Johnny Lawrence (character)

John "Johnny" Lawrence is a fictional character who appears in The Karate Kid series of films created by Robert Mark Kamen. Played by William Zabka, he serves as the secondary antagonist of The Karate Kid as well as being Daniel LaRusso's main rival, appears briefly in The Karate Kid Part II, and is one of the main protagonists of the web television series Cobra Kai.[1][2][3]

Johnny Lawrence
The Karate Kid character
Johnny Lawrence Before And After.jpg
William Zabka as Johnny Lawrence in The Karate Kid (left) and Cobra Kai (right)
First appearanceThe Karate Kid (1984)
Created byRobert Mark Kamen
Portrayed byWilliam Zabka
Owen D. Stone (young, Cobra Kai)
In-universe information
OccupationKarate instructor, Handyman
AffiliationCobra Kai Karate (1979-1984 and 2018-2019), Eagle Fang Karate
FamilyUnnamed father
Laura Lawrence (mother, deceased)
Sid Weinberg (stepfather)
SpouseShannon Keene (ex-wife)
ChildrenRobby Keene (son)

Fictional biographyEdit

Johnny Lawrence was born on August 20, 1967, and never knew his father. Johnny moved to the upscale neighborhood of Encino, California, after his mother Laura married Hollywood producer Sid Weinberg. A friendless Johnny was often verbally abused by his stepfather, especially after quitting drums, rollerskating, and magic lessons. As a result, Johnny would use his Walkman to drown out Sid's heckling. One day in 1979, while riding his bicycle, a 12-year-old Johnny discovered the original Cobra Kai dojo and spent the next five years learning karate under sensei John Kreese.

Johnny entered the All-Valley Karate Tournament for the first time in 1981 but failed to make the finals. He returned in 1982, after taking his training more seriously, and won his first championship title. Johnny claimed a second tournament champion title in 1983, and made the finals for a third time in 1984, ultimately taking second place to Daniel LaRusso after suffering an illegal kick to his face. Despite his 3 appearances and two victories in the tournament finals, he never received the fame or recognition that LaRusso enjoyed after his victories in 1984 and 1985. This, paired with a violent clash with his sensei, led Johnny to largely abandon karate until 2018.

Laura died in 2002, shortly before Johnny's son Robby Keene was born in February of that year. Johnny took his mother's death hard, and while grieving went on a drinking binge that caused him to miss his son's birth. From that point on, Johnny became estranged from Robby, who developed a hatred for his father.


The Karate Kid (1984)Edit

In The Karate Kid, Johnny is the top student of the Cobra Kai dojo, leader of the Cobra Kai gang, and two-time defending champion of the All Valley Under-18 Karate Championships tournament. Prior to the events of the film, his girlfriend Ali Mills broke up with him after a two-year relationship. One night at a beach party, Johnny confronts Ali about their breakup and starts getting violent. New Jersey native Daniel LaRusso, who recently moved to the area, tries to stick up for Ali, and Johnny beats him up with his karate skills. Over the next few weeks, Johnny and his Cobra Kai gang harass Daniel in and out of school. At the Halloween dance, Daniel soaks Johnny in the bathroom with a hose while he is rolling a joint, prompting Johnny and the other Cobras to chase him down and beat him until Mr. Miyagi, the maintenance man of Daniel's apartment building, intervenes and defeats Johnny and his gang. The next day, Mr. Miyagi confronts Kreese at the Cobra Kai dojo and proposes that Daniel and Johnny's feud be settled in the upcoming tournament. Kreese agrees, but warns that if they do not attend the tournament, both Daniel and Mr. Miyagi will be declared fair game to Cobra Kai.

At the tournament, Johnny quickly advances to the finals, scoring three unanswered points against a highly skilled opponent in his semi-final match. When Daniel reaches the semi-finals, Bobby Brown, one of the more compassionate Cobras and the least vicious of Daniel's tormentors, reluctantly (under orders from Kreese) strikes Daniel's knee with an illegal kick, getting himself disqualified while Johnny looks at Kreese in disgust. Before Johnny is declared the victor by default, Ali informs the tournament announcer that Daniel will fight in the final round. During the fight, Daniel gets the upper hand and gives Johnny a bloody nose. Kreese orders Johnny to sweep Daniel's leg, an unethical move. Fearing his sensei, Johnny manages to land an elbow on Daniel's bad leg, receiving a warning from the referee. Upon the restart of the round, Johnny loses the match after Daniel lands a crane kick to his face. Having gained a new respect for his nemesis, Johnny personally gives Daniel the trophy.[4]

The Karate Kid Part II (1986)Edit

In The Karate Kid Part II, Kreese harshly reprimands Johnny for losing to Daniel, breaking his second-place trophy and locking him in a chokehold. The other Cobra Kai students plead for Kreese to let go of Johnny until Mr. Miyagi intervenes. Mr. Miyagi dodges Kreese's punches, causing Kreese to injure his hands from breaking two car windows. He further humiliates Kreese by mocking Cobra Kai's founding tenets and tweaking his nose after halting a fatal blow deathly close to its target. Following the incident, Johnny and his friends leave Cobra Kai.

Cobra Kai (2018– present)Edit

Season 1Edit

Cobra Kai takes place 34 years after the first film. Now in his 50s, Johnny is a divorced, down-on-his-luck alcoholic loner who is estranged from the now-teenaged Robby, spending most of his time drinking Coors Banquet beer and often resorting to bottles of whiskey when depressed. He struggles to make a living as a handyman in the San Fernando Valley, but is fired from this job after getting into an argument with a customer.[5] He appears to be oblivious to most technology released after the 1990s, as he still carries a flip phone and is unfamiliar with the Internet and social media platforms such as Facebook. In addition, Johnny cites Iron Eagle and its sequel as his favorite movies and continues to listen to classic 1980s rock music. He also harbors a resentment of Daniel, who is now owner of a successful car dealership despite showing good sportsmanship to him by handing the trophy during the 1984 All-Valley Tournament. The duo re-encounter one another after Johnny's red Pontiac Firebird is towed to his dealership following a hit and run caused by Daniel's daughter Samantha and her friends. Johnny reluctantly allows Daniel to have the car repaired for free, but is enraged to find out that Samantha is Daniel's daughter. One night, Johnny steps in after witnessing his teenage neighbor Miguel Diaz being harassed by a group of rich bullies at a strip mall after they shove Miguel against his car, but is arrested in the process. He is bailed out by Sid, who offers to buy him out of his life with an undisclosed sum of money. Johnny initially rejects the money out of pride, but after reuniting with Daniel, Johnny uses the money to reopen the Cobra Kai dojo, with Miguel as his first student. After Miguel beats up the rich bullies in the school lunchroom, dozens of other students flock to the dojo.

Johnny tries to enter Cobra Kai in the upcoming All-Valley Under-18 Karate Championships tournament, but he discovers that the dojo has been given a lifetime ban due to the ruthless actions of Kreese, Terry Silver, and Mike Barnes (from The Karate Kid Part III). Johnny approaches the All-Valley Committee and states that his Cobra Kai is run differently than it was under Kreese, claiming that Kreese has been dead for years and he has never had any association with or even heard of Silver or Barnes. Johnny explains that he alone holds authority over the dojo and that he endeavors to make a difference in the lives of local youth who have been bullied. The board voted to lift the ban and allow Cobra Kai to enter the tournament over the objections of Daniel, now also a committee member. As the dojo gains more students, Johnny gradually earns enough money to keep it afloat and pay back Sid, vowing to never return to him again.

On the back of this success, Johnny trains his dojo even more rigorously. However, his conflict with Daniel is exacerbated by a series of misunderstandings, culminating with Daniel's cousin destroying Johnny's car and assaulting him supposedly in Daniel's name. Enraged, Johnny comes to Daniel's home to fight him, but Daniel's wife, Amanda, manages to defuse the conflict by inviting Johnny to breakfast to discuss the matter peacefully and persuades her husband to give Johnny a car from the trade-in lot of his dealership as compensation. While test driving a 2009 Dodge Challenger R/T, Johnny and Daniel make considerable progress coming to terms, until their return to Daniel's residence leads to Johnny discovering that Robby is Daniel's karate protégé. At that point, an enraged Johnny shoves Daniel, only to have Robby defend his teacher.

At the All-Valley tournament, both Miguel and Eli (nicknamed Hawk) make it to the semi-finals, along with Robby. When Robby and Hawk fight, Johnny chastises Hawk for illegally attacking Robby's shoulder, which gets him disqualified and leaves Robby and Miguel to meet in the final match. When Miguel ruthlessly exploits Robby's injured shoulder against his sensei's wishes, Johnny realizes that his teaching methods have corrupted his students. Miguel wins the tournament and thanks Johnny for his guidance, but Johnny is too dejected by his actions to celebrate. He stops Robby before he can leave the arena and apologizes to him, which Robby accepts with reasonable politeness. Later that night, a very much alive John Kreese shows up unexpectedly at the Cobra Kai dojo to congratulate him.

Season 2Edit

In Season 2, Johnny addresses the tactics committed by Miguel and Hawk during the tournament and downgrades his entire team back to white belt to further discipline them, banning any form of cheating or dirty fighting from the dojo despite their "no mercy" teachings. He also begins employing a stricter training regimen, going so far as forcing his students to push a full concrete mixer from the inside. To further promote his dojo, Johnny has his Dodge Challenger repainted black and decorated with Cobra Kai logos, and has the sound system replaced with a cassette player for his mixtape collection. Johnny initially rebuffs Kreese's attempts to reconcile, and blames him for ruining his life. After Kreese apologizes for his previous actions and repairs Johnny's second-place trophy, he relents and agrees to partner with Kreese by making him an observer before making him a co-sensei. In the meantime, Daniel reopens Miyagi-do in an attempt to compete with and undermine Cobra Kai by offering lessons for free. While Daniel initially has little success in these efforts, several Cobra Kai students defect to Miyagi-do after a group of students led by Hawk proceeds to vandalize the Miyagi-do dojo with the blessing of Kreese. Johnny eventually discovers that Kreese has been teaching his students the old ways of Cobra Kai behind his back and expels him from the dojo. During this time, Johnny buys a used laptop and discovers the Internet. He also upgrades to a smartphone, joins Facebook, and eventually finds love in Miguel's mother Carmen. At the same time, Johnny slowly reconciles with Robby, who eventually moves in with his father. After a chance encounter at a restaurant, Johnny and Daniel make another attempt at reconciliation. But their uneasy peace proves short-lived after a misunderstanding involving Robby and Samantha, leading to a showdown between Daniel and Johnny in the latter's apartment.

A massive conflict between the two dojos' students erupts on the first day of school, ending with Robby inadvertently putting Miguel in intensive care. Johnny's life and relationships are severely in limbo, with a missing Robby likely in legal trouble and Carmen breaking up with him over Miguel's injuries. Making matters worse, Kreese regains control of Cobra Kai and forces Johnny out, revealing that while Johnny was visiting his dying friend Tommy, Kreese made a deal with the landlord to take over the dojo. Most of Cobra Kai's students turn against Johnny and side with Kreese, who vows to never let them down.

A guilt-ridden Johnny goes to the beach and gets intoxicated, haunted by Miguel's injuries and being betrayed by his students and Kreese. He throws his bottle of whiskey at his car, abandoning it and his smartphone, which he drops in the sand. He walks away, not noticing that Ali has sent him a friend request on Facebook.

Season 3Edit

Reeling from the fallout of Miguel's hospitalization, Johnny visits Miguel's intensive care unit and gives him some encouraging words to help him wake from his coma. He later joins Daniel in searching for Robby, nearly wrecking Daniel's rescue efforts after shutting down a group of car thieves before parting ways with Daniel. In order to make amends, Johnny acquires funding for Miguel's surgery by stealing one of Sid's statues to sell at a pawn shop, and makes failed attempts at reconciling with Robby. Johnny then dedicates his time to helping provide Miguel physical therapy with unorthodox methods, but manages to succeed after taking him to a concert, mending his initial rift with Miguel and Carmen in the process. Motivated by his success with Miguel, Johnny creates a new martial arts school "Eagle Fang Karate" in order to take his loyal students from Kreese, making him a permanent enemy in the process. Johnny also reconnects with Ali briefly for the Christmas holidays and finally gets closure with her and ends his rivalry with Daniel.

When Johnny becomes aware of Cobra Kai's antagonism of Miyagi-Do and Eagle-Fang, Johnny confronts Kreese alone and gains the upper hand on him, only to be interrupted by Robby, who joined Cobra Kai after getting out of juvenile. After accidentally knocking out Robby unconscious during his fight, Johnny is ambushed by Kreese and is nearly choked to death by Kreese only for Daniel to intervene and defeat Kreese. Johnny gives Daniel the approval to finish off Kreese, only for Miguel and Sam to intervene. Kreese agrees to cease hostilities with both Johnny and Daniel until the upcoming All-Valley tournament. Finding common ground, Johnny and Daniel agree to train together with their students at the Miyagi dojo.


Johnny Lawrence, as conceived in the original films, was an archetypal bully.[6] Since the turn of the 21st century however, his character (along with that of Daniel LaRusso), has been more deeply developed.[7][8][9][10]

Notably in 2013, Macchio and Zabka made a guest appearance as themselves in the television sitcom How I Met Your Mother ("The Bro Mitzvah"). In the episode, Macchio is invited to Barney Stinson's bachelor party, leading to Barney shouting that he hates Macchio and that Johnny was the real hero of The Karate Kid. Towards the end of the episode, a clown in the party wipes off his makeup and reveals himself as Zabka.[11] This influenced the 2018 web television series, Cobra Kai, which gives a balanced perspective for Johnny, Daniel, and other characters. Zabka continued to be a recurring character throughout the ninth season of the show.


  1. ^ "The Karate Kid's villain speaks out against bullying". Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  2. ^ White, Lori Ann. "Sweep the Leg! Interview with Johnny, William Zabka". Kung Fu Magazine. Retrieved June 24, 2018.
  3. ^ O'Neal, Sean. "William Zabka". The A.V. Club. Retrieved June 22, 2018.
  4. ^ Powell, Larry; Garrett, Tom (December 20, 2013). The Films of John G. Avildsen: Rocky, The Karate Kid and Other Underdogs. McFarland. ISBN 9780786490479. Retrieved June 21, 2018 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ Griffin, David (9 May 2018). "Cobra Kai: Ralph Macchio and Billy Zabka on Reigniting Their Classic Karate Kid Rivalry". IGN. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  6. ^ Prewitt, Alex (2018-05-01). "The Crane Kick Is Bogus: A Karate Kid Oral History". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2019-05-13.
  7. ^ "The Way of Fatherhood, as seen in "Cobra Kai"". Salon. 17 June 2018. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  8. ^ Swansburg, John (11 June 2010). "The Nuanced Villains of the Original Karate Kid". Retrieved 21 June 2018 – via Slate.
  9. ^ "Who was the real bully in The Karate Kid – Daniel or Johnny?". National Post. 24 August 2015. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  10. ^ Vas, Gergo. "Proof That Daniel Was The Real Bully In The Karate Kid". Kotaku. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  11. ^ Gonzalez, Sandra (April 29, 2013). "'How I Met Your Mother' recap, 'Bro Mitzvah': The REAL Karate Kid". Retrieved May 12, 2018.

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