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Characters / Cobra Kai Johnny Lawrence

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"Cobra Kai will always be badass. But there's a difference between no mercy and no honor."
Played by: William Zabka, Owen D. Stone (1979 flashback)

"I wasn't always the badass sensei that I am today. Just like a cobra, I had to shed my loser skin to find my true power. And you guys will too."

34 years after his defeat against Daniel LaRusso, Johnny's life doesn't seem like it could be worse, but that's all about to change now that he's bringing back Cobra Kai, his beloved dojo.

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  • Age-Gap Romance: At 51, Johnny is about seventeen years older than Carmen, who is in her mid-thirties. She was either an infant or not even born during the events of the original movie.
  • The Alcoholic: Johnny apparently kept drinking straight from 1984 to the current day, with it even being clarified that his being so drunk he completely missed Ali's birthday was the reason for their breakup in the original movie. Like smoking, it's Truth in Television that people who start in high school often continue. It's played fairly straightforwardly, with even his students acknowledging that Sensei has alcohol issues.
  • The Alleged Car: Further reinforcing his Disco Dan attitudes, Johnny's car has clearly seen better days. To be fair though, the 1991 Pontiac Firebird was a pretty sweet car in its day. A fun street racer known for its speed, handling, cornering, and engine power while also being affordable. It's not hard to see why Johnny is so attached to it.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Johnny's disinterest with school, blatant Book Dumb-ness, and problems processing information in non-kinesthetic or spatial ways strongly hint at some kind of undiagnosed learning disorder. The glimpse of a young kid who couldn't make friends or communicate and was constantly fighting and trying to shut the world out suggest he could even have something else, too.
  • Amicable Exes:
    • Johnny reconnects with Ali in Season 3 and despite learning that she was separating from her husband, Johnny chooses not to try and pursue her again and Ali, in turn, encourages Johnny to find his future with Carmen.
    • He and Shannon seem to be becoming this in Season 3, though anything would seem more amicable compared to the way they were before.
  • Animal Motif: Eagles. Eagles are known to symbolize courage, strength, and honor, traits that have been consistent with Johnny even when he is at his most brutish and uncouth. Johnny also watches Iron Eagle religiously and later christens his new karate doctrine as "Eagle Fang".
  • Anti-Hero Substitute: He's like Miyagi in that he mentors young people... but he's also a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    • He confronts and questions Hawk and Miguel their reasons for using underhanded tactics during the All-Valley Tournament. The two students can only glance at each other, confused, in response.
      Johnny: Hawk. Did you attack your opponent when his back was turned?
      Hawk: [hesitantly] ... Yes, Sensei?
      Johnny: Diaz. Did you purposely attack your opponent's injury?
      Miguel: [confidently] Yes, Sensei.
      Johnny: Think that makes you badass?
      [Miguel and Hawk glance at each other in silence]
      Johnny: What's the matter, too tough a question? Maybe you need some help.
    • Johnny voices his disapproval over Miguel finishing off a helpless Hawk during the "Red vs. Black" battle at Coyote Creek while also questioning whether or not he wants to revolve his life around Kreese's "no mercy" ideology.
      Johnny: What was that? That's not how I taught you to fight.
      Miguel: That's what Sensei Kreese taught us. This isn't a tournament, this is real life.
      Johnny: Is that how you want to live your life?
  • Ascended Extra: He goes from the franchise's one-off Starter Villain to the main protagonist here.
  • Belated Backstory: Wasn't given one in the original movie being little more than a generic bully.note  Here though he's given the Freudian Excuse of his abusive home life for why he turned to bullying in the first place.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Anything to do with Daniel LaRusso serves as this, even before Cobra-Kai makes a comeback.
    • Damaging his car is even worse than pushing any of his other buttons as it'll drive him into a rage.
    • And using dirty tricks and cheap shots to win a competition? He might let it slide that day, but there will be hell to pay in the morning.
    • Hurting, or even making mention of bringing pain towards Miguel and his family. Kreese's attempts to gaslight him simply stop working because he continues to bring up Miguel.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": His preference is a loud, abrupt "QUIET!" that works every single time he uses it.
  • Book Dumb: Johnny must've forgotten a lot of things from his school years, such as monogeese existing, or he never bothered learning that stuff anyway.
  • Break the Haughty:
    • Spends the first episode undergoing this. He is fired from his job as a handyman after a misunderstanding with a customer straight out of Not Always Right, he is maced and arrested after trying to stick up for a neighbor who is being beaten up, his stepfather writes him off as a lost cause, his car gets smashed and towed to his old rival Daniel LaRusso's auto shop, and then he learns that Daniel's daughter was involved.
    • Once his backstory is revealed, you can't help but feel bad for Johnny even in the original films. He didn't have a father and was forced to cope with an abusive step-dad. He then joined Cobra Kai to escape his abusive life, and thanks to the friends and respect he'd earned, he treated Kreese as the only father he's ever had, much like Daniel and Miyagi. You can only imagine how much emotional damage he had to endure after losing the '84 tournament.
  • Broken Pedestal: By the end of Season 2, he becomes this for Hawk, Tory, Mitch, and several of the other Cobra Kai students. They blame him for Miguel's hospitalization because Miguel was following his teachings on mercy.
  • Brutal Honesty: If Johnny wants to say something, he will say it regardless of how rude or hurtful it will be. At times this out of love, since he wants to see his students do better from his point of view.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Johnny's last visit to his stepfather's has him return money given to him by the latter, now that Cobra Kai is in a financially stable position. Sid claims his stepson will be back for more... only for him to quip that he no longer needs to rely on his stepfather for financial support, and smugly leaves, while Sid is left speechless.
    Johnny: I never needed your money. It's just the only thing you had to give. Goodbye, Sid.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Downplayed. While not overly flirtatious, Johnny still seems to think he's a smooth-talking ladykiller. The attractive jogger he tries to hit on at the start of the series disagrees.
    Johnny: [trying to sound suave] Hey.
    Jogger: [glares at him and jogs off] Creep.
  • Cassandra Truth: In season 3, he tells Hawk and the other Cobra Kai loyalists that Kreese only sees them as pawns and he doesn't actually give a shit about any of them. By the finale, Hawk realizes he's right.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Johnny believes that it was dinosaurs that built the pyramids, as he commented "I knew it" after finding a fake news website with "proof" of it while surfing the web for the first time.
  • Cool Car: Johnny's 3rd generation Pontiac Firebird was a pretty sweet whip for its time, being relatively affordable and capable of some high performance riding. After it's destroyed, Johnny chooses a more conventionally stylish and modern '09 Dodge Challenger from one of Daniel's trade-ins. Season 2 has him give it an exceptionally badass matte black and gold, Cobra Kai-themed paint job.
  • Cutting the Knot: Fitting the nature of Cobra Kai and his own attitude, Johnny tends to brute force his way through problems when things don’t work out. When first trying to visit Miguel in ICU disguised as a doctor, he realizes quickly that it won’t work and beats his head in until he’s injured enough to be admitted. Similarly, after attempts to beg Sid for money for Miguel’s surgery fail, he just snatches one of Sid’s art pieces to pawn off.
  • Dare to Be Badass: The ethos of Cobra Kai, and later Eagle Fang; Johnny's goal is to help kids who are unconfident, lost, or weak into becoming badass, gaining outer and inner strength in the process. While this philosophy unintentionally turns them into the violent thugs he and his friends once were, he later makes efforts to instill the philosophy of strength and awesomeness without resorting to bullying others.
    Johnny: You see that? It doesn't matter if you're a loser, or a nerd, or a freak. All that matters is that you become badass!
  • Despair Event Horizon: By the end of Season 2, Miguel is hospitalized, Carmen blames him for Miguel's injuries and never wants to see him again, and he's lost his dojo and his students to John Kreese, leaving him all alone and with nothing else to do but to drown his sorrows in alcohol by the beachside. However, things are looking up for him in the next season.
  • Dirty Coward: Defied. The day after the All-Valley Tournament, he lectures his entire dojo on what Cobra Kai really stands for, and has zero tolerance whatsoever for using underhanded tactics (which he dismissively labels "pussy moves") to defeat opponents unable to fight back.
    Johnny: Cobra Kai is about being badass. And the baddest badass is the one who beats his opponent when he's at his strongest. Not when his back is turned. Not when he's injured. That means no more cheating. No more fighting dirty. From here on out, those are pussy moves, and you don't wanna be pussies, do ya?
  • Disappeared Dad:
    • Johnny says he never knew his dad (and apparently never discussed it with Laura). Sid makes a couple of remarks to the effect of "at least I stuck around", which could still be anything from Johnny's dad bailing when Johnny was too young to remember, to doing it with or without knowing his mother was pregnant. It remains completely unclear.
    • Played with Robby. He's something of an estranged Generation Xerox case, despite having Robby's picture on the fridge and keeping his drawings, but at least Robby and Shannon know where to find him. See My Greatest Failure.
  • Disco Dan:
    • Johnny is stuck in an 80s stasis and still drives an old Pontiac Firebird, listens only to "hair metal" bands, prints flyers for his dojo in the same style as the original Cobra Kai, and repeatedly watches ultra-80s classic Iron Eagle as his go-to movie of choice.
    • The comic spin-off has a Running Gag of Johnny trying to use an 80s based metaphor to explain something or motivate his students, only for it to flop due to them being unaware of the context.
    • He also shows a distressing ignorance of social media, seemingly preferring to use a flip phone and doesn't have a Facebook profile (not extremely unusual by itself, but he also doesn't even know what it is until Daniel shows him).
      Johnny: What's a Facebook?
      Daniel: Wow. Really, Johnny?
      • Although he ended up getting a 10+-year-old Dell laptop that still runs on Windows XP and later upgrading to an Android Xperia smartphone (until he throws it out in rage at the beach in S2 finale) and also creating a Facebook account for the first time, he still has some trouble with the Internet.
    • Overall, while major life-events have clearly occurred for him (getting married, having a son) it’s clear that The '80s are a familiar bubble he is unwilling (or perhaps unable) to break out of.
    • A part of his Character Development is learning to leave his familiar Eighties bubble to live in the present and look to the future.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Like Kreese, Johnny adopts this style for training his own students, before eventually shifting to a bit softer teaching method.
  • Drink-Based Characterization: Is rarely seen drinking anything but a Coors Banquet, an inexpensive, American beer that matches Johnny's blue-collar lifestyle and Eagleland tendencies to a T. Best shown in "Pulpo" where Daniel, Carmen, and Amanda all order fancier cocktails and he sticks with the Coors, sticking out like a sore thumb.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Comes with being The Alcoholic. Some notable moments include the aftermath after bringing an injured Miguel back to his angered mother, Johnny's reaction to his son being a student of Daniel, and the last moment of Season 1. His worst comes in Season 2 after he's unable to locate Robby and finds out the boy is living with the La Russos. Carmen has to help him inside and get him sobered up.
  • Dumb Blonde: He's a reckless manchild who's ignorant to modern times and believes karate is American, a mongoose is not an animal and eagles have fangs.
  • Eagleland: A mild Type B, being crude and boorish, but still a Jerk with a Heart of Gold. Besides being an 80s Disco Dan, Johnny near-exclusively drinks Coors brews, drives American muscle cars, and assumed Miguel's family were illegal immigrants. It extends to his practice of karate, which he thinks of as American and superior to "foreign" arts like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Taekwondo. Though he occasionally falls into type A as he instills positive American qualities in his students like personal empowerment, anti-victimhood, standing up for yourself, confidence, persistence, and passion. This is symbolized by the American flag on his wall in the Cobra Kai dojo.
  • Eccentric Mentor: The sheer depth of his Disco Dan tendencies, Book Dumb ignorance, and Testosterone Poisoning, all while drinking enough booze he just qualifies as a Functional Addict, provides a significant amount of comedy to the series, with his students sometimes pulling double duty as the Cloudcuckoolander's Minder... but in spite of all of that, Johnny is a damn good sensei.
  • Eskimos Aren't Real:
    • Throws Miguel's inhaler against the wall after he tells him he has asthma, declaring that made up problems such as asthma and peanut allergies and the like don't exist in Cobra Kai.
    • He names his new Karate school Eagle Fang because he believes that mongooses are a fictional animal.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Middle-aged Johnny's first onscreen appearance in the series is him waking up in the morning visibly hungover and takes a sip of some stale beer (he spits out some before finishing the bottle anyway). When Miguel introduces himself as his new neighbor, Johnny nonchalantly assumes him to be an immigrant. Johnny then drives to work in his vintage but shoddy muscle car while listening to 80s hair metal.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Since Johnny's trying to be a better person, he doesn't quite qualify for "evil", and either way his reaction to Aisha testifying what cyberbullying is like fills him with disgust; at least when he was a bully, he always did it to his victim's face instead of hiding behind a screen like a coward.
    • Played for Laughs when he teaches the Cobra Strike to Miguel and mentions that if he hits the throat he can severely damage someone's trachea. It's worth noting he was still preaching no mercy but even back then he doesn't want Miguel to kill his bullies.
      Johnny: Obviously that's only for extreme situations.
    • It's also shown that while he sees nothing wrong about guys harassing girls until they agree to go on a date, he also believes that if a girl doesn't want to do anything physical then the guy should back off.
    • It is clear from both his actions during and right after the tournament to his dressing down of Miguel and Hawk that he does not approve of fighting dirty, calling cheap shots "pussy moves". He makes clear to Miguel afterwards that there's a big difference between showing no mercy in a fight and showing no honour outside of it.
    • He is disgusted to learn that one of his students vandalized the Miyagi-Do dojo and he puts all the students through vigorous conditioning drills to make the culprit confess.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: In sharp contrast to his stepdad, Johnny had a great relationship with his mother before she died. Part of the reason she married Sid in the first place was so she and Johnny wouldn't have to struggle financially and when he told her he wanted to learn karate she fully supported the endeavor. When she passed away, Johnny fell into a depression that was so severe that he went on a bender and missed Robby's birth. Even now, Johnny misses her and takes offense when Sid refers to her as a "hot piece of ass".
  • Fatal Flaw: Johnny's blindspot when it comes to Kreese ends up being the catalyst to all major issues that occur in the second season. Despite everything that happens, Johnny still sees Kreese as a father-figure and projects his own desire to become a better person onto him. This is despite literally everyone telling Johnny what an awful idea letting Kreese teach again is. Despite his own concerns with Kreese's teaching style, he continues to allow Kreese to teach and influence his students unchecked. This builds to the point where the new Cobra Kai becomes the Gang of Bullies that Daniel kept accusing them of being and Johnny wanted to avoid them becoming.
  • A Father to His Men: As harsh as his training methods are, his speech to the All-Valley Tournament committee and behavior during the tournament itself prove that he does genuinely care about his students and wants them to succeed. It's why several of the current and former Cobra Kai students decide to join his new dojo in Season 3.
  • The Fettered: He advocates for striking first as part of the Cobra Kai philosophy, but abhors utilizing underhanded tactics to gain the upper hand against a disadvantaged opponent. He goes further in this once he forms his "Eagle Fang" school, where he adds that one is to not be a bully (but still be badass) and to never start the fight.
  • Forgiven, but Not Forgotten: Enforced by Daniel. Johnny approaches Robby after the finals of the All Valley Tournament and apologizes to him for Miguel using dirty tricks to win Cobra Kai the tournament. Robby, who has already been imparted enough forgiveness from Daniel by then, calmly lets the issue slide and departs without further animosity at that moment. However, the beginning of Season 2 shows that Robby is still angry at Johnny and is still working on forgiving him. Eventually, their relationship improves until Robby critically injures Miguel, serves time in juvie for it, and joins Kreese's Cobra Kai since he no longer trusts Daniel and Johnny.
  • Freudian Excuse: The show reveals that Johnny wasn't just some spoiled rich kid, but rather an emotionally abused youth. He was bullied at home by a cruel stepfather, and Kreese's Cobra Kai dojo was the only place he found any kind of acceptance and mentorship, as twisted as it may have been.
  • Functional Addict: Pretty much a textbook example. After more than 30 years of seemingly constant drinking, he does it so he won't go into withdrawal. His sky-high alcohol tolerance means a drink or two doesn't affect him nearly the way a more casual drinker would, which is how he manages to stay functional enough to teach karate and drive competently (mostly). He still has a few major breakdowns and ends up in completely shitfaced The Alcoholic territory, though.

  • Gendered Insult: He has no problem deliberately addressing guys with terminology that refers to the opposite sex. He also seems visibly disgusted at the very concept of "gendered insults". "Pussy" is basically his students' catchphrase, thanks to him.
    Miguel: Don't you think you're doing a lot of genderizing?
    Johnny: ...What?
    Miguel: Oh, uh, sorry. Don't you think you're doing a lot of genderizing, Sensei?
    Johnny: No, what the hell are you talking about?
    Miguel: Oh, uh, my guidance counselor says that certain words perpetuate the sexist world view that can trigger—
    Johnny: QUIET! From now on, you won't listen to your guidance counselor. You're going to listen to me. Is that understood?
    Miguel: Uh, yes, Sensei.
    Johnny: Good. Now stop yapping like a little girl and give me fifty push-ups on your knuckles.
  • Genius Bruiser: During the committee meeting, Johnny proves he is not just good with his fists but can be quite smart and eloquent as well. The fact he was able to succeed with far fewer resources in reviving Cobra Kai where Terry Silver and John Kreese had failed shows that he is not a bad business owner as well.
  • Generation Xerox: Zigzagged.
    • For the first half of Season 1, he's this to Mr. Miyagi, being the maintenance man turned unorthodox karate teacher to a bullied youth (granted Johnny is a more jaded and cynical version of Miyagi).
    • By the second half of Season 1, after Cobra Kai starts gaining more students, Johnny becomes one to Kreese, a Sensei for Scoundrels, despite his best attempts to avoid this. This bit in particular is zigzagged, because unlike Kreese, he isn't large and intimidating or conspicuously malevolent looking. It doesn't help that Kreese was in his prime while Johnny is just over 50 and beset with all the physical problems of aging (along with his years if not decades of copious alcohol consumption), and he hasn't practiced his art in decades due to real life getting in the way. Also, Johnny has more comedic moments due to his lack of tech-savviness and being at least twenty years out of date. Amusingly, Johnny's attempts to talk tough sound like he's channeling his whiny teenage voice.
  • Global Ignorance: Despite being a sensei, he thinks karate comes from America. He even advertises it as such to prospective students.
    Johnny: All this new-age crap, like jiu-jitsu, taekwondo, they're all just cheap knockoffs of karate.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Johnny is earnestly trying to do better with his life, he genuinely cares for his students, and he loves his son. Doesn't mean he'll be particularly gentle or polite about any of those things.
  • Good Parents: Becomes this in season 3, just not to Robby. He helps Miguel recover from his injury and supports him every step of the way. He becomes a great Parental Subsitute to Miguel, but his relationship with Robby is still a mess, as he makes several critical blunders.
  • Heroic BSoD: At the end of Season 2, after his rivalry with Daniel leads to a school-wide brawl that hospitalizes Miguel and Sam, with the former potentially crippled or dying and the latter maimed, all he can do is get in an elevator with Daniel and share a quiet BSOD.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Him putting his faith in his former Cobra Kai sensei ultimately becomes his own undoing, for Kreese swipes control of the Cobra Kai dojo along with the loyalty of eight of his students, following the events of the school brawl.
  • Hopeless with Tech: Johnny has never owned a computer before, and after buying one for the first time he is incapable of even turning it on without help. He eventually uses a combination of a Internet for Dummies book and calling the pawnshop owner whom he bought the laptop from for help.
    • He even upgraded from a flip phone to an Android smartphone, although he is still frustrated with it due to his smartphone beeping unnecessary alerts (such as software updates and import contacts). He would later discard it by throwing it at the beach in season 2 finale.
  • Hunk: No longer the Pretty Boy he use to be, but apart from some wrinkles (as pointed out by his old friend Bobby), Johnny still has some rugged handsomeness going for him.
  • Hypocrite Has a Point: Johnny tells Daniel to get his house in order after he mentions Kyler being on good terms with his daughter. While Johnny's own family situation isn't that much better, he's not wrong for pointing out that Kyler isn't the type of guy Sam thinks he is.
    Daniel: Just stay away from my daughter's friends.
    Johnny: Your daughter's friends? Yeah, that makes sense. Nice company she keeps.
    Daniel: What the hell is that supposed to mean?
    Johnny: It means that those friends of hers were wailing on a kid half their size. Now, maybe you don't know your daughter as well as you think you do. Get your house in order, LaRusso.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: His constant reminiscing of his Glory Days as the Valley's best karateka (and well on his way for state or even national recognition) strongly implies he feels this.
  • Inadequate Inheritor:
    • Inverted, tragically. While Johnny is trying to recreate Cobra Kai to be a better organization and philosophy than it was under Kreese, he inadvertently ends up not only recreating its original ethos as a bullying haven, but his emphasis on Combat Pragmatist thinking leads his star pupil to be even more ruthless than he was in his heyday. Kreese even returns to congratulate him on such an accomplishment.
    • However, it's also inverted in that, from a pure technical standpoint, Johnny is actually a better karate instructor than Kreese is. Johnny was able to turn his students from a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits with little to no athletic ability into the most outstanding karate dojo in the Valley strictly through his instruction and training methods. Kreese, on the other hand, just resorts to bringing in a bunch of established athletes and teach them karate moves, and several of them wind up losing to Johnny's students in the Season 3 brawl.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Without a clue as to what the autism spectrum is, Johnny simply tells Eli to "get off it."
    Eli: My doctor said I could be on the spectrum.
    Johnny: I don't know what that is, but get off it, pronto.
  • Internal Reformist: On top of bettering himself as a person, Johnny works to change Cobra Kai's ways for the better such that they don't adhere to the "no mercy" mindset.
  • Jaded Washout: A former teen karate champion now a middle-aged down-on-his-luck handyman living by paycheck.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Despite being a jerk occasionally, he is often times right in his accusations, criticisms and observations.
    • In regards to his fight at the strip mall, he tells Daniel, "I didn't beat up any teenagers. I kicked the shit out of a bunch of assholes who deserved it." He is not wrong. Kyler and his friends were assaulting Miguel, a kid half their size, over Miguel accidentally blowing their cover, and they started a fight with Johnny when he tried to intervene. Johnny is also right to tell Daniel that he should keep an eye on who his daughter is hanging out with and that he is not as knowledgeable about his daughter's activities as he thinks he is.
    • As harsh of an instructor as he is, and at times quite degrading, his methods are effective at teaching. He is absolutely right when he says fair fights don't exist in a street fight. In the episode, "Quiver", when Miguel calls him out for insulting his new students. Johnny is later proven correct that even though many of them quit due to his bullying, it's shown to be effective at weeding the weaker ones out. In the same episode, Demetri tries telling Johnny that his harsh insults are socially unacceptable, only to have Johnny point out that some people don't give a damn about what society says is or isn't okay to do; when Demetri keeps up with the snark, Johnny proves his point by getting in the the kid's face and putting him on the floor.
    • When he confronts Daniel, while he might be wrong about Louie and his friends having been ordered by Daniel to wreck his car, he's not wrong about the potential consequences of their impulsive acts; lighting a car on fire is likely to cause the fire to spread, especially having been carelessly splashed with gasoline. It wouldn't have taken much for the flames to travel to a building.
    • Additionally, his critique that Daniel can never leave well enough alone is completely accurate. Throughout season one, Daniel was the one who went out of his way to hinder Johnny's efforts to revive Cobra Kai while Johnny was content to let him live his life. It gets worse in season two when Daniel decides to revive Miyagi-Do to combat Cobra Kai's influence in the Valley and creates a Rival Dojos scenario that ends in an all out war between the teens that sends several of them to the hospital. In the aftermath, Daniel's wife calls him out on this as well.
    • While he himself is a deadbeat dad, when Johnny calls out Shannon on being a crappy parent as well, he is correct that her neglect of their son plays a direct role in his turn to drugs, crime and general delinquency.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He's a rude and crude Manchild, but he's trying to become a better person and is honestly trying to help his students.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: In a deleted scene, Johnny nearly gets in a physical altercation with a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor after trying to poach his students. He calls it off when a police car shows up so he won't violate his probation.
  • Like Parent, Like Spouse: His mother and his ex-wife look so much alike they could be related. Shannon even seems to share some traits with Johnny's mother, in wanting to find a man to take care of her, but the similarities end with their looks and that driving factor.
  • Literal-Minded: Not usually, but when Miguel tells him to fight the ban against Cobra Kai from the All Valley Tournament, Johnny gets in his head to head down to the committee and beat them up.
  • Little "No": Shown silently mouthing this and shaking his head when Miguel grabs Robby's leg and prepares to target Robby's shoulder again during the tournament, cementing Johnny's failure as a mentor and father figure to both boys.
  • Lower-Class Lout: He starts the series as an alcoholic divorced handyman and quickly becomes an alcoholic divorced ex-handyman.
  • Manly Man and Sensitive Guy: While both are skilled karate masters, Johnny is the manly man to Daniel's sensitive guy.
  • Manly Tears: If you thought a hospitalized Miguel wasn't enough, Johnny listens to a voicemail he missed from Miguel requesting his help, and is unable to hold back his tears.
  • Martial Arts Headband: He wears his black headband from The Karate Kid (1984) again when he restarts Cobra-Kai. He reveals that it was actually a gift from Ali.
  • The Mentor: An abrasive and crass one, but he still has the best intentions and his advice is more often than not actually very good.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Johnny slowly starts to go through this during the tournament, seeing his students repeat his mistakes when he was under Kreese's tutelage, and even at one point sadly stares at a picture of Kreese, realizing their parallels. It doesn't get any better when the first season concludes with Kreese's return.
    • Shares this with Daniel at the end of Season 2 due to the school brawl.
    • Johnny also realizes that bring back Cobra Kai was a serious mistake, so he decides to branch away into his own dojo, the Eagle Fang. He also plans to rectify his mistake by joining his dojo with Daniel’s in order to shut down Cobra Kai for good.
  • My Greatest Failure: He gets choked up telling Miguel that he missed Robby's birth, and promises he'll always be there for him. Miguel's hospitalization after Season 2 then sends him straight into a Heroic BSoD.
    Johnny: I failed my kid on his first day in this world.
  • Never My Fault: In the first season, Johnny recounts the events of the original film and in both instances he downplays his out aggression towards Daniel to make himself out to have been the victim and Daniel the antagonizer.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Letting Kreese teach at Cobra Kai again ruins his efforts to encourage his students to be less violent and aggressive and eventually leads to him losing both them and the dojo to Kreese.
  • Not So Different:
    • It is revealed that even at the time of the first movie, both Daniel and Johnny began as outcasts with missing (or straight up abusive) father figures, who found their solace from bullying — and a new father figure — through martial arts. By the second movie, they both have every reason to fear/despise Kreese and they can both claim Ali as The One That Got Away.
    • Thirty-four years later, Johnny and Daniel are both struggling through their mid-lives in a world that's gotten no easier. They repeatedly discover that if they can hang out for more than five minutes without trying to kill each other, they can manage to get along even to the point of bromance... if it weren't for the universe (usually in the form of Robby) conspiring to follow up those moments with something sufficiently obnoxious to set them at each other's throats once again.
      • Season 3 has Ali return, and she blatantly tells Johnny and Daniel they're more similar to one another than they care to admit, and that they see some of themselves in the other that they don't like.
    • Shown more blatantly with Kreese when he gets his old sensei in a chokehold during their fight, and immediately has flashbacks to when Kreese did the same thing to him after losing the championship to Daniel all those years ago.

  • Odd Friendship: He seems to get along with Daniel's wife Amanda pretty well. Whenever they hang out she (with the help of another woman) tend to ease the tension between him and her husband. In the third season she even hugs Johnny after a night of fun with him Daniel and Ali.
  • Only Known By His Nickname: He does introduce himself formally to the All-Valley board as "John". Other than that, his name may as well really be Johnny.
  • Papa Wolf: For Miguel, and Robby, despite the latter's dislike of him. When he finds Miguel battered and bloodied from the fight at the LaRusso home, Johnny immediately heads off to confront Kreese. When he finds Robby wearing a Cobra Kai gi, he promptly starts wailing on his old sensei.
  • Parental Substitute: After spending so much time training with Miguel, the kid begins to see Johnny as a father figure and frequently turns to him for advice on topics such as dating girls, dealing with people, and how to navigate the world. It's reciprocated as, Johnny takes an active interest in Miguel's life and is always trying to steer him in the right direction. After Miguel awakens from his coma, Johnny tells him he'd always be on his side and helps him learn to stand and walk again.
  • Perma-Stubble: In the first episode, he possesses the unkempt down-on-your-luck variety. He shaves it off once he decides to resurrect the Cobra Kai dojo. It comes back in full force at the beginning of Season 3, which Johnny would also eventually shave off when he gets back to rebuilding his life after losing his dojo to Kreese.
  • Pet the Dog: After the All-Valley Tournament wraps up, Johnny approaches his son and apologizes to him over his own students using underhanded tactics to gain the upper hand. Robby lets it go and leaves with Daniel without further animosity.
  • Ping-Pong Naïveté: Reaches this in Season 3; he is both fully aware of the Me Too! movement and still thinks a hashtag is called a hash brown.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Definitely. Politically incorrect? One of the first things he does is make judgmental remarks about Miguel based on his ethnicity. Hero? When Kyler and his goons attack Miguel, he steps in and delivers a righteous ass-kicking. That being said, Character Development kicks in and he corrects Kreese about Miguel's ethnicity in season 2; he's also a lot more open about letting female fighters join his team than he was in season 1.
  • Poor Judge of Character: His Fatal Flaw, as the major events of the second season showed.
  • Quick Nip: When he and Daniel stopped at Daniel's old apartment while testdriving Johnny's soon-to-own Dodge Challenger, Johnny passively mentions seeing a bar around the corner and ropes Daniel into getting a drink with him. See Functional Addict.
  • Rags to Riches: Downplayed. Starts off this series as a handyman living paycheck to paycheck and needing his rich stepfather to bail him out with money when needed. By the end of the season, he's doing well enough that he can pay back all the money his stepfather ever gave him.
  • Rated M for Manly: Firmly practices and preaches this and is practically inherent in Cobra Kai's philosophy. Many of Johnny's personal traits and beliefs are just manners of him asserting his masculinity and being a badass: answering most situations with violence, listening to rock music, driving American muscle cars, being a hit with the ladies,. etc.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: While they're both rather hot-headed and stubborn, Johnny serves as a headstrong and reckless Red Oni to Daniel's level-headed and rational Blue Oni.
  • Reformed Bully: Downplayed. Johnny is still a bit of a crude and ignorant Jerkass, but he is legitimately trying to do better with himself.
  • Relative Button: He takes it very personally when Sid describes Laura as a "hot piece of ass".
  • The Resenter: Downplayed. He's initially this ways towards Daniel due to being a down on his luck handyman versus Daniel owning several car dealerships. However, once he turns his life around and becomes financially secure hes loses the resentment and even points out he would've left Daniel to live his own life had he not tried to ruin his business.
  • Rule of Cool: Invoked. Johnny's life decisions all boil down to the ones that look or sound the most badass. In Johnny's mind, this firmly includes everything from The '80s. However, his choices often makes him come across as Totally Radical, such as using antiquated cultural references and outdated slang and naming his new karate school the garish "Eagle Fang".
  • School Yard Bully All Grown Up: In the 34 years between The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai, Johnny Lawrence has hardly gotten any nicer. Worst of all, he's now all too aware of it. Johnny's main motivation in the beginning is to turn his dojo around and finally make something of his life, and he does gradually soften up and let his Hidden Heart of Gold peek out from time to time.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: He tears up and discards a check given to him by his stepfather, stating that he'd rather be homeless than accept financial support from someone who's been nothing but abusive to him. Later on, however, Johnny retrieves the same check and uses it to fund the opening of the new Cobra Kai dojo.
  • Self-Made Man: Downplayed. Though he had help in the form of his stepfather's check, Miguel's web savvy and the viral video of the lunchroom brawl with Kyler's posse, he managed to get Cobra Kai back up on pretty much nothing else. And it won the All Valley Tournament!
  • Sensei for Scoundrels: Deconstructed in that although he doesn't intend to be an Evil Mentor, he is still unconsciously reiterating what his own mentor Kreese taught him, with predictable results. Eventually, he sees the errors of his ways, and when he opens Eagle Fang Karate, he makes a point of impressing on his students to be badass but not to be bullies, and to never be the one to throw the first punch in a fight.
  • Sink-or-Swim Mentor: In the most literal way possible. He subjects his students to an intense training regimen and expects them to survive it on their own and without help. When trying to teach Miguel to use his legs he ties his hands and actually throws him into a pool so he can only use his legs to keep himself from sinking.
  • Slobs vs. Snobs: Johnny's a scruffy, boorish and lazy Slob and Daniel's an affluent, cultured, diligent Snob.
  • So Proud of You: While he never uses the words, Johnny clearly feels this way towards Miguel, when he hears about the latter successfully beating up Kyler and his gang. He demonstrates it by giving Miguel the uniform he used to wear when he started training.
  • Soccer-Hating Americans: When he sees Bobby watching soccer on TV in the hospital, he jokes that Tommy's illness is clearly worse than he thought.
  • Testosterone Poisoning: Not as exaggerated as his student Hawk later becomes, but Johnny still practices the idea of dealing with everything in life "like a badass".
  • Trademark Favorite Drink: Coors Banquet. For food: fried bologna and beef jerky.
  • Troll: Has Miguel open the tournament with the Crane Kick solely because he knows how much Daniel will hate seeing the kid use his signature move. Likewise, he admits to Daniel that he organized the Cobra Kai demonstration just to upstage Miyagi-do.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Starting up his own Cobra Kai dojo begins this process in Johnny, as he begins to care for and express compassion towards his students, becoming more tolerant and attentive in the process. When he undergoes a Heel Realization in Season 1's finale as History Repeats during the tournament, he adjusts and tries to become an Internal Reformist in an attempt to pull his students back from being in a Thug Dojo. Unfortunately, he also allows Kreese back in, thinking he's reformed...
  • Two Decades Behind: He shows a shockingly high amount of ignorance about the internet for someone his age, not even knowing what Facebook is. His initial reaction to Aisha wanting to join the dojo also implies he isn't aware the US Army has allowed women to participate in combat.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: He doesn't thank his stepfather for bailing him out of jail, instead bluntly questioning what he's doing in Johnny's apartment.
    Johnny: What the hell are you doing in my apartment, Sid?
    Sid: Oh, that's some "thank you".
  • Unreliable Narrator: Johnny tells Miguel his version of his first encounter with Daniel, painting himself the victim and Daniel the villain, conveniently leaving out the other details of the encounter. In season 3 when Miguel finally gets a chance to talk with Daniel, he fills in the blanks of what Johnny left out.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: A flashback shows that before joining Cobra Kai, Johnny was a shy kid who didn't have any friends and suffered verbal abuse from his stepdad on a daily basis. The dojo was the first place where he found acceptance.
  • Villains Never Lie: While he's not necessarily a villain, Johnny freely admits to all of his antagonistic actions during the course of the series like drawing the dick on Daniel's billboard or attacking Anoush unprovoked.
  • Villain Protagonist: Downplayed. He goes from a secondary antagonist from the original film to the protagonist of his own series, but he bounces between Anti-Hero on his better days and Well-Intentioned Extremist on his worse days.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Played With. It's shown on multiple occasions that if he and Daniel could put their differences aside, they'd get along like a house on fire. However, a combination of Poor Communication Kills and their interschool rivalry means that any moments of friendship end up being fleeting at best and they go back to being enemies. They finally become this trope in earnest at the end of season 3, when they bury the hatchet and join forces to defeat Kreese together.
  • Wax On, Wax Off:
    • An interesting example. Johnny makes Miguel clean the dojo, not with the intent of secretly training Miguel, but so the dojo can pass inspection. That said, all the manual work that Miguel had to do did seem to help Miguel get into shape for proper training.
      Miguel: Hey, Sensei, is there any particular way you want me to wash these windows?
      Johnny: Nah, I don't give a shit.
    • Johnny's biggest deviation from Mr. Miyagi is his aversion to this. His training methods are harsh but he always makes sure to explain exactly what their purpose is to his students. As the All-Valley Tournament shows, it did them plenty of favors in the long run.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Season 2 makes it clear that as much as he fears and detests Kreese, he still places a lot of stock in his old sensei's approval.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: He genuinely wants to help his students overcome their problems, but echoing Kreese's methods turns them into the same types of bullies that he once was.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!:
    • He is shocked to discover that one of the teenagers who totaled his ride was Daniel LaRusso's daughter, and later, when he learns that his son chose to learn karate from his old enemy instead of him.
    • Johnny is also shocked that a kid Miguel's age has never heard of Guns N' Roses.
    • His actual words when he finds out Robby has been training with Daniel, and that Robby has more respect for Daniel than he's ever shown for Johnny. Doubles as a Tear Jerker.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: All he can do is look at Kreese, his former mentor, in complete silence when the latter compliments him for restoring Cobra Kai back to its former glory after winning the All Valley Tournament.


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