The Real Cobra Kai Didn’t Even Teach Karate

The series Cobra Kai is one of Netflix’s hottest properties, a show that continues the story of The Karate Kid. The series originated on YouTube Red before picking up traction and eventually moving to Netflix, where it continues to draw in legions of new fans with each new season.

Featuring many of the stars from the original Karate Kid films, the series is introducing the same morals and themes as the trilogy that inspired it — all while expanding the story in new and interesting ways. Interestingly enough, while the show is based on characters created for The Karate Kid, there was in fact a real Cobra Kai, founded decades ago. 

William Zabka attends the Build Series to discuss 'Cobra Kai' at Build Studio on April 24, 2019 in New York City.
William Zabka | Dominik Bindl/Getty Images

When did ‘Cobra Kai’ premiere?

RELATED: ‘Cobra Kai’ Season 2 Has a Subtle ‘The Karate Kid’ Easter Egg

Cobra Kai first dropped on YouTube Red in 2018. Based on the characters and situations created in The Karate Kid, Cobra Kai picks up over thirty years after the events of the original film.

The series follows Johnny Lawrence, the villain of the original series, who is experiencing a bout of bad luck. Lawrence decides to open Cobra Kai karate dojo, which leads him to reignite his old rivalry with Daniel LaRusso.

Daniel, as viewers discover, is going through his own personal struggles, including problems connecting to his children. Ultimately, the series helps viewers to understand more about Johnny’s life and history, as well as Daniel’s, revealing that the two bitter rivals might not be so different after all. 

Fans of all ages love ‘Cobra Kai’

While The Karate Kid series was firmly founded on a basis of teen angst and drama and is often thought of as a trilogy designed for younger viewers, Cobra Kai has managed to move beyond the original genre. The first few episodes of Cobra Kai managed to convince fans who weren’t quite sure about investing their time in a series founded on characters from decades ago.

And, in short order, Cobra Kai became one of the most popular new shows around. In August 2020, Cobra Kai started streaming on Netflix, reaching a whole new audience — including many viewers who might have first been introduced to Johnny and Daniel in the ’80s.

Recently, Netflix announced that it would start streaming the third season of the hit series early, with fans taking to social media to celebrate. Ultimately, it seems as though Cobra Kai won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, and in the wake of the show’s massive popularity, fans are attempting to learn everything that they can about martial arts and the real kung fu school that shares the show’s name. 

The real Cobra Kai

Cobra Kai doesn’t exactly stay true to martial arts training in its purest form, but it might surprise many fans to learn that there was, in fact, a real Cobra Kai. According to Den of Geek, Robert Mark Kamen, the man who wrote The Karate Kid, loosely based the film on his own former martial arts teacher, a man named Steven G. Abbate.

Abbate’s school, Cobra Kai, was founded in 1971 and reportedly taught a mish-mash of two different martial arts styles, Northern Shaolin 7-Star Praying Mantis and Tai Kit Kuen, the latter translated by Abbate as “Grand Snake Fist.” Likely, Abbate drew his inspiration for the name of his school from the “snake” in “Grand Snake Fist,” with “Kai” being a Japanese word for “group” or “organization.”

While purists might have several issues with that name, especially because the martial arts being taught at the Japanese-titled school were Chinese in origin, there’s no doubt that Abbate did what he could with the resources that he had at hand — and ultimately went on to become quite a success.