‘Cobra Kai’: How Martin Kove Created John Kreese’s Signature Pose

Cobra Kai shows that John Kreese (Martin Kove) is still as intimidating as ever. Amanda LaRusso (Courtney Henggeler) even once commented on his age, then learned how he still threatens grown men. Ever since The Karate Kid, Kreese has stood with his arms folded staring his students or enemies down. Kove explained how he came up with that posture. 

'Cobra Kai': Martin Kove as John Kreese stands with his arms folded in front of an American flag
Martin Kove | Steve Dietl/Netflix

Kove spoke with Showbiz Cheat Sheet by phone on Aug. 23. We’ll have a lot more with him and other Cobra Kai stars in the next month. But first, Kove took us back to the day he developed Kreese’s signature stance on the set of The Karate Kid. Cobra Kai Season 5 premieres Sept. 9 on Netflix

Martin Kove observed ‘The Karate Kid’ choreographer Pat Johnson 

Pat Johnson trained the cast of The Karate Kid and choreographed the Karate fights. Johnson didn’t know he was giving Kove acting tips too.

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“You try to search for what’s natural,” Kove told Showbiz Cheat Sheet. That came natural to the character. I would watch Pat Johnson, our stunt coordinator, and he would train Miyagi and Ralph [Macchio] separately and the students separately, the Cobra Kai students and then myself separately. We worked with him for a couple hours each day. He and Chuck Norris were partners in the ‘60s and ‘70s in the tournament scene worldwide. I would watch him function and keeping his hands in his belt.”

John Kreese had to do something with his hands in the Cobra Kai dojo

In The Karate Kid you meet Kreese as the Cobra Kai sensei. He instructs his students not to show mercy and observes them practice. 

“I guess folding your arms, because John Kreese would always study his students,” Kove said. “He wasn’t an active character physically outside of the dojo. There were no fight scenes. There were no spinning crescent kicks for me. It was always instruction and it was always watching the students do it. So I think holding the lapels was something I found.”

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Kove added that he was on his own to develop this. Director John G. Avildsen had other notes about his character. 

“John honestly didn’t give me a lot of direction in this character,” Kove said. “John just kept telling me, ‘I don’t want the Marty Kove smile and the twinkle. I just want ice, I just want to see ice every time I look at him.’ Even when some of my students did well, there was a slight glimmer of appreciation that you learned your lesson well. Keep it going. There’s more to do versus total disdain when they lost. But he didn’t show a lot.”

Martin Kove studied the movies when he joined ‘Cobra Kai’

Kove returned at the end of Cobra Kai Season 1. Season 2 showed Kreese resume teaching at Cobra Kai, and the same old stance came back to Kove. He revisited the movies and saw they still applied to the new generation. 

“I remember going into the movies while I was doing Cobra Kai trying to find the physical stances of this character and it was all the same,” Kove said. “It was all the same because his mind was always working. He never had real physical moments to do anything with. It was always appreciation of the student or a lack of appreciation of the student because he lost. It was between Pat Johnson and myself what he would do with his hands.”

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