s stay a living hell.
After discovering Daniel at a local bar, Chozen challenged him to an ice slab-breaking contest. As they challenged Daniel to break six slabs, Mr. Miyagi set forth a bet that Chozen could not cover. Even though Sato covered the debt, Chozen became annoyed that the “cowardly” Daniel won the bet.
His ire at Daniel grew tenfold after Daniel revealed that the man’s grocery store had swindled the town. Even though Chozen had voluntarily performed dishonorable acts, he felt that Daniel dishonored him. By the time that a monstrous storm hit the town, Chozen’s bitter hatred overwhelmed him enough that he refused to help Daniel save a villager. After defying his uncle’s orders, Sato disowned his nephew.
In a final bid to restore his honor, Chozen ruined interrupted the O-bon festival to challenge Daniel to a fight to the death. Daniel managed to barely defeat Chozen with the use of the Drum technique, but he spared Chozen’s life.
4. John Kreese
After years of fighting in the Vietnam War, John Kreese developed a dangerous philosophy: “Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy”. Worse yet, after years of fighting for his life during the war, John Kreese lost the ability to see the distinction between an enemy soldier and a sports competition. Thus, he pushed his students to win no matter the cost in both life and tournaments.
Despite Kreese’s rough attitude, his powerful countenance easily swayed people to listen to him. They saw him as a successful leader, so they desired to become him. For instance, even years after his time as a Cobra Kai student, Johnny Lawrence turned to Kreese’s teachings as the one bright spot in his life. Likewise, Terry Silver became enamored by the charisma and power that Kreese exuded.
In the end, John Kreese’s worst enemy was himself. After his best student, Johnny, lost the All Valley Tournament, Kreese allowed his anger to get the better of him. After he turned on Johnny, viciously beating him, Kreese lost the respect of the community. So, all his students abandoned him since they feared his destructive attitude.
With Terry Silver’s help, John Kreese attempted to enact a revenge plot to get back at Daniel LaRusso. After Daniel walked away from Silver’s training regimen, Kreese resurfaced to attack both Daniel and Mr. Miyagi. Unfortunately, their chosen student, Mike Barnes, lost to Daniel at the latest All Valley Tournament. Furthermore, the actions of Silver and Kreese led to a lifetime ban of Cobra Kai.
3. Johnny Lawrence
After years of living in a dysfunctional household, Johnny felt powerless at both his home and at school. At home, his stepfather verbally and physically abused him. Meanwhile, Johnny’s timid nature led to bullying at school. This all changed when he walked by the Cobra Kai dojo, where John Kreese’s immense power inspired Johnny. Despite his stepfather seeing the lessons as unnecessary, Johnny gained his chance to learn karate.
As John Kreese molded Johnny, he learned to drop everything that had made him “weak” and a “loser”. Thus, Johnny dropped his kind demeanor to become the embodiment of Cobra Kai’s teachings. Rather than being the victim of bullying, Johnny became the boy that bullied others. Likewise, Johnny struck first and actively pursued the women in whom he was interested.
Unfortunately, despite this outward strength, Johnny remained a troubled individual. He turned to recreational drugs as a teenager. As he became a man, his recreational use became alcohol dependence. Likewise, Johnny did not maintain any meaningful relationships in his adult life. He even became a distant and uninvolved father, leaving his son to live with the mother.
Despite everything, Johnny fully believed that his happiest days occurred while he was an active karate student. Thus, when the opportunity came, he decided to rebuild Cobra Kai. So, he took up one of his neighbors, Miguel, as his first student as he restored the Cobra Kai dojo. While he believed he would help the downtrodden with his dojo, he trained a new group of bullies and repeated the vicious circle of violence.
2. Daniel LaRusso
As a new student at Reseda, California, Daniel LaRusso had no concept of the existing social hierarchy in the high school. Thus, he quickly became the target of the local bullies, students of the Cobra Kai Dojo that taught its students to show no mercy. Further exasperating his problems, Daniel began a relationship with Ali Mills, who had once dated the top Cobra Kai student, Johnny Lawrence.
Even though Daniel had attended a few karate lessons at the YMCA in New Jersey, he was fully unprepared to defend himself from the likes of Cobra Kai. Furthermore, he could not seek additional karate lessons, for these bullies came from the local dojo. So, Daniel attempted to strike back at his bullies with a simple prank. After catching Johnny smoking alone in a restroom stall, Daniel used a hose to soak the boy. Rather than teaching Johnny a lesson, this act enraged the boy who chased down and nearly beat Daniel down to a pulp.
Luckily, the kind elderly maintenance man of his apartment complex, Mr. Miyagi, witnessed the attack. Thus, he interfered and fended off all the Cobra Kai students before carrying Daniel away to safety. While Mr. Miyagi was a master martial artist, he initially refused to become Daniel’s sensei. Though a meeting with John Kreese convinced Miyagi to fully take Daniel up under his wing.
As Mr. Miyagi’s student, Daniel learned that karate was not only about being strong in body, but also about being strong in spirit. The man emphasized that martial arts was a tool for defense and not offense. He also taught Daniel how to appreciate life and respect all living things. Even as an adult, Daniel looked up to Mr. Miyagi’s teachings for guidance.
1. Nariyoshi Kesuke Miyagi
As a child, Nariyoshi Miyagi learned his family’s traditional martial arts alongside his best friend, Sato. Unfortunately, he also fell in love with Yukie, who was betrothed to Sato. Rather than respecting the arranged marriage, Mr. Miyagi announced his love and intentions to marry Yukie. This single act ruined his life in Okinawa, for his best friend felt that Mr. Miyagi had insulted his honor. Thus, Sato set for a challenge to a fight to the death. Instead of fighting his best friend, Mr. Miyagi decided to flee from Okinawa.
After settling in Hawaii, Mr. Miyagi began his new life in America. Soon after, he became a soldier for the United States Army in World War II. During his military career, Miyagi grew close to one of his commanding officers, Lt. Jack Pierce. In exchange for his friendship, Miyagi passed down the knowledge of the art of karate to Jack Pierce. Years later, he discovered that his friend had also passed down these lessons to his granddaughter, Julie Pierce.
While Mr. Miyagi served in the armed forces, he left behind a pregnant wife. Tragedy struck his family on November 2, 1944, when his wife and unborn son both passed away due to pregnancy complications. Years later, Mr. Miyagi settled down in California, where he lived a simple life as a maintenance man. Over the years, he never remarried nor started a second family. Instead, he spent his free time building a gorgeous garden that helped him remember Okinawa.
When Daniel LaRusso moved in, Mr. Miyagi had no plans to take in a student. After witnessing Cobra Kai’s viciousness, Miyagi decided to take Daniel in to help him defend himself against Cobra Kai.
Who were your favorite characters from The Karate Kid franchise?
Today, we have shared our picks of the top ten characters from The Karate Kid franchise. We choose each of these characters because of their importance in the entire franchise. However, we would still love to hear from you. Who was your favorite character from The Karate Kid? Let us know in the comments below.
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