‘Cobra Kai’ Stars Discuss Bullying

"Cobra Kai" cast and crew.

Getty Cast and crew of "Cobra Kai" during a screening of the first season in 2018.

Any fan of Netflix’s hit series “Cobra Kai” knows that bullying is a major presence in the show. “The Karate Kid,” the 1984 film on which the series is based, is centered primarily around a young boy – Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) who learns karate in order to defend himself from the school bullies – Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), and others – and “Cobra Kai” is well-known for its parallelisms to the original films.

In the ongoing Netflix show, Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña) starts out as a victim of bullying by the hands of Kyler (Joe Seo) and others, leading him to seek guidance from former-bully-turned-deadbeat-dad, Johnny Lawrence. The series also sees Daniel’s daughter Sam (Mary Mouser) date and break up with a number of bullies, Miguel’s unpopular friend Eli (Jacob Bertrand) turn into a bully, and a number of bullying victims – such as Demetri (Gianna DeCenzo) and Aisha (Nichole Brown) – seeking revenge on those who tormented them.

The prevalence of the theme throughout the “Karate Kid” franchise has led to a number of the cast and crew of “Cobra Kai” to share their own personal thoughts, and experiences, with bullying. Here’s everything you need to know.

Mary Mouser and Peyton List Give Their Take on How ‘Cobra Kai’ Handles Bullying

In Decemeber 2020, shortly before the release of season 3, young actresses Mary Mouser and Peyton List, whose character – Tory Nichols – is a bully herself, sat down with ScreenRant for an interview in which they discussed (among various other subjects) bullying, and especially when it came to differences in wealth.

Mouser, who was 24 at the time, specifically said she thought bullying and the wealth divide were “definitely” issues that were resonating with younger viewers, who are clearly a target demographic of the show. She said: “I think, you know, this up and coming generation specifically is woke and knows a lot more about the world than I think I did at that moment in my life. And that’s exciting and it makes me want to challenge myself to learn and try harder.”

She went on to address how the show tackles bullying directly, stating:

I think it’s, you know, important also that the show takes on the idea that just because you’ve been bullied, it doesn’t mean you can’t become the bully just because you’ve come from a tough situation. You can just as easily become the bad guy as you can become the good guy. And we still have to be responsible for our actions [no] matter where we come from.

List agreed that the show handled these important cultural issues skillfully, and went on to say that she appreciated how the show was able to show everyone’s side of the story:

I think ‘Cobra Kai’ does a good job of showing everyone has a story, no matter…how bad you’ve had it or how privileged you are, everyone is going through something. And I think it’s good for all of us to kind of be able to communicate on this show, hopefully it brings more of us together to have those conversations.

In 2013, years before her appearance on “Cobra Kai” but over a decade into her long acting career, List, who was then 15, sat down for an interview with Glitter magazine, where she revealed that she had been bullied herself, saying that a lot of it started after she became a successful actress. She said her message to the girls who victims of bullying was to stand up to them:

I want to tell them to stand up to their bullies. I wish I had. The thing is, you don’t want to stoop to their level. For example, if they push you, don’t push them back—get an adult you can trust.

In an interview with FanFest shortly after the release of “Cobra Kai” season 1, Mouser also spotlighted the difference in bullying in the modern age, versus when “The Karate Kid” came out in the 1980s:

I think it’s so important that this show tackles bullying as it is today versus how it was in the 80’s, it’s a very different animal now. I think they did a great job of incorporating all of the different levels and layers of what that looks like now between cyber-bullying and how mean kids can be and things like that. I was really intrigued by that whole concept in the show.

Other Actors Use Their “Cobra Kai” Platform To Fight Against Bullying

Other “Cobra Kai” stars have not been afraid to use their platform to speak out against bullying either.

Jacob Bertrand, now known for playing nerd-turned-bully (who recently renounced his bully ways) “Hawk,” has also been vocal about his own experience being bullied when he was younger. Bertrand, who, like List, was an actor from a young age, also experienced bullying due to his success. In a 2018 interview with FanFest, he explained, “I was bullied a lot as a kid, all through elementary school. I really, really don’t care for bullies, I don’t really get why people do that. It sucked, I hated it.”

He went on to express how he these past experiences led him to embrace his role as Hawk:

I thought it was so cool to get a chance to embody a character that started kinda insecure, bullied by other kids. To have this kind of turnaround, join Cobra Kai, beating everybody up and getting a mowhawk and a back tattoo, that was really, really fun for me. [Hawk] kinda did a total 180 from sort of victim to aggressor.

William Zabka – long known for his roles as teenage bullies back in the 1980s – has also weighed in on the issue of bullying, insisting, as per GQ, that he has never been one himself, despite the characters he has portrayed. He has also given advice on how to deal with bullies in real life, however, saying in a 2019 interview with CineMovie that adults should “[step] in and [try] to make a difference in these kids’ lives,” suggesting that bullied teens should train in the martial arts in order to defend themselves.

What many fans may not know is that “Karate Kid” and “Cobra Kai” star Martin Kove, arguably the series’ main bully, was actually a spokesman for werekickinit.org, a nonprofit group that works against bullying, according to the Press Enterprise. Kove gave several tips to young victims of bullying, including a strategy known as “disarming.”

“Agree with the bully,” Kove said in the 2015 article. “If the bully says ‘You’re fat,’ you answer, ‘You’re right. My mom has me on a diet.’ And then walk away.”

Referencing his character’s legendary motto, Kove said of himself: “This sensei says, ‘Show mercy’.”

Co-Creator Says ‘Cobra Kai’ Was In Part Based on Real Life Experience

"Cobra Kai" co-creators

Getty“Cobra Kai” co-creators (L-R) Hayden Schlossberg, Jon Hurwitz, and Josh Heald speak at a panel during the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con.

In a recent panel discussion with other cast and crew of the show, co-creator Jon Hurwitz spoke about how his own personal experience with bullying led to the creation of “Cobra Kai.” “We were in our early 20s and we would talk about the bullies from our own high school,” Hurwitz explained. He went on to talk about how he and fellow co-creators Josh Heald and Hayden Schlossberg developed increasing empathy for certain bullies, which led them to want to delve in to the character of Johnny Lawrence a bit more:

We were starting to be young adults and have some perspective on those kids that we knew who gave us a hard time and started to realize where they came from. And realized, ‘oh, that kid didn’t have a particularly great home life going on or had his own problems.’ We started thinking about, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting to explore these themes through one of the most iconic high school bullies of all time, Johnny Lawrence.’

As any fan of the show knows, one of “Cobra Kai’s” key elements is revisiting the rivalry of Daniel and Johnny from a different perspective, perhaps by lending some credence to the popular “Daniel was the real bully” theory. In any case, exploring the characters of the bullies themselves is key to understanding why they abuse, and how to prevent it. Perhaps “Cobra Kai” will continue to shape the landscape of how young people treat each other into the future.

Be sure to catch season 4 of “Cobra Kai” when it is released on Netflix Dec. 31.

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