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The truth about the Crane Kick debate in Cobra Kai

With Cobra Kai's first two seasons on Netflix now, a ton of people who missed the show on YouTube Red are binging it and discovering what a rough life Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) has after the events of The Karate Kid. Johnny can't keep a relationship together, is alienated from his son, drinks way too much, and works far too little.

Like a lot of older men down on their luck, Johnny also has some fixation on a certain incident: his loss to Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) in the All Valley Karate Tournament, which happened at the end of the 1984 film The Karate Kid. Johnny maintains that the Crane Kick, which Daniel used to score the match-winning point, is illegal and that what Daniel did was cheating.

What makes this debate rage on is that there's a lot to analyze both within the text of the original three Karate Kid films and within the cultural zeitgeist surrounding the franchise. Heck, both Macchio and Zabka have addressed the Crane Kick in ways that actually make the question even harder to answer.

So, what's the deal? Is Daniel LaRusso a filthy cheat? Is Johnny Lawrence just being a baby? Is there even a way to answer this question? Let's look at the arguments.

The Crane Kick is legal

There are several things one can look to when arguing that the Crane Kick is a legal move. 

First, an important line: "Everything above the waist is a point: head, sternum, kidneys, and ribs." Those are the words of Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue), who's both the former girlfriend of Johnny Lawrence and the current girlfriend of Daniel LaRusso during the All Valley Karate Tournament at the end of The Karate Kid. She may not have trained in a dojo herself, but clearly Mills has seen a tournament before.

Also, as mentioned, Daniel wins the tournament with the Crane Kick. No refs call Daniel out, and even Johnny congratulates Daniel on his victory.

Daniel isn't even the only person in the tournament who strikes an opponent in the face. Johnny and other members of Cobra Kai do it themselves! In fact, in his match with Daniel, Johnny does a jump kick right at the start. The kick may not make contact, but he does use it. If a kick to the face — even if it doesn't touch one's opponent — were illegal, wouldn't that mean that Johnny would be disqualified?

The Crane Kick is illegal

Now, let's say Ali Mills doesn't understand the nuance of karate tournaments. That's possible — Mills can bounce a soccer ball on her knee, too, but that doesn't make her perfectly-versed in all the rules of soccer. And let's say also that the refs went easy on Daniel because he had been critically injured with an illegal move earlier on in the tournament. Daniel's a kid whose leg nearly got broken and he still came to play, so sure, it's feasible that the judges gave Daniel whatever the karate equivalent of a gimme putt is and let him perform an illegal move on Johnny. 

To back up the idea that the Crane Kick is illegal, one could point to The Karate Kid Part III, during which Daniel has a conversation with Terry Silvers (Thomas Ian Griffith) about how he'd be disqualified for face contact. In addition, there's an interview with TheWrap wherein actor Ralph Macchio says, "No hits to the face was clearly something when the referee made the list of things what not to do" — effectively admitting that, yes, the Crane Kick is illegal.

So, that's it, right? The Crane Kick is illegal?

The Crane Kick is... dude, who knows?

The Karate Kid Part III is not The Karate Kid, so the rules for the tournament could have easily changed over time. And even though Macchio noted that the referee said "no hits to the face," there's no filmed scene in the movie (or edited out of it) where the ref says anything of the sort. The most the referee says is, "Watch the control." So the question you have to ask yourself is: Was Daniel's Crane Kick controlled enough? That seems to be the nuance here.

But — and let's just put it out there — if the Crane Kick was illegal, why would we see a picture of Daniel at the All Valley Karate Tournament all these years later during the events of Cobra Kai? Furthermore, in that same, recent tournament, wouldn't Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña) have been disqualified when Johnny has him use a Crane Kick on his first opponent? For the record, Miguel gets a point for that move. Aisha Robinson (Nichole Brown) and Eli "Hawk" Moskowitz (Jacob Bertrand) also get awarded points for punching their opponents in the face.

In the end, The Karate Kid is a movie and Cobra Kai is a TV show. The only rules that matter are the ones that make the story interesting. For all we know, on Cobra Kai season 3 Daniel's Crane Kick will be retroactively considered illegal. But for now, we're going to call it: The truth is that the Crane Kick is legal ... probably.