Our passion drives us to discuss desired story arcs; names for a dojo that combine two incompatible names and disparate fighting styles; and the creation of a charcuterie board based on characters and plots. We are just that into a show about really stubborn people — who also practice karate.
Spoiler alert: Don’t read on if you don’t want to learn about the plots in previous seasons!
We could spin our planned New Year’s Eve event as being about new beginnings because the two protagonists, Daniel LaRusso (played by Ralph Maccio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), are both starting over after the villainous minions of John Kreese destroyed their schools, but that’s not what makes this show special for us.
We’ve watched a lot of TV during 18 months of lockdown that required me to complete my junior year of college at home. We relished the farce and exceptional writing of my mother’s favorite show, “Frasier.” She introduced me to “Friends” — and yes, they were ABSOLUTELY on a break. I got her into “Community,” “Meerkat Manor,” “Warrior” and “Fresh off the Boat.”
But it was “Cobra Kai” that melded everything we each love about TV, film, life, comedy and each other. The Netflix original series is based on characters and events from “The Karate Kid” trilogy from the ’80s. But my mother never watched those movies when she was younger because she had no interest in martial arts. I introduced her to both. The series, perhaps more than anything else my mother and I binged during the pandemic — and we binged a lot — brought us each into one another’s worlds.
“It probably takes us close to an hour to watch a 30-minute episode,” said CNN’s Christy Oglesby, my mother. “That’s because of you explaining what mise-en-scène means (it’s French for ‘to place in the frame,’ and it means that everything in the frame has significance); how a specific shot correlates to one of ‘The Karate Kid’ movies, us dissecting the dialogue; and me ranting about the angsty unnecessary mistakes of teenagers, both of us loving a camera angle or shot composition and rewinding to watch it three times. Our binging is more like really slow consumption and digestion.”
The spark for discussion
The pause button produces deep, revelatory and comical conversations between me and my mom more than anything else we watch. I began training in tae kwon do six years ago, and while I was in the dojang, my mother ran errands, walked or napped. She was always there for my belt tests and celebrated me, but she wasn’t a superfan.
The pandemic turned her into my spotter and drill sergeant.
I could no longer work out in a dojang since my master had shuttered his doors. That’s when my mother helped me transform our garage into a dojang and added all her Mom touches.
“I love decorating, so the art, the curtains, a poster with the five principles of tae kwon do, a frame to match the curtain aesthetic, making the gym put me in a happy place,” she said.
I never cared about decorating anything, including my dorm. But I really liked what she did to the garage just for me, and I started to enjoy trips to her happy place — our nearby home goods store. While she initially focused on the look of the garage, she soon pivoted to caring about the work I needed to do to maintain my technique and physique.
“I can tell when your poomsae (sequence of movements) aren’t snappy, if you drop an elbow, if a push kick doesn’t start with a tight chamber and if your butt’s too high while doing mountain climbers or planks,” she said. “I have no qualms about making you do it over, while I sit comfortably in my chair with a fan. Now when we watch ‘Cobra Kai,’ I get really excited when I can tell if a tornado kick was great or sloppy and what was a tae kwon do technique or muay thai.”
She gets martial arts now.
Back to the future
We constantly pause to comment on everything. My inner fan keeps jumping to the surface whenever an Easter egg, a subtle reference to another story, which in this case was the previous “Karate Kid” movies, appears. I have practiced the Korean martial art of tae kwon do for years, but I possess a passion for all fighting styles, which “Cobra Kai” celebrates. Characters employ a variety of techniques from different styles to both protect and express themselves.
“With ‘Cobra Kai,’ I’ve had the chance and a reason to tell you all about the ’80s, and the ’70s,” she said. “You didn’t know what a Trapper Keeper was. If Johnny’s addictions hadn’t stranded him in the ’80s and poverty, I’d probably never talk about how cool it was to shop for school supplies. That conversation about a binder took us into a rabbit hole about my junior high years, paying for long distance phone calls, mailing letters. I love our ‘pause’ conversations.”
My mother is a detailed and fun storyteller, and “Cobra Kai” created more of those moments for us. I taught her more about directing, filmmaking, cinematography, martial arts and mise-en-scène. She gained a deeper understanding of the latter during one of our pauses in the aptly titled episode “Fire and Ice” (spoiler alert). Both martial arts instructors seek to gain new students through exhibitions at a local festival. One display involves a teacher shattering thick sheets of ice in a callback to the second film.
Ringing in the new year on theme
On New Year’s Eve, she’s doing something else I appreciate about her. She’s a stellar cook who loves party planning and centering it on a theme, using dishes and decorations to complement her event.
“I’m really excited about our food,” she told me. “We’ll have a charcuterie board because breaking boards is a part of TKD for you and ‘Karate Kid.'”
The menu sounds amazing: “We’ll have roasted pork tenderloin medallions because Miguel, one of the characters, is from Ecuador where roasted guinea pig is a delicacy,” she said. “There’ll be some chicken because of Hawk, Miguel’s friend. I mean, it’s a bird. Spicy salami cuz it has ‘kick.’ Plaintain chips because Johnny likes the ‘little bananas,’ manchego and blue cheese because dojangs and dojos are pungent. For a touch of Japan and for our nod to Mr. Miyagi, Daniel’s mentor, we’ll have Pocky and taiyaki,” a Japanese fish-shaped pastry.
I’d probably never assemble such a food combination even though I’m an eclectic foodie. Her creativity and affinity for party themes with special menus is just who she is.
Whether it’s her love for me my entire life, showing up for me in all sorts of ways, or how we’ve become friends as adults, I’ve grown to appreciate her even more now as a young adult when we take time to pause.
Andrew Christian Oglesby is a senior at Boston College, majoring in history and minoring in film, theater and Asian studies. He hopes to pursue a master of fine arts in acting.