Pat E. Johnson, who portrays the referee in The Karate Kid, is not necessarily a household name. In the martial arts world, however, he is a legend. Johnson is a ninth-degree black belt in American Tang Soo Do and a member of the North American Sport Karate Association Hall of Fame. He is also the president of the National Tang Soo Do Congress, which was originally created by Chuck Norris in 1973.
Johnson can be found in The Karate Kid as the referee from the All Valley Karate Tournament. He played a larger role in the series than just the referee, however. Johnson was the martial arts choreographer for the entire film. He spent hours with members of the cast training and helping to shape their characters, both physically and spiritually.
Where Did Johnson’s Karate Originate?
Johnson is a grandmaster of Tang Soo Do, a martial art that he learned in Korea while serving overseas in the military. It is the same style of martial arts that Kreese’s captain teaches him in Vietnam in Cobra Kai season 3. Johnson was stationed overseas as a chaplain for the U.S. Army and earned his blackbelt in just 13 months.
When his army service ended Johnson met Tang Soo Do instructor Chuck Norris. Norris hired Johnson as an instructor, and he quickly rose through the ranks to chief instructor at Norris’ school and captain of the Chuck Norris black belt competition team. In 1971 he became the National Tang Soo Do champion.
Johnson is also famous in the karate world for creating the penalty point system, designed to keep fighters safe during competition and encourage more fair and balanced matches. The system is still in place today, and can be seen in The Karate Kid Part III. In both 1975 and 1976 Johnson was awarded the “Golden Fist Award” given to the best referee in Karate.
His Influence on ‘The Karate Kid’ and ‘Cobra Kai’
Johnson played a very important role in all of the fight scenes throughout The Karate Kid. He was the primary stunt co-ordinator, meaning he scripted, arranged, and oversaw the execution of stunts and fights for the entire movie.
In addition to scripting the fight scenes, Johnson also worked with the actors individually. He would take time with each of the actors to do individual workouts and training sessions. Billy Zabka, who played Johnny in The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai, was highly influenced by Johnson’s training.
In an interview with Men’s Health Zabka said that Johnson “built Johnny Lawrence from the ground up.” He added that Johnson influenced him through “More than just the physicality of martial arts — it’s the mental part. It’s discipline. Martial arts instills so much incredible self-esteem … That stuck with me for a lifetime.”
During his time with The Karate Kid Johnson worked with nearly the entire cast, acting as their sensei. He even trained Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita, helping to craft their relationship and Mr. Miyagi’s personality through their time in the dojo. In an interview with Black Belt Magazine Johnson said that “Ralph [Macchio] and Pat [Morita], they were my buddies,” Johnson says. “I trained both of them until they were unable to move, and they would share their aches and pains like two little old men and they built camaraderie through the training.”
Johnson has worked with many actors aside from the Karate Kid cast. Some of his most notable students include Steve McQueen and Bob Barker.