The 1984 hit “The Karate Kid” was known for creating a resurgence of popularity in karate in the United States. Karate and martial arts in general were also a major factor contributing to the movie’s success behind the scenes, as Robert Mark Kamen, the man who wrote all three “Karate Kid films,” was inspired to write the semi-autobiographical screenplay based on his own youth learning martial arts.
In addition, in order to maintain authenticity, there were several well-trained martial artists both behind and in front of the cameras during production of the original film. One such person was film’s martial arts choreographer, Pat E. Johnson, who actually trained with iconic martial arts figure Chuck Norris as a young man.
Here’s what you need to know:
Johnson Was a Black Belt In Norris’ Tang Soo Do
Pat E. Johnson was not only the martial arts choreographer for all three “Karate Kid” films, but also portrayed the referee at the iconic All Valley Karate Tournament at the end of the original film. According to USA Dojo, Johnson was a well-trained martial artist who started training in the traditional Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan at the age of 24 in 1963, while stationed in South Korea as a member of the U.S. Army. There, he earned his black belt in a little over a year.
After returning to the States in 1968, Johnson met soon-to-be legendary actor and martial artist Chuck Norris in California, where he continued his Tang Soo Do training with Norris as his sensei. Norris, who was a year younger than Johnson, was also a black belt in Tang Soo Do, and indeed even founded his own version of the Korean martial art, called American Tang Soo Do, in 1966.
From 1968 to 1973, Johnson was captain of Norris’ undefeated black belt competition team, which won 33 consecutive national and international titles. By 1971, Johnson had cemented his status as one of America’s foremost black belts. That year, he became the National Tang Soo Do Champion.
Two years later, Norris founded the National Tang Soo Do Congress (NTC), and named Johnson as executive vice president and chief of instruction of the institution. In 1979, Norris disbanded the NTC and formed the United Fighting Arts Federation, and once again named Johnson as executive vice president.
By the time “The Karate Kid Part II” was released, however, Johnson had a falling out with Norris. In 1986 – the same year he was promoted to a ninth-degree black belt – Johnson left the United Fighting Arts Federation due to a “philosophical difference” with Norris, and subsequently reformed the NTC.
Johnson Was Also a Noted Referee and Sensei
Johnson was a skilled referee in real life too. Per USA Dojo, Johnson won the prestigious Golden Fist Award in both 1975 and ’76, recognizing him for his outstanding work as a sparring referee.
Johnson was not only a black belt and a referee, but also a sensei in his own right, including to several well-known names. According to a biography of actor Steve McQueen, his son, actor Chad McQueen, who played Cobra Kai bully Dutch in “The Karate Kid,” was a student of Johnson’s.
In addition, Bob Barker, host of “The Price Is Right,” revealed in a 2012 interview with the Vegetarian Times that he studied karate under both Johnson and Norris. According to Grunge, the 98-year-old former game show host, who practiced the martial arts into his 70s, is also a black belt.
All three “Karate Kid” films – as well as all four seasons of “Cobra Kai” – will be available to stream on Netflix as of December 31, 2021. Season 5 of the show will likely be released in late 2022 or 2023.