How Cobra Kai Could Finally Fully Redeem Johnny



  • Cobra Kai
    explores Johnny’s perspective, revealing his past and potential redemption.
  • The show highlights Johnny’s growth as a person, father, and mentor.
  • The final season will likely focus on Johnny’s redemption arc and the Sakai Taikei tournament.

Cobra Kai seemingly came out of nowhere, a quiet YouTube Red (later YouTube Premium) show that served as a 30-years-later sequel to The Karate Kid. When the show moved to Netflix, however, it became a massive hit. One aspect fans love about the show is how it flips the script and makes fans wonder if Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) was really the villain all along or if he was merely a victim of circumstance and an evil and manipulative sensei, not to mention that allegedly illegal Crane Kick.

Whatever a fan’s viewpoint back then or now after watching this show, there’s no debating that Johnny has begun to redeem himself as a character who has been hated as a bully and tyrant for so long. Sure, he’s still a bully with a temper and an edge. But he’s also an endearing underdog who was dealt a tough hand in life. That’s why it’s important that before Cobra Kai ends after its sixth and final season, the show must complete his redemption arc, and it likely will.

cobra kai

The Story of Johnny Dates Back to High School

Way back in The Karate Kid movie in 1984, Johnny is the popular kid in school, the leader of the Cobra Kai karate kids. But he’s also the resident bad boy who gets into trouble. When he sees his ex-girlfriend Ali (Elisabeth Shue) with a handsome new kid, he is furious. An altercation occurs between him and the young man, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), and so begins their decades-long rivalry. Johnny and his Cobra Kai friends make it a point to continuously harass and antagonize Daniel. When he meets Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), his life changes forever. He decides to train with him to learn karate and be able to fight back.

The movie, which is told from Daniel’s perspective as the protagonist, follows his spiritual and physical journey with the new sensei. Daniel has a natural talent, and soon, he becomes a fierce fighter. Everything leads up to the All-Valley Tournament, which Daniel and Johnny will compete in.


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Not surprisingly, the two are in the finals together. This is when Johnny’s sensei John Kreese (Martin Cove) instructs Johnny to “sweep the leg,” advising him to purposely injure Daniel’s leg, knowing it’s his weak point as it’s already injured. Johnny seems reluctant to do this but ultimately obliges, afraid of letting down his mentor. Following this dirty move, Daniel uses the now iconic Crane Technique to take down Johnny and win the tournament. Johnny seems to concede graciously, though Kreese is furious with him.

Cobra Kai Tells the Story From Johnny’s Perspective

Picking up 30 years later, Daniel and Johnny cross paths by happenstance once again. Daniel is now a locally famous car dealership owner, though he has largely hung up his gi. Johnny is working odd jobs and living in a complex in a seedy part of town. He spends his days drinking beer and getting by as a lonely soul. He has a son, but he is largely estranged from him.

When Johnny comes across a teenage boy, one of his neighbors, who is being bullied, he springs into action to fight back against them, though it’s mostly because the boys touched his car and talked back to him. Miguel (Xolo Mariduena) is impressed by his moves and wants Johnny to teach him what he knows. While initially reluctant, Johnny eventually sees this as an opportunity to do something positive with his life and maybe even make up for the shortcomings with his own son.

This eventually leads to him opening his own dojo, which he sees as an opportunity to make money. He calls it Cobra Kai, both an homage to his past and, eventually, an attempt to do things differently this time and create a new Cobra Kai. Daniel, however, gets wind of this and opens his rival dojo, Miyagi-do.


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Through various heated interactions between the two men, fans finally hear things from Johnny’s perspective. While he grew up with money while Daniel was poor, Johnny’s stepfather was an awful person to him. He leaned on Kreese as a positive male role model, though he was anything but. As an impressionable young man starving for attention, however, not to mention needing an outlet for his anger, Johnny relied on Kreese. And Kreese took advantage of his need and devotion.

In Johnny’s eyes, Daniel was the bully who attacked him first during their initial meeting. Of course, there’s also that debate over the illegal kick and whether Daniel should have been disqualified. Whatever perspective is believed, however, the point is that there was another perspective that had never been explored. The story was always told with Daniel as the underdog and hero. But Johnny was going through challenges no one learned more about, and he was ultimately just a kid doing his best with what he had.

Johnny’s Redemption Has Already Begun in Cobra Kai

Aside from hearing Johnny’s perspective on stories from the original movie, Cobra Kai has also been a vehicle for Johnny to demonstrate personal growth. When he first comes across Miguel, he has no interest in helping the young boy. However, over time, his relationship with Miguel grows deeper and deeper, and eventually, so does his bond with his son Robby (Tanner Buchanan).

Johnny slowly but surely begins to do things for others, not just himself. He also begins to tolerate Daniel, finally willing to leave the past in the past. Once he begins dating Carmen (Vanessa Rubio), Johnny has a reinvigorated purpose and someone who truly believes in him, possibly for the first time in his life.

The reunion with Kreese also helps bring Johnny much-needed closure. After so many decades, he’s finally able to say the things the Kreese that he was never able to say as a teenager. Looking at the man through an adult lens, he also sees Kreese for what he is and understands what Kreese did to him and how damaging that has been on him since.


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With a baby on the way, a potential friendship with Daniel, a good relationship with his son, and a massive worldwide karate tournament coming up, Johnny is on top of the world. This doesn’t mean he won’t face challenges going forward: he will inevitably encounter stresses within the extended 15-episode final season. But he’s growing as a person, man, and father and has the chance to show that he can deal with anything that comes his way in a more mature manner.

Johnny will always be Johnny, of course, the traditional “guy’s guy” who guzzles beer, gets into bar fights, and thinks everything is “badass.” But while the main storyline to cap off the show will be about the Sakai Taikei tournament and the kids who compete in it, it will also likely be a completion of Johnny’s redemption arc.

With this new lease on life, a new relationship with his son and a baby on the way, a group of kids who look up to him, and squashing old beefs, Johnny could finally grow up. The key principle to Miyagi-do is balance, as Daniel has repeated so many times before. By the end of Cobra Kai, Johnny may finally find just that and, most importantly, no longer be considered the villain he once (or maybe never) was. Watch Cobra Kai on Netflix.



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