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Characters / Cobra Kai John Kreese

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"Life isn't always fair. Sometimes the world can be cruel. And that's why you have to learn to be cruel yourself."
Click here to see Kreese as he appears in the 1960's. 
Played By: Martin Kove, Barrett Carnahan (1960's flashbacks)

"I founded Cobra Kai. It belongs to me. It always has. And it always will. I will never let my students lose... even if they have to learn the hard way."

The original sensei of the Cobra Kai dojo. Despite Johnny's belief he died, at the end of Season 1, he reenters Johnny's life to bring Cobra Kai to its former glory.

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  • Above Good and Evil: Kreese believes that there is no "good" or "bad", just strength and weakness. He imparts this view to his students as well.
    "Your whole life you've been told to be good. But good is only a matter of perspective. Always remember that your enemies think they're doing what's right. They think they're the hero and you're the villain. But now you know the truth. There is no good, there is no bad, only weak or strong. And now that we've shed our weakness, it's time to show our strength. And if you do that, I promise you, you will be unstoppable."
  • Aesop Amnesia: Despite losing everything in the original trilogy and being a homeless drifter in the 34 years since, Kreese refuses to acknowledge that seeing his life as a war and his "No Mercy" mentality is directly responsible for fueling it. Even when Johnny flat out tells him the old Cobra Kai philosophy never worked and they need to improve it, Kreese takes this as a sign that Johnny has lost his way and he decides to steal the dojo and his students from underneath him.
  • All Take and No Give: While he genuinely wants to reconcile with Johnny and run Cobra Kai together, he only wants to do so on his terms and does not appreciate Johnny's attempts to modernize the dojo's philosophy.
  • Animal Motifs: Given that Kreese was the original founder of Cobra Kai, it should be no surprise that a snake represent him, especially since Kreese is a Manipulative Bastard who slithers back into the dojo and poisons Johnny's students and son against him.
  • Arch-Enemy: To both Daniel and Johnny, to the point that they finally agree to set aside their differences and work together to take him down for good in the Season 3 finale.
  • Ax-Crazy: If trying to kill a 17 year old kid for getting second place in a karate competition and then terrorizing the kid who won a year later wasn’t already enough to validate this trope, John Kreese amps this up by carrying out a 34 year old petty grudge during the series. He blatantly encourages worse behavior among the dojo than he used to as a sensei, clearly showing he wants his students to assault others to the extent of risking serious damage and even death, but personally, he’s a subtle yet creepy example - he tries to outright murder both Johnny and Daniel when they confront him at the end of Season 3. Kreese passed through a Villainous Breakdown a long time ago and has pretty resolutely lost his mind by the present. He seems to be under the impression that he’s still at war and imposes this psychology on his students and expects them to apply a Sociopathic Soldier mentality to everyday life.
  • The Bad Guy Wins:
    • Not only does he manage to outlive Miyagi (granted, they were decades apart in age), but he lives long enough to see Cobra Kai revived.
    • Taken even further by the end of Season 2, where he takes both Johnny's dojo and the loyalty of his students from him.
    • Downplayed in Season 3. By the eason's end, Kreese manages to convert Daniel's former student and Johnny's son Robby to his side, but Johnny and Daniel have finally joined together with the intent of stopping him and Cobra Kai once and for all.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: He presents a mouse to the dojo, which he prepared as snake food. Bert takes a liking to it, only for Kreese to expel him for showing compassion to an animal.
  • Bait-and-Switch Character Intro: The viewer is initially led to believe that the handsome bully is Kreese in a flashback, but it turns out that he's actually the bullied, nondescript smaller guy. Young Kreese then proves it by beating the shit out of the bullies as soon as he's off work.
  • Bait the Dog: He spends the first part of Season 2 acting like he's a changed man, but this all turns out to be a ploy to worm his way back into Johnny's good graces and swipe his dojo right out from under him.
  • Became Their Own Antithesis: Kreese was once an idealistic young man with a promising future ahead of him. The hell he endured during the Vietnam War, combined with taking Captain Turner's Social Darwinist teachings to heart, would warp him into the ruthless man he is today.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Don't talk trash about his tattoos unless you want to end up with a bloodied face. Demetri learns this the hard way.
    • He is also visibly rattled when Daniel references the time when he busted up his knuckles trying to fight Mr. Miyagi.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: Once upon a time, Kreese didn't have much to say and wasn't nearly the flashy, cocky remorseless liar we all know.
  • Big Bad: He's responsible for encouraging the aggression of the Cobra Kai kids in Season 2. After the school brawl, Kreese seizes control of the Cobra Kai dojo along with the loyalty of eight of its students (Hawk, Tory, Stingray, and Mitch included).
  • The Big Guy: By far the most physically intimidating character, even in his early/mid-seventies.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: He shows up, claiming that he's a changed man and he's remorseful for his actions back in 1984. It eventually becomes apparent he hasn't changed at all, and was just pretending as such to work his way back into Johnny's good graces and steal his dojo.
  • Blatant Lies: He tells so many lies he can't keep track of them, including his service in Afghanistan and other countries, and mixing up Rwanda and Somalia. When Johnny finally confronts him about the truth, it ends up being another means of manipulating Johnny.
  • Blood Knight: Downplayed, but for him, life is still war.
    Kreese: War never ends. Peace is just the lull between battles.
  • Broken Pedestal: This is his biggest character flaw. He is very good in gaining loyalty from people, especially impressionable teenagers. However, he is very bad in returning that loyalty if he no longer has any need for that person. In the first movie, Johny and his friends were utterly devoted to him and he managed to turn it into a life-long hatred of him. When Johny tried to give him a second chance, Kreese promptly betrays that. In Season 3, Hawk, Mitch, Bert and others realize Kreese doesn’t actually care about any of the students beyond what they can do for him as fighters and pawns in his revenge schemes. They ultimately join Johnny and Daniel’s new dojo to take the man down once and for all.
  • The Bus Came Back: Unseen since the end of Part III, he returns at the end of Season 1.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Perhaps the only real concession Kreese has given to his age is that he doesn't solely rely on his physical prowess anymore, choosing to pick up weapons or fight dirty when he loses control of the situation as he did when Johnny gained the upper hand in their fight and again when Daniel stepped in to save Johnny.
  • Conflict Killer: Kreese's return is ultimately responsible for ending the conflict between Johnny and Daniel, leading them to focus on him instead.
  • The Corrupter: By the time he establishes himself in Cobra Kai, he begins corrupting Johnny's students into becoming violent bullies.
  • Cycle of Revenge: It turns out that, during his adolescence, Kreese was bullied by a group of football players with a "no mercy" attitude. Also, he fought in the Vietnam War, which resulted in a lot of mental problems for those who fought in it (especially as it is revealed that Kreese became a POW).
  • Dark and Troubled Past: It turns out that Kreese has a nightmarishly tragic backstory (mother committed suicide, made a POW in Vietnam, sweetheart died in an accident while he was at war, with his commanding officer purposely keeping it from him until they were forced to fight to the death), which explains (even if it in no way justifies) why he's such a monstrous sociopath.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: While he manages to convince Johnny, literally no one else believes Kreese is sincere in his quest for redemption. When Daniel first learns that Kreese is teaching again he's in complete disbelief that Johnny would bring him back after what Kreese did to him. Johnny blows off these concerns due to the tension between them. Miguel similarly brings up his worries to Johnny about Kreese but Johnny again deflects these criticisms. And then Johnny's old Cobra Kai buddies also tell him what an awful idea it is to keep Kreese around, but Johnny is still insistent in believing that Kreese has become a better man.
  • Dirty Coward: When Amanda confront Kreese at the dojo, he taunts her how Daniel “isn’t man enough to face his own problems”, which gets him slapped. He then goes playing victim to taunt her more. In the Season 3 finale, Kreese showed no problem with attempting to flat out murder Johnny and Daniel, but he himself gets visibly scared after Daniel disabled his arms and leg (using techniques taught to him by Chozen), a nod to how he got scared after Miyagi made him injure his own fists in the parking lot many years prior.
  • Dirty Old Man: While meeting with Johnny at a diner, Kreese makes a not-so-subtle pass at a waitress as he orders coffee. Keep in mind that the Season 3 flashbacks confirm that Kreese has to be in his early 70s at least.
    Kreese: And bring me a cup of Sanka. Red-hot, just like you, doll-face.
  • Disappointed in You: He and his dojo confront Johnny and his new dojo, Eagle Fang Karate, shortly after their opening and offers him one more chance to return to Cobra Kai's ways. Johnny declines, and Kreese warns him that he'll regret it.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: He leaves Demetri with a bloodied face all because the latter touched his arm and made critical remarks about the former Cobra Kai sensei's tattoos.
  • The Dreaded: Even though he hasn't been seen in 29 years, Johnny and Daniel still fear his influence... and the latter, rightfully so.
  • Eagleland: Unlike Johnny, Kreese is a straight Type B (and later revealed to be a Type B+). A paramount example is his riposte to Daniel's demand to keep his venomous influence away from the children of the Valley — a banal claim that "it's a free country."
  • Emerging from the Shadows: He makes his comeback by stepping out of the dojo's shadowed entrance into the lit-up main room.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Kreese is so convinced of the wisdom of his own teachings that he either doesn't believe Johnny wants to change, or can't understand why he would want to. Even in Season 3, Kreese repeatedly offers Johnny a chance to rejoin Cobra Kai, long after Johnny's made clear he wants nothing more to do with him.
  • Evil Gloating: A fairly subdued version occurs when he arrives at Johnny's dojo; he's clearly enjoying his former student resurrecting their creed and avenging the first loss to Daniel.
  • Evil Is Petty: It bears repeating that Kreese's ultimate goal in Season 2 is taking over his own student's dojo so that high school age kids will more readily beat each other up, all for the sake of revenge for Daniel and Miyagi beating his dojo in a tournament decades ago and stopping him from choking out his own student.
  • Evil Mentor: The original. Most of Johnny's poor influence on his students in Season 1 can be traced back to his teachings, while in Season 2 it's his direct influence that causes Hawk, Tory, and others to go completely off the rails.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: Despite Cobra Kai previously being an all-male dojo, he's apparently able to look past having female members faster than Johnny did, most likely basing them on their performance.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: When he mentions his mother while chatting with Tory, it's clear that he regrets that he didn't realize how much she was struggling with her mental health before she committed suicide and wishes he could have helped her.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Yes, even Kreese has standards. He fought his own bully David for harassing Betsy, and stuck up for Tory against a creepy landlord attempting Sexual Extortion against her. He also does not physically retaliate against Amanda LaRusso when she slaps him for encouraging violence and thug-like behavior, though this is a downplayed example since he then takes advantage of the situation to file a restraining order against her and paint himself as the victim of her abuse to the outside community.
  • Exact Words: He challenges his dojo to kick off a bonsai tree balanced on top of a tall log. When Hawk kicks the log to make the tree fall, Doug Rickenberger accuses Hawk of cheating, but Kreese refutes him, as he never specifically said anything about not touching the log.
    Doug: But [Hawk] cheated.
    Kreese: No, he didn't. Unlike you, he did exactly what I asked him to do.
  • Expy: Kreese seems to have drawn many similarities with Emperor Palpatine. Both are Evil Old Folks who manipulate and corrupt those around them to put themselves into a position of power and were thought to be dead for a period before retuning and becoming the Big Bad once more.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Played with in that he shows off a picture of his girl back home to his army buddies, but since his survival of the Vietnam War is obviously guaranteed, it's his girl who ends up dying.
  • Fatal Flaw:
    • His You Have Failed Me / You Have Outlived Your Usefulness approach. While he justifies adding more athletic students and dismissing the weaker ones as necessary for Cobra Kai, it winds up alienating the stronger students who are friends with the weaker ones and were used to Johnny's A Father to His Men and Undying Loyalty approach. By the end of the third season, even Hawk has had enough and defects back to Johnny.
    • Simple arrogance. While he can have multiple people dancing to his tune at any time he seemingly can't help himself when it comes to performing Emperor Palpatine levels of overplaying his hands. He keeps thinking he has Johnny right where he needs him to be but he often decides to push a button he shouldn't to further antagonize Johnny. As noted above, he tries to "trim the fat" of Cobra Kai due to getting punked in the School Fight when in reality Hawk is right in that they had nothing to gain for losing "soldiers", even weaker ones. If Kreese just stopped going for Home Runs and let everyone around him self-destruct he would get where he needs to go with ease but the desire to be seen as the one person dominating all does him far more harm than good in the end.
  • A Father to His Men: Subverted. Unlike Johnny who genuinely cares about his students (enough to accept anyone who joins his dojo and can tough out his training), Kreese does not have the same compassion even if he pretends otherwise. A student can give him their Undying Loyalty, but he'll still kick them out of the dojo the second a better fighter comes along. And even when he's throwing his students a bone (settling things with Tory's landlord, letting Hawk beat up Brucks, letting Robby stay as long as he likes, etc), he's just grooming them for further indoctrination into his brutal creed.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Kreese is very capable of being the most charming person in the room. When he's not dealing with someone challenging him, he sprinkles enough truth and compliments into basically everything he says, it's hard for the naive not to buy into it. Even when you know his true nature, he can worm his way into your confidence, as happened to Johnny when Kreese first reappeared. But in the end, everything Kreese does, even his most kind and altruistic moments, is in service of hurting his enemies, gaining control over others, and nothing more. He's just excellent at pulling a Villain with Good Publicity and making you look like the bad guy.
  • Finish Him!: This is still Kreese's signature expression.
  • For Your Own Good: He says this word for word about stealing the Cobra Kai dojo from Johnny.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: While Johnny admits to Kreese he knows the man went through some terrible things in the Vietnam War and he himself will never truly understand the horrors, he also tells him that civilian life is not the same as the war and Kreese's philosophy is just going to cause problems for the kids. It becomes more prominent when remembering from the films that his Foil Mr. Miyagi was himself a World War II veteran who lost his wife and son, and still ended up becoming the opposite.
    • Season 3 takes this to its logical conclusion; we see first hand the horrors he experienced and the mistakes he personally made that lead to his No Mercy belief. It's understandably traumatising and we realise why he holds the beliefs he does, but it gets clearer that civilian life is not the same as getting your platoon captured as prisoners of war and some of them killed. If anything, the fact he's gone from surviving as a POV to wanting to murder a car salesman for ruining his business over three decades ago shows how unhinged his philosophy is.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Season 3 shows that Kreese used to to be a decent young man who cleaned floors at a diner, was shunned as a freak after his mother committed suicide, and defended women from abusive boyfriends. After he joined the Vietnam War, he set off on his Start of Darkness.

  • Gaslighting: He spends the second season manipulating Johnny into believing that the former Cobra Kai sensei has changed his ways. Even when Johnny eventually catches on and dismisses him from the new Cobra Kai, Kreese seizes control of the dojo some time after the school brawl, and Johnny is powerless to stop him.
  • Genius Bruiser: Very intelligent, and incredibly manipulative, as well as a hulking, ex-soldier martial arts sensei.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: He is reintroduced puffing on a glowing cigar to help sell his evil credentials — as though he needed any assistance with that. Later, he puts one of his cigars out in a Miyagi-do bonsai pot.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Johnny unwittingly channels Kreese's teachings when he accidentally corrupts his own students into the same type of bullies he used to be.
  • Hate Sink: He remains unchanged from his days as Sensei of Cobra Kai back in The '80s and unrepentantly indoctrinates his "soldiers" into subscribing to his Might Makes Right mentality. It's not hard to argue that he has no redeeming qualities as a human being.
  • Heartbroken Badass:
    • Issue 3 of the comic series seem to imply this. Kreese had a sweetheart named Betsy sometime before he was deployed to Vietnam. However, Kreese said she became a distraction to his duties and had to end things with her. Kreese was about to go into details with young Johnny, but then decides against it after an apparent look of sincere forlorness.
    • We find out in Season 3 that it was much worse than he hinted, to the point it actually makes Kreese somewhat sympathetic. He joined a special force during Vietnam and right before a big mission, Betsy died in a car crash. This information was kept secret from him because it would be a "distraction" but his CO saw fit to reveal this to him while they were about to be forced to fight to the death as POWs, hoping to gain an advantage. It's no wonder that this ended up becoming part of his Start of Darkness.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Volunteered for Special Forces duty mainly to serve his country, with some promises of being a hero. Ended up internalizing so much of Turner's "no mercy" philosophy that he even smokes the same cigars, more than fifty years later.
  • Hidden Depths: He seems to have some knowledge of animal behavior and terminology as he compares his absence to a cobra entering brumation and accurately corrects Johnny when the latter calls it hibernation which is only done by warm-blooded animals.
  • Hypocrite:
    • While he pretends to be a Father to His Men, the truth is he's a Social Darwinist who will expel a student the second they show any reservations about his philosophy or a better fighter joins the dojo.
    • While he constantly tells the Cobra Kai students that Miguel is one of them and they need to continue their war against Miyagi-do for his sake, it's later revealed that Kreese himself wrote the kid off because he showed mercy during the school brawl.
    • For all of his preachings on Might Makes Right, he refuses to back down from having his students harass Daniel's and Johnny's even after the two of them kick his ass in the Season 3 finale.
  • Hollywood Restraining Order: Kreese files a frivolous restraining order against Amanda LaRusso after she confronts him at Cobra Kai's dojo for his students having assaulted her husband's students.
  • Idiot Ball: His actions at the end of Season 3 were pretty dumb for a former Green Beret. He pushes Tory to lead the Cobras in an assault on the Miyagi-do and Eagle Fang students as they're beginning to work together, while keeping Robby behind at the dojo so Johnny and Daniel will find him there when the inevitably confront Kreese for the attack. Someone with his military training would know that both dojos would be easier to defeat if they weren't allied and launching an attack on them simultaneously while showing he's corrupting Johnny's son/Daniel's protege is just what both sides and senseis needed to put all their differences aside and fully unite. Not only that, but he also loses one of his best fighters (Hawk) to the Miyagi/Eagle faction.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten: Hamster, in this case. Bert refuses to feed it to a snake and is promptly kicked out of Cobra Kai by Kreese.
  • Improvised Weapon: How he won his death duel in Vietnam, and something he attempts against Daniel later - break something in the immediate area, then try and stab the opponent with it.
  • Insane Troll Logic:
    • Because of the hell he endured during his time in Vietnam, he often treats whatever facet of life outside of war imaginable as a war zone.
    • His response to Daniel ordering him to keep his Cobra Kai students away from Daniel's kids is to smugly state that it's a free country. Apparently he forgot that even free countries have laws against things like assault and breaking and entering.
  • It Has Only Just Begun: Kreese's very words letting you know He's Back!
  • Jerkass: Demetri even describes him as "The King of All Assholes".
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: After talking with Johnny at the beginning of Season 2, he gives the impression that he's remorseful for what happened in 1984. Later, when Johnny discovers that he is practically homeless, Kreese tells a story about his history of failure and explains that he feels like a "broken man". Kreese is still the same ruthless bastard that he was in the original Cobra Kai days, and he was only playing on Johnny's sympathy in order to get close enough to steal the new Cobra Kai dojo from him.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • When visiting Daniel's dojo, Kreese puts his cigar out on one of Daniel's bonsai plants as his way of "paying respect" to his deceased nemesis Miyagi.
    • When Miguel defeats Hawk in the Coyote Canyon exercise, Kreese tells Miguel to Finish Him!... despite how Hawk is already the Cobra Kai student most in line with Kreese's values.
    • The climax of Season 3 sees him announce his intent to not only dominate the next All-Valley Tournament, but also to "melt down the entire snowflake generation" in a condescending tone.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: When Kreese gets into an Evil vs. Evil situation it can be quite satisfying to see his brutality directed towards someone else who's a jerkass.
    • In 1965, he defended Betsy from her abusive boyfriend, David. (Although in fairness, Kreese wasn't evil yet in this one.)
    • In Season 3, he threatens to slice off the fingers of Tory's creepy landlord with a cigar cutter to ensure he'll leave her alone and she'll return to Cobra Kai.
    • He lets Hawk beat Brucks into a pulp in retaliation for his bullying and destroying Hawk's mental health and self-esteem back in Season 1.
    • Though we don't see it onscreen, the final words he spoke in that scene ("I just cleaned the blood off that mat... oh, well.") indicated a Pre Ass Kicking One Liner toward Zakarian, Erik, and Grigor.
  • Knight of Cerebus: The show gradually grows darker when Kreese reenters Johnny's life. His arrival triggers a series of events that culminate in the devastating brawl at the school which ends in tragedy.
  • Last-Name Basis: To differentiate him from Johnny Lawrence, who shares a similar given name as him, Kreese is always referred to by his surname in the present time.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: His return may have been a twist when Season 1 was first released, but the marketing for Season 2 makes no secret of his presence.
  • Lazy Bum: In terms of being a sensei. Season 3 shows Kreese has no patience for training any students that don't immediately meet his standards, makes zero effort to help them improve and sometimes kicks them out of the dojo right off. Even if they show a lot of potential, like Mitch or the girl Tory fought, he prefers to focus more on refining the skills of already strong fighters rather than take the time to build up a student's athleticism and skill set.
  • The Lost Lenore: His girlfriend Betsy, who was the one thing inspiring him throughout combat and made him determined to return home, died in a car accident while Kreese was still deployed. The news of her death was one of the things that broke him. She's still seemingly on his mind decades later, as he even uses her Affectionate Nickname "Dollface" for other women who catch his eye.
  • Like a Son to Me: In his twisted way, this is how Kreese feels about Johnny. The producers have also indicated that he genuinely wanted to co-exist with Johnny in Cobra Kai, and that his principle motivation for taking the Cobra Kai dojo from Johnny was disappointment in Johnny having "lost" his way from the original Cobra Kai teachings. Even in that heartbreaking moment, Kreese offers Johnny a Tough Love-esque "One day, you'll thank me for this". It becomes even more twisted in Season 3 when Kreese recruits Robby to the dojo in the hopes it will bring Johnny back into the fold and they can rule Cobra Kai as "three generations". This means that Kreese sees Robby as his grandson.
  • Made of Iron: For an old man, he can take quite the beating.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Kreese is as skillful at manipulating others to get what he wants as he is at karate.
    • Acts like he cared for Johnny all along in order get Johnny to let him teach at Cobra Kai again, allowing him to swipe Johnny's dojo and students out from under him by the end of Season 2. One of his master strokes is encouraging Hawk and his gang to vandalize Miyagi-Do, resulting in Johnny punishing the whole class to find the culprit. Once Johnny is away for a bit, Kreese lays on "you're all brothers and sisters, one you does something you've all done it" spiel, drawing the recruits closer in a pack mentality and driving a wedge between the students and Johnny.
    • He uses his status as a veteran as clout to get others to take him more seriously, which is seen when he gets the cops to put a restraining order on Amanda La Russo when she confronts him at the Cobra Kai dojo, and when trying to convince the city council to reinstate the All Valley youth karate tournament, which had been banned due to the brawl at the school at the end of Season 2.
    • When Robby ends up in juvey, Kreese pays him a visit and plays on Robby's feelings of resentment and betrayal to turn him into Cobra Kai's next rising star, and keep him alienated from both Daniel and Johnny.
  • Might Makes Right: A large part of Kreese's philosophy. All that matters to him is strength, with him bringing in people with natural athletic talent regardless of their personality and expel any student who shows weakness or fails once regardless of their loyalty. Subverted when he never backs down or changes his ways even after Daniel and Johnny and (for that matter) Mr. Miyagi have bested him.
  • Morality Chain: Betsy. Kreese was a reasonably nice guy who hoped to marry her and be happy. As soon as he hears she's dead, he's able to murder his CO, and his relentless villainy continues unabated to this day.
  • Never My Fault:
    • Kreese doesn't seem to acknowledge that he's responsible for the misery that was brought upon him, instead blaming all of his misfortunes on LaRusso, Mr. Miyagi, and modern society. The only time that he ever admits any fault is when he was trying to manipulate Johnny into trusting him.
    • In Season 3, he expresses outrage at the fact Johnny has started his own dojo and recruited several former Cobra Kai students, ignoring that he was the one who caused it by stealing Cobra Kai from Johnny and expelling all of those students because they failed to meet his standards.
  • Never Say "Die": He's incredibly vague about his ultimate plans for Daniel, simply saying he wants to 'defeat him'. The finale of Season 3 leaves very little room for interpretation that his ultimate goal is to kill him. Even in this moment, Kreese doesn't use the words 'die' or 'kill', instead simply saying that it's time for Daniel and Miyagi to "reunite".
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Recruiting Kyler and Robby to Cobra Kai in an effort to strengthen the dojo ultimately causes Hawk to have a Heel–Face Turn, make amends with Miguel and Demetri, and rejoin Johnny.
  • Not Quite Dead: Johnny, at least, seemed to be under the impression that Kreese was dead.
  • Not So Different: Season 3 reveals that parts of his past are similar to Mr. Miyagi's, especially the fact that both of them had their significant others pass away while they were in the middle of combat.

  • Oh, Crap!: When Daniel temporarily paralyzed his arms and readies himself for the kill Kreese has a look of sheer horror like when Miyagi defeated him.
  • Older Than They Look: Even in his 70s, he hardly looks that much different compared to his days as sensei of Cobra Kai back in the '80s outside of his hair having turned grey.
  • Old Master: A given — despite Johnny's own formidable skills by this point, Kreese still manages to fight him to a draw (he is a Vietnam veteran, after all}. This is also deconstructed as Season 3 goes on — Kreese is undoubtedly skilled enough to fight Johnny to a draw and give Daniel a good fight, but there's little wisdom to be found in his philosophy.
  • One Steve Limit: His first name is John. To draw a line between him and Johnny Lawrence, this keeps him on a permanently Last-Name Basis.
  • Pet the Dog: Subverted multiple times. Any time he does or shows an act of kindness, he does it only for his own selfish benefit.
    • Kreese returns Johnny's second place 1984 All-Valley Tournament trophy to him, repaired and good as new. Though it appears to be a good-natured gesture at first, Kreese does this purely to get on Johnny's good side and thus regain faith in his former Cobra Kai sensei, setting him up for further manipulation.
    • He does this again with Tory in Season 3 in a true gray area. On one hand, what he does for Tory is a legitimately good thing and something the poor girl desperately needed (getting her out of dealing with rent issues as she was juggling two jobs and her GED) and putting a thrashing on a perverted landlord outright propositioning her (a MINOR) so she won't get evicted. And since it resembles an experience from his own youth (when he confronted a couple of hoods harassing Betsy), there's probably some sincere disgust and/or protectiveness on his part. On the other hand, it's quite clear he's only doing this to obtain Tory's Undying Loyalty and secure one of Cobra Kai's best fighters for the long haul. It's what makes Kreese so dangerous. You know that basically everything he's doing is in service of his own benefit, but there's still quite a few times that the advice or help he offers is still useful and appreciated despite that. Like a true cult leader, it's the desperate and the down-and-out who are the most vulnerable to Kreese.
    • And again to Robby Keene - his advice helped him out against Payne's gang in juvie, and him allowing Robby a place to stay while the kid was homeless has earned Robby's loyalty as well. It stands in stark comparison to Johnny and Daniel, the former of which abandoned his care, and pushed him against a locker, and the latter, who got him sent to juvie in the first place, where he got his face busted in. Even if Johnny and Daniel were right about Kreese, in Robby's mind, they failed him, while Kreese was one of the only people who ever treated him with some semblance of kindness.
  • Phony Veteran: Zigzagged. Kreese did indeed serve in the special forces during the Vietnam War, but the experience was horrifying and not glamourous, leaving him something of a Shell-Shocked Veteran. After his failures in the original films, he attempted to rejoin the service to find purpose again, but was rejected as mentally unfit. Perhaps as a coping mechanism, he subsequently began making up flagrantly untrue stories about his service during and after Vietnam, including claiming to have participated in conflicts he knows nothing about (for example, claiming to have fought in the Battle of Mogadishu despite not knowing what country Mogadishu is in).
  • Playing the Victim Card: In Season 3 he gets a lot of mileage out of falsely painting himself and Cobra Kai as the victims when they are actually almost always the aggressors. He also milks his status as a veteran for sympathy with law enforcement and local government every chance he gets.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: If you thought Johnny was bad... in the space of one episode he openly disparages a kid for wearing a "The Future is Female" t-shirt and later racially insults the Latino owner of the convenience store next door. Later still, when Johnny informs him Miguel is Ecuadorian, not Mexican, Kreese replies there's no difference.
    • At the end of Season 3, he says he's going to 'melt the snowflake generation', firmly establishing him as an adversarial baby boomer who think the younger generations are weak and coddled.
    • However, this trope is zigzagged given that he does show some subtle Character Development regarding his unquestioning acceptance of female dojo members such as Tory and Aisha in what had previously been an all-male dojo (a hang-up that even Johnny initially struggled to get over). Also he's more educated on mental illness than Johnny in calling his mother's mental illness "a disease" as opposed to Johnny who simply told Hawk to "get off it" when the latter said he might be on the (autism) spectrum. He also stands up for Tory against her perverted landlord, which could be argued comes from his childhood disdain of thugs sexually harassing women.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Kreese encourages his students to fight smart and does the same even outside physical combat. After Amanda slaps him in the face, rather than fight back, he uses the opportunity to file a restraining order against her, helped by his own status as a former Vietnam veteran.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Despite being around 70 years old, his refusal to see the faults of Cobra Kai logic, holding of petty grudges for decades, attacking teenagers, inability to hold a lasting job, and being a massive Sore Loser really highlights how much maturity Kreese lacks. His Blood Knight and Might Makes Right tendencies and blatant sociopathy make up the "psychopathic" part.
  • Satanic Archetype: Kreese is basically the San Fernando Valley's very own devil. For starters, Kreese was once a proud figure within the community before his fall from grace (although not according to the backstory we see, where he was a rejected outcast before going to Vietnam). He's also a Manipulative Bastard who would try to slither back to his former glory by making a deal with Johnny which ends up screwing the latter while Kreese would also corrupt Johnny's students. Then there is the animal that represents Kreese, a snake, which is also one of the animals that is associated with the devil.
  • Sensei for Scoundrels: Unlike Johnny, he's doing this intentionally and takes great pleasure in it.
  • Serious Business: Kreese treats the conflict with Miyagi-Do as this, referring to the students as "soldiers". Neither Daniel nor Johnny are amused by this.
  • Shadow Archetype: Kreese serves as one to both Johnny (representative of what Johnny could eventually become if he doesn't change his ways) and to Mr. Miyagi, as he has become an Old Master himself. Though where Miyagi was altruistic and a Martial Pacifist at heart, Kreese is vile to his core. Even with his Freudian Excuse, Kreese is wholly unable to see beyond his flaws and remains stuck in the past.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Zig-Zagged.
    • Kreese is a combat veteran who has had trouble adjusting to life outside the service, and looks at every interaction as a battle, and day to day life as an ongoing war. This backfires on him when he loses the original Cobra Kai dojo and spends decades being homeless and drifting from job to job. His tendencies as The Sociopath and a Manipulative Bastard don't help his situation any, but his pride won't let him do anything else.
    • Ironically, his sociopathic tendencies are what prevented him from getting back in the army. After losing Cobra Kai, he tried to reapply for service, but was turned down because psychological testing for the military had more stringent demands than during Vietnam conscription. He writes it off as them being tight-asses, but much like many of the Reality Ensues instances in the show, it's pretty obvious that someone like Kreese would be deemed too maverick and bloodthirsty to be safely enlisted as a soldier.
  • Silver Fox: Despite his age, his appearance doesn't deviate much from the Hunk he was three decades ago.
  • Sink-or-Swim Mentor: He's even worse than Johnny in this regard, as he'll expel his students the second they fail to perform to his standards.
  • Slasher Smile: Literally every time he's being particularly evil.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: It's clear from Kreese's talk of "melt[ing] the snowflake generation" that he sees himself as some visionary societal leader who can win over an entire generation to his own worldview. However, although he may pose a serious threat to the likes of Johnny and Daniel, in the grand scheme of things he is, as Amanda puts it, little more than a "geriatric karate coach" whose sphere of influence is limited to about two dozen troubled teenagers in the San Fernando Valley.
  • Smug Snake: Given that his Animal Motif is a snake, he's definitely a candidate for this. While he's definitely a Manipulative Bastard, Kreese is far to arrogant for his own good and his tendencies to underestimate his enemies nearly causes his downfall with Daniel almost killing him.
  • The Social Darwinist: Ultimately what his philosophy boils down to and why it's devoid of care of conventional morality and respect. In Season 3, he admonishes Miyagi-Do for thinking they're heroes and Cobra Kai the villains, saying there's no such thing and there are only the strong and the weak. Kreese also seems to believe that fighters are born, not trained; during his recruitment run, Kreese only approached teenagers that were already into athleticism and during the initiation sparring he had them essentially fight for the right to join/remain with the dojo. By the end of Season 3, nearly all of the original Cobra Kai gang from Season 1 (most of which were social outcasts that sought to find strength and confidence in Johnny's Cobra Kai) were gone and all that remained were Kreese's newest platoon of "natural athletes".
    "Only the strong shall survive."
  • The Sociopath: Shows many traits, including constant lying, manipulation of others, a lack of emotion in most scenarios, and even his inability to keep a regular job. While he also has a total lack of remorse, he can fake it, making him all the scarier. Amanda even calls him out for it when she confronts him in his dojo in Season 3.
    • Interestingly, unlike most sociopaths, Kreese seemingly used to have some empathy and compassion. But during his time in Vietnam, War Is Hell challenged his values and twisted them for survival. Ultimately, Kreese's sociopathy is a result of him still being stuck in the kill or be killed mentality that was instilled in him during the war.
    • However, Kreese claimed way before Vietnam that he'd been in fights his whole life, he's relatively unemotional the entire time, and even prior to his worst experiences in Vietnam he showed and claimed he had a lack of fear (of dying, anyway). Taken together, all of these are strong hints of sociopathic traits already there, just exacerbated by what he went through. He might have spared Turner and managed to be a different person, otherwise.
    • And also, while sociopathy isn't considered genetic,his mother's unspecified severe, fatal mental issues couldn't have helped anything.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: He outright says he couldn't re-enlist in the Army because he couldn't pass the "new tests" they have, and unlike his other claims, this one is 100% believable. Season 3 shows us him serving under a CO who operated entirely by this philosophy, with Kreese finally coming to embrace it.
  • Soft-Spoken Sadist: Unlike the movies, where he was as loud as he could be, his voice softened a lot with age, possibly because he was much quieter as a young man and prior to founding Cobra Kai. He still enjoys inflicting pain or watching his students inflict pain on beaten opponents.
  • So Proud of You: His praise for Johnny at the end of Season 1 has some strong elements of this, causing Johnny some silent Your Approval Fills Me with Shame.
  • Sore Loser: He really doesn't like being reminded of how he lost to Mr. Miyagi, twice.
  • Start of Darkness: Kreese used to be a fairly good person until the Vietnam War, which molded him into the ruthless Social Darwinist he is today. More specifically, he got his entire squad captured by showing compassion and refusing to sacrifice a fellow soldier. Said soldier was killed anyway. His captors then forced him and his CO to fight to the death. To gain an advantage, the CO told Kreese that his girlfriend was dead, a piece of information that he had previously withheld out of tactical advantage, to demoralize him. This finally caused Kreese to realize what kind of fucked-up world he lived in and what kind of person he had to be to survive in it.
  • This Means War!: Zakarian fails to evict Kreese, and the Cobra Kai sensei warns Daniel over the phone to get his students ready for an inevitable conflict between their dojos.
    "You can't end a war with diplomacy. So I suggest you prepare your students for battle. Because now, it's open season. On them... and you."
  • Thug Dojo: This is what Cobra Kai was when Kreese founded it, and this is what he wants it to remain.
  • The Unfettered: Kreese remains committed to his "no mercy" philosophy, and doesn't give a damn about the consequences of that philosophy, be it for himself or for his students or for their victims.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: He was a quiet, kind, hopeful young man who protected his future girlfriend Betsy from a group of violent Jerk Jocks. Then he joined the military, met Captain Turner who, along with his time as a POW in Vietnam and death of Betsy, was the cause of his Start of Darkness.
  • The Vietnam Vet: He served as a Green Beret during his time in the Vietnam War, and the experiences he went through warped him into the ruthless man he is today who treats every facet of life imaginable as a war zone.
  • Villain Has a Point:
    • Kreese correctly points out that while Daniel may claim otherwise, the conflict between Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do has escalated to the point where it is a war in all but name. The brawl in the finale erases any doubts about that.
    • Tragically, Kreese is also right in that Johnny's emphasis on mercy directly contributed to Miguel's hospitalization.
    • In Season 3, he admonishes Miyagi-Do for thinking themselves virtuous heroes standing up to the villainous Cobra Kai, saying there's no such thing and there's only the strong and the weak. While it obviously whitewashes his blatantly sociopathic nature, it's not unfair to say Daniel does suffer from a massive messiah complex and low-key enjoys being the face to Cobra Kai's heel. It's acknowledged in-story (and a common criticism by fans) that his self-righteousness is one of the main reasons the conflict between Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do escalated.
      • Also, while Kreese and his students use his philosophy as an excuse to be assholes, like any good Social Darwinist villain, he's not technically wrong in that the only reason Miyagi-Do can stand up to Cobra Kai is that they're legitimately strong warriors. It's not their morality matters, it's their fists.
  • Virtue Is Weakness: Kreese preached "Mercy is for the weak" way back in the original Karate Kid, and he's none too happy to witness Johnny's new emphasis on honor and restraint in Season 2. After the season finale, most of the Cobra Kai students come around to Kreese's way of thinking, especially after what happened to Miguel after he tried showing mercy to Robby.
    "When you're in a war, the other side never fights with any 'honor'. Take it from me."
    • The flashbacks in Season 3 show why he has this attitude: while in Vietnam, he hesitated to blow up a Viet Cong stronghold because one of his platoon was still near it. His hesitation gave the Vietnamese soldiers time to find and capture them. Not only did they get captured, but the soldier Kreese was trying to save ended up being executed anyway, and the rest of the captives were thrown into pit fights for the amusement of the Vietnamese soldiers. It's no wonder he's traumatised.
  • Visionary Villain: Hinted at when he talks to Johnny at the diner in Season 2, telling Johnny how society has gotten weak and that the world needs Cobra Kai. Outright confirmed in Season 3 with Kreese's declaration of his intent of "melting this snowflake generation".
  • Walking Spoiler: His return is the big twist at the end of Season 1, especially since Johnny believed he was dead.
  • We Can Rule Together: After kicking Johnny out of Cobra Kai, he still makes repeated attempts to manipulate Johnny back onto his side.
  • We Have Become Complacent: It's eventually clear that he dismisses the current "snowflake generation" of political correctness and anti-bullying as making people go soft and vulnerable, planning to use Cobra Kai as a means to make people see what he believes to be the hard truth.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Kreese could have let Turner live, in spite of it being a Kick the Son of a Bitch moment. He chose to kill him, and it's affected everything he's done since. See: clearly expecting Miyagi to kill him in the same type of situation.
  • Windmill Crusader: For Kreese, the Vietnam War never ended and even three decades later he's still hellbent on cleansing today's "weak" society.
  • Would Hurt a Child: He bloodies the teenage Demetri's face for touching his arm and making critical remarks about his tattoos.


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