Monday, June 30, 2008

Cobra Kai robbed of glory in '84

Blog on the Run columnist

It’s been 24 years since Miyagi-Do Karate shook up, what had long been considered the establishment, at the All-Valley U18 Karate Championship. To this day, we all can’t help feel a little bit cheated.

Nevermind the fact that Daniel LaRusso’s run was marred by his illegal Black Belt, obtained when Mr. Miyagi swiped it from one of the tournament’s administrators, but this was clearly the Cobra Kai’s year. They were loaded.

(Stacked with talent.)

One would assume that Johnny Lawrence had won the tournament in previous years – probably more than once. Following his stunning loss to LaRusso, Lawrence didn’t return to the tournament the following year. He may have been discouraged by Sensei John Kreese and left the dojo, and the sport, altogether, but was more than likely 18 and in his final year of eligibility. As were many of the others near the top of the class, including Bobby Brown, Dutch and Tommy.

Months prior to the tournament we get a sense that Bobby isn’t as brainwashed by the Sensei’s teachings as the other members of the class. In the incident following the Halloween Dance when the Cobra Kai members are handing Daniel a severe beating, Bobby suggests to the other members to “Leave him alone, man. He’s had enough.” Again, before Bobby’s semifinal match he mentions to Kreese “I can beat this guy.” That one final plea to let the competition become more legitimate is telling. Bobby got a favorable draw, being placed on the opposite side of the bracket as Johnny, and seemed to be peaking at the right time. This may have been his year. For certain, he would’ve given Johnny a better match than at any time in the past. His "spinarama kick" to defeat an early-round opponent was arguably a more difficult move to defend than the crane technique.

Dutch also had coasted through to the quarterfinals before facing Daniel for a spot in the semifinals. Dutch never wavered in his enthusiasm for punishing Daniel with dirty tactics. Before the tournament he sent the message to Daniel “Points or no points, you’re dead meat.” He went through the motions in his match with Daniel, landed a blatant kick to the face, and took the loss in stride. If not for the systematic beating gameplan – or Daniel’s illegal Black Belt – the stage may have been set for Dutch vs. Bobby and Johnny vs. Vidal (his semifinal opponent who dispatched of several Cobra Kai members in his own bracket before running out of steam).

Certainly, the favorite would’ve been Johnny. His reputation as the best in the dojo to that point was based on skill level and performance, but he had a rough year, getting dumped by Ali Mills and also slugged in the face. He may have been destined for more disappointment, either way.

This was the all-Cobra Kai finish that needed to play out, had circumstances allowed. It’s also likely that Freddy Fernandez would’ve attended.

Fernandez served as LaRusso’s buddy, briefly, when he first arrived at the apartment complex in Reseda. He invited Daniel to the beach for the end-of-summer bash. Daniel first meets Ali and then confronts Johnny for the first time after Johnny steals Ali’s radio.

After Daniel gets beat up by Johnny and is lying face down in the sand, Fernandez appears deflated and ultimately wants no part of being friends. Another of Fernandez’s friends asks “Where did you find this guy?”

This is a humiliating moment for Daniel all-around and at the same time, an important question for Fernandez moving forward. Can he remain friends with somebody who just got his ass kicked or isn’t as good at karate as he had hoped?

Even being residents of the same apartment complex, the answer is "no," although during the All-Valley Tournament we see Freddy and two friends taking in the action.

Did they come around and decide to support Daniel? That’s possible but unlikely, since Daniel had given no indication to being a threat going into the tournament. Why would Freddy back him then if not before, when he clearly wasn’t the best in the town.

Freddy went for his general interest in the sport and knew the chips could fall any number of ways.

The rest of us weren’t as fortunate.

Stu Arl lives in South Florida and is the newest member of the German Village Media Family of Networks.


Anonymous said...

Always thought Dutch deserved a swift kick in the nuts.

Anonymous said...

I believe Dutch was, and is, Steve McQueen's son.


Anonymous said...

I've thought about the same things before. This is a great article.

Kevin Thomas
Austin, Texas

ScottP said...

Great article.

Watching as a kid, I always hated Dutch -- moreso that Johnny or Bobby, and probably about the same as the "body bag" guy.

But now I gotta say he's my favorite. He had the attitude, and just enough irrational anger to really throw things off balance. And, while certainly not as talented as Johnny or Bobby, he knew just enough karate to be dangerous. If he hadn't gone down the road of cheap shots and DQ who knows how it would have ended? But that's what made Dutch, Dutch - winning fairly just wasn't important (and probably not in the cards anyway).