John Kreese

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John Kreese
The Karate Kid character
John Kreese.jpg
Martin Kove as John Kreese in The Karate Kid
First appearanceThe Karate Kid
Created byRobert Mark Kamen
Portrayed byMartin Kove[1]
Barrett Carnahan (young)
Voiced byBrent Mukai
In-universe information
AffiliationCobra Kai Karate
Fighting styleTang Soo Do[2]
FamilyMrs. Kreese (mother, deceased by suicide)
Significant otherBetsy (deceased)

John Kreese is a fictional character who appears in The Karate Kid franchise created by Robert Mark Kamen.[3] He serves as the main antagonist in The Karate Kid and as the secondary antagonist in The Karate Kid Part III. He also appears in the opening scenes of The Karate Kid Part II. He has returned as an antagonist in the Cobra Kai streaming television series.[4] He is played by Martin Kove in most appearances.

Fictional biography[edit]

Kreese was born on October 2, 1946 and worked as a diner employee as a teen. His mother committed suicide during his youth and thus he was troubled and picked on by other kids.

One day in 1965, when Kreese is working as a busboy at a diner, David, a college football star, his girlfriend Betsy, and another friend of David's show up. After making eye contact with Betsy, Kreese gets chastised by her boyfriend and apologizes. Later, when Kreese is taking out some trash, he witnesses David hitting his girlfriend. Kreese intervenes, causing a brawl to ensue between him, David, and the football player's friend. Kreese ends up winning not only the brawl but also the heart of Betsy.

After arriving in Vietnam in 1968, Kreese and Terry "Twig" Silver get selected by a cruel captain, George Turner, to form a special forces team that conducts direct action missions in North Vietnam. However, during a mission to blow up a North Vietnamese stronghold, things go south when Silver's radio crackles loudly. Kreese has a choice to detonate the explosives and consequently kill Ponytail, another soldier who has volunteered to lay the explosives, and then escape, but the former refuses out of compassion. Consequently, every soldier in Kreese's squad gets captured by North Vietnamese soldiers. Captain Turner rebukes Kreese for hesitating, and continues to chastise him even right after the North Vietnamese captors execute Ponytail. The remaining American soldiers are held captive until 1969, when they are forced to participate in one-on-one death matches on top of a snake pit arena for survival. At one point, Silver is chosen by the Vietnamese to fight Captain Turner. Feeling sorry for Silver, Kreese volunteers himself to fight Turner instead. Before participating in the match, Turner tries to demoralize Kreese and thus score an easy victory by revealing that Betsy died in a car accident not long after he arrived in Vietnam and hid the truth from him to maintain his focus. When the fight begins, the captain, who is well-trained in martial arts, easily knocks Kreese to the floor of the bridge that is suspended over the snake pit. Turner verbally abuses Kreese for his inability to "shed his humanity" and is about to throw him into the pit, but the latter avoids his impending death by stabbing Turner in the leg with a broken piece of bamboo. Kreese punches Turner off the bridge, but the latter manages to hold on. After a U.S. airstrike neutralizes the spectating North Vietnamese soldiers, Turner orders Kreese to lift him up, but Kreese finally learns to follow Turner's advice of "kill or be killed" by kicking him off the bridge and causing him to fall to his demise in the snake pit. Kreese’s experience with Turner earns him Silver’s undying loyalty and caused him to become the ruthless and merciless man that he is in the present day.

Kreese goes on to join the Green Berets of the Army Special Forces and earns a field commission. He is discharged from the army at the rank of captain, having held the title of Army Karate Champion from 1970-1972.

After his military career, sometime prior to 1979, Kreese founds the Cobra Kai dojo in California, with Silver’s financial backing, to train local kids in Tang Soo Do under the more marketable label of “Karate.”

The Karate Kid[edit]

As a sensei, Kreese instructs his students to have no mercy towards their opponents.

In 1984, Kreese's best student, Johnny Lawrence, has a conflict with Daniel LaRusso. In response, Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel karate. When Daniel and Miyagi go to the Cobra Kai dojo, Miyagi proposes that Daniel should enter the All Valley Under-18 Karate Championships tournament, where he will face the Cobra Kai students and demands that the conflict will cease while Daniel trains. Kreese agrees to the idea, but threatens to allow his students to continue their harassment if neither show up at the tournament. At the tournament, Daniel reaches the semi-finals while Johnny advances to the finals after defeating a highly skilled opponent. Kreese instructs Bobby Brown, one of his more compassionate students and the least vicious of Daniel's tormentors, to disable Daniel with an illegal attack on the knee. Bobby reluctantly does so, getting disqualified in the process. However, Daniel recovers and ultimately defeats Johnny, becoming the new champion.[5]

The Karate Kid Part II[edit]

Shortly after Daniel's victory in the tournament, Kreese attacks Johnny for losing the tournament, but is approached by Miyagi, who humiliates Kreese by making him punch car windows, leaving the latter with bloody fists. Miyagi subdues Kreese by honking his nose and the Cobra Kai students eventually abandon him. During his final battle with Chozen, Daniel remembers how Miyagi defeated Kreese to save Johnny and honks Chozen's nose to defeat him and save Kumiko.

The Karate Kid Part III[edit]

Six months after the tournament, Kreese is now broke and destitute as he returns to the Cobra Kai dojo, which has been closed since Kreese lost all of his students due to his assault against Johnny Lawrence. Desperate to resurrect his career, Kreese visits his Vietnam War comrade, Terry Silver, who has become a wealthy owner of a toxic waste disposal business and offers to help Kreese gain revenge on Daniel and Miyagi and re-establish Cobra Kai. Silver sends Kreese to Tahiti on vacation to regain while he hires Mike Barnes, the current under-18 national karate tournament champion, to harass Daniel and beat him in the next upcoming tournament. As Silver trains an unknowing Daniel, both of them are at the dojo one night, where Kreese make his way back in the fray with Barnes by his side to attack Daniel. Miyagi intervenes and escorts Daniel out of the dojo before any further chaos can occur. During the tournament, Daniel defeats Barnes, prompting Kreese and Silver to leave the scene. This implies that Cobra Kai is finished for good due to Barnes's, Kreese's, and Silver's behavior getting the dojo banned from sports.

Cobra Kai[edit]

Kove as Kreese in The Karate Kid III (left) and Cobra Kai (right).

Season 1 and 2[edit]

When Johnny's reestablished Cobra Kai wins the 2018 All-Valley Karate Championship with Miguel Diaz,[6][7][8] Kreese returns to the dojo. He ostensibly asks Johnny for forgiveness for attacking him after the 1984 tournament, in which Johnny placed second. He states that after the original dojo closed down, he re-enlisted in the Army to train Special Forces soldiers and run strikes during the Gulf War and the War in Afghanistan, though he now feels lost as the world has changed around him. Though Johnny rebuffs him for this apology, Kreese maintains that he never tried to kill Johnny and has repaired his second-place trophy to make amends which cools down the animosity between them; Johnny allows Kreese to attend Cobra Kai classes as an observer. Johnny and Kreese encounter Daniel, who realizes that Kreese has faked his death once again.

As Kreese regales the Cobra Kai students with stories of his military past, Miguel notices inconsistencies in his tales, and voices his concerns to Johnny. Johnny follows his former sensei to a homeless shelter. Kreese admits that he flunked a psychological test when he attempted to re-enlist in the Army, and that his stories about wars after his Vietnam experience were lies. Feeling bad for Kreese, Johnny decides to put his full trust in Kreese, believing that he wants to change for the better. However, Kreese quickly becomes a negative influence on Johnny's students, seeking out the most resentful and angry students to drive a wedge between the group under the guise of individual tutoring and advanced classes. He later abuses his influence, going so far as to encourage some of them to vandalize the Miyagi-Do dojo, an act that costs Cobra Kai a bunch of its students after Daniel confronts Johnny about the matter in the middle of a class. After seeing the tactics used by his students during a training exercise at Coyote Creek, Johnny discovers that Kreese has been teaching the old ways of Cobra Kai behind his back and expels him from the dojo. After Miguel is severely injured in his fight with Robby at school, most of the students lose faith in Johnny and side with Kreese, who reveals to Johnny that he convinced strip-mall landlord Armand Zakarian to take the dojo away from him. Now being its sole sensei, Kreese hopes to return Cobra Kai to the ruthless organization it once was, using the remnants of Johnny's most disaffected students as his core.[9]

Season 3[edit]

Younger John Kreese as portrayed by Barrett Carnahan in Cobra Kai

Kreese suffers the least fallout in the aftermath of the school rumble, only losing Aisha and Stingray as students (Aisha due to her parents withdrawing her and transferring her to a private school to recover from the aftermath of the school brawl, and Stingray due to being arrested for assaulting Miyagi-Do students during the school brawl and placed on probation, meaning he can no longer be around minors). Needing to bolster numbers with Miyagi-Do and Johnny out of the picture, Kreese actively brings Tory back to the dojo by offering free tuition and intimidating her seedy and unscrupulous landlord. His management of Cobra Kai sows seeds of division within his students’ ranks, most notably with Hawk, who disapproves of Kreese's recruitment of Kyler, Brucks and Robby Keene (Kyler and Brucks due to being two of the bullies whose actions against Miguel, Demetri and Hawk led to Cobra Kai's resurrection in the first place, Robby due to being the one who injured Miguel during the school brawl), as well as his decision to remove a group of students who object to feeding a live hamster to a snake. Most of the expelled students get recruited by Miguel into Johnny's new dojo Eagle Fang, Hawk’s loyalty to Cobra Kai is put to question, while Kreese views Tory and Robby as his star pupils.

Kreese’s machinations land him squarely in the sights of the LaRussos and Johnny. When Demetri's arm is broken by Hawk in a fight with the Miyagi-Dos, an enraged Amanda storms into the dojo and slaps Kreese, who retaliates by taking out a restraining order against her. Amanda and Daniel attempt to strike back by having Armand Zakarian evict Kreese, but Kreese beats up Armand's nephews, and makes a declaration of war to the LaRussos by planting a live cobra in a car on the showroom floor of their dealership. During a town hall meeting to discuss whether or not to let the All Valley tournament continue, Kreese manages to ingratiate himself to the council members by claiming to promote strength and discipline through karate, all while painting Miyagi-Do as the aggressors, a position that is backed up by the vocal protests of Daniel and Johnny. Due to the outburst, the council are inclined to cancel the tournament, though reconsider after Miguel gives the assembled audience an impromptu speech advocating for the tournament, with the help of Daniel's daughter Samantha.

Noticing the visible connection between Miguel and Samantha (between their romantic relationship and them being Johnny's and Daniel's star pupils), Kreese realizes they are likely to create an alliance between their dojos and decides to take action. He exploits Tory's vendetta against Samantha to get her to lead the Cobra Kais in an all-out brawl against the Miyagi-Do and Eagle Fang students at the LaRussos' home. The attack fails, as Hawk defects to the Miyagi-Dos midway through the fight, and all of the Cobra Kai fighters are defeated. When Johnny finds out what happened, he storms into Cobra Kai to confront Kreese, and is horrified when he finds Kreese training Robby. Johnny viciously beats Kreese and at one point grabs a sai, but is interrupted when Robby intervenes. Refusing to fight, Johnny accidentally knocks Robby out by pushing him into a locker while evading his attacks. While Johnny is concerned with his son's well-being, Kreese uses it as the opportunity to strangle him.

Before Kreese can finish Johnny off, Daniel arrives, and has an even match with him. Even with Kreese using glass shards as an improvised weapon, Daniel immobilizes Kreese using the pressure point techniques that Chozen taught him. Samantha and Miguel arrive just as Daniel is about to deal the finishing blow with Johnny's approval, convincing the senseis to spare Kreese. Kreese agrees to cease hostilities with Daniel and Johnny until the upcoming All-Valley tournament before retreating into the battered dojo with Robby and giving Silver a phone call.


The character was based on Robert Mark Kamen's friend Ed McGrath.[10] Martin Kove got the role by being verbally abusive towards the director.[11] An often recited rumor is that the character of John Kreese was originally written for Chuck Norris, but he turned down the role because he thought it would give karate a negative image. Norris along with director John G. Avildsen have refuted this, but Norris has said if he had been offered the role, he would have turned it down for those very reasons.[12]

The character has had a mostly positive reception from critics and is viewed as a quintessential 1980s villain.[13][14][15]

Martin Kove appeared as Kreese in at least two instances outside the main Karate Kid franchise. In 2011, Kove played Kreese on the Tosh.0 episode “Board Breaker.”[16] He also appeared in an episode of The Goldbergs entitled “The Kara-te Kid” playing a character named Master John, a clear reference to the character John Kreese from the Karate Kid franchise.[17]


  1. ^ "Cobra Kai: Kove Explains Why John Kreese Had To Join the Karate Kid Sequel". CBR. 29 April 2019. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  2. ^ "Cobra Kai: The Dojo's True Origin In Karate Kid Explained". ScreenRant. January 6, 2021.
  3. ^ "Behind the scenes of the original Karate Kid movie". Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  4. ^ "Martin Kove Explains How John Kreese's Vietnam Backstory Led to 'Cobra Kai' [Interview]". /Film. 22 April 2019. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  5. ^ Powell, Larry; Garrett, Tom (19 December 2013). The Films of John G. Avildsen: Rocky, The Karate Kid and Other Underdogs. McFarland. ISBN 9780786490479. Retrieved 11 May 2019 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ "Original 1980s 'Karate Kid' villain Martin Kove returns in YouTube's 'Cobra Kai'". USA TODAY. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  7. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (25 May 2018). "'Cobra Kai': Martin Kove Becomes Series Regular For Season 2 Of YouTube Show". Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  8. ^ Husband, Andrew; Longo, Chris (April 8, 2019). "Cobra Kai Season 2: How Will Kreese Affect The Dojo?". Den of Geek. London, England: Dennis Publishing. Retrieved May 11, 2019.
  9. ^ Thompson, Simon. "Martin Kove Talks 'Cobra Kai' Season Three Plans And 'The Karate Kid' Legacy". Forbes. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  10. ^ "Black Belt". Active Interest Media, Inc. 1 May 1994. Retrieved 11 May 2019 – via Google Books.
  11. ^ "5 Things You Never Knew About 'Karate Kid' 30 Years Later". ABC News. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  12. ^ "Movie Legends Revealed - Did Chuck Norris Turn Down 'The Karate Kid'?". CBR. 14 January 2015. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  13. ^ Ryan, Dennis. "Ten Movie Douchebags We Can't Help But Love". AskMen. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  14. ^ Pockross, Adam (28 June 2018). "Exclusive: Martin Kove on Cobra Kai's far-off future and John Kreese possibly being 'human after all'". SYFY WIRE. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  15. ^ Singh, Timon (11 July 2018). "Born To Be Bad: Talking to the Greatest villains in Action Cinema". BearManor Media. Retrieved 11 May 2019 – via Google Books.
  16. ^ "Board Breaker". IMDB.
  17. ^ ""The Goldbergs" The Kara-te Kid (TV Episode 2017) - IMDb" – via