Cobra Kai is stuffed to the brim with meticulously choreographed karate battles, and it takes exceptional talent from the cast to pull them all off.
Cobra Kai is known for its brutal fight scenes, but how many of the actors are actually doing their own stunts? The series takes the Karate Kid tournament-style sparring to an entirely different level, so nearly every episode of the show has some kind of badass karate showdown. This includes the adult legacy cast from the original film franchise and the new actors portraying Cobra Kai‘s teenagers. Everyone is in on the brawl.
Of course, not every actor has the martial arts training of legends like Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, so the series depends on professional stunt and fight coordinators like Ken Barefield and Don Lee. The duo is responsible for making the fights in Cobra Kai look as realistic (and cool) as possible, even if the stars aren’t karate masters. In an interview with Backstage, Barefield and Lee discussed how they go about this to create the staple spars of Cobra Kai work—whether it be with trained stunt doubles or the actors themselves.
Most Cobra Kai Fight Scenes Use The Real Actors
Stunt doubles can only be used in scenes where audiences can’t get a clear view of the characters. For this reason, each actor whose character participates in the action must perform most of their own fighting scenes. Therefore, when audiences are watching the likes of Xolo Maridueña (who plays Miguel Diaz) and Mary Mouser (Samantha LaRusso) battling it out with their fellow actors in Cobra Kai, it really is them doing complicated punches, kicks, and dodges.
Barefield and Lee are responsible for ensuring these battles look amazing and that the cast is up to the challenge of pulling them off. They have shared that this requires a great deal of flexibility on their part since a fight will only look realistic if the actor is truly capable of performing the move every time they try. This means hours of training and preparation for even short scenes. Still, it takes years to become a true martial arts expert, and most of these actors only began their training after they landed their roles. So, Barefield and Lee have to get creative.
How Cobra Kai Shoots Fight Scenes With Untrained Actors
Though actors like Ralph Macchio and William Zabka have their Karate Kid days on their resumes, they haven’t had the kind of formal training that would make them karate masters. The same is true for the younger cast members in Corba Kai. So, while they all undergo a great deal of training to pull off every fight, Barefield and Lee state that it all comes down to the choreography. Each battle is like a dance, and for audiences to believe it is a real fight, it must be custom tailored to the stars performing it. Lee explained this as referenced below:
“We train with them, and we choreograph to their strengths versus what may cinematically look cool. If you can’t do the move 10 out of 10 times, it’s not worth putting on film, because we don’t usually get more than two or three takes. You want to highlight what the actor can do. When you have a cast where some are more naturally talented than others and some have to work harder to get there, it’s a really cool progression to see. “
Ultimately, the fight scenes look so good in Cobra Kai because the moves cater to each actor’s abilities. This also means that each fighter appears to have their own style—even though they never had the years of work in a karate dojo to develop one. Additionally, this ensures that the actors are safe both physically and mentally. Stars pushing themselves too far to perform unrealistic skills would be altogether too dangerous and wouldn’t look good on screen anyway. It all has to look natural—something Ken Barefield and Don Lee have perfected to a tee in Cobra Kai.