Karate Kid Week: Disqualify Daniel Larusso

I’ve watched Daniel-san’s final, dramatic Crane Kick over and over, and I’m convinced that any decent karate judge would have kicked him out of the tournament for it.

[Today we begin Karate Kid Week, an extended consideration of the seminal work of 1980s cinema. –Ed.]

It pained me to type that title. Really, it did, because I love that scrappy kid. He moved to a new town, got the girl, and wore one of the greatest Halloween costumes in history. But I’ve watched his final, dramatic Crane Kick over and over, and I’m convinced that any decent karate judge would have kicked him out of the tournament for it.

We don’t learn much about the rules of the All Valley Karate Tournament. About 30 seconds before Daniel’s first fight, his now-sort-of-girlfriend Ali briefs him on the rules:

Everything above your waist is a point. You can hit the head, sternum, kidneys, ribs.

Fair enough. So a kick to the head should be fair game.

HOWEVER. I have consulted the USANKF Sport Karate Rules, and they make it very clear that in a tournament, you do not have a license to strike someone as hard as you can. Allow me to quote from Article 8: “Prohibited Behavior.”

Traditional Karate techniques delivered full-power can cause extremely serious injury, even death. Karate competition is a sport, and for that reason some of the most dangerous techniques are banned and all techniques must be controlled.

Now watch Daniel’s Crane Kick again, slower now. And tell me: does it look “controlled?”

It looks to ME like he’s kicking the guy in the face as hard as he possibly can. Daniel could have easily broken Johnny’s nose, or even snapped his neck.

Of course, I’m not an expert. Terry Bryan, on the other hand, is. Terry amassed over 300 karate tournament victories, and served as General Secretary for the USA National Karate-Do Federation. I emailed Terry and asked him to watch Daniel’s Crane Kick. He emailed me back and confirmed my worst fears:

Depending on the rules of that specific tournament but in most, yes he would have been disqualified.

Now I suppose he does allow us a little wiggle room – we don’t know what crazy rules could have been in play at the All Valley Tournament. Maybe kicking a guy in the face with all the force you can muster is a perfectly legal technique, thanks to the aggressive lobbying of the Cobra Kai.

But just watch the kick a final time, now slowed down and magnified to show the impact.

Does that seem safe? I’m sorry, but Daniel Larusso must be disqualified. He’s lucky Johnny didn’t press charges.

And now, just for fun, here’s the kick at 1% speed:

34 Comments on “Karate Kid Week: Disqualify Daniel Larusso”

  1. Eric #

    This is all hypothetical anyway. The Cobra guy would have been disqualified or possibly arrested after the first two rounds for cheating like a bastard, so if the tournaments had any rules at all it wouldn’t have gotten to this point anyway.


  2. fenzel #

    Yes, but Daniel Larusso is always held up as different from the antagonists in some key way – different from the Cobra Kai because he believes in responsibility, training and tradition rather than violence and thug mentality, and different from the Okinawan antagonists in Karate Kid II because he believes in mercy and forgiveness.

    We may have to confront the unfortunate reality that Karate Kid I is, ideologically, a lot more like Karate Kid III than we’d like to think.


  3. Wayne #

    In a tournament today, he would most like be disqualified for excessive contact. HOWEVER… We’re talking about 1984 – 24 years ago.

    Also consider that nobody in the tournament is wearing any protective gear – no hand or foot pads and no head gear. Sweeps are allowed as well as striking the head once an opponent is down.

    I know that my instructors have told stories of their late 70’s tournaments where it wasn’t exactly Bloodsport, but it was fairly full contact.. if you didn’t want to get kicked in the face, you should learn how to block.


  4. fenzel #

    Here’s a question – if Daniel Larusso is disqualified for putting too much force into his crane kick to the face, how does this change _The Karate Kid_? What happens, and what’s the moral of the story?


  5. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    It depends, Pete. I see two scenarios:

    1. Johnny is seriously injured by the hard kick to the head. Suddenly, Daniel comes off as the bad guy – the whole sweeping the leg thing is forgotten as paramedics rush Johnny to the hospital. He may never walk again. Everyone boos Daniel. The tournament is widely criticized for allowing him to compete, since he clearly has no formal training. Mr. Miyagi is sued for falsely vouching for his experience level. But more importantly, Daniel has become what he most hates – he’s used karate in anger, for vengeance. This would be particularly interesting in light of the earlier locker room scene, after his injury. Miyagi tried to convince Daniel he doesn’t need to fight anymore. He’d already proven himself. But Daniel insisted on continuing. If he then severely injures or kills Johnny, with a technique he’s never even tried before, then he’s come full circle and betrayed everything Miyagi tried to teach him.

    2. Let’s say Johnny isn’t injured, but the ref steps in and disqualifies Daniel anyway. I think the plot becomes about the ref being in league with the Cobra Kai. There’s a fine tradition of sports stories where the administrators try and throw up obstacles to squash the underdog outsider. (One of my sister’s favorite movies, Stick It, is entirely about female gymnasts rebelling against the tyranny of biased and unfair judging.) Anyway, in THAT Karate Kid, maybe there’s another 30 minutes of movie. Daniel appeals his disqualification, gives a big speech in front of the Karate Review Board. They grant him a rematch against Johnny, to be held at the Karate Federation’s national tournament in Orlando, Florida. Before the match, Sensei Kreese tries to convince Johnny to cheat again. Johnny refuses. He wants to fight with honor for once, and find out who’s REALLY the best. Before the match, he apologizes to Daniel for bullying him. They have a good, clean match, and Daniel wins. “Are you happy now?” demands Kreese furiously to his star pupil. “Actually,” says Johnny, “I’m happier than I’ve been in a while.” The entire Cobra Kai defects to study with Mr. Miyagi. The final scene is Daniel supervising the construction of a brand new karate studio. The ex-Cobra Kai are happily painting and sanding under Miyagi’s supervision. Daniel thanks Miyagi for everything, jumps in his convertible, and drives off to have sex with Elisabeth Shue.


  6. mlawski OTI Staff #

    A little off-topic, but Belinkie is getting at a point that struck me as I watched Karate Kid last week: the movie just ended. No denouement. Just crane stance kick, freeze frame, credits. Instead of having such a drawn out first act, the movie should have kept going for at least a few minutes after the final fight so the audience could soak in whatever lessons we’re supposed to learn, whether that is “Daniel Larusso fought fairly and is awesome” or “Daniel Larusso fought unfairly and became that which he hates.”

    This is all to say that Matt Belinkie should have written The Karate Kid.


  7. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    The thing is, I feel like it’s not uncommon at all for sports movies to end really quickly at the moment of victory, no denouement. Rocky, for example. Not saying I love it, just saying it’s sort of the style.
    – Matt


  8. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    By the way, does everyone know that the same guy directed Rocky and The Karate Kid? That always surprises me, everytime I remember it.


  9. Gab #

    There isn’t an extended version with scenes from after the tournament? You know, like _Author! Author!_ and the stuff about him getting dragged out of bed by the kids? I think a longer ending to _The Karate Kid_ would have done the same thing the longer version of _Author! Author!_ is argued to have done: kill the mood. Viewers are going to be less satisfied with a movie that leaves them feeling down after such a high.

    I thought of Daniel’s insistence on fighting as a matter of pride, of vanity- not out-right revenge. Either way, he’s still using karate for the wrong reason. Maybe there would be a flash-forward to ten years later and Daniel-san goes ballistic when he walks in on Miagi having tea with Julie-san or some jazz, at which point Miagi tells Daniel-san that he’s a has-been because he fucked up, time move on, be tree in wind and sway with it instead of being rock and refuse move, get many things smashed against self, not good.


  10. Don #

    I have to agree with Wayne. The context of the time must be taken into account. At a USAKF (the organization from which the USANKF split off) tournament in Chicago in the 80’s they ended up using every available ambulance in the area due to injuries.

    As with most things where one tries to analyze the past, you must first understand the context.


  11. fenzel #

    So does this mean in order to see Daniel Larusso as the hero of _The Karate Kid_, you need to vindicate Christopher Columbus?


  12. fenzel #

    Also, this from Darryl Vidal, who appears in the semifinals of the tournament and is beaten by Johnny – and who also dressed up in a fat suit and bald wig to stunt double for Pat Morita in the beach scene –

    “But his biggest secret is the one that must leave his student’s eyes wide with awe:-

    “…the crane technique, as depicted in the movie, isn’t a real move in any karate or kung-fu. Pat Johnson told me what he wanted, and I basically said, “you mean something like this?” It is widely recognized, and I still hesistate when I tell my karate students that I made it up. But as you might have guessed, there is very little practical application to the technique.”

    Here’s more info on him:


    And here’s what he’s been up to lately – this news story ran only a couple of months ago:



  13. Jason #

    If we’re being technical, I’ve gotta disagree here. The kick looks perfectly safe, as it passes a safe distance of 6-8 inches to the right of Daniel’s opponent’s head with no contact at all.

    Really, one might better question Johnny’s motive in taking a dive when missed.


  14. Dave #

    I’ve always wondered how the Cobra guy survived this kick. In self defense courses it is said that you can kill an attacker buy delivering an upward hit to their nose with the palm of your hand. The force of the hit will drive the nasal bone up into the brain thus causing death. With the upward impact on the nose and the force of this kick – Johnny most certainly would have been the one in need of the body bag.


  15. Eddie #


    Actually, I was surprised to learn that is (mostly) a falsehood. The force of the blow required to drive that nasal bone into the brain through the skull is actually more than the bone itself can withstand before breaking. The force would have to be delivered with pinpoint precision at the exact point where the bone is strongest to even have a chance, and it isn’t all that great then, either.

    Moral of the story? If you want to kill someone, the eye socket and the windpipe are much more fatal targets.

    And that The Karate Kid is amazing.


    • Amanda Harker #

      I agree, anatomically you’d have to strike the right place at the right angle using the right force. Even then the chances of doing enough damage to the brain is near impossible. The brain actually has multi-level protective tissue so you’d have to get though a webbing and then the blood brain barrier before getting to the actual brain.
      However if you catch the right person shattering a bone and sending tiny shards into the blood stream could be deadly. I have a small hole in between the two ventrical chambers of my heart and if a bone shard was to get into that hole it coulf cause a blood infection or cardiac arrest, if I was super unlucky. But again the chances of that happening are pratically non-existant.


  16. Arjewtino #

    This is all great and all but let me ask you this: why was it OK for Daniel to kick Johnny but when Dutch kicks Daniel he doesn’t get a point for it?


    • Ceri Cat #

      Various reasons can be applied, it could be the judges didn’t call the contact for some reason (poor angle to call a hit), the technique was not valid… different organisations have dramatically different rules on what strikes are allowed, ie a strike to the side of the head might be called a point but to the face is a foul or vice versa.
      And yep this is what I’ll be doing this Sunday, trying to avoid getting my head beaten in and hopefully scoring points on actual contact instead of losing to a kick over a foot over my head because I evaded.


  17. hEY #

    Are u crazy – he controlled it ` and r u da director..?
    You do ur own show
    With a crane kick


  18. lakawak #

    It wasn’t Daniel’s fault. Johnny ran right into it.


  19. lakawak #

    Besides, give me a break…Johnny would have been disqualified first for the blatant attack on the knee.


    • Ceri Cat #

      Agreed, I don’t know about the 80s but these days in my own association I compete under strikes below belt height aren’t scored or are ruled fouls depending on the specific circumstances, black belts can agree to allow THIGH contact, but strikes to the knee are always illegal.


  20. Matt #

    Under most tournament rules I know of from back then, contact to the face is restricted for all belt levels UNDER black. Black belts are allowed to strike the face as they are considered to have mastered the basics of their style and are able to compete similarly.

    Therefore, in 1984, I do not believe that Larusso’s Crane Kick was illegal and he won legitimately.


  21. Lance #

    Daniel just caught Johnny coming in and that is why it had as much force as it did. Johnny ran right into it. Can’t blame Danielson for that.


  22. Amanda Harker #

    Ignoring the hypothetical nature of this conversation, I think you should also keep in mind that it’s very hard to use your full strength with an injured knee.
    Even if you account for the adrenaline of a competition and the riki healing Mr Miagi used on his leg there’s no way someone other than a shaolin monk would be able to ignore that much pain. So you could argue that even trying his very hardest the worst Daniel could have done is break his nose.
    Plus as others have said, the rules used in the 80s are most likely quite different to now.


  23. Random #

    Punches to the head are illegal, but kicks are not. If kicks to the head were illegal, Johnny would have been disqualified prior to the final match because he is shown kicking Darryl Vidal in the face (while holding his arm… savage!) in a previous round of the tournament.


  24. Kimberly #

    Did you look at rules from the TIME THE FILM WAS MADE…because from what I know, the rules were changed about a decade
    after the movie came out because so many idiots were trying to mimic the moves…I’m just curious as to which rules you consulted…


  25. Bill #

    1) The author of the article made a big deal about the kick not “looking” controlled. I think the point of the movie is that by this point, he’s achieved a point of balance in his training. That was the whole point of “wax on/wax off” and “paint the fence, up/down”. Clearly by the time of the tournament, Daniel could’ve been capable of being in complete control.
    2) This is a movie people. Quit over-analyzing.


  26. AC #

    I believe we have successfully overthought this


  27. David Badyrka #

    This was not a documentary Johnny was never really hurt neither was Daniel. What would have happened in a real tournament is irrelevant to the movie. Unless somewhere there is a list of rules for the All Valley Championship. There is no argument to have Daniel disqualified as I am sure The Cobra Kai and Sensei John Kreese would have been complaining about the rule violations


  28. Shez Shafiq #

    Daniels crane kick was perfectly legal. The kick is consistent with other kicks to the face in the rest of the tournament where points were given. I’ve never seen a problem with it, neither did the judges.


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