“The Karate Kid” is best known for the relationship between Mr. Miyagi, an old Japanese karate sensei, and his young pupil, Daniel LaRusso, as the teenager learns karate to defend himself from a clique of high school bullies. What many fans of the franchise may not know, however, is that several of the movie’s cast and crew have a connection to one legendary martial artist whose success in the field stretches decades before the release of the film: Bruce Lee.
Here’s everything you need to know.
2 Actors Had 2 Degrees of Separation From Lee
“The Karate Kid,” which the Associated Press in 1985 called “a modest film with no stars and a title that sounded like a combination of Bruce Lee and a kidflick,” has been credited for popularizing karate in the United States, according to a biography of director John G. Avildsen. Despite that, it was released in 1984, eleven years after the death of famed martial artist Bruce Lee, who was widely recognized for his expertise in karate and kung fu. It is no surprise, then, that Bruce Lee had a number of connections to several cast and crew involved in the film.
For one, Pat E. Johnson, who not only portrayed the referee at the All Valley Karate Tournament, but was also the film’s fight/martial arts choreographer, played a bit part in “Enter the Dragon,” a 1973 film starring Bruce Lee. Although they do not appear together on-screen, they likely had some interaction behind-the-scenes.
In addition, Chad McQueen, who plays Johnny’s belligerent friend Dutch, is the son of legendary actor Steve McQueen, who was good friends with Lee. According to IMDb, they were so close, in fact, that McQueen acted as a pallbearer at Lee’s funeral. In addition, Pat E. Johnson, who is a black belt in American Tang Soo Do, was even Steve McQueen’s instructor, according to a biography of McQueen.
A Nunchaku Master Instructed Both Bruce Lee & Pat Morita
The film’s actors were not the only ones who had a connection to Lee. According to The Daily Beast, Fumio Demura, Pat Morita’s stunt double, was so skillful in karate that he actually used to instruct Bruce Lee himself. According to the article, Demura, a native of Yokohama, Japan, was “the son of a silk tradesman [who] came to America in the 1960s with nothing but $300 and a suitcase.”
Although Demura knew no English, he took advantage of his skill in karate and founded his own influential karate practice in Southern California. There, he taught his craft to a number of students, including California’s very own Bruce Lee.
The article went on to explain how Demura recalled meeting Bruce Lee for the first time, when the actor to-be wanted to perfect nunchaku, an Okinawan martial arts strategy involving weapons commonly known in America as “nunchucks:”
The sensei himself recalls how Bruce Lee came to him to learn the art of the nunchaku, keen on perfecting the right presentation that would wow his audience. “He wanted to use that weapon so he started practicing with that book and asking questions,” Demura says. “He was very intelligent about showmanship. He knew what the public wanted.”
Although Bruce Lee never lived to see “The Karate Kid” get made, he surely would have been proud of the lasting legacy which Demura, and others, helped create.
Be sure to catch “The Karate Kid” spin-off series “Cobra Kai” on Netflix, the next season of which will be released December 31.