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The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai timeline explained

This content was paid for by Netflix and created by Looper.

You know Daniel LaRusso. You know Mr. Miyagi. You know Johnny Lawrence, and "Ali with an i," and the nefarious lessons taught at the Cobra Kai dojo. You know the whole Karate Kid cast, and you know that, even after all this time, The Karate Kid is a bona fide classic. But do you know the whole story?

After all, the Karate Kid world is larger than just one movie. In addition to two sequels, a soft reboot, a (non-canon) animated series, and a remake, there's Cobra Kai, a modern continuation of the story that began all the way back in 1984. In Cobra Kai, long-time rivals Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso face off just like they did 34 years before, except this time, the stakes are even higher. They're not just fighting for themselves. They're fighting for their kids, and their livelihoods, and their legacies.

Cobra Kai is a treat for Karate Kid fans, but it's also accessible to newcomers, thanks to the frequent use of flashbacks, which replay scenes from the original Karate Kid movies. Still, all of the relationships and conflicts in the show are rooted in those first three movies, and you'll get much more out of Cobra Kai if you understand the intricacies of the surprisingly complex Karate Kid timeline. Whether you've seen the movies before and need a quick refresher or if you want a crash course so you can jump straight to Cobra Kai, here's what you need to know.

The origins of Miyagi family karate

The Karate Kid saga doesn't begin when New Jersey-native Daniel LaRusso moves to Reseda, California. It doesn't begin with the founding of the first Cobra Kai dojo. It doesn't even begin when Mr. Nariyoshi Miyagi moves to Hawaii, looking to start a new life. If you want to know where the story really started, you have to go back 400 years and pay a visit to Tome village, a small fishing community in Okinawa, Japan.

There, you'll find a man who came to be known as "Miyagi Shimpo Sensei," although he wasn't always a martial arts master. As per Miyagi family tradition, Shimpo loved fishing, and he was pretty fond of sake as well. One day, those two things came together and changed the course of history. In 1625, after a particularly slow day at sea, a boozed-up Shimpo fell asleep on his boat, and continued slumbering as strong winds guided his vessel from Okinawa to the Chinese coast.

Instead of coming straight home, Shimpo lived in China for ten years, where he got married and had two children. When he did return to Okinawa, Shimpo brought two things with him: his new family, and a small, ceremonial drum, which became the basis for the Miyagi family's unique form of karate.

Mr. Miyagi's tragic past

Hundreds of years later, the Mr. Miyagi we know from the films was born. Like his ancestors, he was the son of a fisherman, and was raised in the family business. Also like his ancestors, his father trained him in a number of traditional Japanese arts. In addition to karate, Miyagi's father also taught him how to prune bonsai trees, which became one of his lifelong passions.

Mr. Miyagi wasn't his father's only student, however. Miyagi's best friend, Sato, also learned karate at the elder Miyagi's hands. Unfortunately, the relationship didn't last. As teens, Miyagi and Sato fell in love with the same woman, Yukie. While Yukie's heart belonged to Mr. Miyagi, she was betrothed to Sato as part of an arranged marriage. Clearly, something had to be done. One day, Miyagi publicly proclaimed his love for Yukie. Sato responded by challenging Miyagi to a duel to the death. However, Miyagi believed that karate was only to be used for self-defense and personal fulfillment, and fled to the United States, avoiding violence but sacrificing his honor.

Miyagi settled in Hawaii, where he worked in the sugarcane fields. Eventually, he fell in love and got married. Unfortunately, tragedy struck again. During World War II, Miyagi enlisted in the army and served in the legendary 442nd Infantry Regiment. He won a Medal of Honor for his efforts, but paid a big price. While he was off fighting, Miyagi's pregnant wife was rounded up and put into a Japanese internment camp, where she and her baby both died of complications during childbirth.

The rise of Cobra Kai

Many years later, Vietnam veteran and long-reigning US Army karate champion John Kreese dreamed of opening a karate dojo where he'd be able to pass his brutal, violent philosophy — "Strike first. Strike hard. No mercy" — on to a new generation of martial artists. With help from an old army buddy, he made it happen. See, Terry Silver, one of Kreese's brothers-in-arms, owed Kreese his life many times over. After the war, Silver had attained a sizable fortune; in addition to having his own formidable martial arts skills, Silver also owned a very profitable toxic waste disposal company. He used his immense wealth to found the Cobra Kai dojo, which he then gave to Kreese as a gift.

Before long, Kreese was training some of the toughest, meanest kids in the San Fernando valley. His star pupil, Johnny Lawrence, was a rich, handsome, and entitled bully who won the All Valley Karate Tournament in 1983 and 1983. Dutch, Johnny's right-hand man, was a cruel and sadistic teen who, true to Cobra Kai doctrine, rarely showed any mercy. Bobby was Kreese's second-best student, and a perennial runner-up to Lawrence. And finally there was Jimmy, who didn't say much, but packed quite a punch.

The Cobra Kai trainees were more than just karate students. Together, they formed a bike gang and ruled West Valley High School with an iron fist. Everyone was afraid to stand up to them — everyone, that is, except for Daniel LaRusso.

Daniel LaRusso arrives

In September 1984, Daniel LaRusso and his mother, Lucille, moved from New Jersey to Reseda, California, settling down in a shabby apartment with a broken faucet and dirty, drained swimming pool. Almost immediately, two things happened. Daniel made friends with the apartment building's quirky caretaker, a middle-aged Mr. Miyagi, and began making moves on Johnny Lawrence's ex-girlfriend, Ali Mills.

That didn't sit well with Johnny, who still hoped to get back together with Ali, and he didn't waste any time letting Daniel know. On Daniel's second day in California, Johnny and the rest of the Cobra Kais savagely beat Daniel, embarrassing him in front of Ali and the rest of his new friends. That wouldn't be the last time, either. For the next few months, Johnny and his cronies made Daniel's life a living hell, attacking him whenever they got the chance.

By Halloween, Daniel decided that he'd had enough. He struck back at his tormentors by dousing Johnny with water during the West Valley High School Halloween dance, but the Cobra Kais still managed to get the upper hand. After chasing Daniel to his apartment complex, the Cobras delivered a brutal beat-down on the New Jersey transplant. Daniel only survived thanks to the intervention of Mr. Miyagi, who used his long-dormant karate skills to teach the bullies a lesson. Bruised and battered, the Cobra Kai gang left — but now, their hatred for Daniel was stronger than ever.

Wax on, wax off

A few days later, Mr. Miyagi marched down to Cobra Kai with Daniel in tow and struck a deal with Kreese. Instead of all the bullying, why not let Johnny and Daniel settle their differences in an official, one-on-one matchup? Kreese was willing to have the match right then and there, but Miyagi pushed back. Instead of fighting in the Cobra Kai dojo, what if the two teens faced off at the 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament, where the winner would get to bask in all of the glory and the loser would be utterly humiliated? Kreese reluctantly agreed. In addition, in the name of sportsmanship, Kreese agreed that no Cobra Kai students would attack Daniel before the tournament. After, though? If Daniel lost, he would be fair game.

It was a good plan, but had one fatal flaw: Outside of a few classes at a New Jersey YMCA and what he taught himself from books, Daniel didn't know any karate, and he only had a couple of months to get ready. And so, the elderly martial artist began introducing Daniel to the Miyagi family secrets. By making Daniel perform chores like waxing his sensei's cars, painting his fence, sanding his deck, and trimming his bonsai trees, Miyagi both molded Daniel into fighting shape and taught him the moves he'd need to secure victory.

Daniel learned quickly, and as his relationship with Ali became more and more serious, he gained both confidence and skills. Finally, after lots of training, the big day arrived — but could Daniel win?

December 19, 1984: The day everything changed

Despite not knowing the rules, Daniel entered the All Valley Karate Tournament and immediately proved that he was a force to be reckoned with. In the early rounds, he quickly dispatched Kreese's less-talented students, and ultimately ended up securing victories over Johnny's close friends, Jimmy and Dutch. That was enough to get Daniel to the semi-finals, and that's where his first real setback occurred.

Infuriated by Daniel's progress, Kreese instructed Bobby, Daniel's next opponent, to take Daniel out of commission, even if it meant getting disqualified. Reluctantly, Bobby agreed. During their semi-final match, Bobby unleashed a brutal and highly illegal kick targeting Daniel's knee. Daniel fell to the mat, screaming in pain, and while Bobby was indeed disqualified, his mission was a success.

The judges called a 15-minute recess to let Daniel regroup, and as the clock ticked down, things looked pretty dire. Still, right when the judges were about to award Johnny Lawrence his third consecutive trophy, Mr. Miyagi used a special massage to get Daniel combat ready. Limping on his bad leg, Daniel quickly scored two points on Johnny, and was going for a third when Johnny targeted the bad knee — a move that earned him a warning, but didn't result in disqualification from the match.

Eventually, the score was tied, with only one point left to decide. That's when Daniel pulled out his coup de grace. Mimicking a move he'd seen Miyagi use earlier, Daniel unleashed a crane kick, hitting Johnny right in the face. Johnny still argues that it was an illegal move, but the judges gave Daniel the point. Victory was his.

The aftermath

In the parking lot after the tournament, a furious Kreese attacked Johnny while berating him for his second-place finish. It was the wrong move. Not only did Mr. Miyagi step in to save Johnny, humiliating Kreese with his superior fighting skills, but as a result Johnny and every single other Cobra Kai student quit on the spot, leaving Kreese abandoned and alone.

The following spring, Ali and Daniel broke up at the senior prom, leaving Daniel free to accompany Mr. Miyagi back to his native village in Okinawa. There, Miyagi bid farewell to his dying father, smoothed things over with Sato, and rekindled his relationship with Yukie, who refused to marry after Miyagi fled. It was an eventful trip for young Mr. LaRusso, too. While visiting Okinawa, Daniel had a summer fling with Yukie's niece, Kumiko, and entered a feud with Sato's best student, Chozen. Near the end of their trip, Daniel defeated Chozen in a duel to the death, although as per his sensei's teachings, Daniel refused to deliver the final, killing blow.

Things didn't go as well for Kreese. Without any students to pay fees and with Cobra Kai's name tarnished, the one-time sensei had no choice but to close the Cobra Kai dojo. He visited his old partner, Terry Silver, to relinquish ownership of the dojo — but Silver had other plans.

Cobra Kai strikes back

Instead of closing Cobra Kai, Silver decided to expand the operation, buying 20 locations around Southern California and turning Cobra Kai into a chain of dojos. The only thing that he and Kreese had to do first? Beat LaRusso at the next All Valley Karate Tournament, humiliating him while restoring Cobra Kai's not-so-good name.

Terry's plan had two parts. First, he hired Mike Barnes, who was known as "Karate's Bad Boy," and offered him a 50% ownership stake in the new Cobra Kai if he could defeat Daniel at the tournament. Originally, LaRusso wasn't planning to defend his title — he was busy opening a bonsai shop with Mr. Miyagi, helping his mentor achieve a life-long dream — but Barnes and his goons eventually forced Daniel to sign the contract. Second, Silver pretended to befriend Daniel, and offered to train him for the tournament when Miyagi refused. Under Terry's tutelage, Daniel became aggressive and bloodthirsty, driving a wedge between Miyagi and himself.

Thankfully, that didn't last. Shortly before the tournament, Daniel realized his mistake and apologized to Mr. Miyagi, which is when Silver and Kreese revealed their true colors. At the tournament, Barnes beat Daniel savagely while drawing the match out until it reached the sudden death round. However, Daniel managed to score the final point, securing his second consecutive victory. Because of Barnes' brutality, Cobra Kai was banned from future tournaments, while martial arts fans turned on Silver and Kreese, dooming the brand. For all intents and purposes, Cobra Kai was finally dead — for now.

The tables turn

Thirty-four years later, the world of The Karate Kid looks very different. Daniel LaRusso, formerly a poor kid from Reseda, now runs a chain of extremely profitable car dealerships known as the LaRusso Auto Group. He's married to a beautiful woman named Amanda and has two kids, Samantha and Anthony. While Mr. Miyagi passed away in 2011, his legacy lives on through Daniel, who gives each and every LaRusso Auto Group customer a bonsai tree in honor of his old sensei.

Meanwhile, Johnny Lawrence has never gotten over the events of December 19, 1984. He's a deadbeat dad. He's a drunk. Most of the time, he simply sits in his shabby apartment, drinking beer and whiskey, listening to '80s music, and watching cheesy '80s movies. His childhood wealth gone, Lawrence tries to eke out a living working as a handyman, but his mind is still consumed by thoughts of LaRusso, who he blames for stealing his girlfriend, winning the All Valley Karate Tournament by using an illegal move, and ruining Johnny's reputation.

But history has a way of repeating itself, and the time for Johnny's redemption is nigh. See, a young man named Miguel just moved into Johnny's building, and he has some very familiar problems. Like Daniel LaRusso so many years before, Miguel is plagued by rich bullies, and he desperately needs someone to teach him how to defend himself. Lawrence may not be the best man for the job, but he's the only one available. It won't be long before Cobra Kai lives again.