It appears that some cast members took method acting to the next level. Director John Avildsen very intentionally blocked out reading and rehearsal times to keep a divide between the characters.
For the Cobra Kai gang, Avildsen would have them rehearse together and bond together. They were intentionally kept apart from Ralph Macchio and over the rehearsal weeks bonded in what William Zabka called “a little fraternity”.
Pat E. Johnson trained all the actors in the basic karate skills used in the film. He recalled having trained Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio separately but with an equal intensity that elicited many complaints from both actors respectively.
This was by design as the singular, focused, and intense training was meant to create a hardship that would eventually foster a bond between Macchio and Morita.
The Secret Martial Artist
Ron Thomas, who played the role of Cobra Kai member Bobby Brown, was the only actor that knew martial arts, having earned a second-degree black belt in Ju-Jitsu. His agent insisted that he does not reveal this fact due to the studio looking not for actual martial artists and only actors.
After a few weeks into the training, Pat E. Johnson confronted Thomas hinting “You know something, don’t you?” Not being able to hide his skills any longer, Thomas could happily spill his beans.
William Zabka Strikes Fear
William Zabka used method acting to get into his Johnny Lawrence character even for just the auditioning. Zabka recounts that his persona of being a gang leader meant he had to create a “hostile environment” so he didn’t fraternize with the other auditioners and instead sat in his dad’s car, blasting hard-rock, and only went in when it was reading time.
The method acting was a success because, after his first reading with Ralph Macchio, Macchio said he told the producers that Zabka “scared the s**t out of me!”
Mr. Miyagi the Veteran
Military history buffs will appreciate the attention to detail of Mr. Miyagi’s very decorated uniform. Judging by the medals, Mr. Miyagi was an exemplary soldier.
The insignia embroidered on his uniform is that of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, a unit of Japanese-American soldiers that fought for America. This is interesting as the Regiment trained separately due to prejudice laws in America at the time.